Introduction to XFree86

XFree86 is a freely redistributable open-source implementation of the X Window System. XFree86 provides a client/server interface between display hardware (the mouse, keyboard, and video displays) and the desktop environment, while also providing both the windowing infrastructure and a standardized application interface (API).

Package information

XFree86 dependencies




Linux-PAM-0.77 and the following packages are included in the XFree86 package, however they are updated more often than the XFree86 package and are highly recommended: expat-1.95.7, FreeType-2.1.7, Fontconfig-2.2.2.



If you choose not to install expat, freetype2, and fontconfig, the host.def file below will have to be modified to instruct XFree86 to build them.

Download Instructions

There are several files that need to be fetched from the download location:

  • XFree86-4.4.0-src-1.tgz

  • XFree86-4.4.0-src-2.tgz

  • XFree86-4.4.0-src-3.tgz

  • XFree86-4.4.0-src-4.tgz

  • XFree86-4.4.0-src-5.tgz

  • XFree86-4.4.0-src-6.tgz

  • XFree86-4.4.0-src-7.tgz

The first three packages are the XFree86 programs, the fourth and fifth are fonts, the sixth is normal documentation, and the seventh is hardcopy documentation. There are also two packages doctools-1.3.1.tgz, which contain programs to regenerate hardcopy documentation, and utils-1.1.0.tgz, which contain GNU TAR and zlib which are already installed on an LFS system.

To check your downloads for integrity, download the SUMS.md5sum file. Then:

md5sum -c SUMS.md5sum

The only errors you should see are for README, doctools-1.3.1.tgz, and utils-1.1.0.tgz files if you did not download them.

Installation of XFree86

Kernel Compilation Settings

If you have an Intel P6 (Pentium Pro, Pentium II and later), it is recommended that you compile MTRR (Memory Type Range Registers) support into the kernel. The kernel can map Cyrix and AMD CPUs to the MTRR interface, so selecting this option is useful for those processors also. This option is found in the "Processor type and features" menu. It can increase performance of image write operations 2.5 times or more on PCI or AGP video cards.

In the "Character Devices" section, enable AGP Support and select the chipset support on your motherboard. If you do not know the chipset, you may select all the chip types at the expense of extra kernel size. You can usually determine your motherboard's chipset by doing:

cat /proc/pci

In the "Character Devices" section, disable Direct Rendering Manager unless you have a Direct Rendering Infrastructure (DRI) supported video card. A complete list of DRI supported video cards can be found at http://dri.sourceforge.net in the Status section. Currently, supported cards include those from 3dfx (Voodoo, Banshee), 3Dlabs, ATI (Rage Pro, Rage 128, Radeon 7X00, Radeon 2), Intel (i810, i815), and Matrox (G200, G400, G450). If you do enable DRI here, make sure you select the video card(s) you want to support as a module.

Additionally NVidia provides their own closed source binary drivers, which do not make use of DRI. If you intend to use these drivers, do not enable DRI.

If you made any changes to the kernel configuration, recompile the kernel.

Copy /usr/src/linux/arch/i386/boot/bzImage and /usr/src/linux/System.map to /boot, edit /etc/lilo.conf appropriately and run lilo. If you use grub, edit /boot/grub/grub.conf and add the new kernel to the boot menu.



If you build XFree86 in a chroot environment, make sure the kernel version of the base system and the target system are the same. This is especially important if you enabled DRI support as a module as instructed above.

Creating host.def

Although XFree86 will compile without a host.def file, the following file is recommended for customizing the installation. Start from the xc directory.



