Let's say I have 2 user accounts user1 and user2. When I login as user1, and then switch to user2 using su, I can execute command-line programs, but GUI programs fail.


user1@laptop:~$ su - user2
user2@laptop:~$ leafpad ~/somefile.txt
No protocol specified
leafpad: Cannot open display: 

So how can I run a GUI application?

  • One of the main reasons, I've found, that this fails is because $XAUTHORITY is still set to user1's ~/.Xauthority, which the program, I guess, will try to read, and it fails because that file typically has mode 0600 (-rw-------), meaning it's unavailable for reading by anyone in the "other" group, which includes user2. Meaning if you chmod o+r ~/.Xauthority (as user1), you will have hacked your way around this problem. I wrote a script that demonstrates this. – Braden Best Feb 3 '18 at 7:29

su vs. su -

When becoming another user you generally want to use su - user2. The dash will force user2's .bash_profile to get sourced.


Additionally you'll need to grant users access to your display. This is governed by X. You can use the command xhost + to allow other users permission to display GUI's to user1's desktop.

NOTE: When running xhost + you'll want to run this while still in a shell that belongs to user1.


When you become user2 you may need to set the environment variable $DISPLAY.

$ export DISPLAY=:0.0
  • 1
    xhost +user2 still gives me this error - xhost: bad hostname "user2". I googled some, and it seems I need to do xhost +user2@laptop or xhost +user2@localhost, not sure which. Then it says xhost +user2@localhost being added to access control list. – sashoalm Jan 11 '14 at 10:10
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    But even after adding the user with xhost, and specifying export DISPLAY=:0.0, running leafpad still gives me No protocol specified leafpad: Cannot open display:, and fails to run. I found this link at linuxquestions.org/questions/linux-newbie-8/…, which says that there are some magic cookies and xauth. Have you tested that those things work on your computer btw? Maybe something's different with my configuration? I'm on Debian+LXDE. – sashoalm Jan 11 '14 at 10:15
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    Thanks, xhost + works, and nothing else seems to be needed (no need to set $DISPLAY). Can you update your answer, and I'll accept it? – sashoalm Jan 11 '14 at 22:27
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    Oh, found something. On Fedora 21 running xhost gives a list in the format SI:localuser:USERNAME, so xhost SI:localuser:user2 should work. Oh and the display of the user can be found using w. – Wilf Apr 21 '15 at 11:01
  • 3
    xhost + will allow any user on any host that can connect to your x-server to access your screen. xhost +SI:localuser:user2 works for me on Debian. – robartsd Mar 17 '17 at 4:46

You need to share the authentication token from the user1 (assuming ~is home of user1):

cat ~/.Xauthority | sudo -u user2 -i tee .Xauthority > /dev/null
  • 1
    This is the only answer that worked for me (Ubuntu 14). – sudo Sep 8 '17 at 1:28
  • This solution works nicely from within the remote machine (= X Win client) while the xhost solutions in other answers have to be executed on the local machine (= X Win server). – Jpsy Nov 1 '17 at 15:55

You could use X11 forwarding:

ssh -XY otheruser@localhost your-gui-program-name-here
  • This is a brilliant solution. The simplest I 've read so far. Far more people are familiar with ssh than with x11 configuration. – Alexis Panagiotopoulos Nov 19 '18 at 15:13

You can start app from another user. I will start the gimp app from user2, while being logged in (GUI) with user 1:

$ xhost +
$ sudo su user2

(enter pass)

$ gimp

Enjoy :)

  • 1
    This is the same as the four-year-old accepted answer. – G-Man Dec 17 '17 at 22:55
  • can you tell a quick better way? – Antoni Stavrev Jan 1 '18 at 1:57
  • I've always used this method, but it's no longer working to me with Debian and Xfce. (correction: it does work, but I have to export DISPLAY first, as the accepted answer says) – giusti Aug 20 '18 at 0:38
  • after you end your session it will be good to disable it by $ xhost - – Antoni Stavrev Oct 18 '18 at 21:59

You may try the sux command:

sux user2

sux will handle the $DISPLAY stuff for you. You may need to install it with:

sudo apt-get install sux

under Debian/Ubuntu.

  • 3
    sux is no longer shipped by Debian or Ubuntu. The best alternative I could find is adding xhost SI:localuser:root (or whatever user) to ~/.xprofile to allow it permanently or to use runuser – stefanct May 21 '16 at 21:34

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