Linux

Ubuntu Remote Desktop: Easy, Built-In, VNC Compatible

Christian Cawley Updated 08-04-2020

If you’re working from home, or are too far from your Ubuntu PC, setting up a remote connection seems smart.

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Ubuntu features a built-in remote desktop tool. This gives you total control over your desktop from any other computer or mobile device. You’ll see what’s on that screen and be able to move the mouse, and even type!

The remote desktop feature supports RDP and VNC and is built into Ubuntu by default. Here’s how to use remote desktop software with Ubuntu.

3 Ways to Remote Control Ubuntu

Generally speaking, you have three options to remote control an Ubuntu PC:

  1. SSH: Secure Shell
  2. VNC: Virtual Network Computing
  3. RDP: Remote Desktop Protocol

While many Linux users see SSH as their remote connection How to Set Up SSH on Linux and Test Your Setup: A Beginner's Guide Need to access your Linux computer or server remotely? Here's how to set up and configure SSH on Linux, Windows, and mobile. Read More tool of choice, it lacks a graphical user interface (GUI).

Usually, these three options are separate. However, thanks to Ubuntu’s built-in remote desktop tool, you can use SSH, VNC and RDP in the same app. Linux, Mac, and Windows PCs can use remote desktop tools to control Ubuntu, as can Android and iOS.

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Enabling Ubuntu Remote Desktop

Enabling the Ubuntu Remote Desktop could not be easier. You don’t need to install a thing: Ubuntu has built in VNC support. However, you will need to move to the Ubuntu PC to set it up the first time.

Click Search and enter desktop sharing, then click Sharing. You’ll be presented with a simple window of options. Along the top edge of the window, click the switch to enable the feature. Next, click the Screen Sharing button and again, find the switch on the window and click it to enable.

Enable Ubuntu remote desktop

Ensure that Allow connections to control the screen is enabled. For security purposes, you should also set a password here.

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As soon as you enable remote connection, the local name of your Ubuntu device will be displayed. This is a VNC address—keep a note of it for remote access later.

Remote Control Ubuntu With VNC

Controlling an Ubuntu PC over VNC is straightforward from another device. Just be sure you have a VNC client or viewer app installed. Here’s how to use VNC from another desktop computer.

Remote Desktop Ubuntu From Another Linux Device

Ubuntu (and many other Linux distributions) comes with a preinstalled remote desktop viewer. This means that once your Ubuntu PC is configured for remote connection, you can connect to it from whatever Linux distro you’re using.

  • Click Search and enter remote.
  • Select the first result, Remmina.

Search for Remmina remote desktop software on Ubuntu

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  • Select VNC in the drop-down menu on the left.
  • Enter the VNC address (or IP address) you noted earlier for the Ubuntu PC.
  • Tap Enter to commence the connection.
  • When prompted, input the password.

As you add devices, they’ll be saved in the list so you can quickly access them in future.

Use this tool to connect to other Ubuntu desktops on your network, and you’ll be controlling that computer remotely. The tool can also be used to control any computer with a VNC client installed.

Remotely Connect to Ubuntu From Windows

Want to control your Ubuntu computer from a Windows computer? Using the same VNC address (or your Ubuntu computer’s IP address) you can.

First, however, you’ll need a VNC client, such as VNC Viewer (from VNC Connect) installed on your Windows computer. Then you can connect to your Ubuntu machine by entering the VNC or IP address.

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Check our guide about establishing a remote desktop connection to Ubuntu from Windows How to Establish Remote Desktop Access to Ubuntu From Windows Need to remote access your Ubuntu PC from another location? Here's how to remote desktop with Ubuntu from Windows. Read More  for full details.

Establish an Ubuntu Remote Desktop From a Mac

Mac users wanting to connect to their Ubuntu machines should use the built-in VNC Viewer tool.

Again, connecting to your Ubuntu machine is a simple matter of entering your IP address or the provided VNC address., Want for some in-depth information about using VNC on a Mac?

Check our tutorial to easy remote desktop support on the Mac How to Setup Easy Remote Support on the Mac Read More .

What About RDP on Ubuntu?

It’s also possible to connect to an Ubuntu PC over RDP.

Remote Desktop Protocol is a proprietary system developed by Microsoft. It has proven so successful that RDP server and client apps are available on most software platforms.

RDP’s authentication system relies on your computer username and password and is quick and easy to set up.

Configure Ubuntu RDP

Before connecting to Ubuntu over RDP, you’ll need to know the remote computer’s IP address. The easiest way is to open a terminal and enter

ifconfig

Be sure to note the inet addr value that corresponds with the connection type. For example, if the Ubuntu computer is on Ethernet, use this IP address.

Next, you’ll need to install xrdp. This is an RDP server for Ubuntu (and other Linux devices) and is required before remote connection.

Install with

sudo apt install xrdp

Once installed, launch the server with

sudo systemctl enable xrdp

With xrdp running, you’re ready to use RDP.

Set Up a Remote Desktop RDP Connection With Ubuntu

As noted, RDP clients are available for most platforms. For example, you can use Remmina’s RDP function if you’re using a Linux computer to remotely control Ubuntu. Similarly, RDP is built into Windows.

If you’re using a standard desktop, use these steps to use RDP to connect to Ubuntu.

  • Ubuntu/Linux: Launch Remmina and select RDP in the drop-down box. Enter the remote PC’s IP address and tap Enter.
  • Windows: Click Start and type rdp. Look for the Remote Desktop Connection app and click Open. Input the IP address of your Ubuntu computer and click Connect.