The host.def file is a C file, not the usual configuration file. If you make any changes, be sure the comment characters (/* and */) are balanced. Most of the entries in the file below are commented out with the default settings shown.

cat > config/cf/host.def << "EOF"
/* Begin XFree86 host.def file */

/* System Related Information.  If you read and configure only one
 * section then it should be this one.  The Intel architecture defaults are 
 * set for a i686 and higher.  Axp is for the Alpha architecture and Ppc is  
 * for the Power PC.  Note that there have been reports that the Ppc 
 * optimization line causes segmentation faults during build.  If that 
 * happens, try building without the DefaultGcc2PpcOpt line.  **************/

/* #define DefaultGcc2i386Opt  -O2 -fomit-frame-pointer -march=i686 */
/* #define DefaultGcc2AxpOpt   -O2 -mcpu=ev6 */
/* #define DefaultGcc2PpcOpt   -O2 -mcpu=750 */

/* The following definitions are normally set properly by XFree86's scripts.
 * You can uncomment them if you want to make sure. ************************/
/* #define HasMTRRSupport      YES  */ /* Enabled in kernel see kernel docs*/
/* #define HasMMXSupport        NO  */ /* Any i586 or above */
/* #define HasKatmaiSupport     NO  */ /* PIII SSE instructions */
/* #define Has3DNowSupport      NO  */ /* AMD instructions */

/* This setting reduces compile time a little by omitting rarely used input 
 * devices.  You can find the complete list in config/cf/xfree86.cf ********/
#define XInputDrivers                 mouse void

/* VIDEO DRIVERS ***********************************************************/

/* If you are sure you only want the drivers for one or a few video cards,
 * you can delete the drivers you do not want. *****************************/ 

#define XF86CardDrivers  mga glint nv tga s3 s3virge sis rendition \
                         neomagic i740 tdfx savage \
                         cirrus vmware tseng trident chips apm \
                         GlideDriver fbdev i128 nsc \
                         ati i810 AgpGartDrivers DevelDrivers ark \
                         cyrix siliconmotion \
                         vesa vga \
                         dummy XF86OSCardDrivers XF86ExtraCardDrivers

/* USER AND SYSTEM DEFAULT PATHS *******************************************/

/* These settings set the PATH variables used by xdm. See README for *******/
/* detailed description and modify the following as per your need. *********/

/* #define DefaultSystemPath /usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin:/usr/X11R6/bin */
/* #define DefaultUserPath /usr/bin:/bin:/usr/X11R6/bin */

/* FONT SERVER AND LIBRARY SETTINGS ****************************************/

/* These settings are the defaults   ***************************************/

/* #define BuildFontServer          YES  */ /* For Ghostscript Print Server*/
/* #define SharedLibFont            YES  */
/* #define CompressAllFonts         YES  */
/* #define GzipFontCompression      YES  */

/* These settings ensure we use our libraries ******************************/
#define HasFreetype2             YES
#define HasFontconfig            YES
#define HasExpat                 YES
#define HasLibpng                YES
#define HasZlib                  YES

/* The font path can be redefined in the XF86Config file *******************/

#define DefaultFontPath                $(FONTDIR)/misc/,$(FONTDIR)/75dpi/,\

/* INTERNATIONAL FONTS.  Change to YES if you need any of them.  These  are
 * the defaults. ***********************************************************/

/* #define BuildCyrillicFonts            NO  */
/* #define BuildArabicFonts              NO  */
/* #define BuildISO8859_6Fonts           NO  */
/* #define BuildGreekFonts               NO  */
/* #define BuildISO8859_7Fonts           NO  */
/* #define BuildHebrewFonts              NO  */
/* #define BuildISO8859_8Fonts           NO  */
/* #define BuildKOI8_RFonts              NO  */
/* #define BuildJapaneseFonts            NO  */
/* #define BuildJISX0201Fonts            NO  */
/* #define BuildKoreanFonts              NO  */
/* #define BuildChineseFonts             NO  */

/* DOCUMENTATION SETTINGS **************************************************/

/* These setting are the defaults. *****************************************/

/* #define BuildLinuxDocHtml             NO  */  /* X Docs in Html format */
/* #define BuildLinuxDocPS               NO  */  /* PostScript format */
/* #define BuildAllSpecsDocs             NO  */  /* Various docs */
/* #define BuildHtmlManPages             NO  */

/* GENERAL SETTINGS: You generally want to leave these alone when
 * building X on an LFS system *********************************************/

