File manager functionality

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This article outlines the additional software packages necessary to expand the features and functionality of file managers, particularly where using a window manager such as Openbox. The ability to access partitions and removable media without a password - if affected - has also been provided.


Note: When installed, the software packages listed below will automatically be sourced by all installed - and capable - file managers, and within all desktop environments and/or window managers.

A file manager alone will not provide the features and functionality that users of full desktop environments such as XFCE or KDE will be accustomed to. This is because additional software packages will be required to enable a given file manager to:

  • Display and access other partitions
  • Display, mount, and access removable media (e.g. USB sticks, optical discs, and digital cameras)
  • Enable networking / shared networks with other installed operating systems
  • Enable thumbnailing
  • Archive and extract compressed files
  • Automatically mount removable media

When a file manager has been installed as part of a full desktop environment, most of these packages will usually have been installed automatically. Consequently, where a file manager has been installed for a standalone window manager then - as is the case with the window manager itself - only a basic foundation will be provided. The user must then determine the nature and extent of the features and functionality to be added.

Additional Features and Functionality

Particularly where using - or intending to use - a lightweight environment, it should be noted that more file manager features and functions will usually mean the use of more memory.

Internal Partitions

Install one of the following two packages to allow your file manager to mount and browse internal partitions:

  • gvfs: The Gnome Virtual File System provides mounting and trash functionality. GVFS uses the newer udisks2 for mounting functionality and is the recommended solution for most file managers.
  • udiskie: Udiskie is a wrapper for the older udisks package. It provides mounting functionality however it does not provide support for a trash. See File_manager_functionality#Udiskie for more details.
Tip: For some file managers it may be useful to have the package gamin installed. Gamin is a file and directory monitoring system.

Removable Media

Other Gnome Virtual File System software packages are required to ensure that removable media such as USB sticks, CDs/DVDs, and cameras can be accessed:

  • gvfs-afc: Removable media (e.g. optical disks, USB data sticks, and cameras)
  • gvfs-gphoto2: Automatically transfer content from many digital cameras

Auto-Mount Removable Media

There are two options available to automatically mount removable media when interted, discussed below.

File Manager Daemon

The first is to simply autostart or run the installed file manager in daemon mode (i.e. as a background process). For example, when using PCManFM in Openbox, the following command would be added to the ~/.config/openbox/autostart file:

pcmanfm -d &

It will also be necessary to configure the file manager itself in respect to volume management (e.g. what it will do and what applications will be launched when certain file types are detected upon mounting).

Tip: Most desktop environments will start the file manager in daemon mode by default so manual intervention will not be required in these use cases.


The other option is to install udiskie, a program designed solely to mount and unmount devices. The advantages of using this are:

  • Less memory may be required to run as a background / daemon process than a file manager
  • It is not file manager specific, allowing them to be freely added, removed, and switched
  • The Gnome Virtual File System package (gvfs) may not have to be installed for mounting, lessening memory use. However, trash and other functionality related to this package will also be lost.

Udiske may be run as and when required to mount removable media on-the-fly (e.g. attaching the command to a keybind), or it may be run as a background processs. In the latter instance, again using Openbox as an example, the following command would be added to the ~/.config/openbox/autostart file:

udiskie &


Another alternative is udevil which provides the devmon daemon to automatically mount removable media. The advantage is that it only depends on udev and glib but not on udisks, gvfs, fuse, policykit, consolekit, etc. (although it can coexist with any of these). Udevil can be configured through /etc/udevil/udevil.conf and started through:

devmon &


Note: It will also be necessary to enable Bluetooth and/or networking with Windows to enable the relevant file manager functionality in turn.

Windows access

If using gvfs-smb, to access Windows/CIFS/Samba file shares first open the file manager, and enter the following into the path name, changing <sever name> and <share name> as appropriate:

smb://<server name>/<share name>

Apple access

If using gvfs-afc, to access AFP files first open the file manager, and enter the following into the path name, changing <sever name> and <share name> as appropriate:

afp://<server name>/<share name>

Thumbnail Previews

Some file managers may not support thumbnailing, even when the packages listed have been installed. Check the documentation for the relevant file manager.

File managers other than Dolphin and Konquerer

These packages apply to most file managers, such as PCManFM, spacefm, Thunar and xfe. The exceptions are Dolphin and Konqueror, used in the KDE desktop environment.

Dolphin and Konquerer (KDE)

Different (and additional) packages are available for the Dolphin and/or Konqueror file managers within the KDE desktop environment.

Archive Files

To extract compressed files such as tarballs (.tar and .tar.gz) within a file manager, it will first be necessary to install a GUI archiver such as file-roller. See List_of_Applications#Compression_tools for further information. An additional package such as unzip must also be installed to support the use of zipped .zip files. Once an archiver has been installed, files in the file manager may consequently be right-clicked to be archived or extracted.

NTFS read/write support

Install ntfs-3g. See the NTFS-3G article for more information.

Desktop Notifications

Some file managers make use of desktop notifications to confirm various events and statuses like mounting, unmounting and ejection of removable media.


Password required to access partitions and removable Media

Warning: It is pointless to amend the default polkit permission files of packages, as these may be be overwritten when the packages are updated.

The need to enter a password to access other partitions or mounted removable media will likely be due to the default permission settings of udisks2. More specifically, permission may be set to the root account only, not the user account. There is a simple workaround for this behaviour:

  1. Add your user account to the storage group. See Users and Groups for details.
  2. Create a new polkit rule as shown in Polkit#Allow mounting a filesystem on a system device.

This will enable mounting a filesystem on a system device for all members of the storage group without asking for password.