I'm a newbie to Ubuntu. I connect via SSH to a Ubuntu machine. I'm not sure if it's a server or not. When I connect via SSH, it works fine and the shell appears $ ... ready for instructions.

My question: how can I open the desktop (GUI) of the machine?

2 Answers 2


if you ssh'd with the -X option you can launch GUI programs through X11 forwarding. Then just start the GUI program you're interested in. For example, to explore the filesystem GUI:

ssh -X [email protected]

...after connection...

nautilus .

This is really bad practice though, the X11 connection is slow, and you'll hate it. Better to just get comfortable with the CLI.

  • 1
    I got an error when I type nautilus .
    – HTML Man
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 13:46
  • nautilus may not be installed on the host. To test if there is a GUI installed (which is not necessary on server), try which X, and if there is a path, try xclockwhich is usually always installed when a GUI is installed.
    – ridgy
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 13:50

There are basically two options: SSH with X forwarding and VNC. Regarding the question “server or desktop”, you should look at “How to check if ubuntu desktop or server is installed?”.

SSH with X forwarding

This allows you to run single applications on the remote server using terminal, like if they were running on your local machine. So you won’t see the desktop of the remote machine but run individual remote GUI apps independently – with the ability to move their windows around your desktop, minimize individually etc.

To enable this, run SSH command with the -X option and then launch a GUI application using the SSH terminal.

X forwarding must be enabled on the remote server.

The downside of this method is high network load of the transferred graphics, so it is practically usable only when both computers reside on the same fast LAN (for example company or university network).


This allows you to view the actual desktop like if you were sitting in front of the remote server. Unfortunately I have no experience with VNC on Ubuntu (other platforms only) but the guide at https://help.ubuntu.com/community/VNC should help. You will need to setup both VNC server & client.

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