Ubuntu is the world’s most popular Linux distribution thanks to its extensive app store and robust hardware support. Whether you use it as your main operating system or you primarily use Windows, being able to remote desktop into Ubuntu from time-to-time is super useful.
Thankfully, Ubuntu has great built-in support for remote desktops, so you can easily use some of the best remote desktop software, specifically the best remote desktop for Linux, to remotely access your Linux computer.
Virtual network computing (VNC) is the predominant method used to remote desktop into Ubuntu, and you should be able to use any VNC-based remote desktop client to connect to it. It’s also possible to use Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) or third-party commercial solutions.
How to remote desktop into Ubuntu
Ubuntu has a built-in VNC-based remote desktop solution, so you don’t have to install any additional software. VNC is a ubiquitous cross-platform remote desktop sharing system that has clients for all popular operating systems and mobile devices.
To remote desktop to Ubuntu from Windows using VNC, you need a VNC client installed on the computer you want to connect from. Don’t worry – there are many free VNC clients, including TightVNC for Windows and RealVNC’s VNC Viewer for Android and iOS.
If you don’t want to use VNC, Ubuntu can support RDP if you install xRDP. In this guide, we’ll discuss both options. We’ll start with the VNC option, as it’s the most common method.
If you want to connect to other computers from your Ubuntu installation, the latest versions of Ubuntu include Remmina in their app store. It’s a great remote desktop solution. You can use it to connect to other computers from your Ubuntu installation through a variety of protocols, including VNC, RDP, SSH, and more.
Step 1: How to enable screen sharing
- Click on Ubuntu's main menu button
- Search for Settings, and open the app
- Click on 'Sharing'
- Choose the menu option for 'Screen Sharing'
- Click 'Allow connections to control the screen' if you want remote users to be able to send mouse and keyboard inputs
- Choose how a remote user should access the system, either by request or through a password
- Select the networks you wish the Ubuntu remote desktop to work over
- Finally, ensure the 'Screen Sharing' dialog box is set to on
Something new users often miss is that there’s a second button for sharing that also needs to be enabled. Beyond setting "Screen Sharing" to active, you must also enable the general "Sharing" option. You’ll find it to the top right of the Sharing settings window.
With that done, you can close the menu. Your Ubuntu computer is now ready and awaiting remote desktop connections.
Step 2: How to get the IP address of your Ubuntu computer
Most VNC clients use the IP address of a computer to connect to it, so it’s very useful to know this number if you want to connect to your computer with VNC. To do this in Ubuntu:
- Click on the network icon at the top right of the screen to open your network settings
- Select the network that you wish your Ubuntu machine to connect to
- On the 'Network Settings' page, click the cogwheel to access your computer's network details
- Make a note of the IPv4 Address – this is your Ubuntu machine's IP address, which you will use in your VNC client
Step 3: How to install a VNC client
On the second device you want to use to connect to your Ubuntu machine, you will need a VNC client. If you’re connecting from Windows, there are free, open-source clients such as the aforementioned TightVNC, TigerVNC, and UltraVNC.
Download and install your choice of VNC client app. The installation process will vary, but VNC clients are typically simple, lightweight programs that require very little extra setup.
In our example, we’ll be using TightVNC. Download the TightVNC software, run through the installer, and you’re ready to go.
Step 4: How to remote desktop into Ubuntu
- Click on your VNC client app (sometimes called the viewer)
- Enter the IP address you made a note of earlier
- Click 'Connect'
- Depending on how you configured access earlier, you may need to enter a password next
- You should now have remote access to your Ubuntu computer
Optional step 5 for Windows users: How to use RDP
If you predominantly work with Microsoft Windows, you may be more comfortable using RDP to connect to your Ubuntu computer than VNC.
RDP is the protocol used by Microsoft Remote Desktop. It isn’t enabled by default on Ubuntu, but it’s easy to get it up and running by installing xRDP on your Ubuntu computer.
- To start, bring up the terminal (command line) on your Ubuntu computer by pressing Ctrl + Shift + T
- Enter the command ‘sudo apt install xrdp’, without the quotes, and press enter: you’ll need to enter your administrator password, and this command will download and install xRDP
- Now, enter the command ‘sudo systemctl enable xrdp’, without the quotes, and press enter: this will enable the xRDP listening service
Your Ubuntu computer is now able to accept RDP connections. You can use the software that’s built into all modern versions of Windows called Remote Desktop Connection, or download Remote Desktop clients for Android and iOS from their respective storefronts.
We’ve put together a guide on how to use Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection if you need guidance on using an RDP client.
Things to consider when using Ubuntu remote desktop
The above steps represent one of the more common ways to access and control your Ubuntu desktop remotely. However, if you just need to access the command line remotely, you can skip the remote desktop process entirely and use SSH instead.
Discover why development and security teams need to adopt a responsible approach to AI
There are also many other remote desktop solutions with support for Ubuntu, that do not require any manual configuration from the user. TeamViewer, for example, is an incredibly popular commercial tool for gaining remote access to a system, and it fully supports Ubuntu.
Chrome Remote Desktop is another option, but while it works well as a VNC client on Ubuntu, it’s a little complex to set it up to enable remote devices to connect to your Ubuntu machine.
Further reading on remote desktops
If you're interested in finding out more about remote desktop technology and platforms, we've got a wide range of content available for your reference. Learn more about protocols such as RDP, XRDP or VNC and what TeamViewer offers; find out how to use Microsoft Remote Desktop and how to use remote desktop on Windows 10.
If you need walkthroughs for setting up remote access via Microsoft or Apple OSs, see how to use remote desktop on Mac, how to set up Chrome Remote Desktop; and how to remote desktop from Mac to Windows.
Get the ITPro. daily newsletter
Receive our latest news, industry updates, featured resources and more. Sign up today to receive our FREE report on AI cyber crime & security - newly updated for 2023.
Richard brings more than 20 years of computer science, full-stack development and business operations experience to ITPro. A graduate in Computer Science and former IT support manager at Samsung, Richard has taught courses in Java, PHP and Perl, and developed software for both private businesses and state organisations. A prolific author in B2B and B2C tech, Richard has written material for Samsung, TechRadar Pro, and now ITPro.