DragonFly BSD


The X Window System

Updated for X.Org's X11 server by Ken Tom and Marc Fonvieille. Updated for DragonFly by Victor Balada Diaz. Updated for 2014 pkgng by Warren Postma

This page is very out of date, it needs to be updated for dports and current WM


This chapter will cover the installation and some configuration of the usual way of giving your Dragonfly BSD system an X-Windows style Graphical User Interface (GUI) and a modern Desktop Environment. In Unix systems, the graphical drawing system is provided by the combination of an X11R6 compliant X-Windows Server, such as the X.org server, and other software such as Window Managers and Desktop Environments. This multi-layered approach may be surprising to people coming from systems like the Mac or like Windows where these components are not so flexible, or provided by so many separately installed and configured pieces.

For more information on the video hardware support in X.org, check the X.org web site. If you have problems configuring your X server, just search the web. There are lots of tutorials and guides on how to set up your X properly, if the information in this page is not enough for your situation.

Before reading this chapter, you should know how to install additional third-party software. Read the dports section of the documentation, for DragonFly 3.4 and later.

You may find the FreeBSD X Configuration instructions apply exactly and unchanged in DragonFly BSD. They are found here

Understanding X

What is X.Org

X.Org is the most popular free implementation of the X11 specification. The X11 specification is an open standard, and there are other implementations, some commercial, and some free.

The Window Manager and the Desktop Environment

An X Server is a very low level piece of software. It does not provide any way to move windows around or resize them. It does not provide a title bar on the top of your windows, or a dock, or any menus.

These things are the job, in the oldest style of X environment, of your window manager, or in more recent times, of a Desktop Environment.

Installing X.org by itself does not give you any window manager or any desktop environment. You will have to choose one and install it yourself. Until you select one, your system will not be usable.

There are dozens of window managers and desktop environments available for X. The most retro ones you might chose include fvwm and twm which have that retro 1980s workstation look and feel. There are also window managers included inside modern desktop environments like XFCE, KDE and Gnome.

If you are brand new and don't know what to do, select the XFCE4 desktop and follow those instructions. Every desktop environment and window manager also has a different configuration mechanism. Read your chosen environment's documentation to learn more. Some are configured by text files alone, and some (like KDE and Gnome) have sophisticated graphical configuration utilities and "control panels".

Note that XFCE4 and Gnome and KDE do not require you to install any window manager as they include one automatically.

Installing X

X.org is currently available in the DragonFly dports collection.

To install:

pkg install xorg-7.7

By the time you read this, it might be a newer version of xorg than 7.7, you can also try this general command:

pkg install xorg

Configuring X

You may need to add the following lines to /etc/rc.conf for physical systems, but you might want to set these two lines to NO instead on a Virtual Machine as they cause problems in Dragonfly BSD 3.4 through 3.6:

hald_enable ="YES"
dbus_enable= "YES" 

Also see below about enabling moused in rc.conf, which may be required for you to see your mouse pointer in X.

As of version 7.3, Xorg can often work without any configuration file by simply typing at prompt:

% startx

If this does not work, or if the default configuration is not acceptable, then X11 must be configured manually. For example, if X11 does not detect your mouse then you will not get a mouse pointer, you will get a desktop (either a color or a dotted-pattern) but moving your mouse will not result in you seeing a mouse pointer move around. Also, you might get a garbled display, or no display at all. If any of these happen to you, you need to do some manual configuration of X.org, which means a configuration text file.

Configuration of X11 is a multi-step process. The first step is to build an initial configuration file. As the super user, simply run:

# Xorg -configure

This will generate an X11 configuration skeleton file in the /root directory called xorg.conf.new (whether you su(1) or do a direct login affects the inherited supervisor $HOME directory variable). The X11 program will attempt to probe the graphics hardware on the system and write a configuration file to load the proper drivers for the detected hardware on the target system.

