Sometimes you might need an instance running a desktop environment to run GUI applications or to just use it with a desktop as a remote computer. Luckily for you, installing a desktop and connecting to it using VNC is really simple. VNC (Virtual network computing) is a graphical desktop sharing system which will allow you to connect to a computer, view it’s graphical interface and control it remotely using a VNC client.

Before You Begin

Update your system using the following command.

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade -y

Install Ubuntu Desktop on Your Instance

There are multiple desktop environments which you can install on your instance to use it with a graphical interface. We’re going to install the Unity desktop, which is the default desktop environment of Ubuntu. To install it along with a few other packages which are required for the graphical interface to function properly, run the following command.

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop gnome-panel gnome-settings-daemon metacity nautilus gnome-terminal

During the installation, you might be asked whether you want to change a system file to a new version. Type y and then press enter to use the updated version.

Install and Configure a VNC Server

There are several VNC servers to chose from. We’re going to install vnc4server.

sudo apt-get install vnc4server

Now test the VNC server by starting a session.

vncserver :1

You will be prompted for a password. Set any password you like. You should now be able to connect using a VNC client. But you’ll see a gray screen instead of the desktop. We need to configure VNC to launch the full Unity desktop when it starts. To do it, first kill the VNC session.

vncserver -kill :1

Now edit the file ~/.vnc/xstartup to match the configuration given below. Start by opening the file on an editor.

Note: This file will only be created when you start a VNC session for the first time.

nano ~/.vnc/xstartup

Now edit the end of the file to match it with the below configuration.


# Uncomment the following two lines for normal desktop:
# exec /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc

[ -x /etc/vnc/xstartup ] && exec /etc/vnc/xstartup
[ -r $HOME/.Xresources ] && xrdb $HOME/.Xresources
xsetroot -solid grey
vncconfig -iconic &
x-terminal-emulator -geometry 80x24+10+10 -ls -title "$VNCDESKTOP Desktop" &
x-window-manager &

gnome-panel &
gnome-settings-daemon &
metacity &
nautilus &

Save the file by pressing ctrl o and exit by pressing ctrlx and then pressing enter.

Now launch a VNC session again.

vncserver :1

You can now use a VNC client/viewer to connect to your computer remotely and use it. The following is your address which you need to enter when connecting.


And the password will be what you set earlier when first launching the VNC session.