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I'm building a server that will run database and nodejs. Both of these can run in the terminal. However, it will also run vmware workstation which is a GUI program.

Is xserver necessary for GUI programs? Is only xserver required or does it need a window manager as well?

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If you only want to run the GUI application from a remote display, and never want to have a graphical environment on the local machine, then you don't need to install anything else.

Otherwise you will need X to draw the application on the local machines display.
X includes a window manager called twm but works without a window manager too (however it my be tricky to use unless it's a fullscreen application).

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