Linux Productivity Windows

How to Remote Control Linux From Windows

Christian Cawley Updated 27-03-2020

Set up a Linux server? Perhaps you’ve configured it as the solution to network storage. Or maybe you have a Linux work PC, media center, or a simple secondary PC in another room.

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Whatever the case, at some point you’ll need to remotely access the Linux device from a Windows PC or laptop. So, what is the solution?

Windows users have several tools that enable simple remote desktop from Windows to Linux. Want to know how to access your Linux desktop from Windows? Read on!

You’ll Need the Linux Device’s IP Address

Before you start, find the IP address of your Linux device. You need this for all remote connection options, although in some cases the hostname (the device’s network name) will do.

The simplest way to check the IP address is to login to you your Linux device, and open the terminal. Enter:

ifconfig

The IP address of the device will be displayed.

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If the Linux box has an Ethernet connection, the address will be listed alongside eth0. If it’s connected wirelessly, look for the IP address listed against wlan0.

If this isn’t easy, or convenient, there is another method which is almost as simple. In your browser window, connect to your router. This is usually an address like 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.0.100. You should be able to check by looking at the router itself, or the documentation that came with it.

Get your Linux device IP address

Once signed into the router, look for an option labelled called “Connected Devices” or similar. Browse through the IP addresses to find your Linux device by hostname. Some routers can even display the device operating system. You’ll find the IP address listed alongside.

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Keep a note of the IP address, as you’ll need it later. And make sure you know the username and password for your Linux computer or server!

How to Access a Linux Desktop From Windows via RDP

The first and easiest option is RDP, Remote Desktop Protocol, which is built into Windows.

Before starting, you’ll need to install the xrdp software on your Linux box. You can do this in person or using SSH (see below) with a single command:

sudo apt install xrdp

To RDP to Linux, run the Remote Desktop software on your Windows machine. In Windows 8 and later, it can be found via Search, simply by inputting the letters, “rdp”.

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With the Remote Desktop Connection window open:

  • Input the IP address
  • Use Show Options for any advanced connection requirements
  • Click Connect

Remote connect to Linux with RDP

It’s as simple as that.

Benefits of RDP: while it might take a bit longer to set up, using RDP provides great reliability and remote desktop access to Linux. This makes it an ideal tool for remote working with Linux machines.

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If you use plan to use RDP on a regular basis, you can save some time by creating these custom configurations for Windows RDP 8 Windows Remote Desktop Connection Custom Configurations to Save You Time Using Windows Remote Desktop Connection? Create custom remote desktop connection configurations to save a lot of time. Read More .

Remote Into Linux From Windows With VNC

A Virtual Network Connection (VNC) also affords remote access to your Linux desktop. As with RDP, however, you’ll need to install some dedicated software. On the Linux box, VNC server software is required; on Windows, a client app.

One of the most popular options for connecting to Linux over VNC is TightVNC. You’ll find the Windows client software at the website, but make sure you choose the right version.

Download: VNC for Windows

Once you’ve done that, install the tightvncserver on your Linux box. This might be via SSH (see the next section), or with physical access to the computer.

First, in Linux, check for updates:

sudo apt update

Next, run this command:

sudo apt install tightvncserver

Once installed, run tightvncserver, and set a password when prompted.

sudo tightvncserver

There is an eight-character limit for passwords. With tightvncserver now running, you’ll see a notification displaying the port number—make a note of it.

To remote connect to Linux from Windows:

  • Run the TightVNC Viewer app in Windows
  • Input the IP address and port number
  • Click Connect
  • Input the password you set when prompted

Remote desktop from Windows to Linux with VNC

The remote desktop will then open, and you can start using the app of your choice—within reason. Certain applications with heavy graphical demands are unlikely to run reliably, if at all.

Benefits of VNC: offering fast access to the remote PC, TightVNC has its limits. You can perform standard computing tasks, but media-related activities are severely limited.

Remote Into Linux via SSH

SSH (Secure Shell) is a great way to gain remote access to your Linux device. You’re not limited to Windows with this option, either, as SSH can be used from almost any device. It’s also very secure.

You have two options for SSH on Windows:

  1. SSH in Windows PowerShell
  2. Download the PuTTY SSH tool

Let’s look at both.

Remote Access Linux With SSH in Windows PowerShell

Windows PowerShell is the new command line tool in Windows 10, replacing the old Command Prompt app. Find it by right-clicking Start to access the Power Menu and select Windows PowerShell. To SSH, enter:

ssh [IP_ADDRESS]

So if the Linux device has an IP address of 192.168.13.123 enter:

  • ssh 192.168.13.123
  • When prompted, accept the certificate
  • Input the username and password

You now have remote SSH access to Linux.

Connect to Linux Remotely Using SSH in PuTTY

Although not natively available in Windows, the PuTTY application can be downloaded. PuTTY isn’t installed, however. Instead, you simply run the downloaded EXE file.

Download: PuTTY

For convenience, it’s a good idea to create a desktop shortcut How to Create Windows Desktop Shortcuts the Easy Way Smart desktop shortcuts can save you mindless sifting through menus and folders. We show you quick & easy ways to create them. Read More .

