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Rdesktop failed to open display – Quick Fix

Do you need to work on Windows Server when you are much of a Linux guy ??

The rdesktop utility is useful to configure services in a windows server from a Linux system. However, it often fails with error “Rdesktop failed to open display“.

We troubleshoot rdesktop errors as a part of our Service Management Services.

Today, let’s discuss the common rdesktop error “failed to open display”. And we’ll also see how our Support Engineers fixes them.


What is rdesktop ?

Let’s begin by checking Rdesktop utility as such.

Rdesktop is an open-source software using RDP – Remote Desktop Protocol. It enables as well as connects with a windows system from a Linux system. Simply, while sitting in front of a Linux we can access the windows system. We can access as if we are sitting in front of the windows system.

The basic command to connect to a remote Windows server would be:

rdesktop -uUSER -pPASS host:port

Here, we need to use the Windows server valid username and password in the USER and PASS fields.

Sometimes everything doesn’t go well and we may encounter errors while connecting to the remote desktop.

ERROR: Failed to open display:


Causes and fixes for error rdesktop failed to open display

We’ll now take a look at the possible causes which gives you connection errors in a Windows server.


1. Missing Windows updates

Missing Windows updates can be one of the common reason for Rdesktop connection failure.

Windows server requires periodic updates to maintain security. The connection may fail to open display due to missing updates at the server side. It will fail to render the display.

When there are Rdesktop connection errors, we primarily check the status of the server updates. Our Support Engineers perform necessary updates on the server. Usually, the server might need a reboot after updates to make changes effective.

As part of our Server Management Services, we do regular updates on the server to avoid these Rdesktop failures too.


2. Missing Display variable

Similalrly, another reason for “Rdesktop failed to open display” can be missing display variable.

Let’s start by explaining the display variable. It is nothing but the file that says the system where to display the GUI.

Mostly we encounter this error while RDP to a windows server from within a Linux server. Simply let’s say we are opening a GUI Application from within the Linux server.

In such cases, as the Linux server itself doesn’t have a GUI the below error message shows up :

Gtk-WARNING **: cannot open display:

The workaround first is to enable “X11 forwarding” while doing SSH to the Linux server with the below command :

$ ssh username@hostname -X

Now as the Server itself has no GUI, we need to set the DISPLAY variable to the local workstation’s IP. Simply, the system where we want to see the display.

Therefore, we run the below command :

$ export DISPLAY='IP:0.0'

Here the IP is our local workstation’s IP address.

We also enable RDP port 3389 in Firewall and we kill other running rdesktop sessions.

Now it will open a GUI interface as below :

rdesktop failed to open display.

[Having trouble in enabling Rdesktop connection? – We’ll fix it for you.]



In short, rdesktop is a powerful application if you are working on linux and you need to troubleshoot windows system. Today, we saw how our Support Engineers fixes the errors related to rdesktop failed to open display.


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