I would like to log in from machine A to machine B -- and regardless or whether anyone is logged in on B* open a new graphical terminal on :1**.

To further clarify: This is a lab situation with one supervisor and ~30 guest machines. On the guest machines [e.g. B-Z], a user may or may not be logged in. Regardless of whether a user is logged in, I would like administrator [A] to be able to control the displays (and terminal selection) of the guest machines [B-Z]. [Something such as iTalc would be good -- but it's not working and that's a different question.]

*If someone was logged in I could grab their Xauthority and set DISPLAY=:0 and execute images on their screen, e.g., with xroot

**Or it's possible to use xroot to startx, which is just a wrapper for xinit. E.g. xroot "startx -- :1" & then xroot chvt 1 -- but a new WM starts with root privileges.

How can I ssh into the machine (on which I have root permissions) and start a new X session whether or not anyone is logged in? (Ideally, without the terminal window showing up)

As is, with:

xinit --:1 

the error message:

(EE) Fatal server error: (EE) Server is already active for display 0

is generated. Which seems odd, as xinit was passed :1.

[The machines are using XDM]

  • You didn't pass :1 to xinit because your command is missing a space. It should be xinit -- :1. I'm not sure what you want to accomplish though. If someone is logged in on the machine's console, do you want to open a window on their interface or not? Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 23:49
  • I did it with and without the space. I would like to open a new graphical terminal as with xinit -- :1 (or more like xterm without a terminal, i.e. , an Xsession without a windowmanager) and change to it as with chvt 1 and send content (from my computer). It would switch from their :0 to their :1 .
    – d-cubed
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 1:26
  • Quite simply, I want the ~30 screens to display (more or less in unison) what I choose without any input from the user, without the user being given a root terminal, and without killing (only displacing) the users Xsession (if one is in place).
    – d-cubed
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 1:29

3 Answers 3


I'm not sure I correctly understand what you are trying to achieve, but maybe xvnc can suit your needs: http://www.hep.phy.cam.ac.uk/vnc_docs/xvnc.html You can start a new server on the display :1 with the command:

$ xinit -- /usr/bin/Xvnc  :1
  • Using the command as given fails with the "Possible server names include:" message. Removing the space after the -- returns the "(EE) Server is already active for display 0" error message.
    – d-cubed
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 22:03

If you want your graphical output to be displayed on machine A:

  1. Start a X server on A
  2. On A: ssh -X machine-b wmaker

If you'd like your graphical output to be displayed on machine B:

  • either don't use xdm and start X through ssh
  • or use XDMCP or VNC to connect to B's xdm
  • How would I do that? I started a vncserver on A :1. SSHed into B, exported the DISPLAY=:1, connected the VNC viewer, tried to chvt to :1 and a blank text terminal showed up. But I can alt+ctl+f2 and it opens a new graphical tab which connects to the VNC server --- however there's a Cinnamon session running as root! It seems I'll need to tweak an xinitrc.
    – d-cubed
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 22:22

As for opening a blank, nothing-else-in-it Xsession, I was just looking for:

X :1 & 

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