How can I run two instance of, e.g. GNOME, on my computer at once? I know how to change the virtual terminal, but I can't work out how to start a second instance of gnome - it just exits telling me that the X session is locked.

EDIT: The other thing that I would really like to know is how to run two different desktops at once - e.g. XFCE and GNOME. I know that I can change the default desktop in .xinitrc or something like that, but then I would have to do so every time - is there any way to select the desktop type when creating the new XSession?

3 Answers 3


The key is creating a new "screen" on which the xserver can run. Something along the lines of

 startx -- :1

where 1 is the increment of the number of screens you already have running (with the initial screen :0).

Fedora Forums has a good bit of information, but I'm not sure if its still accurate.

For information best suited to your distribution, be sure to look at the man page, man startx, from a terminal, or just Google "man startx" and go from one of the man page directories online.

  • Some display managers like lightdm do not support starting another server this way. In that case, see this answer that shows the commands to make it work: unix.stackexchange.com/a/617105/29716
    – dedeibel
    May 14, 2021 at 15:28

Use Xephyr to create an embedded X session.

$ Xephyr -ac -br -noreset -screen 800x600 :1

-ac disable access control restrictions
-br create root window with black background
-noreset don't reset after last client exists
-screen 800x600 Specify screen characteristics

Open the terminal and set the DISPLAY variable


Do not use export or all your programs will appear in the embedded session. Now, whenever you run a program from this terminal, it will appear in the embedded X session.

If you wonder, Xephyr will just create a new window with the given resolution, so you don't have to worry about getting back to your original session.


Use xnest. Xnest launches a new X server (:1, :2, etc) inside an X window. Very useful to log in as several users/with several different desktops at the same time. If you're using GDM, you can automatically log in as a new user (or environment) with

gdmflexiserver --xnest

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