How To Setup A Ubuntu Remote Desktop

1
How To Share Your Ubuntu Desktop

Share Your Ubuntu Desktop
Share Your Ubuntu Desktop.

There are many reasons why you might want to connect to a computer remotely.

Maybe you are at work and you have realised you have left that important document on your computer at home and need to get it without getting back in the car and embarking on a 20 mile journey.

Possibly you have a friend who is having issues with their computer running Ubuntu and you wish to offer your services to help them fix it but without having to leave the house.

Whatever your reasons are for needing to connect to your computer this guide will help to achieve that aim, as long as the computer is running Ubuntu.

There are two ways to set up a remote desktop using Ubuntu. The one I am going to show you is the more official way and the method that the Ubuntu developers have decided to include as part of the main system.

The second way is to use a piece of software called xRDP. Unfortunately this software is a bit hit and miss when running on Ubuntu and whilst you may now be able to access the desktop you will find the experience a little frustrating due to mouse and cursor issues and general graphics based problems. It is all due to the GNOME/Unity desktop that is installed by default with Ubuntu. You could go down the route of installing another desktop environment, but you may deem this as overkill.

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

This guide will show you how to connect to the computer using Windows, Ubuntu and even your mobile phone.

To start the process:

  1. click on the icon at the top of the Unity Launcher which is the bar down the left side of the screen.
  2. When the Unity Dash appears start entering the word "Desktop"
  3. An icon will appear with the words "Desktop Sharing" underneath. Click on this icon.

2
Setting Up Desktop Sharing

Desktop Sharing
Desktop Sharing.

The desktop sharing interface is broken down into three sections:

  1. Sharing
  2. Security
  3. Show notification area icon

Sharing

The sharing section has two available options:

  1. Allow other users to view your desktop
  2. Allow other users to control your desktop

If you wish to show another person something on your computer but you don't want them to be able to make changes then just tick the "allow other users to view your desktop" option.

If you know the person who is going to be connecting to your computer or indeed it is going to be you from another location tick both boxes.

Warning: Do not allow somebody you do not know to have control over your desktop as they can damage your system and delete your files. 

Security

The security section has three available options:

  1. You must confirm each access to this machine
  2. Require the user to enter this password
  3. Automatically configure UPnP router to open and forward ports

If you are setting up the desktop sharing so that other people can connect to your computer to show them your screen then you should check the box for "you must confirm each access to this machine". This means you know exactly how many people are connecting to your computer. 

If you intend to connect to the computer from another destination yourself then you should make sure the "you must confirm each access to this machine" does not have a tick in it. If you are elsewhere then you won't be around to confirm the connection.

Whatever your reason for setting up desktop sharing you should definitely set a password. Place a tick in the "Require the user to use this password" box and then enter the best password you can think of into the space provided.

The third option deals with accessing the computer from outside your network. By default your home router will be set up to only allow other computers connected to that router to know about the other computers and devices connected to that network. To connect from the outside world your router needs to open a port to allow that computer to join the network and have access to the computer your are trying to connect to.

Some routers allow you to configure this within Ubuntu and if you intend to connect from outside your network it is worth placing a tick into the "Automatically configure UPnP router to open and forward ports".

Show Notifications Area Icon

The notification area is in the top right corner of your Ubuntu desktop. You can configure the desktop sharing to show an icon to show it is running.

The options available are as follows:

  1. Always
  2. Only when someone is connected
  3. Never

If you choose the "Always" option then an icon will appear until you turn desktop sharing off. If you choose "Only when someone is connected" the icon will only appear if someone connects to the computer. The final option is to never show the icon.

When you have chosen the settings that are right for you click on the "Close" button. You are now ready to connect from another computer.

3
Take A Note Of Your IP Address

Find Your IP Address
Find Your IP Address.

Before you can connect to your Ubuntu desktop using another computer you need to find out the IP address that has been 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 network. 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.

How To Find Your Internal IP Address

From the computer running Ubuntu open a terminal window by pressing ALT and T at the same time.

Type the following command into the window:

ifconfig

A list of potential access points will be displayed in short blocks of text with a line space between each one. 

If your machine is connected directly to the router using a cable then look for the block starting "ETH:". If however you are using a wireless connection look for the section starting something like "WLAN0" or "WLP2S0". 

Note: The option will vary for the wireless access point depending on the network card used. 

There are generally 3 blocks of text. "ETH" is for wired connections, "Lo" stands for local network and you can ignore this one and the third one will be the one you are looking for when connecting via WIFI.

Within the block of text look for the word "INET" and note the numbers down on a piece of paper. They will be something along the lines of "192.168.1.100". This is your internal IP address.

How To Find Your External IP Address

The external IP address is more easily found.

From the computer running Ubuntu open a web browser such as Firefox (usually the third icon from top on the Unity Launcher) and go to Google.

Now type "What is my IP". Google will return the result of your external IP address. Write this down.

4
Connecting To Your Ubuntu Desktop From Windows

Connect To Ubuntu Using Windows
Connect To Ubuntu Using Windows.

Connect To Ubuntu Using The Same Network

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.

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

In order to connect from Windows you need a piece of software called a VNC Client. There are loads to choose from but the one I recommend is called "RealVNC".

To download RealVNC go to https://www.realvnc.com/download/viewer/

Click on the big blue button with the words "Download VNC Viewer".

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.

The first screen you will see is a license agreement Check the box to show you accept the terms and conditions and then click "OK".

The next screen shows you all the functionality of Real VNC Viewer.

Note: There is a tick box at the bottom of this screen that says usage data will be sent anonymously to the developers. This sort of data is usually used for bug fixing and improvements but you may wish to untick this option

Click the "Got It" button to move on to the main interface.

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".

A password box should now appear and you can enter the password created when you set up desktop sharing. 

Ubuntu should now appear.

Troubleshooting

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. To do this:

  1. Choose File -> New Connection
  2. Enter the internal IP address into the box "VNC Server"
  3. Give the connection a name
  4. Change the "Encryption" option to be "always maximum".
  5. Click OK
  6. A new icon will appear in the window with the name you gave it in step 2.
  7. Double click on the icon.

If this fails right click on the icon and click properties and try each encryption option in turn.

In the event that none of the options work follow these instructions

  1. Open a terminal on the Ubuntu computer (press ALT and T)
  2. Type the following command::

gsettings set org.gnome.Vino require-encryption false

You should now be able to try to connect to Ubuntu again using Windows.

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.

The way to open ports is a diverse subject as each router has its own way of doing this. There is a guide on Lifewire to do with port forwarding but for a more extensive guide visit https://portforward.com/.

Start by visiting https://portforward.com/router.htm and choose the make and model for your router. There are step by step instructions for hundreds of different routers so yours should be catered for.

5
Connect To Ubuntu Using Your Mobile Phone

Ubuntu From A Phone
Ubuntu From A Phone.

Connecting to the Ubuntu desktop from your Android phone or tablet is as easy as it is for Windows.

Open up the Google Play Store and search for VNC Viewer. The VNC Viewer is provided by the same developers as the Windows application.

Open up the VNC Viewer and skip past all the instructions.

Eventually you will get to a blank screen with a green circle with a white plus symbol in the bottom right corner. Click on this icon.

Enter the IP address for your Ubuntu computer (either internal or external depending where you are located). Give your computer a name.

Click the "Create" button and you will now see a screen with a "Connect" button. Click "Connect".

A warning may appear about connecting over an unencrypted connection. Ignore the warning and enter your password as you did when connecting from Windows.

Your Ubuntu desktop should now appear on your phone or tablet. 

The performance of the application will depend on the resources of the device you are using.