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Trying to run a Ubuntu server for the first time... But everything is in a terminal. Is there a way to switch to a GUI? Also, the server doesn't have direct access to the internet... So, is there a way to share it from a laptop?

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13 Answers 13

There's no specific distribution called “Ubuntu server”, it's all Ubuntu. There are different installation media for Ubuntu desktop and server, but the difference is only in the initial installation program and the set of packages included. The server installation media doesn't install a GUI by default, but it's just a package installation away.

To install a desktop environment, you'll need to enable package installation from the Internet (the desktop packages aren't on the server installation CD). The installation program should have done that for you if it found an Internet connection, but apparently it didn't.

Then run these commands to install a desktop environment:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop

You should get a graphical login prompt at that point (I'm not completely sure; if you don't get one, reboot).

Once you have a GUI, you should go and enable a few more software sources, at the very least security updates and the universe repository. Click on the Ubuntu button, and search for "Software Sources”, and check the “restricted”, “universe” and “multiverse” boxes (in addition to “main”) in the first tab, and check at least “-security” and “-updates” (and you might as well check the others) in the “Updates” tab.

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I suggest since it's a server the following: sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends ubuntu-desktop Keep it minimal. – Karl Morrison Feb 3 '15 at 14:13

If you want to administer locally

You can install the default Ubuntu desktop by executing the following:

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop

There are many desktop alternatives which you may install and use, like:

  • Gnome 3 installation: sudo apt-get install gnome-shell
  • KDE see Kubuntu installation: sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop
  • XFCE installation: sudo apt-get install xfce4
  • LXDE installation: sudo apt-get install lxde
  • Openbox installation: sudo apt-get install openbox
  • Gnome Classic a Gnome 3 desktop that looks like Gnome 2 installation: sudo apt-get install gnome-session-fallback

Local and or remote administration

Except from the above you can administer your server by using a web based solution using less resources:

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A traditional graphical interface, such as gnome or kde or fluxbox, adds very little to a server as almost everything you do is from the command line anyways (editing files, starting stopping services, installing services). If yoy "need" a graphical interface, use a web based solution such as Webmin. – bodhi.zazen Apr 23 '13 at 16:09
Nowhere in the question is asked a GUI for administrative purposes. The OP clearly asks how to enable a GUI to his server. The answer provides various possibilities from a full desktop environment for general usage to more administration oriented solutions. – Stef K Apr 23 '13 at 16:15
Very helpful answer for the different GUI's. Thanks! – Ian Jan 22 '14 at 19:43
Great list - is there an 'official' overview of alternatives somewhere? – Reinier Post Jun 16 '14 at 9:18
I am not aware of a report - post mentioning all solutions, Google is your friend... – Stef K Jun 16 '14 at 10:07

Ubuntu Server never comes with a GUI. All activities that you need to do on a server can to be done through terminal. Even if you download the GUI, you will probably be able to access internet and get online support via forums or through chat. But there are no server / activities management tools for linux as yet which need a GUI for management.

If you are looking for some GUI similar to Windows Server, then such GUI does not exist for Linux Server. But you can download a Ubuntu desktop on a server to get the UI...All server related activities will still be required to be done through the terminal. You can download the desktop GUI on the server through the following command...

Following are the options

  1. To install the default Unity desktop: sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop

  2. To install graphical interface without addons like (Email, Openoffice): sudo aptitude install --without-recommends ubuntu-desktop

  3. To install a very light weight desktop environment, just the basic GUI (xfce): sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop

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I suggest since it's a server the following: sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends ubuntu-desktop Keep it minimal. – Karl Morrison Feb 3 '15 at 14:11
I wish I had seen this before I launched the command from the first answer!!! – Devil's Advocate Feb 5 '15 at 22:53
@ScottBeeson Hi, Scott. Launching the command from the first answer doesn't lock you into that command. You can apt-get remove packages (i.e. desktop environments) just as easy as you tan apt-get install them. If you apt-get installed the first solution, you can look at it and decided if that is for you. If it's not, just sudo apt-get remove ubuntu-desktop then install a different one to try out. – L. D. James Aug 30 '15 at 13:36
"All activities that you need to do on a server can to be done through terminal." I have to disagree. I'm installing a gui on my dedicated right now as I need to run a java service that has no command line options. I will say it is rare, but sometimes you need to connect to an xserver. This includes some of the cool stuff you can do via xserver remotely. – David Cahill Sep 13 '15 at 22:29

The reason why it's called "Server" is because it's lightweight (no GUI or extra packages) to run the machine as lean as you possibly can. Adding a GUI to it defeats the purpose of a Server installation.

