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install firefox in ubuntu-server edition

I'm running an ubuntu machine (server actually) that does not have any user interface installed, only a command line.

I was wondering if it'd be possible to have a web browser, say Google Chrome, run on this machine without having to insall the whole GNOME or KDE environment.

Can this be done? Or does chrome rely to much on these environments?

edit: perhaps a little word on why I would need this.

  1. I don't like desktop environments, with point and clicks and navigation trough folders.

  2. I do like programming / trying new stuff out.

  3. When programming one often needs help (I don't know how to do that -> google), so browsing webpages is a must.

Similarly, viewing PDFs can be done trough the browser.


It does not rely on the desktop environment. What it does rely on (at least in case of graphical-mode browsers like Chrome, Opera or Firefox) is the Xorg server, together with its libraries1.

Once you have the core dependencies of a browser installed (including the X server), you can run it under a minimal environment either by:

  • using a very minimalistic window manager (WM), such as evilwm, twm etc.
  • directly running the browser from your .xinitrc or .Xsession file.

For more examples, have a look at the question about building a minimal, browser-only distribution and the example looped browser invocation I've suggested (that's the "no WM" option).

There's one caveat, though. My limited experience with Ubuntu shows that it is very... Hmm, let's say "generous" - when it comes to calculating dependencies, especially because the default APT configuration auto-installs recommends in addition to absolute dependencies. That is to say, the standard package management tools assume a demand for rich functionality and desktop integration - which leads to many dependencies. So, the bottom line can be that they would probably force you to installing large parts of some DE as a dependency for, say, Chrome. To go about this, you might need to dig deep into some package-management related configuration or even be forced to install the browser independently (not through the package management tools) - which can in turn create mess... You'd be definitely better off using other distribution for this, such as Arch or Gentoo, that are more conservative and customizable in terms of your expected functionality.

1In a very limited way, this can work even without X, using a replacement graphical libraries, such as DirectFB.

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  • In a distributed remote environments, a need for testing environments, Selenium a tool for headless X nodes with a programming capabilities, is used to test the web on a different browsers. – Nikhil Mulley Feb 23 '12 at 8:12
  • @NikhilMulley Yes, but its an additional layer of software you need to set up and its main purpose is browser automation... I'm not sure if this is what the OP aiming at - but definitely may be useful for others. – rozcietrzewiacz Feb 23 '12 at 8:21
  • The "generous" characteristic of Ubuntu probably depends on the default installation of recommended packages (now default also in Debian), and this could be disabled. – enzotib Feb 23 '12 at 11:49
  • @enzotib No, I don't mean what is installed by default or even recommended. I mean what gets pulled in as dependencies when you install new software. – rozcietrzewiacz Feb 23 '12 at 14:29

You can try links or lynx. Both should be available through apt-get. These are text only browsers, and usually get the job done relatively well when all you have is a console. I don't think any console browser has PDF support though, since that format is usually highly graphical in nature.

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  • 1
    elinks is also a popular text browser. – Nikhil Mulley Feb 23 '12 at 8:10
  • 4
    Don't forget w3m! Can even be compiled with framebuffer/X11 image support. – Chris Down Feb 23 '12 at 8:44
  • pdf2txt should help. – schaiba Jul 11 '13 at 13:15

Yes, of course. You need X11 installed but that is all. You could use something like fvwm, or awesome or xnomad to manage the X11 session. Configuration of those window managers can be done via their own rc files and started via .xinitrc/.xsession. Then from a shell you can start either Chrome or Firefox.

If you do not want to install X11, then you can use text only browsers such as w3m or lynx.

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