xRDP – How to Fix Theme issues in Ubuntu 18.04 remote session

Hello World, 

In the previous post, we have performed a simple/standard installation of xRDP using the Ubuntu repository package through our Std-install-xrdp script (version 0.2).  The script streamline the installation and configuration of xrdp on top of Ubuntu 18.04 (at least for the user running the script !!!).   If you perform a manual installation of xRDP (out-of-the-box), the first time you connect remotely, Dock, top bar will not be enabled and the theme is not set to the default Ambiance theme as it should when login locally on the Ubuntu machine. So, without the script, you will then need to perform some manual actions to have a similar look’ n feel in your remote session.  

The Std-install-xrdp script (version 0.2) can perform some of the additional configuration actions needed to mimic the local desktop into the Remote session.  However, there is a small limitation (which will be adjusted in the Std-Install-xrdp-v0.3.sh script).   These additional configuration settings only affect the user that run the script.  So, if you have a system where multiple users connect via remote desktop, they will see a gnome desktop with no Dock and no Top bar menu.  Moreover, the theme will not be set to the default one used by Ubuntu.  

So, in this post, it’s time to fix this situation.  This post will explain what’s the issue we want to tackle and we will explain how to manually solve them.  This information will be integrate in the Std-Install-xrdp-v0.3.sh script that will be released shorter after this post….. 

So, let’s go….. 

xRDP & Ubuntu Dock,Top bar and Theme Issues


For this post, we have make some assumptions.

  • The Ubuntu  18.04 final release will be used
  • At time of writing, all available updates were installed on the Ubuntu machine
  • No alternative Desktop will be used. Default Gnome desktop will be the default desktop accessible via the xrdp session
  • The default Ubuntu Theme is used (i.e. Ambiance and Humanity Icons) for everybody connecting to the machine
  • We are using the standard xrdp package available within the Ubuntu repository for Ubuntu 18.04
  • Ubuntu machine has been installed as virtual machine using Virtualbox software  and Hyper-V 

Look’n Feel Issues in Remote sessions

Dock and Top bar missing in Remote Session

Performing a standard installation of xRDP (not using our script), the remote software will be installed and users will be able to connect remotely to the system.  However, the first time the connection is performed, the desktop interface will look like the following on the screenshot below 

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The dock bar and the app Indicator menu extensions are not enabled within the remote session.  To manually fix this issue (for each user), you will need to install the gnome tweaks tool and enable the different extensions and settings you want to use.

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Using the Std-Install-xRDP script (version 0.2), these settings can be configured automatically but only for the user that has run the script.  If another user perform a remote connection, the standard Ubuntu Gnome Desktop (no Ubuntu Dock, no App Indicator, no Ambiance theme) will be presented in the remote session….So, Install script needs improvements….

No Default Ubuntu Theme or nor icons in Remote Session

The other recurrent issue/annoyance when performing a remote connection is the fact that the look’n feel is not the one that’s configured by default on the local session. The Dock will be there and the wallpaper is still there.  However, looking a little bit closer, you can see some small differences…

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The Std-Install-xRDP script has tackled the Dock and App Indicator bar but does not contain the logic to set the proper Ubuntu theme by default. So, the first time any users connect, they will notice a different look’n feel compared to the one available by default on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. The first time you connect through remote desktop, you will notice that the icons in the Dash are not similar (I would say ugly) to the one you would see when locally connected to Ubuntu 

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When opening Nautilus in a remote session, you can see immediately the difference.  The icon set are all the same (white icons) and the decoration of windows is gray not brown like in the standard Ubuntu theme.

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Finally, if you open Terminal, you will see also a non standard white background. The standard color should be purple 

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To fix this theming issues, it’s really easy.  You will be using the Gnome Tweak utility and set the proper theme and icon Set to be used….  In the screenshot below, you can see that the theme is set to adwaita.  

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From the dropdown box list, select the theme that you want to use.  We want to have the same look n feel in remote connection and local connection so we have selected the Ambiance Theme

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As soon as the option is selected, you should see the new theme applying.  However, the icons in the Dock has not changed yet.  