However, installing as Server then using apt-get install/aptitude install your choice of a desktop can help to weed out unnecessary applications than from doing a direct installation of a Ubuntu Desktop release. If you're going this route, I personally like

sudo aptitude install --without-recommends ubuntu-desktop

EDIT: However, if you're using it as a real "Server" (ftp, web hosting, DNS, etc.), it is highly recommended to learn how to navigate Ubuntu via its shell instead of the GUI.

And what UbuntuIngrained said about the necessity of knowing the shell isn't necessarily true. There are packages that install GUIs for different server functions.

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About your EDIT note, do you have any tutorial link to navigate Ubuntu server via its shell instead of the GUI?! – Mr.Hyde Sep 30 '15 at 5:22

Ubuntu Server has no GUI, but you can install it additionally. Simply login with the user you created during installation and install the Desktop with.

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop

Afterwards type


and you are done.

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but it says that : Unable to locate package ubuntu-desktop – CIRK Jul 18 '11 at 11:27
According to the package exists. Maybe you have to update the package database first. Please begin with "sudo apt-get update" and follow afterwards the steps mentioned. – ddeimeke Jul 18 '11 at 13:26
@CIRK did you sudo apt-get update before attempting the install? – TheGrimmScientist Jan 7 '15 at 20:01
Does this works on VMware also? – student Jun 18 '15 at 8:46
I know no reason why this sould not work on VMware. – ddeimeke Jun 20 '15 at 6:18

Ubuntu server is designed to use minimal resources . GUI will leads to utilize high resource and still you want GUI , you can choose lightweight packages. Install ubuntu-desktop with --no-install-recommends . this will exclude major softwares and tools like libreoffice, firefox , thunderbird etc

sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends ubuntu-desktop

Refer these guides.

Gnome gui ubuntu

Ubuntu server GUI

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This is the answer everyone should be using, the accepted answer above installs the entire desktop. This answer (also in some comments above) is the stripped down version. – Guy Starbuck Apr 13 at 15:36

If you look very closely at the official Ubuntu Server Guide. Chapter 6 Remote Administration you will find that the last article would be of extreme interest. Trust me you do not want to install a DeskTop environment on a server, it uses up too many resources up to 50 to 60% if you go bananas and you don't get any benefit to control your server from a GUI standpoint.

Read and digest chapter 6.3 Zentyal. That is what you would need. I can't believe I overlooked that myself. So don't be afraid to install it, this is a full blown web interface that my first impression of installing the zentyal-core and zentyal-common was "AWESOME" look no further for anything other than the sanctioned web interface by Ubuntu creators.

However looks like this software might cost you money, but if you are serious about using a GUI, I'm sure the fees might be affordable for light use. Not everything in life is free if you want it bad enough. However I am sure home use might be fee free, depends on what services you need. This software comes with lots of modules, I dare say you should only install the ones you need.

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Gathering from what you are saying I assume you would like one of two things:

  1. Re-install MacOS
  2. Install a GUI on the (already cleanly wiped) system.

Am I correct in this?

If it's the first, you should mark this and ask a Moderator to move it the "Ask Different" section, if it's the second you once again have two choices:

  1. Download the Ubuntu 11.04 Desktop installation DVD and install all the required packages on the server, or
  2. Simply install the Desktop Edition on the system from scratch (my suggestion, since you have already wiped everything of interest anyways) and then install any needed server components on top of that using Ubuntu's package manager, Synaptic, or the CLI.
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well I would like to re install everything. but I don't know how to boot my DVD? – CIRK Jul 18 '11 at 11:20
If it's a Mac, insert the new Linux DVD and press "c" during startup. Refer to Startup key combinations for Intel-based Macs for more; anything more than that would no longer belong here (arguably neither does this, but since you're trying to re-install Linux... /grin) – Eugéne Jul 18 '11 at 12:30

Install gnome package via sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop. You might additionally need to install: x-window-system-core, xserver-xorg, gnome-desktop-environment, gdm but apt-get will probably do that.

As to the internet thingy: You can set up a bridge or emulate a router. How to do that depends a bit on your hardware. There is a myriad of forum posts and howtos available on that subject. Use Google.

Packages of interest: bridge-utils OR dnsmasq. The hostapd package is for WLAN access point if you want your laptop to be one. But frankly I don't see, why you don't connect your sever to the internet. A WLAN card is cheap and easy and I suppose your internet laptop is connected through a router already.

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How can I setup forwarding? – James Litewski Jul 20 '11 at 7:34
How do I install those packages without being connected to the internet..? – James Litewski Jul 20 '11 at 7:45
To be correct, ubuntu-desktop do not install the package gnome (and not even gnome-core), but a series of other gnome-$something packages. – enzotib Jul 20 '11 at 8:04
@James Litewski: Forwarding must be installed on the machine with internet! But generally this is Howto install packages offline. Also you can search and download all packages using Ubuntu package search. Though possibly the easier way is to connect the machine to the temporarily. – con-f-use Jul 20 '11 at 9:07

Some of the desktop managers have core-packages, so you can only install the desktop without any applications.

