I am trying to figure out how I can VNC to my Ubuntu 19.04 desktop which doesn't have a monitor or keyboard/mouse.

I installed Ubuntu 19.04 on an external USB hard drive using my MacBook Air. I then booted Ubuntu on the MacBook Air and installed SSH.

Then the above hard drive which has Ubuntu installed was connected to my headless desktop and Ubuntu boots up perfectly and I was able to connect to my Ubuntu desktop via SSH on my MacBook Air.

I installed tightvncserver on Ubuntu via SSH and when I connect to Ubuntu via VNC using MacBook Air, I get a grey screen on VNC.

Read many articles and tutorials using xserver-xorg-video-dummy and also using dummy plugs for DVI and none of these works.

How can I have Ubuntu boot up normally as if it was connected to a monitor and connect to it using VNC? Seems like Ubuntu 19.04 is not booting up the X server window without a monitor connected.

Please don't provide solutions that requires using thrid-party desktop environments when Ubuntu already has a perfectly working desktop environment which only functions when monitor is connected.

Please view the picture of what the VNC grey screen looks like when connected to Ubuntu 19.04 headless desktop:



EDIT: I booted Ubuntu 19.04 on my MacBook Air and logged in with the normal GUI interface. I started tightvncserver and when I login to VNC I also get a grey screen.

  • can you post the contents of this file? "$HOME/.vnc/xstartup"
    – max
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 1:26
  • @max i.postimg.cc/L60bkZsr/2019-09-03-01-03.png
    – S To
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 5:04
  • 1
    you need startx & or startxfce4 & in the xstartup file
    – max
    Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 20:57
  • I have a headless Ubuntu 22 with tightvncserver. My xstartup looks like yours except that it lacks the x-window-manager line. Instead, I installed xfce4 and lightdm and systemctl enable lightdm --now. I manually launch vncserver whenever I need it. Works fine, though I don't pretend I understand exactly how everything works together. Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 1:12

1 Answer 1


It seems like you should be able to start the VNC connection, then on the ssh connection, run the command

  • I just found out that it does not matter if I login to VNC with a monitor connected or not, I still get a grey screen. I started "tightvncserver" with Ubuntu 19.04 booted up with normal GUI login on my MacBook and still get a grey screen when logging in to VNC. "startx" just hangs when I initiate it.
    – S To
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 5:13

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