The next step is to test the existing configuration to verify that X.org can work with the graphics hardware on the target system. To perform this task, type:

# Xorg -config xorg.conf.new -retro

The -retro option is now required or you will only get a black desktop when testing. This retro mode is an empty X desktop with a dot pattern on the background and an X cursor in the center. If the mouse is working, you should be able to move it.

If a black and grey grid and an X mouse cursor appear, the configuration was successful. To exit the test, just press Ctrl + Alt + Backspace simultaneously.

Note: If the mouse does not work, you will need to first configure it before proceeding. This can usually be achieved by just using /dev/sysmouse as the input device in the config file and enabling moused:

# rcenable moused

Tune the xorg.conf.new configuration file to taste and move it to where Xorg(1) can find it. This is typically /etc/X11/xorg.conf or /usr/local/lib/X11/xorg.conf.

The X11 configuration process is now complete. You can start X.org with startx(1). The X11 server may also be started with the use of xdm(1).

The X Display Manager

Contributed by Seth Kingsley.


The X Display Manager ( XDM ) is an optional part of the X Window System that is used for login session management. This is useful for several types of situations, including minimal "X Terminals", desktops, and large network display servers. Since the X Window System is network and protocol independent, there are a wide variety of possible configurations for running X clients and servers on different machines connected by a network. XDM provides a graphical interface for choosing which display server to connect to, and entering authorization information such as a login and password combination.

Think of XDM as providing the same functionality to the user as the getty(8) utility (see Section 17.3.2 for details). That is, it performs system logins to the display being connected to and then runs a session manager on behalf of the user (usually an X window manager). XDM then waits for this program to exit, signaling that the user is done and should be logged out of the display. At this point, XDM can display the login and display chooser screens for the next user to login.

Using XDM

The XDM daemon program is located in /usr/local/bin/xdm. This program can be run at any time as root and it will start managing the X display on the local machine. If XDM is to be run every time the machine boots up, a convenient way to do this is by adding an entry to /etc/ttys. For more information about the format and usage of this file, see Section There is a line in the default /etc/ttys file for running the XDM daemon on a virtual terminal:

ttyv8   "/usr/local/bin/xdm -nodaemon"  xterm   off secure

By default this entry is disabled; in order to enable it change field 5 from off to on and restart init(8) using the directions in Section The first field, the name of the terminal this program will manage, is ttyv8. This means that XDM will start running on the 9th virtual terminal.

Configuring XDM

The XDM configuration directory is located in /var/lib/xdm. The sample configuration files are in /usr/local/share/examples/xdm/, in this directory there are several files used to change the behavior and appearance of XDM . Typically these files will be found:

File Description
Xaccess Client authorization ruleset.
Xresources Default X resource values.
Xservers List of remote and local displays to manage.
Xsession Default session script for logins.
Xsetup_* Script to launch applications before the login interface.
xdm-config Global configuration for all displays running on this machine.
xdm-errors Errors generated by the server program.
xdm-pid The process ID of the currently running XDM.

Also in this directory are a few scripts and programs used to set up the desktop when XDM is running. The purpose of each of these files will be briefly described. The exact syntax and usage of all of these files is described in xdm(1).

The default configuration is a simple rectangular login window with the hostname of the machine displayed at the top in a large font and "Login:" and "Password:" prompts below. This is a good starting point for changing the look and feel of XDM screens.


The protocol for connecting to XDM controlled displays is called the X Display Manager Connection Protocol (XDMCP). This file is a ruleset for controlling XDMCP connections from remote machines. It is ignored unless the xdm-config is changed to listen for remote connections. By default, it does not allow any clients to connect.


This is an application-defaults file for the display chooser and the login screens. This is where the appearance of the login program can be modified. The format is identical to the app-defaults file described in the X11 documentation.


This is a list of the remote displays the chooser should provide as choices.


This is the default session script for XDM to run after a user has logged in. Normally each user will have a customized session script in ~/.xsession that overrides this script.


