Remote SSH Headless Setup#

Remote SSH Headless Setup#


Eric Dong



This is a guide to setup remote SSH into host to startup X server and sunshine without physical login and dummy plug. The virtual display is accelerated by the NVidia GPU using the TwinView configuration.


This guide is specific for Xorg and NVidia GPUs. I start the X server using the startx command. I also only tested this on an Artix runit init system on LAN. I didn’t have to do anything special with pulseaudio (pipewire untested).

Keep your monitors plugged in until the Checkpoint step


Prior to editing any system configurations, you should make a copy of the original file. This will allow you to use it for reference or revert your changes easily.

The Big Picture#

Once you are done, you will need to perform these 3 steps:

  1. Turn on the host machine

  2. Start sunshine on remote host with a script that:

    • Edits permissions of /dev/uinput (added sudo config to execute script with no password prompt)

    • Starts X server with startx on virtual display

    • Starts Sunshine

  3. Startup Moonlight on the client of interest and connect to host


As an alternative to SSH…

Step 2 can be replaced with autologin and starting sunshine as a service or putting sunshine & in your .xinitrc file if you start your X server with startx. In this case, the workaround for /dev/uinput permissions is not needed because the udev rule would be triggered for “physical” login. See Linux Setup. I personally think autologin compromises the security of the PC, so I went with the remote SSH route. I use the PC more than for gaming, so I don’t need a virtual display everytime I turn on the PC (E.g running updates, config changes, file/media server).

First we will setup the host and then the SSH Client (Which may not be the same as the machine running the moonlight client)

Host Setup#

We will be setting up:

  1. Static IP Setup

  2. SSH Server Setup

  3. Virtual Display Setup

  4. Uinput Permissions Workaround

  5. Stream Launcher Script

Static IP Setup#

Setup static IP Address for host. For LAN connections you can use DHCP reservation within your assigned range. e.g. 192.168.x.x. This will allow you to ssh to the host consistently, so the assigned IP address does not change. It is preferred to set this through your router config.

SSH Server Setup#


Most distros have OpenSSH already installed. If it is not present, install OpenSSH using your package manager.

sudo apt update
sudo apt install openssh-server
sudo pacman -S openssh
# Install  openssh-<other_init> if you are not using SystemD
# e.g. sudo pacman -S openssh-runit
sudo apk update
sudo apk add openssh
sudo yum install openssh-server
CentOS/Fedora/RHEL 8
sudo dnf install openssh-server

Next make sure the OpenSSH daemon is enabled to run when the system starts.

sudo systemctl enable sshd.service
sudo systemctl start sshd.service  # Starts the service now
sudo systemctl status sshd.service  # See if the service is running
sudo ln -s /etc/runit/sv/sshd /run/runit/service  # Enables the OpenSSH daemon to run when system starts
sudo sv start sshd  # Starts the service now
sudo sv status sshd  # See if the service is running
rc-update add sshd  # Enables service
rc-status  # List services to verify sshd is enabled
rc-service sshd start  # Starts the service now

Disabling PAM in sshd

I noticed when the ssh session is disconnected for any reason, pulseaudio would disconnect. This is due to PAM handling sessions. When running dmesg, I noticed elogind would say removed user session. In this Gentoo Forums post, someone had a similar issue. Starting the X server in the background and exiting out of the console would cause your session to be removed.


According to this article disabling PAM increases security, but reduces certain functionality in terms of session handling. Do so at your own risk!

Edit the sshd_config file with the following to disable PAM.

usePAM no

After making changes to the sshd_config, restart the sshd service for changes to take effect.


Run the command to check the ssh configuration prior to restarting the sshd service.

sudo sshd -t -f /etc/ssh/sshd_config

An incorrect configuration will prevent the sshd service from starting, which might mean losing SSH access to the server.

sudo systemctl restart sshd.service
sudo sv restart sshd
sudo rc-service sshd restart

Virtual Display Setup#

As an alternative to a dummy dongle, you can use this config to create a virtual display.


This is only available for NVidia GPUs using Xorg.


