We have a couple of (identical) Ubuntu 11.10 machines, configured with gnome-classic, which we use as remote servers, and let our clients log into personal user accounts we create for them using vnc4server.

We configured all the machines in the same way, following a short manual we compiled, describing how to download, install and prepare a few tools and our software.

The connection usually works fine, but today I set up a fresh machine, and experienced problems.

After installing vnc4server, I ran vncpasswd and copied the following startup file to ~/.vnc/xstartup:

gnome-session --session=gnome-classic &  
[ -x /etc/vnc/xstartup ] && exec /etc/vnc/xstartup  
[ -r $HOME/.Xresources ] && xrdb $HOME/.Xresources  
xsetroot -solid grey  
vncconfig -iconic &  

Then, I started vnc4server and used two viewers (the Ubuntu Remote Desktop Viewer and Windows RealVNC Client) in two other machines, but instead of getting my desktop, I see an empty window with a grey-ish background pattern like this:

enter image description here

and the cursor is a bold X.

What is wrong with the setup and why don't I get a remote session as expected?

  • Please check your firewall settings on both machines for ports 5900 (or whichever port you've configured) as that the service is allowed.
    – rwc
    Apr 9, 2012 at 23:44
  • Thanks, @Hobie, but everything was set correctly, otherwise I won't even be able to connect.
    – ysap
    Apr 10, 2012 at 0:04
  • You might consider using a configuration management tool such as ansible to avoid this sort of problem in the future.
    – ctrlc-root
    Mar 11, 2014 at 19:35

2 Answers 2


You may want to edit the /root/.vnc/xstartup file so it reads (in your case, the x-terminal-emulator line is your important part to add),

xrdb $HOME/.Xresources
xsetroot -solid grey
x-terminal-emulator -geometry 80x24+10+10 -ls -title "$VNCDESKTOP Desktop" &
gnome-session &
  • Is this a default file that vnc4server reads whenever it starts, before reading the per-user file?
    – ysap
    Apr 10, 2012 at 0:49
  • How is gnome-terminal (x-terminal-emulator) related to the problem?
    – ysap
    Apr 10, 2012 at 0:55

So, we found out that the xstartup file needs executable permission, which were not set in this machine's configuration. Contrary to other machine, this time I created a new file and typed the contents in instead of just copying a file from another machine, so by default it did not have exe permissions.

> chmod a+x ~/.vnc/xstartup

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