These will be run automatically before displaying the chooser or login interfaces. There is a script for each display being used, named Xsetup_ followed by the local display number (for instance Xsetup_0). Typically these scripts will run one or two programs in the background such as xconsole.


This contains settings in the form of app-defaults that are applicable to every display that this installation manages.


This contains the output of the X servers that XDM is trying to run. If a display that XDM is trying to start hangs for some reason, this is a good place to look for error messages. These messages are also written to the user's ~/.xsession-errors file on a per-session basis.

Running a Network Display Server

In order for other clients to connect to the display server, edit the access control rules, and enable the connection listener. By default these are set to conservative values. To make XDM listen for connections, first comment out a line in the xdm-config file:

! SECURITY: do not listen for XDMCP or Chooser requests

! Comment out this line if you want to manage X terminals with xdm

DisplayManager.requestPort:     0

and then restart XDM . Remember that comments in app-defaults files begin with a "!" character, not the usual "#". More strict access controls may be desired. Look at the example entries in Xaccess, and refer to the xdm(1) manual page for further information.

Replacements for XDM

Several replacements for the default XDM program exist. One of them, kdm (bundled with KDE ) is described later in this chapter. The kdm display manager offers many visual improvements and cosmetic frills, as well as the functionality to allow users to choose their window manager of choice at login time.

Desktop Environments

*Contributed by Valentino Vaschetto. *

This section describes the different desktop environments available for X on FreeBSD. A desktop environment can mean anything ranging from a simple window manager to a complete suite of desktop applications, such as KDE or GNOME .



GNOME is a user-friendly desktop environment that enables users to easily use and configure their computers. GNOME includes a panel (for starting applications and displaying status), a desktop (where data and applications can be placed), a set of standard desktop tools and applications, and a set of conventions that make it easy for applications to cooperate and be consistent with each other. Users of other operating systems or environments should feel right at home using the powerful graphics-driven environment that GNOME provides.

Installing GNOME

GNOME can be easily installed from a package or from the pkgsrc framework:

To install the GNOME package from the network, simply type:

# pkg install gnome-desktop

To build GNOME from source, if you have the pkgsrc tree on your system:

# cd /usr/pkgsrc/meta-pkgs/gnome

# bmake install clean

Once GNOME is installed, the X server must be told to start GNOME instead of a default window manager.

The easiest way to start GNOME is with GDM , the GNOME Display Manager. GDM , which is installed as a part of the GNOME desktop (but is disabled by default), can be enabled by adding gdm_enable="YES" to /etc/rc.conf. Once you have rebooted, GNOME will start automatically once you log in -- no further configuration is necessary.

GNOME may also be started from the command-line by properly configuring a file named .xinitrc. If a custom .xinitrc is already in place, simply replace the line that starts the current window manager with one that starts /usr/pkg/bin/gnome-session instead. If nothing special has been done to the configuration file, then it is enough simply to type:

% echo "/usr/pkg/bin/gnome-session" > ~/.xinitrc

Next, type startx, and the GNOME desktop environment will be started.

Note: If an older display manager, like XDM , is being used, this will not work. Instead, create an executable .xsession file with the same command in it. To do this, edit the file and replace the existing window manager command with /usr/pkg/bin/gnome-session :

% echo "#!/bin/sh" > ~/.xsession

% echo "/usr/pkg/bin/gnome-session" >> ~/.xsession

% chmod +x ~/.xsession

Yet another option is to configure the display manager to allow choosing the window manager at login time; the section on KDE details explains how to do this for kdm , the display manager of KDE .

Anti-aliased Fonts with GNOME

X11 supports anti-aliasing via its RENDER extension. GTK+ 2.0 and greater (the toolkit used by GNOME ) can make use of this functionality. Configuring anti-aliasing is described in Section 5.5.3.

