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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Detachable X sessions

X forwarding#

Normally with X, it's easy to run an application on a remote computer just by using X forwarding:

local:~$ ssh -X host
host:~$ echo $DISPLAY
host:~$ xterm

The xterm will appear on your local computer.

But if you want to continue working with that application on a different remote computer (or once you are physically in front of the computer it is running on), then you're out of luck.

For an application running in the terminal, you can start it inside a GNU Screen (or tmux) session which you can detach and then attach to again on another ssh connection.

GNU Screen for X#

xpra (X Persistent Remote Applications) lets you move graphical applications from one computer to another in addition to fixing other problems with X forwarding. If you instead use xpra for the forwarding, then you can detach and reattach to the session at will.

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