You can have total control over launching your operating system’s graphic server in Linux.

Most desktop environments use a graphic server called either X (or Xorg) or Wayland. X is approximately 40 years old and it is the legacy graphic server that serves its purpose really well. X still dominates the market.

Wayland on the other hand is a modern approach that’s been gaining traction and it also has lots of support and is being used by quite a few desktop environments in Linux such as KDE.

I find it very useful to be able to manually launch and quit desktop environments in Linux and shut down (or never launch) the graphic server when I want to.

This Linux tutorial  will explain how to take control over launching the Xorg graphic server in almost any Linux distro and the reasoning behind it.

Table of Contents

  • X Graphic Server Terminology
  • Launching Desktop Environments with startx
    1. Gnome .xinitrc
    2. XFCE .xinitrc
    3. Cinnamon .xinitrc
    4. KDE Plasma .xinitrc
    5. Qtile .xinitrc
  • Handling the Login Manager
  • Benefits of Manually Launching Graphic Environment in Linux
  • Troubleshooting startx & .xinitrc

X Graphic Server Terminology

Here is a breakdown of the most commonly used desktop environments and the codes you can use to start them with startx which will initiate X graphic server/client through Xinit (Server Launcher Program) and Xorg (Graphic Server).

Xorg is synonymous with X server or sometimes just X.

You can create .xinitrc under user’s home and add just a one line code such as:

Xinit : Program which launches Xorg graphic server.

Xorg : X Graphic Server

startx : Command used to launch graphic applications which defaults to .xinitrc file.

.xinitrc : File under the home directory that instructs startx command

startplasma-x11 start. : an example .xinitrc entry. See below for specific entries for each Desktop Environment or Window Manager.

Screenshot of Endeavour OS based on Arch Linux and KDE Plasma Desktop

1. Launching desktop environments with startx

Here is a breakdown of the most commonly used desktop environments and the codes you can use to start them with startx which will initiate X graphic server/client through Xinit (Server Launcher Program) and Xorg (Graphic Server).

Xorg is synonymous with X server or sometimes just X.

You can create .xinitrc under user’s home and add just a one line code such as:

startplasma-x11 start.

So the code goes inside .xinitrc, and the directory structure would be:


Make sure .xinitrc file has a dot before it as shown. Xinit and Xorg directly looks for this file under home directory. (dot makes the file hidden which can be seen by ls -la command)

Here are the specific codes to include in the .xinitrc file for each desktop environment.

There are also a few points down below which might be helpful for troubleshooting or avoiding pitfalls if you are doing this kind of stuff for the first time. You can also read about the benefits of manually launching desktop environments or at least my reasoning for it. If you have comments feel free to drop it at the bottom.

Please review “Disabling the Login Manager” down below before starting to use the startx command.

Gnome .xinitrc

You can instruct startx either via exec in the beginning or start in the end.

gnome-session start


exec gnome-session

XFCE .xinitrc

startxfce4 start


exec startxfce4

Cinnamon .xinitrc

cinnamon-session start


exec cinnamon-session

KDE Plasma .xinitrx

startplasma-x11 start


exec startplasma-x11

Qtile .xinitrc

qtile start


exec qtile

Now, almost a year later, we have Google’s Imagen published which makes Dall-e 2 results look primitive. Imagen’s image outcomes are so impressive that, it looks beyond the artistic capabilities of human designers and illustrators. Of course art and design are subjective terms but every single Imagen image published is truly mind-blowingly accurate, well-designed and photorealistic.

Starting desktop environment with startx

2. Handling the Login Manager

If you are building a Linux system from the ground up then you might not have a Login Manager but if you are trying to modify an existing distro such as Endeavour OS, Mint OS, Manjaro OS, Fedora, Cent OS, Ubuntu, OpenSUSE etc. then you will want to disable to existing login manager.

Starting and Stopping the Login Manager

You can also immediately start and stop the SDDM Login Manager service using the commands below. (Stopping the login manager on the go might be tricky sometimes but disabling fixes that problem for the next boot.)

  • For starting SDDM:
    • systemctl start sddm
  • For stopping SDDM:
    • systemctl stop sddm

Enabling and Disabling the Login Manager

First you need to find out which Login Manager your system is using if there is one. Login Managers (or Display Managers or DMs) are graphical login screens that can be useful in some cases. I personally don’t find them to be very useful. They take resources and complicate things and running Desktop environments from tty is perfectly minimalistic and aesthetically pleasing anyway.

Here are some commands to list login managers, find them, enable/disable them and start/stop them…

You can list the services enabled at systemd level via systemctl by using either of the following commands.

