How To Install a GUI on an Ubuntu Server

People have different opinions on installing Graphical User Interface, GUI for short, on Ubuntu servers. Some may say server operations should be carried out by a Command Line Interface, or CLI, exclusively. This is because GUIs use system hardware resources, mainly CPU and RAM.

How To Install a GUI on an Ubuntu Server

GUIs drain these resources even when they are idle, but this is not such a big deal if your system has lots of RAM and a motherboard with dual sockets. If you think GUI can be useful and raise productivity, or you are just curious, you can install it and give it a chance.

This guide will show you how to proceed with the installation of several different GUIs on your Ubuntu server.

Before You Install

To be able to install any GUI, you will need an Ubuntu 18.04 (Bionic Beaver) server and Secure Shell (SSH) enabled. This network protocol is cryptographic and its purpose is to ensure a safe connection to the server. What is also important is that you log in as a non-root user and you need sudo privileges.


Before you begin, make sure that your system has the latest upgrades and updates. Use this command:

$ sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade

Also, run this to install the tasksel manager:

$sudo apt install tasksel

Now you need to decide which GUI will be the best option for your server. You need to take hardware resources into account and maybe opt-in for a lightweight GUI instead of the more visually pleasing ones. Lubuntu desktop and Xfce4 GUI fall into the lightweight category, while GNOME desktop which is the default option, is more resource consuming.

GUI Installation Guide for Ubuntu

For minimal resource consumption, consider installing only the desktop core tasks. You need to list the tasks first:

$ tasksel –list-task

Use tasksel for installation after choosing a GUI task name:

$ sudo tasksel install GUI-TASK-NAME

You should now find the appropriate display manager because tasksel tasks all require a display manager. Some of the lightweight ones are slim – lightdm and xdm.

Finally, you can install some of the following five GUI on an Ubuntu server.

1. Lubuntu Core Server Desktop

Let’s start with the least resource consuming GUI for an Ubuntu Bionic Beaver server. Of course, this is Lubuntu, which is inspired by the LXDE environment for desktop. To start installing you need to enter this command:

$ sudo tasksel install lubuntu-core

When Lubuntu installation is complete you need to open the display manager with this command:

$ sudo service lightdm start

Alternatively, you can just restart the server.

2. Mate Core Server Desktop

Again, you will use the tasksel command to install this desktop environment:

$ sudo tasksel install ubuntu-mate-core

After that you need to reboot your system or start the display manager like this:

$ sudo service lightdm start

3. XFCE Desktop

You have the ability to install a GUI on an Ubuntu server in a direct way. To do it, run the following command which will also install the slim display manager:

$ sudo apt install xfce4 slim

You guessed it, now you can start the slim display manager with this command or restart the server:

$ sudo service slim start

4. Xubuntu Core Server Desktop

Xubuntu copied some good stuff from Xfce desktop. You can install it with this command:

$ sudo tasksel install xubuntu-core

Same as always, start your display manager or restart the server.

$ sudo service lightdm start


GNOME takes a little more time to install; it depends on the software and hardware requirements of your server. Install GNOME by executing this command:

$ sudo apt-get install ubuntu-gnome-desktop

Alternatively, you can use the default command:

$sudo tasksel ubuntu-desktop

Also, you need to reboot the system or activate the display manager:

$ sudo service lightdm start

How to install gui on ubuntu server

What’s This GUI’s Problem?

Any of the mentioned GUI options work fine, but you need to keep in mind the system requirements and the resources they eat up. Remember that GNOME is the most demanding on the list. Which one did you choose? Are you satisfied? Let us know in the comments.

One thought on “How To Install a GUI on an Ubuntu Server”

james says:
FYI You might want to check over the article for typos in the command i.e tasksel –list-task is wrong and sudo tasksel ubuntu-desktop is wrong. Otherwise thanks.

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