#define GccWarningOptions         -pipe /* Speed up compiles */
#define TermcapLibrary            -lncurses
#define XprtServer                YES /* Needed by realplayer */
#define XnestServer               YES
#define XAppLoadDir               EtcX11Directory/app-defaults
#define VarLibDir                 /var/lib
#define XFree86Devel               NO
#define FSUseSyslog               YES
#define ThreadedX                 YES
#define HasPam                     NO        
#define SystemManDirectory        /usr/share/man  /* Instead of /usr/man */
#define HasLibCrypt               YES
#define InstallXinitConfig        YES
#define InstallXdmConfig          YES
#define ForceNormalLib            YES
#define BuildSpecsDocs             NO

/* End XFree86 host.def file */

Edit the file for your hardware and desires.

Build Commands

Install XFree86 by running the following commands:

( make WORLDOPTS="" World 2>&1 | tee xfree-compile.log && exit $PIPESTATUS ) &&
make install &&
make install.man &&
ln -sf ../X11R6/bin /usr/bin/X11 &&
ln -sf ../X11R6/lib/{X11,libGL.so{,.1}} /usr/lib &&
ln -sf ../X11R6/include/{X11,GL} /usr/include

Updating Direct Rendering Infrastructure (DRI)

If you have one of the supported DRI cards and have enabled DRI kernel modules as explained above, you now need to update the kernel modules to ensure they are compatible with the current version of XFree86. To do this, perform the following:

cd programs/Xserver/hw/xfree86/os-support/linux/drm/kernel && 
make  CC=/opt/gcc-2.95.3/bin/gcc -f Makefile.linux  && 
mkdir -p /lib/modules/`uname -r`/kernel/drivers/char/drm/  && 
cp gamma.o radeon.o sis.o r128.o i810.o i830.o mga.o tdfx.o \
    /lib/modules/`uname -r`/kernel/drivers/char/drm/  && 
depmod -a


If you recompile or upgrade your kernel, you will need to re-copy the appropriate driver module(s) to the kernel module library and rerun depmod -a.



If you created AGP support as a module when compiling the kernel, you may have to add a line to /etc/modules.conf to ensure the agpgart module is loaded. For instance, the AGP version of the Radeon video card will use the radeon.o driver. It will need to have the line

below radeon agpgart

in /etc/modules.conf to enable DRI support.

Command explanations

( make WORLDOPTS="" World 2>&1 | tee xfree-compile.log && exit $PIPESTATUS ): This command runs multiple makefiles to completely rebuild the system. WORLDOPTS="" disables the default setting to continue after encountering an error. 2>&1 redirects error messages to the same location as standard output. The tee command allows viewing of the output while logging the results to a file. The parentheses around the command runs the entire comand in a subshell and finally the exit $PIPESTATUS ensures the result of the make is returned as the result and not the result of the tee command.



When rebuilding XFree86, a separate command that may be used if only minor changes are made to the sources is make Everything. This does not automatically remove generated files and only rebuilds those files or programs that are out of date.

ln -sf ../X11R6/bin /usr/bin/X11
ln -sf ../X11R6/lib/{X11,libGL.so{,.1}} /usr/lib
ln -sf ../X11R6/include/{X11,GL} /usr/include

These commands are present to enable other (broken) packages to build against XFree86. We do this even though the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard says: "In general, software must not be installed or managed via the above symbolic links. They are intended for utilization by users only."

make CC=/opt/gcc-2.95.3/bin/gcc -f Makefile.linux: This builds the XFree86 compatible kernel modules using the same compiler used to compile the kernel.

cp gamma.o radeon.o sis.o r128.o i810.o i830.o mga.o tdfx.o /lib/modules/`uname -r`/kernel/drivers/char/drm/: Put the kernel module(s) where the kernel can find them. You only need to copy the driver you need to support your video card.

depmod -a: Update the modules.dep file for module management.

