Quick Tip: Forwarding X11 to OS X

Just because you are on a Mac doesn't mean you can't run your Linux applications. Here's how you can bring penguin power to your Mac.

Every now and then I feel the need to spark up an application from my Linux machine and view it on my Mac laptop. The process is quite simple — I just always forget it and end up trawling through search results for it.


  • X11 for Mac — this package provides an X server for the Mac, while not completely integrated into the desktop it's "good enough".
  • 1 Linux box with an X server installed
First up we need to adjust the sshd configuration on the Linux box, typically found at /etc/ssh/sshd_config, and add the following line to allow X forwarding to occur over ssh:
X11Forwarding yes
Next we need to add an entry into the allowable X hosts on the Mac. The best way to do this is to start X11.app found in /Applications/Utilities, when the xterm appears type into it:
xhost +[ip address of linux box]
Now we can ssh from the mac into our Linux box with the -X flag that will set the DISPLAY variable in the ssh session :
ssh -X [user]@[ip address of linux box]
Once you have successfully logged in, you can start X apps from the ssh session and they will appear on the Mac.
Be aware though, even though X was built for networks, modern applications love of bitmaps and bling can be incredibly slow over the net — it's pretty usable on a local network though.

Now next time xf86-input-evdev +dbus + hal-info makes your wireless mouse move only in the vertical direction, you can still use Evolution for your mail albeit from another machine.

By Chris Duckett

Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...