Xfce Desktop on EC2

How to run Xfce on EC2 #


Problem #

  • You need a globally reachable Linux machine which runs a desktop environment.
  • You want to be able to access this machine from the Internet.

Solution #

  • Rent a headless Virtual Machine with AWS, Azure or another cloud provider which can provision a public IP address for the machine.
  • Install Xfce on the Virtual Machine.
  • Use Remote Desktop to connect to the Xfce Desktop Environment on the machine.

Steps #

  1. Create an EC2 instance

Follow these instructions to create an EC2 instance. The default user name is ubuntu

  1. Login via SSH

Get the public IP of the EC2 instance and log in with user ubuntu

  1. Update Package List
sudo apt-get update
  1. Set a password for the ubuntu user
sudo passwd ubuntu
  1. Install Xfce and Remote Desktop

The following command installs essential Xfce and Remote Desktop packages. Note: This will install a few hundreds of dependency packages

sudo apt-get install xfce4 xfce4-goodies xfce4-terminal xrdp

During the installation you will need to set the default display manager to lightdm

Open EC2 Dashboard

  1. Configure XServer

Make Xfce the default display manager for the ubuntu user and restart the machine

echo "startxfce4" > ~/.xsession
sudo shutdown -r now
  1. Port Forwarding to Remote Desktop

Repeat step 2 to log into the EC2 and additionally forward an arbitrary local port (2000 below) to the remote desktop port 3389.

Note: The following command works with the OpenSSH syntax. Switch -N does not open a remote shell but only forwards the port (See more info here).

ssh ubuntu@<server-ip|FQDN> -i <private-pem-key-file> -L 2000: -N
  1. Connect to Remote Desktop (from Windows)

Start the Remote Desktop application. As remote address provide the local endpoint of the SSH tunnel.

Open Remote Desktop

Click “Connect” and provide your username (default is ubuntu) and password (as set in step 4) in the login dialog.

Remote Desktop

If all works well, you should see a desktop with a few desktop icons, a launcher at the bottom and menu bar at the top.

Remote Desktop


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