How to Restore Ctrl + Alt + BackSpace In Ubuntu Jaunty

In most Linux distro (including Ubuntu), the keyboard combo Ctrl + Alt + Backspace is often used as a shortcut key to restart X. However, in Ubuntu Jaunty, this keyboard shortcut was disabled, “to reduce issues experienced by users who accidentally trigger the key combo”, as quoted by Ubuntu.

I don’t know how many people will find this a welcome improvement in Ubuntu. Personally, this has caused me a lot of inconvenience as I always depend on it to get myself out of a nasty crash.

For those who wanted to restore back the Ctrl + Alt + Backspace combo, here’s the way:

Install dontzap

Disable dontzap

Restart your computer

That’s it. You can restart your X using Ctrl + Alt + Backspace now.

Damien Damien

Damien Oh started writing tech articles since 2007 and has over 10 years of experience in the tech industry. He is proficient in Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and iOS, and worked as a part time WordPress Developer. He is currently the owner and Editor-in-Chief of Make Tech Easier.


  1. Thank you very muchly. Not being able to do that was driving me nutty. I don’t get why they disabled it. People who control alt backspace by error are probably trying to control alt delete which is shutdown anyway???

    1. I don’t understand why they do this too. Having to hack the system to get this feature back seems more like a joke to me. Hopefully they will restore this in the next release.

  2. You could always manually edit xorg.conf.

    Note the rationale for disabling this key sequence at the bottom of the linked page.

  3. This is not something that Ubuntu done. This is an upstream change in X Server. And you don’t need to install anything to change it back.

    Just add this to /etc/X11/xorg.conf

    Section “ServerFlags”
    Option “DontZap” “false”

    If you want to accuse someone, flame Emacs.

  4. Still had to find a solution for this. Before I went to tty and restarted GDM. But this was is much faster! Thanks!

    I think Ubuntu is going to need a ‘enable pro mode’ or so, cause these things make me going back to Slack…

    1. I agree Ruben. Ubuntu is dumbing down Linux a lot while trying to compete with windows and OS X. I think they need to rethink this strategy of their a bit.

      On second thoughts, I don’t think they’re after the small number of geeks who will find ways to do what they want anyway. They’re after the millions of regular computer users who just want to use a dumb machine that doesn’t get in their way and doesn’t ask too many questions (or gives options).

      1. True, I also think that this is part of their strategy, to get unlimited numbers of the ‘average’ user. And I also think that’s a good idea, but they should think about the geeks. They are the ones who helped Ubuntu grow.

        Also things like removing alsa and implementing that ugly pulseaudio, removing xmms from the repositories and other issues, are really making me disliking Ubuntu more and more. But, I’m not an average Linux user…

        And hey, what’s the matter! We’re still able to switch to another distro and let more regular users migrate to Ubuntu. And that process is going well though.

  5. I really don’t know anyone at all who has ever had a problem with accidentally hitting ctrl+alt+backspace… And I find it being disabled by default just plain annoying.

    1. I agree with Eruaran, this caused more annoyance then good to me. Also, dontzap isn’t working with 9.10 anymore, do it with System->Preferences->Keyboard, choose tab Layout, press button Layout Options… and then activate checkbox on Choose Keyboard Sequence to kill the X server (or something like that). This works for Gnome, don’t know for KDE since I don’t use KDE.

  6. Damn, I don’t see it in the debian archives. This just pisses me off, not that I used it very often, but damn.

  7. You don’t need to install anything. Just edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf

    Section “ServerFlags”
    Option “DontZap” “False”

  8. even having much contact to readers of a linux-magazine I don’t remember anyone having hit that combination without wanting to…

    as far as I know open suse disabled that feature some time ago in one of the last releases too. another combination of suse I did use much: strg-alt-esc for getting a little skull with which you could close any application-window that didn’t react anymore. now I am using ubuntu and that combination doesn’t work here. does anyone know how to do that with ubuntu?

    1. There is this ‘Force Quit’ applet that you can add to the panel in Ubuntu. Just right-click on the panel and select ‘Add to panel’. You will be able to force-quit an application in the event that it crashes.

  9. The need for the particular shortcut shows just how much Linux improved on the desktop front…..

    P.S. Still need to file problems with my two sounds cards on the Ubuntu’s LaunchPad….. 9.04 has precisely zero improvements for me.

