Tutorial: Install Gnome Desktop and Gnome Display Manager on OpenBSD 4.7

Installing Gnome in OpenBSD 4.7


This document has been updated for OpenBSD 4.8: http://www.gabsoftware.com/tips/tutorial-install-gnome-desktop-and-gnome-display-manager-on-openbsd-4-8/.

This document is aimed at people willing to install the official Gnome package on a fresh and default install of OpenBSD 4.7. While several other documents exist, I didn’t find one with all the necessary steps. I somehow managed to make it work, so I would like to share this experience with you, if it can make you avoid some hassles. This document tries to be as precise and accurate as possible. However it may not be perfect, and it is of course possible that it does not work in your configuration. It worked with mine, but your comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome, and this document will be updated accordingly.

Gnome 2.28.2 “about screen” on OpenBSD 4.7

Let’s go !

After a fresh default install of OpenBSD 4.7, open a terminal.

First, make sure that you are in your home directory :


It should display /home/your_user_name/. If not, cd to your home directory.

Then become root :

cd ~your_user_name

OpenBSD xterm

Note: I advise you create a cache for the downloaded packages (specify a location with sufficient free space, 2 GB would not be too much) for easy and fast re-installation in case something goes wrong. To create the cache directory, type the following command :

mkdir /path_to_your_pkg_cache

You can install the nano text editor for a convenient editing of config files (optional step, you can use vi if you prefer) and set the nowrap mode to avoid automatic creation of new lines:

pkg_add http://ftp.openbsd.org/pub/OpenBSD/$(uname -r)/packages/$(uname -m)/nano-2.2.1.tgz
echo 'set nowrap' > /root/.nanorc
echo 'set nowrap' > .nanorc
If you are new to OpenBSD, the pkg_add command is used to install a package into your system. Its most useful arguments are -v, -vv, -vvv, -vvvv, -vvvvv which represent the verbosity level of the command output; -iwhich enables the interactive mode; the path to the package comes last.Let met also explain briefly the uname command. In the previous pkg_add line, I used uname -r and uname -m. The first will output the version of OpenBSD (4.7 in my case) and the second the architecture(amd64 in my case).For more detailed informations about these commands, do not hesitate to use the man command with the command name in argument.You can use another URL for the pkg_add line, if you find that another mirror is faster.

Now we should set the PKG_PATH environment variable so that the pkg_add command knows where to search for the packages and to save us from typing the full mirror URL at each command. This is done in the .profile file located in your home directory :

nano .profile

Append the following lines :

PKG_PATH=http://ftp.openbsd.org/pub/OpenBSD/$(uname -r)/packages/$(uname -m)/
ALT_PKG_PATH=http://ftp.chg.ru/pub/OpenBSD/$(uname -r)/packages/$(uname -m)/
Take care to specify two different and fast mirrors if you don’t want to wait two days at each pkg_add command…

CTRL+X, Yes, Enter will save the file and close nano.

Let’s do the same for the root account :

nano /root/.profile

Append the following lines :

PKG_PATH=http://ftp.openbsd.org/pub/OpenBSD/$(uname -r)/packages/$(uname -m)/
ALT_PKG_PATH=http://ftp.chg.ru/pub/OpenBSD/$(uname -r)/packages/$(uname -m)/

CTRL+X, Yes, Enter will save the file and close nano.

In addition, you may type the 8 previous lines directly in the terminal if you don’t want to restart now, so that the environment variables are updated. You can check by typing the following commands :

echo $PKG_PATH

Checking the environment variables

Following the suggestion of Peter Ljung in his comment, please note that it is not compulsory to add the version number and the file extension of the package in your pkg_add lines. I always specify the full package path because my connection is slow and this way pkg_add does not have to search for the correct version number. When you don’t add the version number, pkg_add will download the full package listing, which can consume a lot of time if you are on a slow connection. But for example, the following pkg_addlines are also valid if you want to install nano:If PKG_PATH is not yet set:
pkg_add http://ftp.openbsd.org/pub/OpenBSD/$(uname -r)/packages/$(uname -m)/nano

if PKG_PATH is already set, you can simply type :

pkg_add nano

I guess that you now feel the interest of setting PKG_PATH, don’t you ? 🙂

If you want to know the full package filename, just go to the packages root path and note the full filename of the package. In my case I have to go to http://ftp.openbsd.org/pub/OpenBSD/4.7/packages/amd64/. You have to go to the right packages root path related to your architecture and OpenBSD version.

