GNOME tips

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XDG User Directories

Many Linux distributions such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint set up your default user directories such as your downloads directory, music directory, documents directory, and so on. This also gives these directories special identifying icons. These directories may be used by gnome-shell extensions, such as area screenshot. To set XDG user directories up, run this command:

# pacman -S xdg-user-dirs

The default user directory settings are stored in /etc/xdg/user-dirs.defaults. You can edit it to change the default settings for where you want users to have their directories with this:

Tip: You do not have to edit this file if you only want to set up XDG User Directories for one user or you accept the default settings.
# nano /etc/xdg/user-dirs.defaults

Run this as a normal user to set up your directories:

$ xdg-user-dirs-update

This command creates the directories needed and sets them up so GNOME knows that is where those types of files should go by default. The folders also have special icons depending on what folder your configuration file tells GNOME they are.

To edit your user directories configuration file later, know that it is located in ~/.config/user-dirs.dirs. You can edit it by running the following command or by using your favorite text editor:

$ nano ~/.config/user-dirs.dirs

Configuration Tips

Add/Edit GDM Sessions

Each session is a *.desktop file located at /usr/share/xsessions.

To add a new session:

1. Copy an existing *.desktop file to use as a template for a new session:

$ cd /usr/share/xsessions
$ sudo cp gnome.desktop other.desktop

2. Modify the template *.desktop file to open the required window manager:

$ sudo nano other.desktop

Alternatively, you can open the new session in KDM which will create the *.desktop file. Then return to using GDM and the new session will be available.

GDM appearance

You can change background image, gtk/icon theme by hands (as described at GNOME_2.28_Changes#Configuring_gdm_2.28), or you can use gdm2setupAUR from the AUR.

Default applications

You may want to configure system-wide default applications and file associations. This is extremely useful when you have some KDE applications installed, but still prefer a GNOME ones to be launched by default.

To do that you can install gnome-defaults-listAUR from the AUR. It will place your configuration file at /etc/gnome/defaults.list.

If you want to do everything manually, create /usr/share/applications/defaults.list with the following format:

[Default Applications]

Enable Volume Control as tray notification

Some users will have noticed that there is no volume control by default. It either can be added as a object to the panel or as a notification icon in the systray. To do the last one you have to replace gnome-media with gnome-media-pulse. This will install the volume control manager developed by Red Hat and used in distributions such as Ubuntu or Fedora.

Fonts Seem Skewed

You can alter the DPI of your fonts in GNOME with right-click on the desktop → Change desktop background → Fonts → Details → Resolution

Change the Default Background Image

The default background is that zoomed in picture of a green leaf. It appears for newly created users, but more importantly, this is the image shown when the screen is locked. As of 25-Apr-2009, you can find this image here


To change it, simply copy your favorite image to this location (as root) and rename it.

Change the Default Background Color, Opacity, etc.

The default background color is green. You might want to change it if you're using a transparent PNG as background.

$ sudo gconf-editor

Go to File → New Defaults Window and edit the keys




You can also find keys for opacity, shading style, etc.

Disable confirmation window when closing gnome-terminal

The terminal always prompts a confirmation window when trying to close the window while one is logged in as root. To avoid this confirmation start gconf-editor and disable confirmation_window_close variable in /apps/gnome-terminal/global. Please note that although this setting is not set via dconf-editor it also works in the GNOME Shell.

Miscellaneous Tips

Screen Lock

  1. Make sure that dbus is running (probably a good idea to add it to the daemons array in /etc/rc.conf).
  2. Install xscreensaver.
  3. Go to Desktop -> Preferences -> Screensaver
  4. Enable one or more screensavers
  5. Lock Screen will now start your screensaver and require your password to stop it.

or you can install gnome-screensaver.

Also you can find here how to replace gnome-screensaver with xscreensaver.

Nautilus Tips

Get a certain path in spatial view? Just press Template:Keypress.

Change Browser Mode (Spatial View)

  1. Start gconf-editor
  2. Browse to apps/nautilus/preferences
  3. Change the value of "always_use_browser" (it's a yes/no value and should be visible as a checkbox or say "false", for the later change the value to "true")

Or you can do this through the preferences:

  1. In a Nautilus window go to Edit>>Preferences
  2. Change to the Behaviour tab
  3. Check (or uncheck) Always Open in Browser Windows

Music Information Columns in List View (bit rate, etc.)

Nautilus lacks the ability to display metadata for music files in list view mode. A Python script was written to add columns for:

  • Artist
  • Album
  • Track Title
  • Bit Rate

First, install the package mutagen.

