Run Graphic Software on Your Linode with X-Forwarding on Debian

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On occasion you may want to run an application that requires a graphic interface from your Linode. By using X forwarding, this is easy to accomplish.

This guide is written for a non-root user. Commands that require elevated privileges are prefixed with sudo. If you’re not familiar with the sudo command, you can check our Users and Groups guide.

Install X11 on your Linode

  1. Before we begin, make sure your Linode’s software is up to date:

    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get upgrade
  2. One of the great things about using a Linux distribution with a dependency-aware package manager is that you can just install the application you want to run, and it will make sure you have all the required software. If you’re installing a graphic utility, that will include X. For now, let’s install xauth, which is required for X to authenticate through the SSH session:

    sudo apt-get install xauth

Install X11 on the Client


If you’re using a Linux desktop environment on your local PC, you already have X11 running.


Apple contributes to the development of XQuartz, an X11 server designed to run on OS X. Download the software here and follow the installer’s instructions.


There are several pieces of software available that can provide an X server on Windows. We’ve listed the most notable options below:

  • Cygwin/X - Cygwin provides a Unix-like shell to Windows and can support an X server as well.
  • MobaXterm - MobaXterm is an all-in-one tool for accessing remote systems across multiple protocols.
  • Xming - Unlike the previous two, Xming is just the X server itself. It is designed to be a lean standalone system and touts portability.

It’s up to you to choose the software that best suits your needs.


Connecting from a Linux or OS X client requires adding one extra parameter to your SSH command, the -X flag:

ssh -X root@

Connecting from a Windows machine will depend on what software you have chosen. Please refer to the software documentation for instructions on initiating an SSH connection with X forwarding.


  1. First lets install a simple graphic application to test with:

    sudo apt-get install x11-apps
  2. Run the following command to launch a program that watches your cursor:

  3. Now, let’s try something a bit bigger. Iceweasel is the name given to Debian’s version of Mozilla’s Firefox browser. The following commands will install and launch Iceweasel from your Linode:

    sudo apt-get install iceweasel
    iceweasel &

More intense graphic software may lag when running in this fashion. Using a Linode in a data center geographically close to you can help reduce latency.

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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