How to Restart a Frozen Desktop in Linux

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Featured

While Linux has a reputation for being stable, able to keep chugging along for years, there are times when the desktop will just freeze and stop responding to input. One of the most common solutions to fix a frozen desktop is to restart the PC. An easier way is to just restart the desktop.

Let’s see how to do this on three of the most popular desktop environments: Gnome, KDE, and XFCE. We will be using Ubuntu (Kubuntu/Xubuntu) for this illustration.

Restart Gnome in Ubuntu

If your desktop can still respond to your keyboard, press Alt + F2, type the single letter r on the pop-up window, and press Enter.

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Gnome Type R

This will restart your desktop environment without much fuss. If your desktop doesn’t respond to your input, though, you will have to take more drastic measures.

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Gnome Gnome Restarting

Press Ctrl + Alt + F3 to access the first terminal outside of your desktop environment.

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Gnome Drop To Tty

Enter the following command to restart the Gnome desktop environment:

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Gnome Gnome Shell Replace

Press Ctrl + Alt + F2 to move back to the desktop and, if everything goes according to the plan, a refreshed version of your desktop will be waiting for you.

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Gnome Back To Desktop

If that doesn’t work, you can try restarting the display manager. Since the display manager is the “base” on which the desktop environment runs, by restarting it, you also end up reloading the desktop environment. To do that, go back to the terminal and enter the following:

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Gnome Back To Login

Note that this fully reloads the desktop environment, so you will have to log in again from scratch.

Restart KDE in Kubuntu

Restarting the KDE desktop environment follows the same approach as Gnome, but there are small differences in the individual steps you will have to take.

For starters, and at least in Kubuntu, the first available terminal outside your desktop environment is tty2, so you will have to use the Ctrl + Alt + F2 combination to get there.

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Kde Drop To Tty2

In the latest versions of KDE, the proper way to restart the desktop from the terminal is:

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Kde Kstart Plasmashell

If that doesn’t work, you can also try:

If that fails as well, it’s worth trying to restart the display manager itself as a last option before rebooting your whole PC. Try it out with:

Note, though, that this forced-restart of the desktop environment may also lead to the appearance of some error messages.

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Kde Kde Error Messages

Restart XFCE in Xubuntu

With XFCE being a much simpler desktop environment than Gnome and KDE, restarting it is also easier.

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Xfce A Simpler Desktop

The primary desktop element of XFCE – and the most probable to freeze – is its panel. To restart it, if your desktop is still somewhat responsive, fire up a terminal by using the Ctrl + Alt + T combination and type:

This command will “kill” the panel. To reload it, enter:

To restart the whole window manager, move to the first available terminal outside your desktop. (On the Xubuntu installation, it was the first one, accessible with the Ctrl + Alt + F1 combination.) There, try the official approach:

Restart Ubuntu Desktop Xfce Xfwm4 Replace

If that doesn’t work, try the more forceful approach:

Hopefully, your desktop will be back up and running, waiting for you.

The above methods should help you get out of a frozen desktop situation very easily. Do also check out the keyboard shortcut for GNOME to better navigate the desktop.

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7 comments

  1. I use Mint 19.3 Mate on a dual-boot desktop computer (along with Manjaro), and every now and then it locks up. I can move the mouse and that’s all. I’ve tried Ctrl-Alt-Backspace but that’s unresponsive. I’ve resorted to using the reset button (beside the Power button on the case) and that works, but I’m nervous about data corruption or loss. So far so good but I don’t want to continue pushing my luck, and generally use Manjaro now. If you have any advice I’d appreciate it.

  2. I found that when my rig (Elementary OS/Ubuntu) freezes that it’s usually my browser that’s at fault.
    I get to the terminal screen by hitting ctrl/alt/f1, log in and enter killall firefox.
    (I can only assume this would work for Chromium, etc. as well)
    Hitting ctrl/alt/f7 gets me back to the desktop and after a several second wait, Ffox will close
    and everything’s fine, ready to reopen my browser and get back to it.

  3. In all versions of Linux I have used, the last resort is Alt+PrtScn+B. That has always restarted my system. Be aware if your system is stuck in a write, this could cause a problem.

  4. This is useful, but there are caveats. “r” doesn’t work under Wayland, for instance.

    @etim , attempt to use htop or another monitoring utility to determine what is using all of your system resources, of that shows you nothing but things are still “hard” locking, start looking at video drivers. This article primarily covers problems with the window manager, which may not be your issue.

  5. In the olden days before SysTemD and Wayland we used to just restart X with Ctrl-Alt-Bksp. Things are soooooo much better now! :rolleyes:

  6. REISUB: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_SysRq_key

  7. Thanks, very useful as this website freezes my computer up every time I access it. I can actually watch my sources climb on my system monitor right now. It has taken me about 5 minutes to type this comment.

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