[ubuntu] How To Set Up GUI On Amazon EC2 Ubuntu server

I'm using an amazon Ubuntu EC2 instance which is only has a command line interface. I want to setup UI for that server to access using remote desktop tools. Is there any way to apply GUI to the EC2 instance?

This question is related to ubuntu amazon-web-services amazon-ec2 vnc

The answer is

1) Launch Ubuntu Instance on EC2.
2) Open SSH Port in instance security.
3) Do SSH to instance.
4) Execute:

sudo apt-get update    sudo apt-get upgrade

5) Because you will be connecting from Windows Remote Desktop, edit the sshd_config file on your Linux instance to allow password authentication.

sudo vim /etc/ssh/sshd_config

6) Change PasswordAuthentication to yes from no, then save and exit.
7) Restart the SSH daemon to make this change take effect.

sudo /etc/init.d/ssh restart

8) Temporarily gain root privileges and change the password for the ubuntu user to a complex password to enhance security. Press the Enter key after typing the command passwd ubuntu, and you will be prompted to enter the new password twice.

sudo –i
passwd ubuntu

9) Switch back to the ubuntu user account and cd to the ubuntu home directory.

su ubuntu

10) Install Ubuntu desktop functionality on your Linux instance, the last command can take up to 15 minutes to complete.

export DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive
sudo -E apt-get update
sudo -E apt-get install -y ubuntu-desktop

11) Install xrdp

sudo apt-get install xfce4
sudo apt-get install xfce4 xfce4-goodies

12) Make xfce4 the default window manager for RDP connections.

echo xfce4-session > ~/.xsession

13) Copy .xsession to the /etc/skel folder so that xfce4 is set as the default window manager for any new user accounts that are created.

sudo cp /home/ubuntu/.xsession /etc/skel

14) Open the xrdp.ini file to allow changing of the host port you will connect to.

sudo vim /etc/xrdp/xrdp.ini

(xrdp is not installed till now. First Install the xrdp with sudo apt-get install xrdp then edit the above mentioned file)

15) Look for the section [xrdp1] and change the following text (then save and exit [:wq]).

- to -

16) Restart xrdp.

sudo service xrdp restart

17) On Windows, open the Remote Desktop Connection client, paste the fully qualified name of your Amazon EC2 instance for the Computer, and then click Connect.

18) When prompted to Login to xrdp, ensure that the sesman-Xvnc module is selected, and enter the username ubuntu with the new password that you created in step 8. When you start a session, the port number is -1.

19) When the system connects, several status messages are displayed on the Connection Log screen. Pay close attention to these status messages and make note of the VNC port number displayed. If you want to return to a session later, specify this number in the port field of the xrdp login dialog box.

See more details: https://aws.amazon.com/premiumsupport/knowledge-center/connect-to-linux-desktop-from-windows/

For LXDE/Lubuntu

1. connect to your instance (local forwarding port 5901)

ssh -L 5901:localhost:5901 -i "xxx.pem" [email protected]

2. Install packages

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade
sudo apt-get install xorg lxde vnc4server lubuntu-desktop

3. Create /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf

sudo nano /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf

4. Copy and paste the following into the lightdm.conf and save


5. setup vncserver (you will be asked to create a password for the vncserver)

sudo echo "lxpanel & /usr/bin/lxsession -s LXDE &" >> ~/.vnc/xstartup

6. Restart your instance and reconnect

sudo reboot
ssh -L 5901:localhost:5901 -i "xxx.pem" [email protected]

7. Start vncserver

vncserver -geometry 1280x800

8. In your Remote Desktop Client (e.g. Remmina) set Server to localhost:5901 and protocol to VNC

For Ubuntu 16.04

1) Install packages

$ sudo apt update;sudo apt install --no-install-recommends ubuntu-desktop
$ sudo apt install gnome-panel gnome-settings-daemon metacity nautilus gnome-terminal vnc4server

2) Edit /usr/bin/vncserver file and modify as below

Find this line

"# exec /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc\n\n".

And add these lines below.

"gnome-session &\n".
"gnome-panel &\n".
"gnome-settings-daemon &\n".
"metacity &\n".
"nautilus &\n".
"gnome-terminal &\n".

3) Create VNC password and vnc session for the user using "vncserver" command.

lonely@ubuntu:~$ vncserver
You will require a password to access your desktops.
xauth: file /home/lonely/.Xauthority does not exist
New 'ubuntu:1 (lonely)' desktop is ubuntu:1
Creating default startup script /home/lonely/.vnc/xstartup
Starting applications specified in /home/lonely/.vnc/xstartup
Log file is /home/lonely/.vnc/ubuntu:1.log

Now you can access GUI using IP/Domain and port 1


Tested on AWS and digital ocean .

For AWS, you have to allow port 5901 on firewall

To kill session

$ vncserver -kill :1



Refer this guide to create permanent sessions as service


So I follow first answer, but my vnc viewer gives me grey screen when I connect to it. And I found this Ask Ubuntu link to solve that.

The only difference with previous answer is you need to install these extra packages:

apt-get install gnome-panel gnome-settings-daemon metacity nautilus gnome-terminal

And use this ~/.vnc/xstartup file:



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

gnome-panel &
gnome-settings-daemon &
metacity &
nautilus &
gnome-terminal &

Everything else is the same.

Tested on EC2 Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.

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