Allow a program to continue after logoff

From ArchWiki
Revision as of 17:38, 23 July 2012 by Krisse7 (talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search

Tango-edit-clear.pngThis article or section needs language, wiki syntax or style improvements.Tango-edit-clear.png

Reason: please use the first argument of the template to provide a brief explanation. (Discuss in Talk:Allow a program to continue after logoff#)

Have you ever had the need to leave a program running after you have logged off?

This article will show you how to easily achieve this goal. The things you need to do differ depending on if you are trying to keep a console application running (e.g. mutt, centerICQ) or a X application running (e.g. gaim, graveman). I have created a section for each scenario.

Console applications

The program that allows you to detach a console application is screen. Use pacman to install it:

# pacman -S screen

To create a session name run the command:

$ screen -OUS [session_name]

This command print a list of strings identifying your screen sessions

$ screen -list

To attach a screen to the current terminal

$ screen -x [session_name]

This shortcut can be used to detach screen from the terminal. Execution will continue even after the screen is detached.

C-a d
C-a C-d   

screen has many other functionalities; we will use only showcase the one we need. Read man screen for more details.

You should modify /etc/screenrc, the global settings file, to add the two settings. Use your favorite editor to edit /etc/screenrc and add these two lines in the bottom:

vbell off
startup_message off

This allows screen to start without delays and it won't make an ugly screen flash instead of a bell sound.

When starting screen it will not be immediately apparent that you have done anything. In fact, you are actually working inside a new shell. Once you start a program in the shell, you can allow it to continue working, even if you log out. When you want to close the terminal press CTRL+a d to detach the shell. The console will return in the state it was before calling screen, you can close it safely and the program will continue running in the background.

To restore your program just start screen with the -r(restore) option: screen -r. You will be in the exact place where you left it. Even if you closed the window or logged off!

X applications

X move

To detach an X application you need xmove. Like screen, xmove has some similar capabilities. Read the manpage for more info.

Install it with pacman:

$ pacman -S xmove

xmove is a pseudo server X. It is pseudo since it does not actually do the work of a server, but instead it speaks with an existing X server.

Open a terminal and start xmove with

$ /usr/bin/xmove -server :0 -port 9 &

Do not forget the &, this will start xmove in the background. It will continue working until explicitly killed with kill -TERM `pidof xmove`.

Now, xmove is working as X server in port :9 speaking with the X server in port :0. Zero is usually the port of the first X server, however if you know your X server is somewhere else change the line accordingly.

If more than one user needs to use xmove at the same time, every user needs to starts his copy of xmove in a different port. If xhost allows it, the server can be shared.

Let me explain how to detach with a little example: we want to start ktorrent' and let it continue seeding after log off.

$ export DISPLAY=:9
$ nohup ktorrent &
$ exit

of if you like it compact

$ env DISPLAY=:9 nohup ktorrent & exit

ktorrent will start, lets start the downloading of the .torrent we need. After a while we want log off without interrupting ktorrent's work. Lets start an other terminal:

$ export DISPLAY=:9
$ xmovectrl -list
4      ktorrent        :0
$ xmovectrl -move -suspend 4

xmovectrl controls the xmove server, the command -list gives a list of the attached applications. The first column gives an id of the window. The same id used by the -mode command.

The command -move moves the window from a X server to an other. Putting -suspend will make the window appear nowhere while letting the program continue working.

nohup may be unnecessary; many X applications ignore the hang up signal by default. To test an application start it from a terminal putting & at the end of the line, close the terminal. If the X application continues nohup is not necessary.

To restore the window and work with the application again you need to start a terminal, set the DISPLAY variable and move the window back to :0. In our example:

$ export DISPLAY=:9
$ xmovectrl -list
4    ktorrent    suspended
$ xmovectrl -move :0 4

The ktorrent window will be restored even after log off.

If you use xmove often you may like the idea of making an alias of xmovectrl so you do not need to set DISPLAY every time. To do that add to your ~/.bashrc (or other shell initializing file):

alias xmovectrl='env DISPLAY=:9 xmovectrl'

This alias will set DISPLAY for you every time you call xmovectrl.

xmove X server has less capabilities than the usual server. Some applications will not work well, or not work at all. Make some tests before using it with vital applications!

Secondary X server

xmove project seems dead, many applications do not work inside the xmove pseudo server. So an other solution is using a secondary real X server.

With your favourite editor make a script with this content, use chmod to make it executable (chmod a+x


if [ $# -eq 0 ] ; then # check to see if arguments are given (color depth)
    a=24        # default color depth
    a=$1        # use given argument

if [ $a -ne 8 -a $a -ne 16 -a $a -ne 24 ] ; then
    echo "Invalid color depth. Use 8, 16, or 24."
    exit 1

for display in 0 1 2 3 4 5 ; do
    if [ ! -f "/tmp/.X$display-lock" ] ; then
        exec startx -- :$display -depth $a -quiet
        exit 0

echo "No displays available."
exit 1

executing this little script will start a new X server. Then you can simply start your application and lock the server with xlock -mode blank (you need the xlockmore package for using xlock.)

Do not start your application in the first X server. If it is not already started, start the first and start a second one. Use the second one for your applications.

This is important because some features, like AGP mode, works only on one X server and other users of the computer will be annoyed if those feature will be lacking because you started a X server for your own purposes. So just use the second, the first will be full featured for everyone who need.


Xpra, which is available in AUR (as xpra-winswitch), allows you to start X programs and leave them running after disconnecting to reconnect again at a later time. It is possible to start X programs on a remote machine, connect to the machine over ssh, disconnect and reconnect again while the programs continue running.

Start an xpra server on the machine where you want to run the applications (we are using display number 7 here):

$ xpra start :7

Now you can start an application, e.g. firefox:

$ DISPLAY=:7 firefox

Or, if you want to start a screen session and execute the programs from there to be able to close the console:

$ DISPLAY=:7 screen
[screen starts]
$ firefox

Note that if you start screen like this you don't have to specify the display number when executing programs. They will be running on the xpra display automatically.

After running these commands, you don't see any windows yet. To actually see the applications on your display, you have to connect to the xpra server. If you are connecting to an xpra display on the same machine, start the xpra client like this:

$ xpra attach :7

Or, if you are connecting to a remote machine over ssh:

$ xpra attach

After starting the client, any programs running on the remote server display are displayed on your local screen. To detach, type Control-C or use the command:

$ xpra detach

Programs continue to run on the server and you can reattach again later.

You can stop the server with

$ xpra stop :7

on the machine where the server is running, or remotely:

$ xpra stop


Detaching programs is very useful in shared systems, you can easily leave the machine to someone else while your programs continue to run. At the moment, however, it is still easier to do this with console applications. Since in the Linux world almost every task has its console the only application it is a good idea use it with screen. In the above example using transmission and screen is actually easier than ktorrent and xmove.

Additional Resources

  • Tmux - A BSD licensed alternative to screen.