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I'd like to use the GUI environment on a spare box I have headless, not just ssh into it.

Is it possible to setup a remote desktop service even when there's no screen attached to the remote host?

I'm intending to use Debian Linux on the host.

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Yes you can, the only thing to be aware of is if you do not have a monitor you also may not have a mouse or keyboard. Some BIOS's will throw a error if it detects no keyboard connected but that can usually be disabled. It is just something you need to be aware of.

The Unix Stack Exchange site has a good question and answer on SSH X forwarding that may help you get started.

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Yes, you can still run a GUI with no monitor attached. Additionally, you can X forward or VNC share or whatever from it.

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Xvnc is a virtual X server that provides VNC remote desktop service. No monitor (or even video card) is required for it to run.

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If you use VNC, you will need a graphics card, but no monitor or keyboard.

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  • With a graphics card it's easiest to set up, but you could also use Xvfb which can run X without a graphics card at all. (But computers without any graphics capability are very, very rare these days). – Joachim Sauer Jan 18 '13 at 9:43

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