Get back CTRL-ALT-Backspace in Fedora and Ubuntu

Jack Wallen
Sep 20, 2010
Updated • Dec 5, 2012

Being an old-school Linux user, one of the things that bothers me is that in some of the new distributions the CTRL-ALT-Backspace key combination (the combination that would usually kill and restart the X server) has been disabled. This key combination was always helpful when/if a program seemed to take over X Windows and keep you from getting it back. It doesn't happen often, but I have found that no matter how stable the distribution, some rogue app is going to do this now and then. And when it does happen, I want that magic key combination to work.

In this article I am going to show you the steps in both Fedora 13 and Ubuntu 10.04 to get this combination back. It's actually an easy process, you just have to know the precise places where to look for the configurations.

A word of warning

The main reason why the distributions removed this combination is they didn't want unsuspecting users to accidentally kill their running X server. I get this. But for those of us who aren't so prone to accidentally killing the X Server, having this back is a good thing. For those who are prone to mistakenly hitting combinations like CTRL-ALT-Backspace, well, you might want to leave this feature disabled.

Fedora and Ubuntu 10.04 in GNOME

Figure 1

Let's first take care of Fedora 13. First I will show you how to do this in the GNOME environment. It's done the same way in both distributions. The first thing you need to do is click System > Preferences > Keyboard. In this new window click on the Layout tab and then click on the Options button. In this new window (see Figure 1) expand the entry for Key sequence to kill the X server. Once you expand that you will see the entry for Control + Alt + Backspace. Make sure that entry has its checkbox checked and then close the window.

You can now close the Keyboard preferences window and you can now enjoy having CTRL-ALT-Backspace back.

But what if you are a KDE user? Let's take a look.


Figure 2

The process of gaining this behavior back in KDE is equally simple (though not as quick). The first step is to click Start > Computer > System Settings which will open up the System Settings window. Now click on Regional & Language. In this new window you must first click the Keyboard tab and then check the box for Enable Keyboard layouts (see Figure 2). Once you have done that you can then click on the advanced tab.

In this new window expand the entry for Key sequence to kill the X server and then make sure Control + Alt + Backspace is checked. Once done with that click Apply and then you can close the System Settings window.

You now have your CTRL-ALT-Backspace back in KDE!

Final thoughts

I do get why the distributions saw to it to disable this feature. But I am glad they made it possible to bring it back. And now, for those of you who want it, you can have the ability to kill and restart your X server with a three-finger salute!


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  1. George R. Goffe said on March 17, 2011 at 4:58 am


    I’m a kde user and with FC 14 the path is system settings -> hardware -> keyboard then in the advanced tab, select “Key sequence to kill the X server”.


  2. Abe said on September 20, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    If using KDE 4.5.1, the procedure is slightly different due to the enhancement and re-organization of “System Settings” Menu.

    1- Using classic Hierarchical menu, click Kmenu =>
    Favorites => System Settings
    System => System Settings

    Using KickOff menu, click Kmenu => Computer => System => System Settings

    2- In “System Settings” under the “Hardware” section, click “Input Devices”
    => Select “Keyboard” in left pane,
    => Select “Advanced” tab in right pane,
    => Select “Configure keyboard options”,
    => Expand “Key sequence to kill X server”,
    => Select “Control + Alt + Backspace” option

    3- Click “Apply” button in lower right corner of window.

    4- Close “System Settings” window.

  3. Mario said on September 20, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    You can also use the magic sysrq key combo (alt-sysrq-k) to kill the X server.

    1. GaAsP said on September 20, 2010 at 9:58 pm

      >You can also use the magic sysrq key combo (alt-sysrq-k) to kill the X server.

      1. Tiago Sales said on September 24, 2010 at 6:47 pm


        The correct is:

        Ctrl+Alt Gr+Print Screen/Sysrq+k

      2. Anonymous said on September 21, 2010 at 6:10 pm

        It actually does work, however many keyboards these days have a separate “Fn” key to get to SysRq… that’s what seems to screw things up for me every time: another words you have to press Alt+Fn+SysRq+k .. and the Fn does not always get matched to PrtSc thus resulting in some other sequence being generated.

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