So, with up-to-date software, anti-aliasing is possible within the GNOME desktop. Just go to Applications->Desktop Preferences->Font , and select either Best shapes, Best contrast, or Subpixel smoothing (LCDs). For a GTK+ application that is not part of the GNOME desktop, set the environment variable GDK_USE_XFT to 1 before launching the program.


About KDE

KDE is an easy to use contemporary desktop environment. Some of the things that KDE brings to the user are:

  • A beautiful contemporary desktop

  • A desktop exhibiting complete network transparency

  • An integrated help system allowing for convenient, consistent access to help on the use of the KDE desktop and its applications

  • Consistent look and feel of all KDE applications

  • Standardized menu and toolbars, keybindings, color-schemes, etc.

  • Internationalization: KDE is available in more than 40 languages

  • Centralized consisted dialog driven desktop configuration

  • A great number of useful KDE applications

    KDE comes with a web browser called Konqueror , which represents a solid competitor to other existing web browsers on UNIX® systems. More information on KDE can be found on the KDE website.

Installing KDE

Just as with GNOME or any other desktop environment, the easiest way to install KDE is through the pkgsrc framework or from a package:

To install the KDE 4.10 package from the network, simply type:

# pkg install kde-4.10

To build KDE from source, using the pkgsrc framework:

# cd /usr/pkgsrc/meta-pkgs/kde3

# bmake install clean

After KDE has been installed, the X server must be told to launch this application instead of the default window manager. This is accomplished by editing the .xinitrc file:

% echo "exec startkde" > ~/.xinitrc

Now, whenever the X Window System is invoked with startx, KDE will be the desktop.

If a display manager such as XDM is being used, the configuration is slightly different. Edit the .xsession file instead. Instructions for kdm are described later in this chapter.

More Details on KDE

Now that KDE is installed on the system, most things can be discovered through the help pages, or just by pointing and clicking at various menus. Windows® or Mac® users will feel quite at home.

The best reference for KDE is the on-line documentation. KDE comes with its own web browser, Konqueror , dozens of useful applications, and extensive documentation. The remainder of this section discusses the technical items that are difficult to learn by random exploration.

The KDE Display Manager

An administrator of a multi-user system may wish to have a graphical login screen to welcome users. XDM can be used, as described earlier. However, KDE includes an alternative, kdm , which is designed to look more attractive and include more login-time options. In particular, users can easily choose (via a menu) which desktop environment ( KDE , GNOME , or something else) to run after logging on.

To enable kdm , the ttyv8 entry in /etc/ttys has to be adapted. The line should look as follows:

ttyv8 "/usr/local/bin/kdm -nodaemon" xterm on secure


About XFce

XFce is a desktop environment based on the GTK+ toolkit used by GNOME , but is much more lightweight and meant for those who want a simple, efficient desktop which is nevertheless easy to use and configure. Visually, it looks very much like CDE , found on commercial UNIX systems. Some of XFce 's features are:

  • A simple, easy-to-handle desktop

  • Fully configurable via mouse, with drag and drop, etc

  • Main panel similar to CDE , with menus, applets and applications launchers

  • Integrated window manager, file manager, sound manager, GNOME compliance module, and other things

  • Themeable (since it uses GTK+)

  • Fast, light and efficient: ideal for older/slower machines or machines with memory limitations

More information on XFce can be found on the XFce website.

Installing XFce

A binary package for XFce exists. To install, simply type:

# pkg install xfce

This should install the main xfce4 desktop package, and most of the required components.

Alternatively, to build from source, use the pkgsrc framework:

# cd /usr/pkgsrc/meta-pkgs/xfce4

# bmake install clean

Now, tell the X server to launch XFce the next time X is started. Simply type this:

% echo "/usr/pkg/bin/startxfce4" > ~/.xinitrc

The next time X is started, XFce will be the desktop. As before, if a display manager like XDM is being used, create an .xsession, as described in the section on GNOME, but with the /usr/pkg/bin/startxfce4 command; or, configure the display manager to allow choosing a desktop at login time, as explained in the section on kdm.