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XFree86 is a project to produce a Free windowing system compatible with the X Window System. It is currently at version 4.4, and is compatible with the X11R6 standard. XFree86 comes with a complete suite of programs, such as a window manager (twm), terminal emulator (xterm), login manager (xdm) and other utilities.

Recently, disagreements about the XFree86 software license have led some Linux distributions to consider alternatives to XFree86.


XFree86 is included in almost every distribution, so the easiest way to install it is using the distribution's packaging system. However, manual installation instructions can be found on the XFree86 website's installation page[1].


Similarly, XFree86 is usually configured by a distribution specific method. But it can be also done with generic XFree86 tools or by simply editing configuration files. The XF86Config file (sometimes also called XF86Config-4 so it can co-exist with the config file for XFree86 3.x.x). See the XF86Config page for a description of the config file format

Configuration tools

Xfree86 can be started with the configure option, for example start (as root):

# XFree86 -configure

This will make XFree86 look for hardware, try to load every driver module and write out a config file.

XFree86 also comes with other configuration tools:

  • xf86config -- A text-based tool that asks you a bunch of questions. It rewrites your configuration on every use, so make a backup of a working copy.
  • xf86cfg -- Starts a session of X with a minimal configuration so it you can configure graphically. If it doesn't work, you can use its text-mode: 'xf86cfg --textmode'.

Specific Components

Graphic cards

  • OpenGL
  • Installing NVIDIA drivers
  • The closed source drivers from ATI come with their own tool to configure XFree86. It is called fglrxconfig and asks the user a series of questions and then generates a full XF86Config file.



Running XFree86


The name of executable file is XFree86 (and usually X is a symlink pointing to it). It accepts a lot of command line options. See the manual page for a list of them. But the X server quits if there aren't any X clients running, so usually XFree86 isn't directly started, but a wrapper is used instead:

  • startx -- a frontend to xinit, slightly more user friendly.
  • xinit -- starts the X server and an initial X client application. Starts a xterm by default, but can be configured in the ~/.xinitrc file.


X is also often started a boot up. This is usually handled by a display manager, which is started at boot and gives the user a graphical login screen which will start an X server. Example display managers are:

  • xdm -- standard, simple display manager included in XFree86
  • gdm -- GNOME display manager
  • kdm -- KDE display manager

External links

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