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Your Pretty Linux GUI Fails and Dumps You to a Console. Now What? - page 3

Staring At A Black Screen and a Command Prompt. Now What?

  • February 3, 2009
  • By A. Lizard
A likely cause of booting to a blackscreen instead of a desktop is an X-Windows related problem. X-Windows is the basic display and peripheral (video, audio, keyboard) control application for *nix OSs. As such, it calls the video chipset-specific video driver or a generic driver like vesa that will work on most chipsets, but in a non-optimal way. (no openGL) .

This does not provide full coverage of X troubleshooting, that in itself is a lengthy article or perhaps even a book. However, there are a couple of problems a relative novice might be able to fix. If your problem is worse than this, you've got some research ahead of you or it's time to call for help.

You can find out if it's the driver (nvidia is the example here) by opening the X-Windows conference file as root:

# nano /etc/X11/xorg.conf

or

$ sudo nano /etc/X11/xorg.conf

Section-Device
Identifier "whatever"
Driver "nvidia"

Change the nvidia driver call to a comment:

# Driver "nvidia"

and add this line below it to enable the generic vesa video driver:

Driver "vesa"

Save and exit. If it works with a generic driver, look into trouble reports on the web with your hardware and your driver. But at least you'll be able to use your GUI and accustomed tools (e.g. Firefox) to do this.

If things are utterly fouled up (might be audio as well as video) after a major system upgrade, you can try:

$ ls -al /etc/X11/xorg*
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 3135 2008-12-23 21:17 /etc/X11/xorg.conf
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 1478 2008-12-23 20:47 /etc/X11/xorg.conf.12182008

Try the configuration file previous to the one you are using, which may have been replaced or modified by one of the application upgrades.

cd /etc/X11
mv xorg.conf xorg.conf-old
cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf.12182008 xorg.conf

This preserves the content of both files, which is important if the old file makes things worse than the new.

There are other possible problems, the best advice I can give is pay careful attention to error messages and see what use you can make of them.

Linux troubleshooting links

You might want to bookmark the following links to put useful resources on your lynx bookmark page:
  • My how-to article on Linux troubleshooting: Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3. I recommend reading it before you find yourself in front of an unfamiliar black screen, to get the basic background concepts into your mind.
  • This will get you to all of my LinuxToday how-to articles. If you installed something on your system using one of my articles here as a reference, this will find the right one for you.
  • Link to my informit.com Linux how-to articles.
  • Your distro's website and forums.
  • X-Windows Information

I get occasional use out of the fact that by and large, the documentation on how I set up my workstation is by and large professionally published and on the Web in the above two sets of articles. However, you don't have to be a published author to do this. Consider putting some specific chunks of system documentation on a local web page on your HD findable by lynx or a text file whose location is easy to remember or even on the Web if you've got space on it that is not indexable by google... meaning no links from any pages anywhere on the Web. This is probably impossible to assure from conventional blogs like LJ and facebook. Obsfucating specific personal information is of course, a good idea here.

For more information about lynx itself:

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