First one is the native way of filtering enabled services with systemctl’s own flag while second method makes use of grep command for a similar output.

systemctl list-unit-files --state=enabled

systemctl list-unit-files | grep enabled

SDDM Login Manager

So disabling and enabling login manager at startup level is quite easy with systemd. Here are the example commands for SDDM login manager.

For disabling SDDM:

systemctl disable sddm

For enabling SDDM:

systemctl enable sddm

Make sure you are comfortable with working with the CLI (command line interface) before disabling the login manager first because you might not have the login manager which triggers the graphic interface of the desktop manager automatically behind the scenes.

Login Managers are quite persistent meaning even if you stop them, they might auto-launch and get in the way when you are trying to manually launch your graphic environment (through desktop environments, windows managers or sometimes specific individual apps.)

If you disable your login manager and reboot your Linux system, you will just get a TTY command line without graphics server activated. Normally you will get TTY1.

You can usually navigate between multiple virtual terminals using the Ctrl+Alt F2 (or F3 for TTY3, F1 for back to TTY1, F4 for TTY4 and so on.)

Light DM (LDM) Login Manager

You can enable / disable Light DM as below:

For disabling Light Display Manager:

systemctl disable lightdm

For enabling Light Display Manager:

systemctl enable lightdm

3. Exiting Xorg Graphic Server and Desktop Environments

After launching the desktop environment from the tty command line, you might want to go back to the tty environment and/or leave your computer on without the Xorg graphic server.

Termination of Xorg and desktop environments can be conveniently achieved when there is no Login Manager such as SDDM running. That’s because SDDM can be persistent and auto launch itself which can make it difficult to kill without disrupting the system.

To kill the desktop environment just execute the appropriate one for your setup from the following commands.

Commands to kill various Desktop Environments

So disabling and enabling login manager at startup level is quite easy with systemd. Here are the example commands for SDDM login manager.

For killing Gnome session:

killall gnome-session

For killing XFCE session:

killall startxfce4

For killing Cinnamon session:

killall cinnamon-session

For killing KDE Plasma session:

killall startplasma-x11

For killing Qtile session:

killall qtile

It’s also perfectly possible to map the commands above to a key combination to kill the desktop environment. One combination that works perfectly for me is Ctrl+Meta+Q. It’s usually a free combo and has the Q (quit) in it so it’s easy to remember. It’s also not easy to accidentally hit it.

Benefits of Manually Launching Graphic Environment in Linux

It’s starting to feel like we are there. AI’s real-world successes are being increasingly felt. Every new applied-AI milestone leaves your mouth open. It’s hard not to imagine the societal impacts. Millions of humans who derive lots of self-worth and satisfaction from their work suddenly becoming unemployed or even worse irrelevant.

  • Achieving focus: Being immersed in a graphic environment has its pros and cons. Having the graphic environment can be counterproductive when you need to focus on certain tasks. For some tasks that can be done in the command line, I find it helpful to not having a desktop environment launched at all. There is something special about not having the graphic server launched at all versus having the GUI programs available in the environment. That being said of course sometimes the graphic environment can be very useful and even inevitable. Some tasks I find myself performing through the CLI are:
    • Writing code
    • Writing scripts
    • Playing music (cmus)
    • Taking notes
    • Writing articles
    • Reading notes/books
  • Increased Ram & CPU resources: In most computers, the most resource hungry components are often the graphic environments. Graphic server communicates with each input and each output at pixel level which understandably creates a burden on RAM and CPU resources.
  • Increased battery life: Manually launching X graphic server when needed can optimize battery life enormously. I forgot my Dell XPS on for one week and the battery was still 90%+. Since there’s no graphic server launched the necessary processes to keep the OS running are at absolute minimal. X graphic server comes with many support libraries as well which can bloat the system.
  • Having more control: Being able to launch and terminate the graphic server and all the desktop environment and other related programs in a very practical way gives you more power over using your computer’s operating system and even its hardware. It’s also helpful to understand the inner workings of the operating system’s graphic components. vs

systemctl get-default

systemctl set-default

systemctl set-default

Troubleshooting startx and .xinitrc

1- startx is not meant to be run as root

2- .xinitrc is not under home directory.

3- .xinitrc has incorrect entries.

start startplasma-x11 instead of startplasma-x11 start

entries after using exec

forgetting & character at the end of the line when there is multiple entries.

4- Having multiple .xinitrc in multiple locations which will confuse Xorg server or make it ignore intended .xinitrc.

5- User doesn’t have access to video group

6- Not having necessary Xorg packages installed.

7- Not having necessary graphic firmware installed.


[1] X Graphic Server Documentation:
[2] Arch Xorg Documentation:
[3] Debian’s Xinitrc Documentation:

Recommended Posts