Display manager

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A display manager, or login manager, is a graphical interface screen that is displayed at the end of the boot process in place of the default shell. There are various types of display managers, just as there are various types of window and desktop managers. There is usually a certain amount of customization and themeability available with these managers.

List of display managers

Note: If you use a desktop environment, you should consider using the display manager that corresponds to it.

Loading the display manager

You have two easy methods to make the system load the display manager:

inittab method 
The display manager will load automatically after start-up and will respawn in the event of a crash.
Daemon method 
The display manager will load automatically during the start-up as a daemon.

The inittab method will allow you to boot directly into framebuffer mode from GRUB. This is an advantage should the graphics driver crash in X, for example, you would not be forced to fix your system from a live CD or through other needlessly complex means.

With the inittab method all you would have to do is to press 'e' for edit at the GRUB prompt and just add the number of the run-level you prefer, such as run-level 3, to the end of the 'kernel' line to boot directly into framebuffer mode in order to fix your system/X (this described in detail below.)

When using the daemon method you can simply boot into runlevel 1/S which will prevent any daemons, including the login manager, from being started. Then you can fix your system/X and switch into the runlevel 3. Both methods are equally easy.

inittab method

See inittab for additional information.

Warning: You may get problems if you use KMS with your video driver. It can freeze your display output.

The run-levels are:

0    Halt
1(S) Single-user
2    Not used
3    Multi-user (default)
4    Not used
5    X11
6    Reboot

Modify default run-level

Edit /etc/inittab and find the line that looks like this:


Modify the '3' to '5' for X11:


The next time you reboot, the 'X display manager' should run. For other display managers see below:

Modify default display manager

Edit /etc/inittab and find the line that looks like similar to this one (near the end):

x:5:respawn:/usr/bin/xdm -nodaemon

Modify it so it points to the display manager of your choice:

  • GDM:
x:5:respawn:/usr/sbin/gdm -nodaemon
  • KDM:
x:5:respawn:/usr/bin/kdm -nodaemon
  • SLiM
x:5:respawn:/usr/bin/slim >/dev/null 2>&1
  • LXDM:
x:5:respawn:/usr/sbin/lxdm >/dev/null 2>&1
  • LightDM:
x:5:respawn:/usr/sbin/lightdm >& /dev/null

The next time you reboot, the display manager of your choice should run.

Auto switch to tty7

You may find login prompt from agetty appeared before the display manager is started. If you don't like to see this prompt, add this line to inittab:

xt:5:wait:/usr/bin/chvt 7

Daemon method

You simply need to add the daemon name to your daemons array in /etc/rc.conf

Near the end of the file you will see a line that looks similar to the following:

DAEMONS=(syslogd klogd !pcmcia network netfs crond) # this is the daemons array

Append the daemon name for the display manager of your choice (gdm, kdm, or slim):

DAEMONS=(syslogd klogd !pcmcia network netfs crond slim)

Ensure you start the display manager last in the DAEMONS array, otherwise X will later allocate a tty device which was previously claimed by Getty (see /etc/inittab). Not placing the display manager at the end can cause X crashes, and is therefore unsupported.

The next time you reboot, the display manager should run. In the event that it does not, be certain that you typed in the name correctly, and that the manager you selected is installed. It also helps to ensure that startx is not stopping with errors.

Note: If you use this method and your display manager hangs while loading, or X does not recognize any input device, you will need to boot into single user mode (run-level 1) using the examples above and remove the display manager daemon from rc.conf.

systemd method

A lot of display managers so have a systemd service file packaged.

You simple need to run the following command replace the daemon name for the display manager of your choice (gdm, kdm, {ic|lightdm}}, or slim):

systemctl enable slim.service

The next time you reboot, the display manager should run.


Switching run-levels

Command prompt

If you want to test out the display manager without rebooting, or you want to change the X configuration and that pesky display manager keeps respawning, use this command:

/sbin/telinit <run-level>

To switch to run-level 3 (Multi-user):

/sbin/telinit 3

To switch to run-level 5 (X11):

/sbin/telinit 5

By switching you can avoid restarting the system during your testing.


You can add a menu item in GRUB to allow you to boot with or without X11,

In /boot/grub/menu.lst find the first kernel entry you have (the default is '# (0) Arch Linux')

# (0)  Arch Linux
title  Arch Linux
root   (hd0,0)
kernel /vmlinuz-linux root=/dev/sda3 ro
initrd /initramfs-linux.img

You can duplicate it and modify both like so:

# (0)  Arch Linux Multi-user
title  Arch Linux Multi-user
root   (hd0,0)
kernel /vmlinuz-linux root=/dev/sda3 ro 3
initrd /initramfs-linux.img
# (1)  Arch Linux X11
title  Arch Linux X11
root   (hd0,0)
kernel /vmlinuz-linux root=/dev/sda3 ro 5
initrd /initramfs-linux.img

The run-level was appended to the end so the kernel knows what run-level to start with.


You can start-up with the run-level of your choice by just selecting or typing in the kernel name and then appending the desired run-level in the LILO boot screen like so:

: Arch 5