Rafe Hart

Thoughts on security, privacy, and building software.

Installing X on Cygwin

07 June 2015

When I first started using cygwin I didn’t really see much sense in having X windows, within MS Windows. I think that’s because for those of us who became familiar with Linux via desktop environments had limited exposure to the origins of X and some of the things it was intended to achieve - distributed GUI applications on client machines, run off a central server. So when you ssh into a computer, and they both have X servers, and you’re using the -X switch to enable port forwarding, you will get the GUI on your computer, while the program runs on the server.

ssh -X user@server.name

# Then run a graphical program with an ampersand to put the job in the background.
xterm &

Installing X in Cygwin is just a case of going into the X11 menu and selecting a bunch of stuff. You’ll get a better environment by selecting more of it, and in that spirit I select the following. They are in one line without punctuation so you can paste them into an apt-cyg command if desired:

bigreqsproto bitmap compositeproto cygutils-x11 cygwin-x-doc damageproto dmxproto fixesproto fontconfig fontsproto fonttosfnt harfbuzz kbproto mkfontdir mkfontscale rendercheck renderproto resourceproto rgb rstart sessreg shared-mime-info twm xauth xbitmaps xcb-proto xclipboard xclock xcmiscproto xcmsdb xcommgr xconsole xcursor-themes xcursor-gen xdpyinfo xfd xfontsel xhost xinit xinput xkbcomp xkbevd xkbprint xkbutils xkeyboard-config xkill xlaunch xload xloadimage xmessage xorg-server xorg-server-extra xprop xrandr xrefresh xscope xset xsetroot xsm xsdtdcmap xterm XtoW xwinclip xwininfo

And install font-* (all of them)

If you want a lighter (less awesome) approach, try downloading Xming and running that instead. Regardless of the approach you take, you’ll want to add the following into your .bashrc:

export DISPLAY=localhost:0.0

At this stage you can start up X in it’s own window with ‘startx’ and it’ll look something like this:


For something more usable, start it with:

# You can look up more switches with 'man XWin', but the defaults are pretty good
XWin -multiwindow

You should now have an icon in your taskbar like this Xwin, which you can right-click to start xterms, etc. More importantly, you now have an xserver to run forwarded X11 applications, or launch GUIs for anything else you might have installed.

Starting X with Windows

In Windows 7, create a new shortcut by right-clicking on the windows desktop and selecting New > Shortcut. Put in the following as your program, with alterations if you installed in a different place.

C:Cygwinbinrun.exe -p /usr/bin XWin -multiwindow -silent-dup-error

Save the shortcut with a name like XWin, then go to Start > All Programs > Startup, right-click on the folder and choose open. Then move the shortcut in there, and voila!

Windows 8 follows a similar proceedure, but to find the startup folder, you’ll need to press Win + R, then type in %AppData%MicrosoftWindowsStart MenuProgramsStartup