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Virtual Network Console

A Virtual Network Console (VNC), aka remote desktop, is a useful facility that permits the desktop of a machine to appear on your local machine as if you were sitting at the remote machine. There are a number of programs that provide this facility. We have installed TightVNC as the server, and recommend TightVNC or Chicken of the VNC (Chicken) as the client. If you are using OS X, a nice viewer called Screen Sharing is already installed.

TightVNC is installed on all grid nodes, so you may use a remote desktop (VNC) by running the following commands. First, set a password for your VNC server:

chuck@ong6:~$ vncpasswd
Using password file /home/staff/chuck/.vnc/passwd
Would you like to enter a view-only password (y/n)? n

This should be done only once unless you want to change the password. Since your home directory is shared across all grid nodes, this password is effective for all nodes.

Then, start your VNC server:

chuck@ong6:~$ vncserver -geometry 800x600

New 'X' desktop is ong6:28 

Starting applications specified in /home/staff/chuck/.vnc/xstartup
Log file is /home/staff/chuck/.vnc/ong6:28.log


The -geometry argument is optional and is used to specify the size of the desktop, see Notes below.

This vncserver will stay running indefinitely, so the 'vncserver' command should be run only once unless your vncserver is stopped somehow, such as by a server reboot.

Now you can use a VNC client to connect to the server. Specify the TightVNC Server as "<ong node><n>", where <n> is the "New 'X' desktop" number given by the 'vncserver' command:

VNC Tight Client.png

TightVNC Viewer on Windows XP

On OS X, Screen Sharing may be started from a browser by specifying the URL "vnc://<remote machine name>:<vncserver port>", where vncserver port is the number given by the vncserver command plus 5900. An alternate way of launching Screen Sharing is to navigate to the directory /System/Library/CoreServices and double-click on the program.

Screen Sharing.png

Screen Sharing program on OS X


  • You may see the vncservers running on a particular grid node with the command:
    ps -ef | grep tight | cut -c1-61
    This will show Xtightvnc server processes with the owner and desktop number.
  • You may stop vncserver processes with the following command:
    vncserver -kill :<DISPLAY#>
  • If, when you connect to your vncserver, you are missing the top and bottom menu/status bars, try maximizing the window. Occasionally, the VNC client will open a window that is not large enough to include these menu bars.
  • You may "right size" your remote desktop to fit your monitor real estate by using the -geometry option to vncserver:
vncserver -geometry 1920x1200

It is best to size the remote desktop to, at most, a bit smaller than your actual monitor resolution. The Chicken window may open not fully expanded for your specified desktop size. If this is the case, simply resize the window to accommodate your full desktop, Maximize under Windows, the green gumdrop under OS X.

S Key Bug

Some desktop managers (Gnome) will disallow typing the 's' key. Instead, this special key brings up the main menu of the desktop. This probably has an impact on how effectively you can type. To fix, navigate to the System Settings for Keyboard. From there, select System under the Shortcuts tab. You will find that "Show the activities overview" is mapped to "Super-S". Change this to something that makes sense, such as Shift-Ctrl-S. See images below for navigation hints.

Navigation to System Settings

System keyboard shortcuts