How to Install and Configure VNC Server on Centos 8

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Virtual Network Computing (VNC) allows you to connect to and control a remote desktop environment. It is common to use VNC to operate your server with a full desktop experience. This guide walks you through the steps to install, configure, and use VNC on CentOS 8.

Before You Begin

  1. Familiarize yourself with our Getting Started with Linode guide and complete the steps for setting your Linode’s hostname and timezone.

  2. This guide uses sudo wherever possible. Complete the sections of our How to Secure Your Server to create a standard user account, harden SSH access, and remove unnecessary network services.

  3. Update your system:

     sudo yum update
    
  4. In the examples that follow, change 192.0.2.0 to the IP address for your CentOS 8 machine.

Note
This guide is written for a non-root user. Commands that require elevated privileges are prefixed with sudo. If you are not familiar with the sudo command, see the Linux Users and Groups guide.

Install a Desktop GUI

These steps walk you through installing a desktop environment. If you already have a desktop environment installed on your CentOS machine, skip to the next section.

GNOME is CentOS 8’s default desktop environment and the one used in this guide.

  • Install the GNOME package group.

      sudo yum group install "GNOME"
    
    • Alternatively, you can install the “Server with GUI” group to get the GNOME packages along with additional server packages.

      sudo yum group install "Server with GUI"
      
    • To get a list of packages installed by each group, use the command sudo yum groupinfo followed by the group name in quotes as shown below:

      sudo yum groupinfo "Server with GUI"
      

Install and Configure the VNC Server

Several VNC options are available for CentOS. This guide uses the open-source TigerVNC software, a popular option and one that can be found in CentOS’s default repositories.

  1. Install the TigerVNC server software.

     sudo yum install tigervnc-server
    
  2. Using your preferred text editor, add a line to the /etc/tigervnc/vncserver.users file for each user for whom a remote desktop is being configured. In the following example, one user — userA — is configured for display port number 1.

     :1=userA
    

    The remainder of this guide uses the above example user and display port.

    Note
    Display port numbers determine the port numbers on which VNC servers are made available. VNC server ports are 5900 plus the display port number — thus, 5901 for the example above. The resulting port numbers need to be available. However, display port numbers are otherwise arbitrary and do not need to be consecutive.
  3. Set a VNC password for each user by logging in as that user, executing the following command, and creating a password.

     vncpasswd
    

    You are asked whether you would like to set a view-only password as well. Doing so is optional and not necessary for this guide.

  4. Create a VNC configuration file for each user. Log in as that user, create a ~/.vnc/config using root permissions (sudo), and add parameters for the VNC server to that file. The following are some example parameters. In this guide, the session and localhost parameters are assumed, but the rest are optional.

     session=gnome
     geometry=1280x1024
     localhost
     alwaysshared
    

    Alternatively, you can configure global default parameters in the /etc/tigervnc/vncserver-config-defaults file. Parameters in that file are applied for any user unless otherwise overridden by a user’s ~/.vnc/config file.

    Note
    The TigerVNC documentation provides a comprehensive list and descriptions of possible configuration parameters for the VNC server.

Start the VNC Server

  1. Start the TigerVNC Server for each user. The 1 in the following example is the display port number configured for the user.

     sudo systemctl start [email protected]:1.service
    
    • If desired, you can also set the VNC server to begin running at system startup.

      sudo systemctl enable [email protected]:1.service
      
    • You can verify that the server is running with the following command:

      sudo systemctl status [email protected]:1.service
      
  2. Verify the port being used by the VNC server. The following command returns a list of active servers. TigerVNC servers should be listed with “Xvnc” as their program name.

     sudo netstat -tlnp
    
    Note
    The remainder of this guide assumes the VNC server is on port 5901. This number is derived from the VNC servers operating on port 5900 plus the display port number that is used.

Secure Your VNC Connection

VNC connections are, by default, unencrypted. Therefore, you should use SSH tunneling to secure your connection. To do so, you need to tunnel traffic through an SSH connection to a local port. For convenience, this guide uses the same local port number as the VNC server (5901).

The steps for SSH tunneling vary based on the operating system of the machine you are using to connect to the VNC server.

See Setting up an SSH Tunnel with Your Linode for Safe Browsing guide for more details and information on using SSH tunneling.

Linux and macOS

  1. Create an SSH tunnel for the VNC server port. The SSH connection is made to the user on whom the VNC server was configured — userA in the examples above.

     ssh -f [email protected] -L 5901:localhost:5901 -N
    
  2. The above command runs the SSH tunnel in the background. When you are finished with the VNC connection, you can stop the SSH tunneling with the following command, which kills all SSH connections.

     pkill ssh
    

Windows

  1. Open PuTTY, and enter “[email protected]” as the Host name, with “userA” being the user on whom the VNC server was configured.

  2. Open the Connections menu, and select Tunnels from under the SSH section.

  3. Enter “5901” as the Source port and “[email protected]” as the Destination. Beneath Desination, select Local and Auto.

  4. Click Add, and the SSH tunnel begins running.

Connect to the VNC Server

With the VNC server running and secure, you can connect to it using a VNC client. The steps below vary depending on the operating system of the machine you are using to connect to the VNC server.

macOS and Windows

Of the VNC client options for macOS and Windows, RealVNC Viewer is perhaps the most popular, free, and easy to use.

  1. Open RealVNC Viewer, and enter “localhost:5901” in the top bar.

    Entering a host address in RealVNC Viewer

  2. You are notified that the connection is unencrypted. However, the steps in the Secure Your VNC Connection section above ensure that your connection is securely tunneled. Click Continue.

    Notification of unencrypted connection in RealVNC Viewer

  3. When prompted, enter the password configured for the VNC server user, following which the CentOS desktop opens.

Linux

Since this guide uses GNOME for the desktop environment, Vinagre, designed specifically for GNOME, is a strong VNC client option for Linux.

  1. Open Vinagre.

  2. Set Protocol to VNC, and enter “localhost:5901” as the Host. Click Connect.

    Entering connection information in Vinagre

  3. When prompted, enter the password configured for the VNC server user. The CentOS desktop should then open.

More Information

You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information on this topic. While these are provided in the hope that they will be useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of externally hosted materials.

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