Can you run Linux without a desktop environment?

Most Linux distributions come with a pre-installed desktop environment by default. But is it even possible to run Linux without a GUI?


Use Linux without a desktop environment

While modern Linux systems have attractive desktop interfaces, you may be wondering if you can use Linux without it. The straight answer is “yes”.

What is a desktop environment?

While the desktop environments under Windows and macOS are tightly integrated and integrated into the system, desktop environments such as GNOME, KDE and Xfce under Linux are just collections of programs that you can install in addition to the base operating system.

a desktop environment under Linux

A desktop environment consists of a window manager, a toolkit that defines its appearance and behavior, and various applications. You can swap any of them, an effect of modularity that Unix and Linux developers appreciate.

Replace DE with a window manager?

It is possible to run a window manager instead of a full desktop environment on Linux, and many users already do. You may want to use Fluxbox in place of one of the desktop environments that came with your distribution. All you have to do is install the desired window manager with your package manager.

Ubuntu Window Manager Selector

If you want to switch, you can select your new window manager from the display manager’s login menu. This is useful if you want to change surroundings frequently.

Running without a GUI?

It is also possible to run Linux without a GUI at all. Many servers already do this because they are managed through serial consoles and SSH with no keyboards and monitors attached. This is known as “headless walking”. This is because Linux derives its roots from Unix, and Unix was developed at a time when there was no such thing as a GUI.

Arch Linux console

You could run your desktop system without a display manager and rely on text-based apps if you wanted to. You can run the same commands as you would in a terminal, as well as text editors and even web browsers.

Some more advanced distributions like Arch Linux come without a GUI by default. The only practical limit might be that modern websites expect users to run graphical distros and refuse to view their content in text browsers like Lynx.

If you want to completely disable your graphical user interface, you can disable the display manager. If you are running LightDM you can use the systemctl command:

sudo systemctl disable lightdm

After restarting your system, you will find yourself in the text console. To select your preferred window manager or desktop environment, add the following line to the .xinitrc File:

exec windowmanager

…Where Window manager is your preferred window manager. Then enter startx at the shell prompt to start the GUI.

Linux gives you a choice in the user interface

The great thing about Linux is that you have a choice of how you want to interact with the system. You can use a traditional desktop user interface or dig deeper into the command line.

The best choice of Linux desktop depends on your personal taste. Your personality and work style have the greatest influence on the user interface you choose.


Linux suits personality
Which Linux desktop environment best suits your personality?

What kind of computer user are you? Do you leave icons scattered around your desktop? Do you prefer to work in a clear application? Let’s find out which Linux desktop environment is best for you.

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