My Raspberry Pi currently boots to the desktop login screen, and I would like to keep it that way. However I would also like to be able to login to a user's (like pi) desktop using something like ssh and end up seeing the desktop on the display plugged into the RPi's hdmi port.

To clarify, I do not want to see the RPi's display on the remote computer, just use the remote computer to login and see the desktop on the display plugged into the RPi so I do not have to plug a keyboard into the RPi just to login.

Is there any way to do that?

I've tried things like stopping lightdm and starting an xserver with startx however I get errors when I try to start any desktop application. I've also tried running dm-tool switch_to_user pi, but I get this error: Not running inside a display manager, XDG_SEAT_PATH not defined.

NOTE: I have run all these commands over ssh and would like to continue to use ssh to run these commands, as I am trying to avoid accessing the RPi's I/O to plug in a keyboard, and it is easy to automate running commands over ssh.

  • You should give this a try. It allows you to setup your raspberry pi as if it were another monitor, handing mouse and keyboard over when you move over to the "next monitor". snapcraft.io/install/barrier/ubuntu
    – John Edens
    Nov 16, 2020 at 14:20

2 Answers 2


You can't with ssh (without serious software installation on both), BUT you can (relatively) easily remotely access the Pi Desktop with VNC

Raspbian comes with VNC (it needs to be enabled) and you need to install a VNC Viewer on your computer. The link has instructions. (I suggest you avoid the cloud setup - this is unnecessary on a local network.)

You can use ssh and VNC simultaneously.

  • Using VNC isn't what the OP wants. He wants to see the Desktop on the screen connected to the RasPi but only use keyboard and mouse from the remote computer.
    – Ingo
    Jan 5, 2019 at 12:21
  • @Ingo Obviously you haven’t tried this - you can use either or both and see the results on both.
    – Milliways
    Jan 5, 2019 at 21:01
  • You are right, I'm not very familiar with GUI. I haven't tried it. But it would worth half a sentence in your answer about this behavior.
    – Ingo
    Jan 5, 2019 at 22:04

The solution you're looking after is named : X2GO as it allows to connect almost in anyway possible, included XDMCP.

It is waaay beyond VNC as it takes it's root in the NoMachine code, thus compressing and sending just what is needed opposite to VNC.

ie: between 2 machines, both on ADLS2 with download/upload ~5Mbps/1Mbps, I access the other machine through the web with 16M colors just a tiny bit more slugishly than a LAN connection…

Make sure you have both machines with the same user (although, this isn't mandatory, but a bit more complicated to set up), follow the howto from x2go.org and you will never come back to VNC… ever :)

I forgot one thing : it uses SSH as a transport.

  • Interesting suggestion. But if I want to use it following your answer, I can't. Can you please add a setup example to the answer so I can follow it?
    – Ingo
    Jul 3, 2020 at 10:48

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