Display Managers

Generally, display/login managers are used when booting into a graphical user environment. In traditional parlance, depending on the distro and init system, this was called runlevel 4 or 5. In systemd parlance this is called graphical.target.

Before booting into a graphical environment became popular, traditionally Linux systems booted to the console. In traditional parlance, depending on the distro and init system, this was called runlevel 3. In systemd parlance this is called multi-user.target. With this traditional boot, launching a graphical desktop and X is done through the /usr/bin/startx shell script.

Usually the system /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc file contains global instructions for creating the graphical environment. The file is sourced from the startx launch sequence.

Users may override many of those options through a local $HOME/.xinitrc file.

Generally, the system and user xinitrc files are used when launching the desktop from the console. Some display/login managers support sourcing those files but consult the documentation.

Whether the desktop is launched from the console or a display/login manager. automatically launching apps at login is a common desire. These days the common way to do that is storing *.desktop files in /etc/xdg/autostart and $HOME/.config/autostart.

At work I configure Debian workstations and laptops to use a display/login manager because outside very specific tasks, the users are not command line users. There also is a cosmetic reason in that the users would be fully WTF bewildered by logging in at the console and then manually typing startx.

At home I have been using Slackware for more than 15 years. Way back then display/login managers were available, but the default was booting to console. I've long grown comfortable with booting to console. To this day I continue to boot all of my Slackware systems to console. I wrote my own /usr/local/bin/bash_login script that is sourced by $HOME/.bash_profile. Among other things the script prompts the user to boot into the desktop with startx. Much of the time that is what I want, but sometimes I don’t want to do that immediately.

I like booting to console. For me that means one less layer of complexity. I also mischievously enjoy watching other people watch me boot my computers. Often they grow quite silent, unsure what to say or think. As Daffy Duck might say to me, “You're despicable.”

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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