Use xrandr to see name of your active display output. Usually it starts with DP or HDMI. For me, it is DP-0. Put this name for the ConnectedMonitor option under the Device section.

xrandr | grep " connected" | awk '{ print $1 }'
Section "ServerLayout"
    Identifier "TwinLayout"
    Screen 0 "metaScreen" 0 0

Section "Monitor"
    Identifier "Monitor0"
    Option "Enable" "true"

Section "Device"
    Identifier "Card0"
    Driver "nvidia"
    VendorName "NVIDIA Corporation"
    Option "MetaModes" "1920x1080"
    Option "ConnectedMonitor" "DP-0"
    Option "ModeValidation" "NoDFPNativeResolutionCheck,NoVirtualSizeCheck,NoMaxPClkCheck,NoHorizSyncCheck,NoVertRefreshCheck,NoWidthAlignmentCheck"

Section "Screen"
    Identifier "metaScreen"
    Device "Card0"
    Monitor "Monitor0"
    DefaultDepth 24
    Option "TwinView" "True"
    SubSection "Display"
        Modes "1920x1080"


The ConnectedMonitor tricks the GPU into thinking a monitor is connected, even if there is none actually connected! This allows a virtual display to be created that is accelerated with your GPU! The ModeValidation option disables valid resolution checks, so you can choose any resolution on the host!


Uinput Permissions Workaround#


We can use chown to change the permissions from a script. Since this requires sudo, we will need to update the sudo configuration to execute this without being prompted for a password.

  1. Create a script to update permissions on /dev/uinput. Since we aren’t logged into the host, the udev rule doesn’t apply.

  2. Update user sudo configuration /etc/sudoers.d/<user> to allow the script to be executed with sudo.


After I setup the udev rule to get access to /dev/uinput, I noticed when I sshed into the host without physical login, the ACL permissions on /dev/uinput were not changed. So I asked reddit. I discovered that SSH sessions are not the same as a physical login. I suppose it’s not possible for SSH to trigger a udev rule or create a physical login session.

Setup Script

This script will take care of any preconditions prior to starting up sunshine.

Run the following to create a script named something like
echo "chown $(id -un):$(id -gn) /dev/uinput" > &&\
  chmod +x

(Optional) To Ensure ethernet is being used for streaming, you can block WiFi with rfkill.

Run this command to append the rfkill block command to the script:
echo "rfkill block $(rfkill list | grep "Wireless LAN" \
  | sed 's/^\([[:digit:]]\).*/\1/')" >>

Sudo Configuration

We will manually change the permissions of /dev/uinput using chown. You need to use sudo to make this change, so add/update the entry in /etc/sudoers.d/${USER}


Do so at your own risk! It is more secure to give sudo and no password prompt to a single script, than a generic executable like chown.


Be very careful of messing this config up. If you make a typo, YOU LOSE THE ABILITY TO USE SUDO. Fortunately, your system is not borked, you will need to login as root to fix the config. You may want to setup a backup user / SSH into the host as root to fix the config if this happens. Otherwise you will need to plug your machine back into a monitor and login as root to fix this. To enable root login over SSH edit your SSHD config, and add PermitRootLogin yes, and restart the SSH server.

  1. First make a backup of your /etc/sudoers.d/${USER} file.

    sudo cp /etc/sudoers.d/${USER} /etc/sudoers.d/${USER}.backup
  2. cd to the parent dir of the script.

  3. Execute the following to update your sudoer config file.

    echo "${USER} ALL=(ALL:ALL) ALL, NOPASSWD: $(pwd)/" \
      | sudo tee /etc/sudoers.d/${USER}

These changes allow the script to use sudo without being prompted with a password.

e.g. sudo $(pwd)/

Stream Launcher Script#

This is the main entrypoint script that will run the script, start up X server, and Sunshine. The client will call this script that runs on the host via ssh.