Configuring XFree86

Edit /etc/ld.so.conf and add /usr/X11R6/lib. Run


Ensure /usr/X11R6/bin is added to your PATH environment variable. Instructions for doing this are described in the section "The Bash Shell Startup Files."

Expand the PKG_CONFIG_PATH so that other packages can find X libraries. Procedures for this are also described in the section "The Bash Shell Startup Files."


source ~/.bash_profile

Set up your mouse:

ln -s psaux /dev/mouse

Adjust the symbolic link as necessary for other types of mice. For instance, a serial mouse on the first serial port would be linked to ttyS1.

Create the XF86Config file with:

cd ~
XFree86 -configure

The screen will go black and you may hear some clicking of the monitor. This command will create a file, XF86Config.new in your home directory.

Edit XF86Config.new to suit your system. The details of the file are located in the man page man XF86Config. Some things you may want to do are:

  • Section "Files". Change the order of the font paths searched. You may want to put 100dpi fonts ahead of 75dpi fonts if your system normally comes up closer to 100 dots per inch. You may want to remove some font directories completely.

  • Section "Monitor". Specify the VertRefresh and HorizSync values if the system does not automatically detect the monitor and its values.

  • Section "InputDevice". You may want to change the keyboard autorepeat rate by adding Option "Autorepeat" "250 30".

  • Section "Device". You may want to set some of the options available for your selected video driver. A description of the driver parameters is in the man page for your driver.

  • Section "Screen". Add a DefaultDepth statement such as: DefaultDepth 16. In the SubSection for your default depth, add a modes line such as: Modes "1280x1024" "1024x768". The first mode listed will normally be the starting resolution.

Test the system with:

XFree86 -xf86config ~/XF86Config.new

You will only get a gray background with an X-shaped mouse cursor, but it confirms the system is working. Exit with Control-Alt-Backspace. If the system does not work, take a look at /var/log/XFree86.0.log to see what went wrong.

Move the configuration file to its final location:

mv ~/XF86Config.new /etc/X11/XF86Config

Create .xinitrc:

cat > ~/.xinitrc << "EOF"
# Begin .xinitrc file
xterm  -g 80x40+0+0   &
xclock -g 100x100-0+0 &

This provides an initial screen with an xterm and a clock that is managed by a simple window manager, Tab Window Manager. For details of twm, see the man page.



When needed, XFree86 creates the directory /tmp/.ICE-unix if it does not exist. If this directory is not owned by root, XFree86 delays startup by a few seconds and also appends a warning to the logfile. This also affects startup of other applications. To improve performance, it is advisable to manually create the directory before XFree86 uses it. Add the file creation to /etc/sysconfig/createfiles that is sourced by the /etc/rc.d/init.d/cleanfs startup script.

cat >> /etc/sysconfig/createfiles << "EOF"
/tmp/.ICE-unix dir 1777 root root

Start X with:


to get a basic functional X Window System.


The XFree86 package contains the X Window System for Linux (and other operating systems). It includes the X server, fonts, xterm, a simple window manager (twm), various utilities, video output drivers, and various input drivers including the mouse and keyboard.

XFree86 also contains libraries and header files for development of the X Window System programs.




The following list of programs is not comprehensive. The full list is in /usr/X11R6/bin. For additional information about these programs, see the respective man page.


XFree86 is the X11R6 implementation of the X Window System server.


xf86config is an interactive program for generating an XF86Config file for use with XFree86 X servers.


xf86cfg is a tool to configure XFree86 that can be used to either write the initial configuration file or make customizations to the current configuration.


startx is a script to initialize the X session. It runs xinit.


xinit is used to start the X Window System server.


twm (Tab Window Manager) is a window manager included with the X Window System.


xterm is a terminal emulator for X.


xwininfo is a window information utility for X.


x11perf is an X11 server performance test program.


xlsfonts is a program to list fonts available to the X server.


xvidtune is a video mode tuner for XFree86.


xload is a system load average display for X.


xcalc is a scientific calculator for X.

xclock and oclock

Clock programs for X.


xmodmap is a utility for modifying keymaps and pointer button mappings in X.