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)

  • Great description!
    Just one question ... Why are you using full package names with version number when installing packages? I always leave the version number out and that works as well. If you wan\'t to include the version maybe you could explain how to identify them for another version of OpenBSD.

    • And you are right I will explain how do I find the version numbers. I will update the article. Thank you for your suggestion !

    • You are right, version number isn't needed and this way it can possibly work for another version of OpenBSD (to verify).
      But it is faster on a slow connection to specify the version number, otherwise it has to search for the correct version number.
      When I mean slow connection, I am in China with a bad ISP, so it is really slow, and it can make me win 2 or 3 minutes when I specify the version number.
      If your connection is fast then don't bother with version numbers :)

  • Thanks for the tutorial, I am a linux user but I am new to BSD. I am having a problem however. When I try to do this: pkg_add -i -vv gnome-session it starts but I get alot of stuff that says it cannot install because it cannot resolve dependencies. This happens when I run the next command too. Did I miss something in your tutorial?


    • Hi,

      1. Did you try from a fresh install of OpenBSD 4.7 ?
      2. Did you follow the tutorial step by step ?
      2. Could you post the error output ? If some dependencies are missing, you can install them, then continue where you left.

      Thank you for reading :)

  • Thanks, I am about to try it again with another fresh install. I just noticed an error in your tutorial (not related to my original problem) it is in this section:

    PGK_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)/

    I believe the first line should be PKG_PATH=http://ft........

  • Hi,

    You have good eyes, there was indeed a typo, which I copy pasted several times by the way. Thank you for reporting this, now corrected :)

  • Ok, I got it working now, I don't know what happened on my first try, but all is well now and I have Gnome running. Thank you for the excellent tutorial!

  • Great tutorial !

    I'm from Indonesia and new in OpenBSD.Your tutorial help me so much to install gnome.I run OpenBSD With 2G memory, 2 processors in Virtualbox with xeon machine. Maybe any specific configuration for OpenBSD's kernel to run desktop (when boot process) ?

  • @Michael : I'm glad this helped you !
    About a specific configuration for OpenBSD's kernel to run desktop, I recommend to use the bsd.mp kernel which is optimized for multi processors configurations, as you said you have two processors.

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