A default CentOS 7 instance comes with a graphical user interface (GUI) installed. However, in case you have decided to skip the GUI installation, or are using a minimal distribution, you can always set up your visual environment later.

As CentOS is a distribution typically aimed for systems administrators, most users prefer working on their system over the terminal. However, we’re writing this article today for those who’d still prefer to have a visual interface to interact with their cheap CentOS 7 server.

Before we start, let us list some of the most common desktop environments for Linux distributions:

  • GNOME3
  • KDE Plasma 5
  • Cinnamon
  • MATE
  • Xfce

Let’s start by executing the command- yum group list to see what’s available. We recommend you go for GNOME Desktop.

Output of group command

If GNOME is not available, you can use the command- yum groupinstall “X Window system” to install the X Window system.

Installing GNOME Desktop

You can install the GNOME 3 desktop environment executing yum -y groupinstall “GNOME Desktop” as shown below-

Install Gnome

This will take some time to install. Once this is done, execute the command- startx. This is used to start the GUI.


The GNOME desktop environment is now set up. For the initial boot, you will have to configure the following:

  • System Language
  • Keyboard type
  • Online accounts

Once you’ve entered your preferred settings for the items listed above, GNOME Desktop will have started in Classic mode. You can check the default settings by using the command- systemctl get-default as shown below. This will return the default type- multi-user.target


You can change this setting to GNOME shell by using either of the two options detailed below:

  1. Option #1- If you use the startx command to start the service, you can then execute the following:
    echo “exec gnome-session” >> ~/.xinitrc
  2. Option #2- Use the command systemctl set-default graphical.target and reboot the system. After reboot, click the button next to Sign In. Select GNOME from the list. Click Sign in and you will have logged in with a GNOME shell.gnome login

Here is a list of systemd targets with the specific level defined. By default, this is set to level 3 and in order to use a GUI we must change it to level 5.

0 runlevel0.target, poweroff.target Shut down and power off the system
1 runlevel1.target, rescue.target Set up a rescue shell
2 runlevel2.target, multi-user.target Set up a non-graphical multi-user system
3 runlevel3.target, multi-user.target Set up a non-graphical multi-user system
4 runlevel4.target, multi-user.target Set up a non-graphical multi-user system
5 runlevel5.target, graphical.target Set up a graphical multi-user system
6 runlevel6.target, reboot.target Shut down and reboot the system



To install the KDE environment you can use the command- yum -y groupinstall “KDE”

Install KDE

This will take some time to complete. After the installation is complete, use the following commands to start in GUI mode:


Reboot the system and you will be able see the KDE desktop environment up and running.


Installing Cinnamon Desktop

Before starting the Cinnamon installation, you will have to add the EPEL (Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux) repository to your system. This is provided by the Fedora project. To add it use the command- yum -y install epel-release

Add repo

Then, use the command- yum install cinnamon -y to complete the installation.

Install cinnamon

Once the installation is complete, you can use following commands to start the GUI. The Cinnamon desktop will be seen on reboot. As usual, the first time you use it you will have to set language preferences, among other things.



Installing MATE Desktop

Similar to Cinnamon, you will have to first install the EPEL repository in case it is not already present, using the command- yum install epel-release -y. Once this is done, you can install MATE desktop using the command – yum groupinstall “MATE Desktop”

Install Mate

You can now start the environment and reboot the system to make it effective:




For our final desktop environment, first install the EPEL repository using the command- yum install epel-release -y. Then, you may install Xfce using the command- yum groupinstall xfce -y


Once installed, you can execute the following commands to start Xfce.



That’s it. We’ve given you a rundown of the different desktop environments available for CentOS 7, and how to set them up. We hope you’ve found this useful!