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I am rather new to linux and have a CentOS box to play with. I am quite comfortable with the command line, but one thing that bugs me is that unless, someone is logged in to the GUI and has vnc enabled, I can't access it from a remote location. Even then, I must use the GUI as the user that is logged in. What if I wanted to logout and login as a different user in GUI ? Basically what i'm asking is, is there a way to remotely "log in" to a linux gui as done with windows remote desktop as opposed to just desktop sharing via vnc?

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    Use a different VNC server. Some vnc servers share a desktop, others have a unique session for each login. I think x11vnc will work. The reason everyone is suggestiong ssh is that VNC servers are insecure and one of the most common cracks. So use ssh -X or FreeNX. FreeNX is by far the fastest and most secure vnc server (IMO).
    – Panther
    Jun 18, 2014 at 20:05
  • You are logging in to the existing GUI as is done with Windows RDP. What you want to do is the opposite, to run your own GUI remotely — and that is what normally happens on Linux. You aren't saying what you're doing, but it seems that you're using some software that sets up a Windows-like model. Using just about anything else will give you the Linux my-session-is-my-session model. Jun 18, 2014 at 22:40
  • @bodhi.zazen thanks for the heads up. I assumed the default vino package has all the functionalities, didn't know the proper way to set up a full fledged vnc server. Like I said, i'm a n00b. Now I have configured tigervnc with three users and they can connect using their respective display no. and password. But my doubt is, what If i'm running a network authentication service like ldap and don't know which user is going to log in ? Am I supposed to create displays and vncpasswd for all of them ? Jun 19, 2014 at 9:43
  • Yes, you create a separate display and password for each user. Be sure to use STRONG PASSWORDS.
    – Panther
    Jun 19, 2014 at 13:23

3 Answers 3

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You can SSH into the box remotely, and then launch your own VNC session. VNC on Linux works as an entire replacement for an X-server, so multiple users can run multiple VNC sessions, each with their own display workspace.

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If you want similar behaviour and even use your normal RDP-client, you could just install xrdp. For CentOS, it should be sufficient to do yum install xrdp

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  • Exactly what I was looking for. Thanks a lot. Jun 20, 2014 at 9:47
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You can use the X11 desktop forwarding feature.

To do so, first install the SSH server on the target machine (that will allow encrypted connection; it is possible to do it without SSH, but it's very dangerous as data is sent in clear text) and enable the X11 forwarding in /etc/ssh/sshd_config:

X11Forwarding yes

Now you can initiate a graphical connection to the target machine with the following command:

ssh -X -C username@target_machine_hostname

The -C flag is not required, it compresses data to reduce network load. So if you have a lot of bandwidth or slow CPU, you can leave it.

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    x11 forwarding will enable running x applications from the remote machine, but I want the complete gnome desktop environment from a remote location without physically logging in and sharing desktop on the linux box. Jun 18, 2014 at 14:01
  • This is the most common way I've seen to work on a server or calculation cluster in bioinformatics. Just observe that if a command is being executed and your connection stalls, the command will be interrupted. To avoid that you can use terminal multiplexers like tmux (to be installed) or screen (already installed).
    – 3nrique0
    Jun 18, 2014 at 14:01
  • I used this command and it went through. However on the target machine I an at the cli and no GUI. I have XForwarding on the target machine. Aug 18, 2021 at 23:54

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