Starting Graphical Applications Remotely without X-Forwarding

Brandon Rozek

September 7, 2020

One of my favorite casual gaming setups is to use a slim laptop on my couch while streaming from my desktop using Steam Remote Play. The downside though is that unless I want to get up, Steam needs to be already running on my desktop. This post describes how I start steam remotely from my couch so that I can stream my games without having to get up and set it up on my desktop first.

This requires you to be already logged into a graphical session on the computer you want to stream from.

On Linux, there is a DISPLAY environmental variable which tells X11 where to show the application. By default (at least on Ubuntu), the display starts as :0 and moves up in count. We can make use of this fact, to start steam on a X11 server instance that is already running so that we don’t have to do any X11 forwarding.

On the client computer,

ssh desktop "DISPLAY=:0 nohup steam"

The nohup allows the application to not terminate when you press CTRL-C from your client computer.