To use PuTTY for SSH:

  • Select Session > Host Name
  • Input the Linux computer’s network name, or enter the IP address you noted earlier
  • Select SSH, then Open
  • When prompted to accept the certificate for the connection, do so
  • Enter the username and password to sign into your Linux device

Remote into Linux from Windows with SSH

Benefits of SSH: using this method lets you make quick changes to Linux without getting your hands dirty. Particularly suited to software installation and admin changes. It’s also useful for setting up the next option, VNC!  SSH is also perfect for servers How to Remotely Manage a Linux Server with SSH SSH is very functional, which is why it's a go-to for remote server management. Learn how to remotely manage a Linux server via SSH, from connection, to installing software, and file transfers. Read More without a desktop environment installed.

However, if you need a remote connection to the Linux desktop, try VNC or RDP.

Three Ways to Remote Control Linux From Windows

Whatever your use case, there is a suitable option for remotely access Linux device from Windows. These methods work whether the device is a server, desktop PC at work, media center, or even a Raspberry Pi.

From easiest to toughest, remote access Linux from Windows using:

  • RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol)
  • VNC (Virtual Network Connection)
  • SSH (Secure Shell)

If your Linux distro happens to be Ubuntu, you already have a built-in VNC-compatible remote desktop tool. Here’s how to use Ubuntu Remote Desktop Ubuntu Remote Desktop: Easy, Built-In, VNC Compatible Need to remotely connect to your Ubuntu PC? Use Ubuntu's remote desktop tools to access your PC from Linux, macOS, or Windows. Read More .

Related topics: Home Office, Linux Tips, Remote Access, Remote Desktop, Remote Work, SSH, Ubuntu, VNC, Windows Tips.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Matteo Caratozzolo
    January 6, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Thumbs up for the tutorial.
    Thumbs down for implying that ALL Linux installs are Debian based.
    Only those who have apt will be able to use this. And someone who is using apt on a non-deb system are too advanced to need this article in the first place. :)

    ...just saying

    Yes there are plenty of folks using Ubuntu because of it's popularity and somewhat-ease-of-use.
    This tutorial will work for them. You might consider changing the name of the article to reflect this.

  2. John Smith
    May 30, 2017 at 2:03 am

    Do NOT, I repeat do NOT install and allow VNC (tightvnc, or others) on your Linux box without securing it through reverse tunnel, or port forwarding. You will regret it.
    Have it listen on your local loopback, forward your ports or allow reverse tunnel to your box.
    There are many tutorials for that you can find.

  3. Doradolynne
    March 23, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    This is a good way of doing it, but for those that are not quite so technically minded, there is always the option of a turnkey program, such as proxy networks (http://www.proxynetworks.com) or Bomgar, or even logmein.

  4. Doradolynne
    March 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    This is a good way of doing it, but for those that are not quite so technically minded, there is always the option of a turnkey program, such as proxy networks (http://www.proxynetworks.com) or Bomgar, or even logmein.

  5. Desmond
    January 12, 2011 at 11:05 am

    thanks for the article Dave, just what I needed.

  6. K3lvinmitnick
    January 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    is any topic that guide in Windows ?
    k3lvinmitnick.tk,

  7. K3lvinmitnick
    January 11, 2011 at 11:51 am

    is any topic that guide in Windows ?
    k3lvinmitnick.tk,

  8. Linux Commands
    January 11, 2011 at 5:29 am

    Nice notes. Thanks for explaining How To Remote Control Linux From Windows... very useful. Thanks a lot

  9. Aram Iskenderian
    January 10, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I think you should also include Nomachine NX Free edition.
    http://www.nomachine.com/products.php

    • Dave Drager
      January 10, 2011 at 8:33 pm

      Thank you for mentioning NoMachine. It does work well but involves running a separate service - I have always found straight VNC to work better, but I also know other people who really like NoMachine.

      • Aram Iskenderian
        January 21, 2011 at 4:05 am

        Thanks Dave.
        While I agree, NoMachie's NX Free edition is not that easy to install, but it is also a secure way. Using a direct VNC connection is good when you are on your home LAN, or on a small office LAN, but for a large office, multiple users around, or over the Internet, it is a security problem waiting to happen.
        I have Linux servers that I have setup VNC for the for remote control (for the few thins that I need a GUI remote access and not a shell access), and here is what I do to connect to the securely.

        On the Windows computer, download and install PuTTY ssh client or find the portable version if you don't want to install, available from several web sources like portableapps.com.
        Make sure that your Linux server has ssh server running and accepting connections.
        Configure PuTTY to connect to your Linux computer, save the configuration, but don't start the connection yet.
        In the PuTTY configuration screen, on the left side, under Connections and then SSH, you'll see the Tunnels section.
        Add a new forwarded port, specifying the source port as 5900, and the destination as [Remote Linux IP address]:5900, click back Session on the top of the left side, and then save the session.
        Connect and verify that connection is established.
        Start VNC client, and then enter 127.0.0.1:5900 or localhost:5900 in the "Server" field and then click OK.
        If everything is working with no problems, then you should be prompted for your VNC remote password, and then you can proceed from there.
        This is very secure, prevents snooping and even works when you are behind a firewall that blocks non standard ports.

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