How to Set Up an Ubuntu Remote Desktop

Access a computer remotely with Ubuntu

Remote desktop sharing on Ubuntu uses the VNC protocol to allow computers inside or outside the local network to control a desktop session.

These instructions govern all currently supported versions of Ubuntu that run the GNOME desktop environment.

How to Share Your Ubuntu Desktop

Person using Remote Desktop with a Ubuntu Linux computer
Lifewire / Michela Buttignol 

There are two ways to set up a remote desktop using Ubuntu. The method outlined below is the one that the Ubuntu developers included as part of the system.

The second way is to use a piece of software called xRDP. This software is a bit hit-or-miss when running on Ubuntu. While you may now be able to access the desktop, you will find the experience a little frustrating due to mouse and cursor glitches and general graphics-based problems.

The actual process of sharing the desktop is relatively straightforward. The tricky bit is trying to access it from somewhere that isn't on your home networks such as your workplace, hotel, or internet cafe.

How to Enable Sharing On Ubuntu

This guide is designed for the default Ubuntu GNOME desktop. If you're using a different desktop environment, the process won't be the same.

  1. Launch the Ubuntu settings app and select Sharing from the left-side menu.

  2. On the Sharing tab, select Screen Sharing then activate Remote Login.

    enable remote login
  3. Select Allow connections to control the screen if it isn't already.

    Select Require a password for some added security and to be able to sign in without accepting the connection on your Ubuntu PC.

    allow connections
  4. When you're ready, flip the switch at the top of the window to enable screen sharing.

    activate screen sharing

How To Find Your Internal IP Address

Before you can connect to your Ubuntu desktop using another computer, you need to find out the IP address assigned to it.

The IP address you require depends on whether you are connecting from the same network or whether you are connecting from a different one. Generally speaking, if you are in the same house as the computer you are connecting to, then you are more than likely going to need the internal IP address. Otherwise, you will need the external IP address.

  1. From the computer running Ubuntu open a terminal window by pressing CTRL+ALT+T.

  2. Type the following command into the window:

    ip
    
  3. You'll receive a list of IP addresses from the different interfaces on your computer. The one you're looking for will probably begin with 192.168. You're not looking for the one that ends in 255.

    If you configured something different for your home network, it might begin with 10.something, but that's generally for VPN connections. It could also start with 172.16.something.

    How To Find Your External IP Address

    The external IP address is easier to find. From the computer running Ubuntu, open a web browser and go to Google.

    Type What is my IP. Google returns the result of your external IP address.

    Connecting to Your Ubuntu Desktop From Windows

    Whether you intend to connect to Ubuntu from your own home or elsewhere, it is worth trying it out at home first to make sure it is running correctly.

    Your computer running Ubuntu must be on and you must be logged in (although the lock screen can be showing).

    To connect from Windows, you need a piece of software called a VNC Client. There are loads to choose from but the one we recommend is called RealVNC.

  4. Go to the RealVNC website and click Download VNC Viewer.

  5. After the download has finished, click on the executable (called something like VNC-Viewer-6.0.2-Windows-64bit.exe). This file will be located in your downloads folder.

  6. The first screen you will see is a license agreement. Check the box to show you accept the terms and conditions, and press OK.

  7. Run through the rest of the installer. Choose the default options.

  8. Press Got It to move on to the main interface.

  9. To connect to your Ubuntu desktop type the internal IP address into the box which contains the text Enter a VNC server address or search.

    Type IP address
  10. Select your server to connect.

  11. A password box prompts you for the password you created when you set up desktop sharing. 

    type your password
  12. You should now see your Ubuntu desktop on your other PC.

  13. To disconnect, move your cursor to the top of the window, and select the X icon to close the connection.

    end session

Troubleshooting an Ubuntu Remote Desktop

You may receive an error stating that the connection cannot be made because the encryption level is too high on the Ubuntu computer.

The first thing to try is to increase the level of encryption the VNC Viewer is attempting to use.

Right-click the icon for your connection and click Properties. Try each encryption option in turn. If none of the options work, try these instructions:

Type the following command into a terminal on Ubuntu:

gsettings set org.gnome.vino require-encryption false

Try to connect to Ubuntu again using Windows.

Running this command will send password credentials "in the clear" (meaning anyone "sniffing" for unencrypted network traffic can intercept), which is a huge security threat.

Connect to Ubuntu From The Outside World

To connect to Ubuntu from the outside world, you need to use the external IP address. When you try this the first time, you will probably not be able to connect. The reason for this is that you need to open a port on your router to allow outside connections.

For an extensive guide for opening ports, visit portforward.com/router.htm and choose the make and model for your router. The site offers step-by-step instructions for hundreds of different routers.