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I've learned that I can switch between virtual consoles by pressing Ctrl+Alt+F1–F12, and I've found that the graphical interface was usually running at either F7/F8 (now on F2).

Why does this vary, and is there a way to predict it?

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X uses the first free virtual terminal, and the first six are now allocated for gettys by upstart from /etc/init/tty[1-6].conf, and traditionally by init from /etc/inittab.

To choose a specific virtual terminal for X, you pass it the parameter 'vtXX' (see X -help) , where XX is the desired terminal number. There are a bunch of ways to pass parameters to X, but that is stuff for another question. :)

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F7 is the default Xserver console. I believe that F8 is only used if there is already an Xserver running on F7, or if F7 is busy.

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    To add to this, if you sign out and back in (and a new X session is started), your display will then be on F8. – Jacob Peddicord Oct 10 '10 at 20:35
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Some display managers, including lightdm, spawn Xorg server with the vt7 argument, that explicitly requests it to attach to tty7.

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