I have been researching about XQuartz a lot but I haven't been able to find much information.

I found out that it some kind of window manager provider. I was wondering does it replace the default provider for Mavericks or does it run only for applications that need it? Could I mess up the retina display? I have installed it and removed it and my $DISPLAY variable is empty. When I do echo $DISPLAY I get back an empty line, is this normal?

2 Answers 2


XQuartz is the continuation to Apple's deprecated X11.app which used to be part of OS X:

X11 is no longer included with OS X, but X11 server and client libraries for OS X are available from the XQuartz project: http://xquartz.macosforge.org. You should use the latest available version of XQuartz.

Source: About X11 for Mac - Apple Support

X11 is a very old windowing system for Unix that is not required for almost anything that you'll do on your Mac. The only widespread use of X11 that I use it for is Wine which allows you to run Windows software on your Mac.

XQuartz is very similar to X11, but is a 'community effort to further develop' X11:

Apple created the XQuartz project as a community effort to further develop and support X11 on OS X. The XQuartz project was originally based on the version of X11 included in Mac OS X v10.5. There have been multiple releases of XQuartz with fixes, support for new OS X features, and additional refinements to the X11 experience. Apple is a contributor to the XQuartz project and has worked to ensure that X11 works as expected in OS X with the latest available versions of XQuartz.

XQuartz doesn't 'mess up' the Retina display. It doesn't replace any of OS X's window management. $DISPLAY is only used with and for XQuartz as far as I am aware.


I use XQuartz to show terminal windows from my raspberry pi on my mac. I don't think I have a thorough understanding of what it is either and reading other ways it is described makes me feel a bit more confused about my own understanding. I just do a lot of remote work on my pi and when I ssh in I am forced to use terminal editors like nano and when I am making an entire backend api on the pi this is annoying so I use xquartz to display the editor windows in that way. I think it is just a window displaying mechanism...

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