The environment is now ready for Gnome. Here is the command to install Gnome itself :

pkg_add -i -vv gnome-session-2.28.0p7.tgz

Then wait possibly few hours if you are on a slow connection like me…

Done ? Let’s continue with the installation of the Gnome Display Manager (gdm):

pkg_add -i -vv gdm-2.20.10p10.tgz
nano /etc/rc.local

Append the following lines in /etc/rc.local:

if [ -x /usr/local/sbin/gdm ]; then
echo -n ' gdm'; (sleep 5; /usr/local/sbin/gdm) &

CTRL+X, Yes, Enter will save the file and close nano

You probably want to start Gnome Desktop automatically at startup and use the Gnome login screen.  If yes, type the following commands:

echo 'exec gnome-session' > /root/.xinitrc
chmod +x /root/.xinitrc
echo 'exec gnome-session' > .xinitrc
chmod +x .xinitrc

Gnome login screen

At this point, if you restart, you should be able to see at least the Gnome login screen. But don’t restart now.
There are still some missing important packages to install  : metacity, gnome-panel and nautilus. Without them, you will not be able to do much things but watching the default Gnome wallpaper (except if you like empty screens)…

So let’s install the missing packages.

If some choice between libraries are to be made, just choose the first one by typing 0 validated by Enter.
pkg_add -i -vv metacity-2.28.0p0.tgz
pkg_add -i -vv gnome-panel-2.28.0p6.tgz
pkg_add -i -vv nautilus-2.28.4p0.tgz

You can now try to start Gnome by restarting or typing:


(you don’t need to be root).
If the FVWM window manager is still displaying instead of Gnome Desktop, try the following :

nano /etc/rc.conf.local

Append the following lines :

Be sure to select Gnome Desktop at the Gnome login screen, and to set it as the default one when asked ! If you missed it, you still can do it in the Gnome login screen by going in the menu Actions > Configure  login manager… and checking and choosing the default session in the General tab. If you cannot use your keyboard in the Gnome login screen, see the Troubleshooting section.

Configure the login manager

Choosing the default session

At this point, Gnome should be able to start. However you don’t even have the gnome-terminal package installed, which is not very convenient…
More, maybe the keyboard will not work and no title bars will be displayed, that is kind of an issue if you aim to produce a usable computer…
So I strongly advice you install the following packages to solve these issues.

You can still use the Gnome failsafe terminal from the Gnome login screen if you can’t get access to Xterminal.

Starting Gnome failsafe terminal

Installation of useful packages :

pkg_add -i -vv gnome-terminal-2.28.2p0.tgz
pkg_add -i -vv gnome-control-center-2.28.1p1.tgz
pkg_add -i -vv gnome-menus-
pkg_add -i -vv gnome-settings-daemon-2.28.1p1.tgz
pkg_add -i -vv gnome-themes-2.28.1p0.tgz
pkg_add -i -vv gnome-themes-extras-2.22.0p8.tgz
pkg_add -i -vv gnome-utils-2.28.1p0.tgz
The PKG_PATH environment variable may not be set if you type this line from the Gnome failsafe console, so you can type the 8 lines concerning PKG_PATH before, or just type the full mirror url if unlike me you like to waste your time.

Gnome Desktop is now installed and running along with Gnome Window Manager on the most secure OS available. Nice, isn’t it ?

Finally you can customize your Gnome desktop, for example you may want to change the screen resolution, and use it as an OpenBSD workstation or whatever use you can find.

Some screenshot of Gnome Desktop 2.28 running on OpenBSD 4.7 for the pleasure :

Gnome System preferences menu

Gnome Applications menu

Troubleshooting and FAQ

Q : My keyboard does not respond in the Gnome login screen, I can’t type my username and password !

A : It happened to me also. In the Gnome login screen, simply choose Actions > Remote login via XDMCP, then click Cancel once the remote login screen is loaded, you will return to the Gnome login screen and hopefully the keyboard will work ! (Or at least it worked for me)

Q : Why is your xterm window more beautiful than mine ?

A : Because I took the screenshot in a Gnome Desktop session. But is it important ?

Q : Why do you install Gnome on OpenBSD in the first place ?

A : And why not ? OpenBSD is the perfect candidate for a workstation machine : secure, stable, not bloated with 3000 widgets. Of course one wouldn’t work on a worskstation if it is not a minimum beautiful and convenient. Gnome is here to correct this problem. I have nothing against FVWM for a terminal station, but I definitely prefer Gnome as a workstation user interface.

Q : Do you plan to make a similar tutorial for KDE ?

A : No, I don’t plan to use KDE in its current version, not because it is bad (it’s good actually) but simply because I prefer Gnome.

Q : How to install OpenBSD ?

A : Get the iso, then just burn the install47.iso file to a CDR, reboot and press Enter a few times. Here it is, you just installed OpenBSD !

Q : Is your document also valid for FreeBSD or NetBSD ?

A : I don’t know. Most probably not. But you can try and tell me your findings.


Here it is, this is the end of this document and I hope it will help someone as much as it would have helped me if I found it when I needed it !