  • LXDE: sudo apt-get install lxde-core (for full sudo apt-get install lxde )
  • XFCE: sudo apt-get install xfce4 (for full sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop)
  • GNOME: sudo apt-get install gnome-core (for full sudo apt-get install gnome)


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  1. Configuring an interface:

    sudo ip link set dev eth0 down
    sudo dhclient eth0

    This will bring eth0 up using DHCP.

  2. Install your choice of a desktop:

    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop
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Hi guys after a little research I wanted to share an answer too!
Some more info can be found here I assume you start with a clean install of Ubuntu Server 16.04 (some modifications may be needed for older versions of Ubuntu). Depending on your needs you can do these:

  1. Minimal GUI:

    sudo apt install xorg
    sudo apt install --no-install-recommends openbox

    Run the command startx and openbox will start (you can open a terminal there and run any application you want)

  2. Minimal GUI with display manager:

    sudo apt install xorg
    sudo apt install --no-install-recommends lightdm-gtk-greeter
    sudo apt install --no-install-recommends lightdm
    sudo apt install --no-install-recommends openbox

    After reboot you will see the lightdm login menu.

  3. A more functional minimal desktop environment (the one I use):

    sudo apt install xorg
    sudo apt install –no-install-recommends lightdm-gtk-greeter
    sudo apt install –no-install-recommends lightdm
    sudo apt install –no-install-recommends gnome-icon-theme
    sudo apt install –no-install-recommends lxde-core
    sudo apt install –no-install-recommends lxde-common
    sudo apt install –no-install-recommends lxpolkit
    sudo apt install –no-install-recommends lxsession-logout
    sudo apt install –no-install-recommends gvfs-backends

    EXPLANATION: gnome-icon-theme is needed for basic icons(there are alternatvies), lxde-core and lxde-common will install the basic lxde components, lxpolkit is neede to run pkexec, lxsession-logout is needed so that the logout menu works, gvfs-backends is needed if you want trash,network,devices etc support at pcmanfm

  4. A full lightweight desktop environment:

    sudo apt install xorg

    Then choose one of these:

    sudo apt install --no-install-recommends lubuntu-core


    sudo apt install --no-install-recommends xubuntu-core


    sudo apt install --no-install-recommends ubuntu-mate-core

    EXPLANATION: Each of these metapackages is based on lxde,xfce and mate desktop respectively including dependencies as alsa, lightdm etc. and with many more packages as themes, configurations etc.

  5. A full lightweight desktop environment without minding the recommendations:

    Choose one of these:

    sudo apt install lubuntu-core


    sudo apt install xubuntu-core


    sudo apt install ubuntu-mate-core

    EXPLANATION: Almost the same as 4 (including full xorg installation) but with many more packages as bluetooth, printers, scanner support, different themes and fonts, basic gnome tools etc.

  6. A full desktop with all the extras (better choose another option):

    Choose one of these:

    sudo apt install lubuntu-desktop


    sudo apt install xubuntu-desktop


    sudo apt install ubuntu-mate-desktop


    sudo apt install ubuntu-gnome-desktop


    sudo apt install ubuntu-desktop


    sudo apt install kubuntu-desktop

    EXPLANATION: This will install everything that the live cd of each ubuntu flavor installs (that means even the media players or whatever they find useful for their flavor. So, it's not recommended option

TIP1: The --no-install-recommended options applies to all dependencies packages recursively so I first install xorg package to make sure all graphic drivers and other packages are installed and so that my system is portable even if I change motherboard or gpu. Some people install only components of xorg but I've never been able to create a usable system this way.

TIP2: If an option you choose installs network-manager and network-manager-gnome then better use it to configure your network and delete everything at /etc/network/interfaces file (except the lo interface) in order to avoid conflicts.

TIP3: If you need remote desktop via x11vnc then choose option 2 to 6 (I think you also need to add option -auth guess and -loopso that vnc works before you login and after you logout)

TIP4: At options 2 to 6 if you wanna stop lightdm autostarting then run the command systemctl disable lightdm and you can start it whenever you want with systemctl start lightdm. To re-enable it run systemctl enable lightdm and check it with systemctl is-enabled lightdm (sometimes you can't re-enable it and the is-enabled commands has output static so run sudo apt install -reinstall lightdm to fix it)

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The thing is, there is no GUI included with the server edition. You can install and use Webmin - a web based graphical interface, or, if you want desktop-like GUI, you'll need to pick and install the packages manually. The bare minimum would be Xorg, a window manager and probably a file manager.

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Webmin has been removed form the package list. It can lead to a severely damaged system. It edits configuration files in a non debian/ubuntu conform manner. – con-f-use Jul 20 '11 at 9:29

protected by Community Jun 18 '15 at 14:47

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