  10. It does not work. They screwed up something else to make this not work. I had a link and lost it because this edition of screwbuntu is unstable crap. Not only is this disabled but they will not explain how to enable it. It also breaks CTRL-ALT-Fn to get to VT’s

  11. First off, while I appreciate the article I think it should be noted that if all you have to do is install a package and then run the command with the “disable” option that this package is just changing a setting, as explained in the comments.

    This indicates that it is not “hidden” (in the open source OS that everyone here would claim to love because of the availability of the source/configurations so that said lovers can find and tweak to their own preferences)

    If it was “broken” by “screwbuntu” then why is this option “broken” in numerous distributions?

    @Ruben & @Sharninder – If you’re so confident that you need a “pro mode” for linux then why were you not already aware of these documented changes?

    Perhaps everyone needs to step back for a second, stop thinking their opinion is the end all be all of opinions and realize that this is exactly what makes our distribution great. The fact that in 1 google search and 1 click I found this article that explained the problem, with comments that further explain how to operate it more to my liking.

    Then on top of it all if you people actually read the comments and followed the link provided by Paul it’s not disabled because the devs are big meanie heads…it’s disabled because it’s not the cleanest way to kill the session and there are better alternatives to cleanly ending a system hang. Of course I’m just an ubuntu user enjoying the “dumbed down” benifits of open source software and documentation that was freely available and changed with a little work on my side. If only I was “pro” and could just use a checkbox instead.

  12. mrmeval … I’m with you …
    “sudo apt-get install dontzap” — apt-get reponds “dontzap is already the newest version.”
    “sudo dontzap –disable”
    Looking at “/etc/X11/xorg.conf” and already had or was updated by the previous to have:
    Section “ServerFlags”
    Option “DontZap” “False”
    Result: ctrl-alt-backspace … nothing …
    + ctr-alt-Fn2 blanks my screen with apparently no way back including alt-sysrq-k …
    I don’t care to speculate who/what is responsible for this (so please don’t flame) but it’s busted for me too…
    (Kubuntu 9.04 – gnomified)

  13. It wasn’t Canonical that removed it. It was an upstream decision.

    The enabling of Don’t Zap by default is one of those idiot Linux decisions one can’t comprehend, like Pulse Audio, Mono, or “ZOMG MAKE LUNIX MOAR LIEK WINDOZE LOL!” Ubuntu is guilty of enabling most of these. (Not the Don’t Zap, though they could easily enable it by default.)

  14. It irritates me that the justification for a change to such a basic feature is, in fact, no justification at all. They state that “a number of users have complained about accidentally restarting their X-Server”, how many? 5? 10? 100? Whats the ratio of people who accidently reset X to the people who never accidently reset X?

    It seems that the change has inconvenienced the many at the behest of a few.

    Looking at the page here it appears that the Accessibility features may be the root cause of the problem, and that perhaps, just perhaps, the decision to enable these features should done at install time. A simple question, perhaps accompanied by the wheel-chair logo, asking if this PC is going to be used by persons who have accessibility issues. If the answer is yes then enable the “hold-shift-key-for-8-seconds-to-enable-sticky-keys” feature, otherwise leave well-enough alone.

  15. So what’s wrong with alt+sysrq+k? It works just fine for me. Why is ctrl+alt+bkspc so important when it doesn’t work if the X server totally freezes, whereas alt+sysrq+k does because it’s a kernel command?

    1. alt+sysrq+k is a KERNEL key combo that sends SIGKILL to all active processes on the system. It is a Very Bad Combo to use except in dire emergencies. Sure, it’ll toast X… but it’ll toast just about everything but Init, too.

  16. Boohoo, “Screwbuntu” the great conspiracy to bring down linux strikes again! ctrl-atl-backspace not working, they want to force me to alt-sysrq-k, omg what an inconvenience, please let me die now. Seriously, there are lives to be had by some people… Wow, I am as much a loser for typing this.

    Thanks to whoever posted the links and tips that allowed me to find the answer to this incredibly hard puzzle in under 2 min.

  17. n00bs cant keep their hands of of ctrl-alt-backspace and we have to suffer.. great upgrade people!

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