[I hesitated whether to post this in meta or here. But although this involves terminology, it is of general use, not only on this website.]

It looks like at least in Xfce 4.10 (with the session manager "Xfce4-session") this term means a desktop environment in the case in which different DE are installed beside Xfce; selecting between them is presented in the login window as selection between "sessions".

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And then what is selected is the DE; selecting a session here is not selecting one among others of the same DE, but the DE itself

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(In my case it says Xfce, LXDE, Openbox.)

What is selected above is the username and the DE, not a saved session.

But after making this selection, if in Settings/'Session and Startup'/General the option 'Display chooser on login' is checked, a new selection is possible between a different type of sessions, those that are DE-specific, a sort of sub-sessions, saved by a certain user within a certain DE, with the option under Settings/'Session and Startup'/Session/'Save session'.

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Passwords and usernames are related to selecting and entering generic sessions (DE).

Is this normal and accepted use, or is it just an accident, maybe limited to Xfce?

(I have stumbled into this when searching for this workaround)

Edit after comments:

What I think it happened is that the proper use of the term 'session' being that of the set of options and running programs saved by the user in a certain DE, this meaning was diffused upstream to the initial selection of the user and DE. Both selections may be implicit (automated) if the user does not activate 'login password' and 'chooser'. But while many people want to be asked for password at login/startup, they do not want to select each time between saved sessions. As the first selection (user/DE/password) is the most common, it took the name "session" which now appears in the Xfce login window.

The term 'login' must have played a role in this because it suggests that a login must be one into a session. But if so, there must be two types of logins if there are two types of sessions. The term 'login' thus appears in Settings/'Users and Groups' when setting on being asked for password enter image description here

but also under 'Session and Startup' regarding choosing (or not) between saved sessions - after the first 'login' has been made.

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These are two different types of logins.

I was wandering whether behind this there's some consensus or is it just an accident. This may cause confusion especially to new users, whom these GUI settings are supposed to help - and especially when practical problems occur as seen in the linked answer. Trying to solve these problems and looking at the Xfce settings as they are displayed now, v.4.10, the double use of the term makes things worse.

  • I've seen this used in the sense of a user connected to a (graphical) environment; which makes sense when they talk about multisession for several sets of screen/keyboard/mouse with independent users.
    – vonbrand
    Feb 15, 2013 at 4:13
  • as I understand it a session starts when you log in and continues (possibly spending some time in a disconnected state) until you logout. the usage you are seeing may be related to the name of the executable responsible for mediating the chosesn GUI environment.
    – Jasen
    Feb 16, 2013 at 5:02
  • @vorbrand: in Xfce, when selecting user, one selects a DE, which the login window calls "session". This might be the default DE or not (if different are installed). Only after that, if " display chooser" is activated, takes place the other selection between different saved (sub)sessions, saved by that user in that DE. I guess it would be better not to call the DE selected at the first stage a "session", and reserve that term for the sake of clarity to the set of customizations, including running programs, saved by the user in a certain DE. Is this double meaning a consensus or an accident?
    – user32012
    Feb 16, 2013 at 9:15
  • @Jasen: not the practical aspect is my problem (excepting that baffling settings in the linked answer), but the terminology. i see how session works, but was wandering if it is correct to call "change a session" or "choose session" something that one time involves selecting user+DE, and the second involves saved "sessions" (of the same user and same DE). This limited to Xfce.
    – user32012
    Feb 16, 2013 at 9:17

1 Answer 1


My view:

  • Operating system (Linux, BSD)
    • Graphic server (X)
      • Login Manager (gdm, xdm, kdm, ...)
        • Session Manager (gnome-session-manager, kde-session-manager, etc)
          • Window Manager
          • File Manager
          • Applications

What you call Desktop Environment if in fact an association of one session manager, one window manager and one file manager (and some other hardware bindings manager, like network manager client and audio daemon client)...

In practice, you could even mix everything...

A session is the father process of many child process who behind to one user from the given login time, upto his logout. So the session manager is a program that don't do anything but if close, all depending programs will close too (first with proper end session calls, than with force quit requests and finaly by killing all childs... roughly speaking ).

Password management is dedicated to a suite of standard libraries, that every login manager and users/password manager know and interact with.

*Edit: *

And the problem you point is a real recursive/cyclic problem, due to different meaning and approach of different programmers teams.

As access is managed by pam or other low-evel authrentication libraries, GUIs which is at top-level layer exist in different version by differents teams and differents points of views...

Your second screenshot presenting all different session manager you've been installed on you host is representative of this: This kind of feature don't exist in a propretary OS like Windows or Mac.

So on production system, for normal users, you won't install many session manager and this (somewhere buggy) dialog box won't appear. ( In my previous tree you see that the login manager is responsible of this box. So your question may vary if you choose to use kdm or gdm for login screen instead of your current selection).

The plurality of open-source is a power, but it's a weakness...

  • agree. but to what do you limit the use of the term 'session' in this structure? i guess to the Session manager options. Is this the same program that administers selection of users/passwords/DEs and the selection between saves settings (also called 'sessions')? I guess not: the first is done by the Login manager, the second by the Session manager. Or am I wrong? I just want to asses if the Login window of the Xfce login manager is right saying "sessions" for something that is the Desktop Environment (no matter what it is made of)
    – user32012
    Feb 16, 2013 at 10:23
  • Ok, look my last edit. Feb 16, 2013 at 10:40

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