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From GnomeShell - GNOME Live!:

GNOME Shell is the defining technology of the GNOME 3 desktop user experience. It provides core interface functions like switching to windows and launching applications. GNOME Shell takes advantage of the capabilities of modern graphics hardware and introduces innovative user interface concepts to provide a delightful and easy to use experience.

This article covers the installation of the alpha version of the GNOME Shell using the official JHBuild tool. That way the current system is not changed and testing the GNOME shell is safe.

Note: The GNOME Shell is still in active development and a lot of things are still not working properly. Using GNOME Shell in a production environment is not recommended!


At the moment the only way to test the GNOME Shell is compiling it yourself. There are two possibilities: using the packages in AUR (gnome-shell-git) which still have problems with failing builds because of wrong dependencies or using the official GNOME JHBuild tool. Because JHBuild installs everything into your local home folder, your current system isn't touched in any way and the GNOME Shell is effectively sandboxed. This article therefore focuses on the second method but feel free to test the AUR packages and help developing them.

Although the JHBUILD tool works good in most cases, there are some Arch specific pitfalls that are also covered in the course of this article.

Note: The new GNOME Shell requires hardware accelerated graphics. Make sure your graphics system is working before trying to install GNOME Shell.
Warning: Support for the ATI catalyst (fglrx) and NVIDIA graphics drivers is currently not very good.

Preparing for build

First of all make sure that you have at least the following packages installed (they are all part of the official Arch Linux repositories):

# pacman -S base-devel gnome-common git mesa-demos pkgconfig gtk-doc gnome-common python2 python2-gconf intltool libpulse cvs dbus-python

Then go to your home directory, download the official build script for the GNOME Shell and execute it.

$ cd ~
$ curl -O
$ chmod +x
$ sh

Having the installation system downloaded you need to change your python binary to link to python2 instead of python3. This is caused by the incompatibility of Arch Linux with most other distributions regarding the installation of python2 and python3.

Note: Normally you would just change the shebang of the scripts involved but this won't work in this case as some packages are downloaded during the installation and you can't simply change their shebangs too.
# mv /usr/bin/python /usr/bin/python.backup
# ln -s /usr/bin/python2 /usr/bin/python
Note: This will be restored after the GNOME shell has been installed.

Then you have to temporarily add ~/bin to your PATH environment variable. Do this by executing

$ PATH=$PATH:~/bin

Building GNOME Shell

The build process itself is straightforward. Just kick it of by executing

$ jhbuild build

which will guide then you through the installation. This will download all the necessary packages to run the GNOME Shell (a few hundred MBs get downloaded), compile them and finally install them in your local home directory. The compilation will take about 1-3 hours depending on the machine you are building.

There might be some errors complaining about missing packages like:

You must have intltool installed to compile gtk-engines
 *** Error during phase configure of gtk-theme-engines-clearlooks: 
########## Error running ./ --prefix /home/user/gnome-shell/install
 --libdir '/home/usr/gnome-shell/install/lib' --disable-static --disable-gtk-doc *** [10/33]

You should be able to resolve them by justing issuing

# pacman -S <packagename>

where <packagename> is the the package listed in the first line of the error message (in this case intltool). After installing the package in another terminal you can resume the process by selecting the first option:

[1] Rerun phase configure

After the build process

First of all, to restore python3 (to avoid possible problems with other packages) revert the commands from above:

# mv /usr/bin/python.backup /usr/bin/python

Edit the startup script of gnome-shell to use python2 instead of python (which is python3 again) and make the first line look like


To finally start the gnome-shell just execute the following command:

$ ~/gnome-shell/install/bin/gnome-shell --replace

In case it is starting you can probably ignore error messages. Otherwise refer to the Troubleshooting section.

To return to your normal gnome session just bring the terminal where you originally started the shell to the top and stop the execution by pressing Ctrl+C. This should bring back metacity and thereby restoring your original session.

Troubleshooting undefined symbol: gtk_quit_add

Try deleting


or respectivly


if you are running arch x86_64.

configure: error: Package requirements (libxklavier >= 5.1) were not met

As of February 7, libxklavier 5.1 has not been released. However, it is possible to trick GNOME Shell in to thinking that it is installed by changing the version to 5.1 in


For more details, see Install Gnome Shell (From Git) in Ubuntu 10.10

Rendering errors

GNOME Shell does not yet support proprietary graphics driver such as the catalyst (fglrx) or the nvidia driver. Try using the free alternatives if they provide 3d-accellerated graphic output for your card.

Other problems

Refer to GnomeShell/SwatList - GNOME Live! for a list of other common problems or ask for help on the irc channel: