A terminal emulator, terminal application, term, or tty for short, is a program that emulates a video terminal within some other display architecture. Though typically synonymous with a command line shell or text terminal, the term terminal covers all remote terminals, including graphical interfaces. A terminal emulator inside a graphical user interface is often called a terminal window.

A terminal window allows the user access to a text terminal and all its applications such as command line interfaces (CLI) and text user interface applications. These may be running either on the same machine or on a different one via telnet, ssh, or dial-up. On Unix-like operating systems, it is common to have one or more terminal windows connected to the local machine.

Terminals usually support a set of escape sequences for controlling color, cursor position, etc. Examples include the family of terminal control sequence standards known as ECMA-48, ANSI X3.64 or ISO/IEC 6429.

Early adopters of computer technology, such as banks, insurance companies, and governments, still make frequent use of terminal emulators. They typically have decades-old applications running on mainframe computers. The old “dumb” video terminals used to access the mainframe are long since obsolete; however, applications on the mainframe are still in use. Quite often, terminal emulators are the only way to access applications running on these older machines.