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To change the icons, you have to select also the correct icons set. In the gnome Tweak tool, we have selected the option Humanity or Humanity-dark

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Again, as soon as we changed the settings, the icons set in the Dock changes…

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You (or the users) will need to perform these changes for each users in their remote session to get the same look’n feel between local sessions and remote sessions.   

Fixing Look’n Feel issues for all the users….. 

To fix these issues once for all and ensuring that your default settings would apply to all your users, the solution is actually quite simple.  The trick to have a similar Look n’ Feel between local sessions and remote session is to add the necessary commands into the /etc/xrdp/startwm.sh file.  However, note that there is some limitations with this approach.  If you modify the startwm.sh file, this means that the same theme will be applied to all users performing a remote connection.  If the user change the theme inside its remote session, these changes will be reverted back to the default you will have set inside the startwm.sh file 

So, the startwm.sh file should contains the following commands (at the top of the file).  These commands will be executed every time a user remotely connect to the machine…. 

gnome-shell-extension-tool -e ubuntu-dock@ubuntu.com
gnome-shell-extension-tool -e ubuntu-appindicators@ubuntu.com
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface gtk-theme 'Ambiance'
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface icon-theme 'Humanity'

Updating the Std-Install-Xrdp Script (Work in Progress…) 

In a near future, our famous Std-Install-xRDP script will be updated in order to take into account this minor look and feel issues.  These issues might be minor but fixing them will provide a better experience to the user which will make them adopt and use the solution more easily.  The script might (maybe or maybe not) might provide a more flexible solution for fixing the theme issue and might be able to take into account users preferences…. We will see if we have enough time to work on this…..

Final Notes 

That’s it for this post !  

As you can see, we have recently taken actions to tackle the most common issues and annoyances that can occur when using xRDP.  In a previous post, we have see how to fix (correctly) the issue related to the annoying popup asking permissions to create managed devices.  In another one, we have tried to fix the crash popup when login into the machine…With this post, we have tackled the look’n feel issues as well.  

There is still a small look n feel issue that we would like to tackle..  

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The different lock screens in remote sessions and local sessions.. If we have enough time, we will try to tackle this issue as well but might be a little bit more complicated than changing themes and enabling extensions….

Stay tuned…

Till next time 

See ya 


2 thoughts on “xRDP – How to Fix Theme issues in Ubuntu 18.04 remote session

  1. Thank you!
    Very useful material. I try to use this trick with change /etc/xrdp/startwm.sh file and preset some options, like layout switching hotkeys (like alt+shift) for users.
    From the box, ubuntu 20.04 can’t provide It, i install gnome extension tool and check alt+shift switch for myself, but for users it works with exception, if remote user disconnect from session correct (make LogOut) everything works fine. Otherwise if user close session just with click on a cross at the top of client window (mstsc), when he connect to server in second time and proceed work in his session with apps, layout switching function will be turned off. Also, visually in gnome extension tool gui, layout switching hotkeys will be turned on (in list of options selected option will be marked as active).

    I try fix this problem with add in xrdp start script command that will be set switching hotkeys active for every time when user is connect to host.

    gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.input-sources xkb-options “[‘grp:alt_shift_toggle’]”

    I think startwm.sh script running only once when system create users session. If session is still running, layout switching will be turned off if user close rdp client app.

  2. @Gleb,

    Thank you for visiting our blog and providing some feedback. First, this post is a little bit outdated and applies mainly to Ubuntu 18.04. With Ubuntu 20.04, things have changed a little bit. You should look at this post first
    (see http://c-nergy.be/blog/?p=13590). In this post, we mentioned that in order to fix most of the theming issues with xRDP, you can use the following code inside your /etc/xrdp/startwm.sh

    cat < ~/.xsessionrc
    echo export GNOME_SHELL_SESSION_MODE=ubuntu
    export XDG_CONFIG_DIRS=/etc/xdg/xdg-ubuntu:/etc/xdg

    You could try our xrdp-installer script (latest version) that will take care of post-configuration settings (you can find the script at http://www.c-nergy.be/products.html)

    Finally, if you want to use the command “gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.input-sources xkb-options “[‘grp:alt_shift_toggle’]”, you would notice that there is a file called /etc/xrdp/reconnect.sh that could be used to re-run the command each time you reconnect to your xRDP session

    Hope this help
    Till next time
    See ya

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