Control my computer’s desktop (graphically) via VNC


Vinh Nguyen


January 1, 2011

Since all my computers are Linux-based, I have OpenSSH installed on them so I can connect to them remotely. If I am not on the home network, I either have ports forwarded from the router or VPN to my home network in order to connect to my destination. In addition, I almost always use screen for all my terminal sessions. Thus, once I ssh to the computer remotely, I can resume my screen session.

What if I wanted to control the current desktop of my computer, i.e., control applications graphically? Answer: VNC. On Ubuntu 10.10, vino is installed by default and it could be configured from within GNOME by going to System > Preferences > Remote Desktop. For other VNC Servers, see this.

To keep things secured, I don't port forward port 5900 from my home router to the main computer. If I wanted to VNC into the machine, I will VPN to the home network first. Or better yet, I can port-forward via SSH.

Encrypted Connection via SSH port-forwarding

As the data from VNC is not encrypted, it is not safe to use across the internet. To use an encrypted connection, one can use the port-forwarding feature of OpenSSH to create one.

On the local machine (VNC from), type the following in the shell:

ssh -L 5900:localhost:5900 ## VNC to; if on local network via VPN, use local ip or hostname

Now, from the local machine, I can connect to localhost from any VNC client. Vinagre is the default on Ubuntu, accessible via Internet > Remote Desktop Viewer.

This is quite cool.