And, from the AUR, install python-nautilusAUR.

Now, create a directory called python-extensions in ~/.nautilus. Place the following script, named, in this newly created folder. You may download the script here: [] (please drop --stefanwilkens a line if this goes down)
Mirror: [] adds fixes and more media support (link at bottom of 4th post).

Restart nautilus. You can now configure this new functionallity in Edit -> Preferences -> List Columns

Stop Nautilus drawing the desktop

You need to open the gconf-editor:

apps>nautilus>preferences untick "show_desktop"

In breezy you also need to go to:

desktop>gnome>background and untick "draw_background"


You will need a tool for creating thumbnails, such as ffmpegthumbnailer. Make sure the necessary codecs are installed.

In a command line, enter these two lines:

gconftool-2 -s "/desktop/gnome/thumbnailers/video@mpeg/enable" -t boolean "true"
gconftool-2 -s "/desktop/gnome/thumbnailers/video@mpeg/command" -t string "/usr/bin/ffmpegthumbnailer -s %s -i %i -o %o -c png -f -t 10"

You can replace 'video@mpeg' in that line with any filetype that ffmpeg can open - just right-click > Properties on a file in Nautilus and look at the bit in brackets in the 'Type:' field (don't forget to replace the forward slash with an @ symbol). Some common filetypes are video@mpeg, video@x-matroska, video@x-ms-wmv, video@x-flv, video@x-msvideo, video@mp4; which are usually .mpg, .mkv, .wmv, .flv, .avi, .mp4 respectively.

Turn off Authentication needed to mount internal drive in Nautilus

In Ubuntu and other distros you are allowed to mount internal drives by clicking on them without the need for entering a password. To get this behaviour in stock GNOME, just create the following file in PolicyKit Local Authority:

[Mount a system-internal device]

Speed Up Panel Autohide

panel_show_delay / panel_hide_delay

If you find that your panels are taking too long to appear/disappear when using the Panel Autohide feature, try this;

  1. Start gconf-editor
  2. Browse to /apps/panel/global
  3. Set panel_hide_delay and panel_show_delay to more sensible (integer) values. Note that these values represent milliseconds!

The default panel_hide_delay of 500 works well in most cases, but the panel_show_delay default of 500 is horribly slow. After experimenting, a panel_show_delay between 100-200 seems much better.

Panel animation_speed

Now that the panel show/hide delay has the panels beginning to appear in a reasonable length of time, why does it take the panel so long to actually pop up? There is one more setting you need to add/change to make the panel behavior crisp. The setting: animation_speed This setting can be applied globally or on a per-panel basis just like the panel_show_delay and panel_hide_delay. The official description is:

The speed in which panel animations should occur. Possible values are slow, medium and fast. This key is only relevant if the enable_animations key is true.

To apply globally, just add or change the animation_speed key as a (string) value in:

  • /apps/panel/global

To apply the setting on a per-panel basis, just add/change the key in, for example:

  • /apps/panel/toplevels/bottom_panel_screen0/ (usually the default name for the bottom panel)
  • /apps/panel/toplevels/panel_0/ (usually the default name for the first additional panel)

Note: the key panel_amination_speed is deprecated, use: animation_speed.

GNOME Menu Tips

Speed Tweak

You can remove the delay in GNOME menus by running this command:

echo "gtk-menu-popup-delay = 0" >> ~/.gtkrc-2.0

Or just add "gtk-menu-popup-delay = 0" to .gtkrc-2.0

However, this setting is reported to crash banshee, and possibly other programs.

Menu Editing

Most GNOME users complain about the menu. Changing menu entries system-wide or for one or several users alone is poorly documented.

User menus

Older versions of GNOME (i.e. 2.22 or earlier) have a menu editor in which you can de-select menu entires, but not add new menu entries. Right-click on the menu panel and select Edit Menus. Unchecking the box next to a entry will prevent it from displaying.

To add new menu entries, create a .desktop file in the $XDG_DATA_HOME/applications directory (most likely $HOME/.local/share). A sample .desktop file can be seen below, or take a look at the GNOME documentation.

Or install Alacarte, which makes it easy to create, change and remove menu entries with a GUI. Do this with:

# pacman -S alacarte
Group menus, System menus

You will find common GNOME menu entries as 'appname.desktop' objects inside one of the $XDG_DATA_DIRS/applications directories (most likely /usr/share/applications). To add new menu items for all users, create an 'appname.desktop' file in one of those directories.