Sunshine Startup Script

This guide will refer to this script as ~/scripts/ The setup script will be referred as ~/scripts/


export DISPLAY=:0

# Check existing X server
ps -e | grep X >/dev/null
[[ ${?} -ne 0 ]] && {
 echo "Starting X server"
 startx &>/dev/null &
 [[ ${?} -eq 0 ]] && {
   echo "X server started successfully"
 } || echo "X server failed to start"
} || echo "X server already running"

# Check if sunshine is already running
ps -e | grep -e .*sunshine$ >/dev/null
[[ ${?} -ne 0 ]] && {
 sudo ~/scripts/
 echo "Starting Sunshine!"
 sunshine > /dev/null &
 [[ ${?} -eq 0 ]] && {
   echo "Sunshine started successfully"
 } || echo "Sunshine failed to start"
} || echo "Sunshine is already running"

# Add any other Programs that you want to startup automatically
# e.g.
# steam &> /dev/null &
# firefox &> /dev/null &
# kdeconnect-app &> /dev/null &

SSH Client Setup#

We will be setting up:

  1. SSH Key Authentication Setup

  2. SSH Client Script (Optional)

SSH Key Authentication Setup#

  1. Setup your SSH keys with ssh-keygen and use ssh-copy-id to authorize remote login to your host. Run ssh <user>@<ip_address> to login to your host. SSH keys automate login so you don’t need to input your password!

  2. Optionally setup a ~/.ssh/config file to simplify the ssh command

    Host <some_alias>
        Hostname <ip_address>
        User <username>
        IdentityFile ~/.ssh/<your_private_key>

    Now you can use ssh <some_alias>. ssh <some_alias> <commands/script> will execute the command or script on the remote host.


As a sanity check, let’s make sure your setup is working so far!

Test Steps

With your monitor still plugged into your Sunshine host PC:

  1. ssh <alias>

  2. ~/scripts/

  3. nvidia-smi

    You should see the sunshine and Xorg processing running:



    | NVIDIA-SMI 535.104.05             Driver Version: 535.104.05   CUDA Version: 12.2     |
    | GPU  Name                 Persistence-M | Bus-Id        Disp.A | Volatile Uncorr. ECC |
    | Fan  Temp   Perf          Pwr:Usage/Cap |         Memory-Usage | GPU-Util  Compute M. |
    |                                         |                      |               MIG M. |
    |   0  NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070        Off | 00000000:01:00.0  On |                  N/A |
    | 30%   46C    P2              45W / 220W |    549MiB /  8192MiB |      2%      Default |
    |                                         |                      |                  N/A |
    | Processes:                                                                            |
    |  GPU   GI   CI        PID   Type   Process name                            GPU Memory |
    |        ID   ID                                                             Usage      |
    |    0   N/A  N/A      1393      G   /usr/lib/Xorg                                86MiB |
    |    0   N/A  N/A      1440    C+G   sunshine                                    293MiB |
  4. Check /dev/uinput permissions

    ls -l /dev/uinput


    crw------- 1 <user> <primary_group> 10, 223 Aug 29 17:31 /dev/uinput
  5. Connect to Sunshine host from a moonlight client

Now kill X and sunshine by running pkill X on the host, unplug your monitors from your GPU, and repeat steps 1 - 5. You should get the same result. With this setup you don’t need to modify the Xorg config regardless if monitors are plugged in or not.

pkill X

SSH Client Script (Optional)#

At this point you have a working setup! For convenience I created this bash script to automate the startup of the X server and Sunshine on the host. This can be run on Unix systems, or on Windows using the git-bash or any bash shell.

For Android/iOS you can install Linux emulators, e.g. Userland for Android and ISH for iOS. The neat part is that you can execute one script to launch Sunshine from your phone or tablet!


ssh_args="<user>@192.168.X.X" # Or use alias set in ~/.ssh/config

   # Note this checks infinitely, you could update this to have a max # of retries
  while [[ $result -ne 0 ]]
    echo "checking host..."
    ssh $ssh_args "exit 0" 2>/dev/null
    [[ $result -ne 0 ]] && {
       echo "Failed to ssh to $ssh_args, with exit code $result"
    sleep 3
  echo "Host is ready for streaming!"

  echo "Starting sunshine server on host..."
  echo "Start moonlight on your client of choice"
   # -f runs ssh in the background
  ssh -f $ssh_args "~/scripts/ &"


sleep 3
exit ${exit_code}

Next Steps#

Congrats you can now stream your desktop headless! When trying this the first time, keep your monitors close by incase something isn’t working right.

If you have any feedback and any suggestions, feel free to make a post on Discord!

See also

Now that you have a virtual display, you may want to automate changing the resolution and refresh rate prior to connecting to an app. See Changing Resolution and Refresh Rate for more information.