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XQuartz was always the goto for running X applications on a MacOS desktop. It's been a couple of years since the last version of Quartz and there is no activity on the github, so we may assume that the XQuartz project is dead. Are there any alternatives for running X application on a MacOS desktop?

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  • 4
    Do you have a particular issue with a X application? Generally, if it aint' broke then don't fix it.
    – fd0
    Sep 21 '19 at 16:08
  • Yes and no. No because all X apps from my Linux box start properly on my MacOS desktop. Yes because i am trying to run a full Linux desktop on my Mac and XQuartz crashed when i try to do this. Sep 21 '19 at 16:11
  • 1
    Well, any extensions build into X/Wayland in the last years are not in Xquarz. Maybe try a simpler desktop, or ask a question specific about the problems you run into.
    – nohillside
    Sep 21 '19 at 17:50
  • I recall reading in passing on the MacPorts mailing list that their version is more up-to-date than the package on XQuartz's site. Dec 30 '20 at 5:13
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There are really no strictly better alternatives.

XQuartz is usually the best option for running an X server on a Mac.

If you're running older OS X versions, you might prefer X11.app from Apple.

If you're using older Mac hardware with PowerPC CPUs, you can also run XFree86 in the Darwin/PowerPC port (note that Xorg.org is originally a forked XFree86).

If you simply looking for alternatives - you could also take a look at WeirdX. It is old, it is slow and doesn't have as many features as Xorg - but it is an alternative:

http://www.jcraft.com/weirdx/

Besides that - there's always the option of running for example Linux in a virtual machine on your Mac, and then run your X server in there (for example Xorg).

Also you could look at alternative ways of connecting to your Linux desktop. For example you could use Xpra:

https://xpra.org

There's a macOS client - but there's also a HTML5 client for accessing the desktop through a browser.

Another alternative would be to use VNC instead of the X protocol.

UPDATE January 2021: An XQuartz 2.8 beta has just been released with support for Apple Silicon!

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"... there is no activity on the github, so we may assume that the XQuartz project is dead."

Reports of the death of Xquartz would appear to be greatly exaggerated: someone has been working on a 2.8.0 release since the start of the year, and there is now a 2.8.0 beta, as a Universal Binary!

https://www.xquartz.org/releases/index.html

and a mail message from the maintainer Jeremy Huddleston Sequoia https://www.mail-archive.com/xquartz-dev@lists.macosforge.org/msg01027.html

This release is built with a brand new build system (cf https://github.com/xquartz/xquartz) based on MacPorts + git submodules + our shell script. Older builds required either a lot of hand-holding or Apple Internal tools, so this will hopefully be a step towards making it easier for others to drive future releases of XQuartz.

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The Macports version of xorg-server works on Apple Silicon (M1) and replaces Quartz perfectly for me. I can run xterm's and also emacs in x11 mode. The main change I had to make over Quartz was being sure not to set the DISPLAY variable, which can happen in a number of places in the launch or start-up scripts, in my case it was in .bash_profile.

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  • Is it Intel or AS binary? And does it support Retina displays? (In other words, does it offer any benefits over Xquartz?)
    – benwiggy
    Jan 30 at 19:06
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    Even Xquartz runs on M1 :-)
    – nohillside
    Jan 30 at 20:29
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You can use MacPorts. X11 from MacPorts are newer than others.

Quote from FAQ for MacPorts

MacPorts does not use the X11 client libraries provided by the system and installs its own copy. This allows for more consistent support for older machines which are not as up to date (especially Tiger which doesn't have a pkg-config compatible X11 SDK). Most X11 packages in MacPorts are newer than those shipped by Apple and usually reflect the latest work from the ​XQuartz Project.

e.g. xorg-server from MacPorts

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  • From what i hear Homebrew and MacPorts don't play well together on the same machine. I am using Homebrew so i'm a bit hesitant to install MacPorts just for this. Sep 22 '19 at 8:18
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    Perhaps I’m confused - but the question was about an alternative to Xquartz... as far as I know, xorg-server in MacPorts IS Xquartz - isn’t it? At least if you go to the Xquartz web site, they recommend downloading it from MacPorts - and the executable is called Xquartz. Perhaps I’m mistaken?
    – jksoegaard
    Mar 24 '20 at 8:34
  • @TonMachielsen I'm using MacPorts and Homebrew together and so far I haven't had any issues. Homebrew uses the system's libraries, but MacPorts creates its entire ecosystem on a different folder, and doesn't use system libraries. The only conflict point I can think of right now is the symbolic link to a package's binary (on the PATH), but Homebrew doesn't override it if it's already there. I don't know what MacPort does, but if I'm not mistaken both of them have tools to fix any conflicts that could arise. APFS also has hourly Time Machine snapshots for quick rollback. I'm not worried May 20 '20 at 19:34

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