Last updated: Mon Dec 11 10:05:19 PM GMT 2023

Notes on elinks and why to use it

Elinks is an extended version of Links browser, about which I have written an article. As of today, it is a vast improvement over Links, and honestly, over all terminal browsers (that includes gopher and Gemini browsers, as Elinks supports these (!)). Again, I have some deeper philosophical thoughts about the nature of modern internet and the reason why using text browsers in the current year (for most of non-essential (and essential if possible) web usage) is a good idea, to say the least.

General notes and clarifications

Elinks is extended version of links browser, one of the couple old-style text browsers (although it has a graphical mode). I always had a higher preference to it, due to having an actual TUI, and also a cool graphical mode, to which I have added tabs.

Elinks extends a lot of features, and provides a lot of new ones, including, but not limited to - Gopher and Gemini support, tabs, passing URIs to external applications (i.e. open a video link in mpv/VLC) remote opening custom user scripts (written in Perl, Python or Ruby (!), and so on.

Also, there is are rumours about elinks being unsafe. That is regarding its Spidermonkey JS engine, which is could have been used in old versions (chosen at compile time). Elinks has changed its maintainer in 2020, and is actively maintained. Elinks now can be compiled with MozJS engine, or (as it is my preference) - no JS engine at all.

How tos

Generally, I recommend spending a bit of time with configuration options, as Elinks is very extensible and can provide the best plain text web browsing experience possible.

Disable website styling

I'll be honest - the defaults were not to my liking. As much as having a bare-bones CSS support in the text browser sounds cool, it is not the point. Thus, the first thing I recommend doing is to disable CSS.

That is in Setup -> Options Manager -> Document -> Enable CSS (0)

Also, you can disable Document -> Default Color settings (here you can also configure document colors, it supports hash colors in terminal!) -> Use document specified colors (0)

Numbered links

One of the coolest things about Elinks are Pentadactyl (or other vim mode), style prefixes. To make them visible, press '.', then you can write the number to select the URL. Even typing a number without prefixes will first select all matching URL's under that prefix (i.e. for 1 -> 1, 11, 12...).

This can make plain text browsing faster as you can go to any URL directly with numbers instead of navigating to it.


Color settings are done both in Setup -> Options Manager -> Document -> Default color settings (for site coloring) and Setup -> Options Manager -> User interface -> Color settings. I'll be open, these are not to my liking as they take a lot of time to adjust, but once done, you can easily change it by modifying the plaintext.

Also, a shame it does not support simple setting of foreground and background as colors (despite a lot of ncurses apps allow for selecting these colors), so it gives a bit of extra work on receonfiguring.

Send URL to already running instance

Just launch elinks -remote $URL and the $URL will be launched in a new tab of existing instance. To use it with script is left as an exercise to the reader.

Further guides


Why is a good question regarding these - I have already written an article on this topic in a previous iteration of this blog. But today, things are even worse. With AI imagery and the modern web-design each website makes the experience as smooth to turn off any 'slower' brain processes, and put you into this flow state in which you will stay, looking and getting addicted to things.

Shockingly, in a text browser, in which you can see basically the same context, but without all the flourishes, suddenly it seems a lot less appealing, and you just focus on what you are actually interested in. Lack of ability to run more complex software in your browser moves the control back from the site owner to you. Also, elinks provides access to 'altnet' sources (Gemini,Gopher,NNTP), so you can escape mainstream web completely this way.

I recommend then for normal browsers to set up a URL whitelist where you can handle things that are necessary for you to work in with 'modern world', and block anything that can be seen in elinks fine.

At least for anyone who has found this article, I recommend trying this for at least a day, to see how differently you become, and also how dependent are you on algorithms for spending 'good time' online.

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