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X11-Forwarding Via SSH is “Broken” (EL8)

The STIG-handlers for:

  • RHEL-08-040340 (and its Oracle equivalent, OL08-00-040340):

    RHEL 8 remote X connections for interactive users must be disabled unless to fulfill documented and validated mission requirements.

  • RHEL-08-020041 (and its Oracle equivalent, OL08-00-020041):

    RHEL 8 must ensure session control is automatically started at shell initialization

These settings will negatively-impact expected behaviors around X11-forwarding through SSH tunnels after application.


An error like “Can’t open display” is emitted when attempting to launch X11 client-applications

Things to Verify

  • Is X11Forwarding disabled in the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file

  • Is the xauth utility available: this utility is installed at /usr/bin/xauth through the installation of the xorg-x11-xauth RPM

  • Was X11-forwarding requested by the SSH client when establishing the connection to the remote host


X11Forwarding is disabled in the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file

Do the following to allow the use of X11-forwarding over SSH:

  1. Execute sudo grep -P '^(\s*)X11' /etc/ssh/sshd_config. If the previous command returns null or shows a value of no

  2. Update the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file to:

    • Ensure that any (uncommented) value for X11Forwarding is set to yes

    • Add a X11Forwarding yes line to the file if no uncommented X11Forwarding lines exist

  3. Restart the sshd service


The preceding will result in a scan-finding on any system that it has been executed on. The “…unless to fulfill documented and validated mission requirements” component of the STIG-rule means that provision of a documented reason for the enablement should allow the finding to be dismissed.

No xauth utility available

  • Ensure that the xorg-x11-xauth RPM is installed

  • Ensure that /usr/bin is in the user’s PATH environment

Ensure that X11 forwarding has been requested by your SSH client

The methods for requesting X11 forwarding are specific to each SSH client. OpenSSH clients typically require including the -Y flag when requesting a connection. Consult vendor-documents for the proper setup of other SSH clients.

Next Steps

Assuming that all of the above verifications and associated fixes have been done and things still are not working as expected, it’s likely that, when the login processes start up the tmux service, that the (tunneled) DISPLAY environment variable has not been properly set. This may occur because, when the tmux service is activated, the DISPLAY variable was not propagated from the initial login-shell to the tmux-managed subshell(s). If all other necessary components for setting up X-over-SSH are in place, the following should allow the session-user to set up an appropriate DISPLAY value within their tmux session-window:

  1. Verify that your ${HOME}/.Xauthority file exists

  2. List out the authorization entries in the authority-file (execute xauth list). This should result in output like:

    x-test.wam.lab/unix:10  MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1  dbb1c620b838faf7d5e5717d4a217a7c

    On a freshly-launched system, there should be one and only one entry. If there’s more than one entry, it means that either the file is stale or that more than one login-session has been concurrently opened to the remote host

  3. Export the environment variable DISPLAY, setting it to localhost:<NUMBER>. The value of <NUMBER> will be the digit after the <hostname>/unix: string in the xauth list output. Typically, this will mean executing export DISPLAY=localhost:10.

Once the above has been done, attempts to launch X11 clients should result in them displaying to the display of the system the operator has originally SSHed from.


If one takes advantage of tmux’s ability to multiplex terminal and one wishes to be able to launch X11 apps from any tmux-managed session-window, it will be necessary to export the DISPLAY variable in each tmux session-window.