Set up a Windows Remote Desktop connection with Ubuntu

  • Mac: Start by installing the Microsoft Remote Desktop 10 software from the App Store. Launch the software, click Add Desktop, add the IP address under PC Name, then Save. Simply double-click the icon for the connection in the app window to start a remote desktop session.

Our guide to using RDP on a Mac Microsoft Remote Desktop: How to Access Windows From Your Mac Here's how to remote access Windows 10 from a Mac using Microsoft's free Remote Desktop tool. Read More will help here. It’s aimed at remote controlling a Windows PC, but the setup is the same for Linux.

Note that RDP will prompt for your Ubuntu PC account credentials when the connection is first established.

Use Chrome Remote Desktop With Ubuntu

If you can’t establish remote desktop access with Ubuntu, there is an almost-universal alternative you can try: Chrome Remote Desktop.

This is a cross-platform downloadable tool for Linux, Windows, macOS, and Chrome OS that lets you remotely access your PC. You can also use the Android or iOS mobile app for remote access.

With Chrome Remote Desktop, remote access is managed via your Google account. All you need is an access code for the remote PC. Once a remote desktop session with Ubuntu is initiated, you can control your computer as with any other remote tool.

For more information, see our guide to Chrome Remote Desktop How to Use Chrome Remote Desktop to Control Your PC From Anywhere Here's a walkthrough on how to use Chrome Remote Desktop to connect to your computer and control it no matter where you are. Read More .

Can You Remote Control Ubuntu Away From Home?

Want to connect to your Ubuntu machine while traveling? This is a little trickier, but not totally impossible. You’re going to need a static IP, or a dynamic address from a service such as DynDNS.

This basically forwards a web address to a device running DynDNS on your network. Read our tutorial for using DynDNS to connect to your computer from anywhere Connect To Your Home PCs From Anywhere With DynDNS Read More for details and examples.

Make a Remote Desktop Connection With Ubuntu

Whatever your remote desktop requirements don’t feel limited by Ubuntu. It has built-in tools to ensure that you can SSH, VNC, and RDP to your Ubuntu PC.

And if the native remote-control app is too complicated, you can use the simpler option of Chrome Remote Desktop.

Have different remote requirements? Here’s how to remote control Ubuntu from Windows How to Remote Control Linux From Windows Need to remotely access your Linux desktop computer from Windows? Here's what you need to know about RDP, VNC, and SSH to Linux. Read More . Use a Mac? Learn how to use Apple remote desktop How to Use Apple Remote Desktop to Manage Mac Computers Your Mac includes Apple Remote Desktop, a tool that makes it easy to manage all your Mac machines. Here's how to start using it. Read More .

Related topics: Linux Tips, Remote Access, Remote Desktop, Remote Work, Ubuntu, VNC.

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  1. Guido
    November 7, 2019 at 8:44 am

    In Pop OS 19.04/19.10 and Ubuntu 19.04/19.10 this is not working at all. There is no way get access to these machines with either rdp or vnc this way. I must say that the last year I'm finding it more dificult and time consuming to remotely setup and control Linux boxes then Windows server instances. I'm thinking about giving Linus up and switching to Windows Server.

  2. Dave
    March 12, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    "Dead easy" in the sense that you're dead in the water if you're running a headless server as anybody using a VPS or cloud server will be. It's a catch 22 that you have to already have access to the desktop in order to create remote access to the desktop.

  3. Dims
    September 1, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    Built-in remote desktop of 16.04 is useless, because it requires to login to desktop physically before it will be shared.

  4. Anonymous
    July 26, 2015 at 7:39 am

    It isn't there in Ubuntu 12.04. There's no "Settings", just "System Settings" and no "Preferences" under it.

  5. Matthew
    May 2, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    A bit dated now, these days we might not be able to click on anything if the machine is a vps, so how to do this from the command line over SSH would be useful ?

    • Justin Pot
      May 3, 2015 at 7:04 pm

      I might have to look into this, thanks for the note. I wrote this article 5 years ago.

  6. mehdi
    April 27, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    HI,
    Is it possible to post a tutorial on how to start the vnc server on boot. The problem is that if I logout from my ubuntu machine , I cannot access it remotely from vnc and get to the gnome desktop to open my session.
    Thanks a lot if you can help.

  7. mehdi
    April 27, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    HI,
    Is it possible to post a tutorial on how to start the vnc server on boot. The problem is that if I logout from my ubuntu machine , I cannot access it remotely from vnc and get to the gnome desktop to open my session.
    Thanks a lot if you can help.

  8. FritzPinguin
    April 23, 2010 at 4:35 am

    In the meantime Teamviewer for Linux is available and works perfectly for controlling Windows from Linux and vice versa.

  9. rgarcia
    March 30, 2010 at 9:59 am

    I want to connect to my Ubuntu desktop via VNC from my Nintendo Wii. Any ideas? I tried the above, but the Wii just keeps looking for the PC and then times out.

    • Justin Pot
      March 30, 2010 at 10:02 am

      You're a few steps ahead of me, because I didn't even know there was a VNC viewer for a Wii. What program are you using?

      • Simon
        April 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm

        VNC for wii is only possible if the "homebrew channel" is installed.

  10. ummysalu
    March 19, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    This is not Ubuntu Remote Desktop, this is Gnome Remote Desktop, all the linux steps of this article apply to any recent Gnome desktop (fedora, suse, ...) and not only Ubuntu.

  11. Robert M
    March 18, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    If I remember correctly, I was able to use Teamviewer on Ubuntu via WINE to access other machines without any problems. It has been a while since I've tried it out so IDK if it still works.