You can run Emacs on remote displays using the X Window System or some other facility for opening remote X applications.
If all you need is Emacs, perhaps you can just open up an xterm and run emacs -nw in that (and of course this is your only option if you’re inside a telnet or ssh terminal window with no X on the remote machine).
For security and other reasons, you should probably run any remote connection over ssh. This automatically handles any cookies and authentication, and automatically sets your DISPLAY variable for you.
If you’re running across slow or clogged link, basically anything less than a, say 10 Mb LAN, you propably want to look into ways of accelerating the X11 traffic. This will effectively turn CPU-cycles into bandwidth, so slow machines on a fast network are propably better off without any acceleration. And “slow” doesn’t include your old 800MHz Pentium, nor does “fast” exclude the ancient 10 Mb Ethernet.
All the methods mentioned here should give you considerably less laggy connection. Combining block compression with smarter systems seems to make sense, but some of the latter already have it in their repertoire.
One good, basic thing is compressing with ssh, as running over ssh is a good idea anyway, security-wise. This doesn’t take any specific configuration, just flip on your ssh compression. This will be simple, generic but quite effective block compression, similar to file compression programs like gzip.
Other, more X11-specific to compression methods exists too, that read the X11 protocol ran through them and do various kinds of proxying and compression intelligently. Such systems are XRemote, LBX, dxpc, nx, first of which is not to be confused with an another program of the same name.
Oldest of these, the XRemote was originally designed by NCD to transfer X11 traffic over slow serial lines, modems and such. It calculates deltas from the traffic, thus only sending what’s really changed. In addition it uses the LZW block-compression for the entire stream of traffic.
The Low Bandwidth X, LBX, was designed by the X Consortium, and ships with X11R6. It’s based on XRemote, but is more general so it doesn’t expect a serial line to run on, and also proxies the protocol, reducing the amount of information that needs to be sent. LBX will possibly not be useful with Emacs, because of fatal EmacsLbxProblems.
Then there is Differential X11 Protocol Compressor by Kevin Vigor under the BSD license, and NoMachines's nx.
Of all of these LBX was part of the original X11R6. The latest, final release 3.8.2 of dxpc is from November 2002, and nx is still under active development in March 2004, with version 1.3.1 fresh out.
All of these systems are run as a separate proxy process on both ends, except LBX, which is supported within many X11 servers themselves. If unsure, the server can be inspected with the unix-program xdpyinfo(1x), for example.
LBX, which often comes with X11 is simply activated by running lbxproxy on the remote machine as lbxproxy :display &. Here, display is the number of the new number display you’ll be using, “20” for example. If you’re running though compressed ssh tunnel, you can turn off lbxproxy’s compression with the -nocomp switch; they both use zlib anyway for blockcompression. As the server-side of LBX is implemented in the server itself, nothing needs to be done there.
dxpc is available from the web-page at http://vigor.nu/dxpc pre-compiled for various platforms in addition to the sourcecode. Debian also has a package for it. It requires a compression library called “lzo”.
An instance of the same program will run on both ends, but if it sees a hostname as a command-line argument, it starts in server mode, otherwise in client mode. On the client end, simply execute dxpc -d display where the display is again the new display number. It will listen on port 4000 by default, but that can be changed with -p. On the machine with the X11 server, run dxpc hostname, where hostname is the name of the client. Now you’re ready.
nx sources are available from http://www.nomachine.com/developers.php, and Debian also has a package for it. The actual program, which like dxpc, runs in two different modes depending on the command-line arguments, is called nxproxy.
After setup, you connect the clients to the new display number. In general X11 programs can be instructed to do so with the -display switch. You might wish to set the DISPLAY environment variable to point to it too, to save typing and to make badly behaving programs (like many of those new KDE and Gnome programs) to do the right thing.
Here various things to consider regarding Emacs and speed are mentioned.
See also XePage, which is useful for users of dxpc and nx too.
How to make sure fonts on the remote application are in sync with what you have on your local display?
On the other hand, if all you want is access to some remote files, perhaps you want to look at HoboMode, TrampMode, AngeFtp, or one of the other facilities for editing remote files in your local Emacs.