Lets pretend we had a *nix rather powerful system... Now Obviously I know you can set up multiple users to login to a system.......but how exactly do you do that? Like....how would all the monitors connect and such, or would you need a smaller computer node that like....reroutes it or something?

How do System Admins and such set up multiple users for a *nix system? across a large building or something?

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Generally, one runs a server with no actual graphical display attached to it (maybe a very simple one for diagnostic work). Clients connect via a network protocol, either X tunneled over SSH or a remote-desktop protocol like VNC or RDP.

With the former, users execute GUI programs from the remote shell and they show up seamlessly as windows on their client systems. This works well on high-speed networks as long as the graphics aren't intensive, but unfortunately the X protocol is very chatty and not highly efficient. It also requires each client to run an X server, which is automatic on Linux clients, easy on Mac OS, and somewhat cumbersome on Windows.

The other approach is to use VNC or RDP, which run an entire remote desktop session displayed as a window on the client. The actual work is done on the server and a compressed graphics stream delivered to the client program. There's also an in-between option called NX, which uses an optimized version of the X protocol to deliver a similar experience (with some performance improvements over VNC or RDP.) For these approaches, client programs are available for any major (and many minor) operating systems.

There is another entire way to go, though, which matches more what you are imaging: a ginormous octopus-like system extending direct graphical connections from a central server around a small area (or even a whole building). This is known as "Multiseat X", and you can read more about doing that in this article from x.org. The links from there indicate that there's enough interest in doing this to keep the idea alive, although I've never actually seen anyone doing it in my direct experience.

  • Interesting. The Multiseat X sounds pretty cool albeit maybe not practical for some haha. Anyways thanks!. – user4877 Feb 22 '11 at 17:45

Method no. 1. It is possible to set up the diskless stations - nothing expensive - it have to simply run only a X server preferably with 2D acceleration (3D nowadays). On startup it gets a image from server, starts X login screen that present logging on server. The applications are run on server but they are displayed on thin client. To mess things up it means that X clients are run on server while X server is run on client. The exact details varies from diskless set up to set up but there are some pre-packaged tools to do this. It can be built using even second-hand clients (they do nothing except displaying polygons) as long as network and server can handle them.

Method no. 2. X can handle multiple cards and multiple inputs (multiseat). It can also be restricted to only selected screen and/or input. You may start X server configured to only use mouse1, keyboard1and monitor1, then another that use mouse2, keyboard2 and monitor2 etc. However as some cards does not handle the there is Xephyr which does the same but within one X server.


If you have one central server and many client machines, SSH and X11 forwarding is a very good method of accomplishing this. If you're just talking about having one machine with many monitors, keyboards, and mice this is called "Multiseat". I believe with recent X.org versions this is no longer possible, but I believe they're trying to bring it back.

Here are a couple of links for you. And now that you know it's called Multiseat you can Google around for more information.


Another answer is LDAP. You can configure a domain as a centralized storage for all users' profiles. How it is done in Debian.