A Weird Imagination

Remote graphical troubleshooting

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The problem#

For various reasons you might want graphical access to another computer, since some things can't be done over a text interface, including actually designing and troubleshooting what the graphical interface looks like. The other computer might be in a remote location across the internet, in a different room, or simply have a less convenient form factor like a tablet or television, so it's easier to use your desktop's keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

The solution#

The standard solution for this is VNC, specifically the x11vnc VNC server.

To keep a VNC server open to the current X11 session:

x11vnc -usepw -nevershared -forever -localhost -loop &
#... (run one or more graphical applications that block)
# When done, kill everything.
rkill $$

Then to connect to it, assuming the hostname is tablet and you're set up to connect to it via SSH:

$ vncviewer -via tablet -passwd ~/.vnc/tab-passwd localhost

This assumes you've created a ~/.vnc/passwd password file on the server by running

$ x11vnc -storepasswd

and entering something at the prompt from your favorite password generator. No need to save the password anywhere as the file itself is the actual password; just copy it to the client at ~/.vnc/tab-passwd to match the path used in the example above.

The details#

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Streams and socket and pipes, oh my

You know, like "lions and tigers and bears, oh my"… okay, not funny, moving on…

The problem#

There's a lot of different ways to transmit streams of bytes between applications on the same host or different hosts with various reasons you might want to use each one. And sometimes the two endpoints might disagree on which one they want to be using.

The solution#

As it turns out, there actually is a single answer to bridging any two byte streams: socat. The documentation has plenty of examples. Here's a few I made up involving named pipes and Unix sockets to go along with my recent posts:

Bridge a pair of named pipes to a Unix socket#

socat UNIX-LISTEN:test.sock 'PIPE:pipe_in!!PIPE:pipe_out'

Builds a bridge such that a client sees a Unix socket test.sock and the server communicates through two named pipes, pipe-in to send data over the socket and pipe_out to read the data received over the socket.

Connect to Unix socket HTTP server via TCP#

socat TCP-LISTEN:8042,fork,bind=localhost \

For an HTTP server accepting connections via the Unix socket http.sock, makes it also accept connections via the TCP socket localhost:8042.

Forward a Unix socket over an SSH connection#

socat EXEC:"ssh remote 'socat UNIX-CLIENT:service.sock -'" \

Note ssh can do the same without socat (including supporting either side being a TCP port):

ssh -N -L ./proxy-to-remote.sock:./service.sock remote

But that demonstrates combining socat and ssh for getting access to streams only accessible from a remote computer.

The details#

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