View Comments (42)

  • Hello guys! I made a fresh install of OpenBSD4.8 and follow your tutorial step by step, taped and verified every command (even after corrections) and despite of this I have some problems between xorg and gdm-gnome. My system boots on xorg (I have the basic GUI, not the gnome's) and I must start gnome manually with "gnome-session" on a xterm. I can also run gnome more than one time, one per xorg desktop. I just want that after the default OpenBSD 4.8 install and then gnome and all the packages named in the tutorial and files modifications made my system nicely restart and gdm ask me the user/pw account and gnome starts automatically and all the xorg gui stuff makes place for gnome's. So what are the mistakes I made? Is someone can help me? What do you need I can join you to solve the problems?

    • Hi DarkGagan,

      Just did an install of OpenBSD 4.8.

      It appears that you are right, if you follow the tutorial Gnome-session cannot start properly because xdm is still started.

      Here is how to fix this :

      In your /etc/rc.conf.local you probably have :

      Edit /etc/rc.conf.local and be sure that the 3 following lines are present :


      The key is the "xdm_flags=NO" line.
      The /etc/rc script checks for "xdm_flags=NO". If the value of xdm_flags is different than NO, xdm is started. By setting xdm_flags to NO, you prevent xdm and fvwm to start, allowing GDM and Gnome-session to start.

      Tell me if that solves your problem.

      I will update the tutorial shortly for OpenBSD 4.8

    • Hi,

      If you followed the commands specified in this tutorial (corrected for OpenBSD 4.8) then it should work...

      Especially the following part :

      #echo 'exec gnome-session' > /root/.xinitrc
      #chmod +x /root/.xinitrc
      $echo 'exec gnome-session' > .xinitrc
      $chmod +x .xinitrc

      Though I didn't tested myself with Gnome 4.8, apparently it worked for others.

      Could you post all the commands you used in detail ?

  • Hi Gab,

    First a very big thank you for your very quick answers,

    Then I haven't got enough time these days to test your new version but I'll made it and give feedback on the 4.8 comments.

    Congratulations for your work!!!

    (and... cocorico! I'm french too but I use English to be better understood by others in the hope of what I wrote could be useful...)

  • Hi guys, it is me again!,
    as I posted some days before, the tutorial you can read in this very post written by Gabriel works properly for OpenBSD 4.7 and OpenBSD 4.8 alike with no error and/or differences between them.
    The problem DarkGagan reported that he had about xdm comes apparently because the answer he musted gice during installation. Did you answer properly that question, the one that reads "Do you expect to run the X Window System? [yes] Enter" and "Do you want the X Window System to be started by xdm(1)? [no] Enter"......
    Take a look on that!!!
    Besides that, anything else would be the same as above. I have followed this same tutorial for both releases, OpenBSD 4.7 and 4.8.
    Greetings from Chile!
    Ubaldo Arias Flores.

    • Hi Ubaldo,

      Thank you for your feedback. The problem of DarkGagan is indeed caused by xdm being automatically started before gdm. By selecting "no" at the question "Do you want the X Window System to be started by xdm(1)?" you circumvent the problem because it will set xdm_flags to NO in /etc/rc.conf.local. If you choose "yes", it will set xdm_flags to nothing and so xdm will start.

      If you chose "yes" at this question but want to use GDM afterward, you can still disable xdm by setting xdm_flags to NO, gdm_enable to YES and gnome_enable to YES in /etc/rc.conf.local as I said in my updated tutorial (http://www.gabsoftware.com/tips/tutorial-install-gnome-desktop-and-gnome-display-manager-on-openbsd-4-8/)

      So we now have two ways to solve this problem! :)


  • Hi there! Just wanted to tell you guys that you don't have to reboot the system to update the environment variable set in the user profiles. Just log out and then log in again.

  • Hi Gabriel,

    I just installed openBSD 5.1 and I am not able to install pkg gnome-session-3.2.1p9. I am getting error cant't find gnome-session-3.2.1p9
    i download this pkg from ftp site and put it on /home/install directory. o/p of # echo $PKG_PATH is /home/install

    please help... need help

  • Has anyone had any luck with Gnome 3.4.2 in OpenBSD 5.2
    I personally like the new Gnome desktop and use it on
    Fedora 17. However I would like to have it on my OpenBSD
    os as well. I have it installed and working but it appears
    as the old Gnome desktop environment. Any advice ?

    • Yes, I have installed gnome on OpenBSD 5.2 on Virtual Box just to see that it works fine. I use XFCE on my laptop and didn't want to install gnome as well.

      Just do "pkg_add gnome" and read the /usr/local/share/doc/pkg-readmes/gnome-*

      You need dbus and avahi to run it. Also xdm is preferred way to start it up. I think that gdm is removed from repository because of some problem.

      I made some short notes here.


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