X11-Forwarding allows you to execute graphical programs on a remote SSH host and display them locally.

If you're connecting to a remote SSH server for system administration work, chances are you'll be running programs using sudo or su to switch to another user such as root. You will get Can't open display, or X11 connection rejected because of wrong authentication error when running GUI program in SSH when switching users via sudo or su.

$ sudo xclock
[sudo] password for user: 
X11 connection rejected because of wrong authentication.
Error: Can't open display: localhost:10.0

This is because SSH X11-Forwarding requires authorization for connecting to the X server which is stored in ~/.Xauthority file and with the correct value for DISPLAY environment variable.

Steps to use SSH X11-Forwarding for sudo or su:

  1. Make sure you're already able to run graphical program via SSH X tunneling as normal user.
  2. Connect to SSH server with X11-Forwarding enabled.
    $ ssh -X remote-host
    user@remote-host's password: 
    Welcome to Ubuntu 20.10 (GNU/Linux 5.8.0-26-generic x86_64)
     * Documentation:  https://help.ubuntu.com
     * Management:     https://landscape.canonical.com
     * Support:        https://ubuntu.com/advantage
    0 updates can be installed immediately.
    0 of these updates are security updates.
    Last login: Sun Nov  1 21:17:13 2020 from
  3. Get X authorization entry for current display.
    $ xauth list $DISPLAY
    host/unix:10  MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1  742d024faeb3d29a15ff06f1b8c3b21e

    This info is stored in ~/.Xauthority file.

    $ cat ~/.Xauthority 
  4. Get DISPLAY environment variable value.
    $ echo $DISPLAY
  5. Switch to root or other user using sudo and/or su.
    $ sudo su -
    [sudo] password for user: 
  6. Generate ~/.Xauthority file using xauth command.
    # xauth add host/unix:10  MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1  742d024faeb3d29a15ff06f1b8c3b21e
  7. Check .Xauthority file to confirm.
    # cat ~/.Xauthority 
  8. Export DISPLAY environment variable value for current user.
    # export DISPLAY=localhost:10.0
  9. Run X program.
    # xclock

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