Managing Red Hat from a graphical environment over SSH with PuTTY

Red Hat Enterprise Linux administration can be conducted through a GNOME graphical interface. Learn how to remotely use these tools over an SSH connection using PuTTY.

By default, an installation of Red Hat Enterprise Linux gives you a text console from which you should do your work. Experienced Linux administrators like this approach, because the command line gives full flexibility and direct access to all commands with all of their options. But, there's more than just the command line – a graphic option is available to administer RHEL as well.

Before proceeding, one caveat: While some of the graphical tools offer many options, they don't offer as many options as the command line tools. But if you don't need to dig deep into the system, the graphical tools are good enough.

Getting graphical access

There are different ways to access a graphical desktop. First, you have to make a fundamental choice: do you want to install a full blown graphical desktop or not? If you do, make sure to install the Graphical Desktop pattern while installing your Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server, or add it later, using the command yum -y groupinstall "GNOME Desktop Environment." In some cases you might not want to run a full blown graphical desktop on your server (to save system resources). To run a full-scale GNOME graphical environment, you should have at least 768 MB of RAM available.

Another approach is to make sure that the required tools are installed and access them remotely over an SSH connection. On a Linux desktop, you can use the ssh -X command to open a graphical connection to your server. If you run Windows, you'll need PuTTY and an X-client, such as Xming. With these installed, you can open a connection to the server and run graphical applications from there.

To configure PuTTY on Windows to forward graphical sessions, you'll first need to make sure that PuTTY as well as Xming are installed to your Windows computer. PuTTY takes care of the SSH connections, where Xming makes sure your Windows computer can display graphical screens that come in from your Linux server. After installing both of them, you need to make sure that Xming is started. Open PuTTY and select Connection > SSH > X11. Make sure that  Enable X11 Forwarding is selected and enter localhost as the X Display Location.

After configuring PuTTY to forward graphical sessions, save your settings. Select Sessions and enter the name or IP address of the server, ( make sure the SSH process is listening on port 22 or change the default port address). Next, click Save to write your settings.

At this point you have configured PuTTY to accept graphical screens from your server. To test, open a session to your server from PuTTY and run the command system-config-language. This now shows the graphical interface that allows you to change language related settings. The beauty of all this, is that the program itself is running on your server, while the display shows on your desktop computer.

About the author:
Sander van Vugt is an author and independent technical trainer, specializing in Linux since 1994. He is also a technical consultant for high-availability (HA) clustering and performance optimization, as well as an expert on SLED 10 administration.

This was first published in July 2011

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