June 19, 2008

How to Get Help When X Refuses to Start

I'm sure many of us had this problem, and not only once: for some reason or another, the X Window System refuses to start and you get stuck in console. I remember an event also referred to as the 'Black Ubuntu Day', when an update crashed X. As far as I remember, I had no problem since I didn't restart my X server after the upgrade and a fix was available after a few hours, but thousands (or maybe more, can't tell the number exactly) of other users couldn't log into GUI any more.

Usually it's just a wrongly configured mouse or driver selected in the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, but in other cases the problem seems harder to get solved at first sight.

Well, don't despair at this point: I can't tell you what exactly is the problem, but I can recommend two of the most useful applications in such a situation: a CLI (command line interface) client for IRC (internet relay chat) and a CLI web browser. There are many IRC clients out there for use in a console, like BitchX (I'm not sure if it's still maintained), Irssi or Epic4. The same goes for web browsers: some of the popular ones are w3m, lynx, elinks or links. All you need is a working internet connection. You can then install these applications using the package manager of your distribution, for example in Ubuntu this is done using sudo apt-get install lynx irssi.

All of these applications work in command line, and with an IRC connection and a web browser, your solution will be close. Well, the web browser is slower to use and can't display images, but at least you can browse for help instead of staring at the shell.

So, the two applications I recommend to always have installed are Irssi and lynx. I always have those installed even though I only use Irssi, just in case. You will also need a text editor, and nano or vim come installed by default on all the distributions I tried.

IRC is a text chat protocol used for almost 20 years. Despite its age it still remains one of the most used protocols for chatting and support out there. Every decent distribution has a channel on Freenode (or OFTC in Debian's case), with hundreds of users at any given time.

To get on IRC, just start irssi and type /connect irc.freenode.org. Next, join the channel for your distribution. For example, if you use Ubuntu, type /join #ubuntu. And start saying what your problem is, soon enough somebody will notice you and eventually offer the needed help. To quit Irssi, just type /quit. There are unwritten rules for using IRC, also known as the 'netiquette'. Usually, don't ask to ask in support channels, don't send private messages unless you first ask the person on the channel if that's OK with him, don't start flame wars, and you'll be just fine. You'd be surprised to know that most of the persons who use to read and spend a good amount of time on forums, are amazed by the fact that they learn on IRC more in 20 minutes than they learn an entire day on a forum.

As for lynx, I recommend starting it using the command lynx www.google.com. Navigate using the arrows until the search bar is focused, then try searching for terms related to your problem.

Updated: Sep 13, 2008 (Created: Jun 19, 2008)

6 comments:

renoX said...

Do you realise the uproar if a Windows update would break their GUI?

Ubuntu claims to be the desktop for end-users, breaking X is a big deal for normal end-users, so I'm not sure that it is ready yet..

Imric said...

Because a bluescreen is a mark of an OS that's 'ready', right? At least you can still do SOMETHING about rather than reboot-reformat-reinstall with Linux.

I get really annoyed at the double-standard. Stuff that makes Linux 'unready' is no issue for Windows. Right?

Right?

Dan Craciun said...

renox, yes, but when Windows crashes, you have to restart the PC. On the other hand, when X breaks it usually breaks because of a simple misconfiguration, not necessarily a bug. And the system itself does not freeze, processes continue to run (like a web server for instance) and you can login in CLI and eventually fix the problem by stopping the X Server and editing xorg.conf. It's true, it's not a very accessible way to do it, but keep in mind that you don't have to restart the computer.

As for the example I gave with the Ubuntu upgrade crash, that happened only once as far as I know, two years ago. And the crash occurred only after the users restarted their X server or computer, not while they were working (so you can't complain for unsaved docs or lost data).

Amit M Surana said...

This article written by me long back can also help a bit :
http://foss.suranaamit.com/2007/09/day-without-x.html

Dan Craciun said...

Nice article there Amit M Surana, thanks for sharing. I didn't even know about TWIN or zgv, though I tried to watch TV in CLI mode a while ago.

Amit M Surana said...

you are welcome :)