  • Edit one of them to fit your needs for a new application, then save it.
  • Save it as a menu entry for all users
    Most often, you will set this files permissions to 644 (root: rw group: r others: r), so all users can see it.
  • Save it as a menu entry for a group or user alone
    You may also have different user permissions; for example, some menu entries should only be available for a group or for one user.

Here is an example how a Scite menu entry definition file could look:

[Desktop Entry]
Comment=SciTE editor

Change the GNOME Foot Icon to an Arch Icon

Note: Thanks to arkham who posted this method in [this forum post] which I have typed up here.
  • Download [this Arch icon] (filename is starthere.png)
  • Alternatively get the artwork package by installing archlinux-artwork, this puts all artwork in the /usr/share/archlinux directory, and resize your desired logo to 24x24px
  • Figure out which icon set you are using (right-click desktop>Change Background Image>Theme>Customize>Icon). For example, Crux, *GNOME, High Contrast, High Contrast Inverse, Mist, etc.)
  • Now make a backup of your current GNOME icon in the correct directory. In the example below, I am using the GNOME icons but adjust the directory structure accordingly for your icon set:
# mv /usr/share/icons/gnome/24x24/places/start-here.png /usr/share/icons/gnome/24x24/places/start-here.png-virgin
  • Copy starthere.png you just downloaded to the same directory renaming it start-here.png
# cp /path/to/starthere.png /usr/share/icons/gnome/24x24/places/start-here.png
  • Restart your gnome-panels and the new Arch logo should be displayed
$ pkill gnome-panel
Note: To get this to work (gnome 2.28) I had to delete the icon-theme.cache file in /usr/share/icons/gnome.

Change the GNOME Foot Icon to an Arch Icon (without root access)

  • Figure out which icon set you're using (right-click desktop>Change Background Image>Theme>Customize>Icon). For example, Crux, *GNOME, High Contrast, High Contrast Inverse, Mist, etc.)
  • Duplicate that icon set's directory structure for 24x24/places in your home directory under .icons
$ mkdir -p ~/.icons/<your-icon-set>/24x24/places
$ wget -O ~/.icons/<your-icon-set>/24x24/places/start-here.png
  • Alternatively get the artwork package using "pacman -S archlinux-artwork", this puts all artwork in the /usr/share/archlinux directory, and resize your desired logo to 24x24px and copy it into that directory as 'start-here.png'
  • Restart your gnome-panels and the new Arch logo should be displayed
$ pkill gnome-panel
Note: To get this to work (gnome 2.28) I had to delete the icon-theme.cache file in /usr/share/icons/gnome.

Custom Icon using gconf-editor

  1. Open the configuration editor in GNOME (it should be in System Tools of your main menu) or run gconf-editor
  2. In the configuration editor go to apps > panel > objects > find the object for your menu (an easy way to spot the correct object is that it will have "Main Menu" in the tool tip section).
  3. Set the path to your icon in the "Custom_Icon" field.
  4. Check "Use_Custom_Icon" a little ways down.
  5. The panel should reload momemtarily, if not, open a terminal window and type:
$ killall gnome-panel

Removing default icons from desktop

I like to keep my desktop clean, and perhaps someone else too. So here is how to remove home folder, computer and trash from desktop:

  1. Open terminal
  2. On terminal type: gconf-editor
  3. Configuration Editor opens. From there navigate to: apps --> nautilus --> desktop
  4. Untick all the icons you dont want to see
  5. You are done, the icons should disappear immediately

Disabling scroll in taskbar

For years there is a "bug" in the GNOME taskbar: the mouse scroll switches the windows. The annoying feature if you have a good mice turns to be a real pain if you have the touchpad. It is impossible to scroll precisely using touchpad, so if you accidentally touch it when your mouse is on the taskbar, then all the windows will flash/switch wildly. There is no setting in gconf/preferences, that can disable this functionality. This is true for KDE 3, I do not know if problem persist in KDE 4. The solution was to install xfce4-panel, which hasn't scrolling at all and looks like default GNOME panel. The bug is better described here [1].

This bug will be probably never fixed, but we have the Arch Build System, so we can build custom software. Install abs (+70Mb), then

cp -r /var/abs/extra/libwnck /home/{your name}/Desktop/somewhere

Navigate to that directory, then

makepkg --nobuild

This will download and extract the sources. Go to src/libwnck-{version}/libwnck. Edit tasklist.c, search for "scroll-event". You will see somethign like

g_signal_connect(obj, "scroll-event", G_CALLBACK(wnck_tasklist_scroll_cb), NULL);

This line enables scroll-event handler, comment the line out (place /* before and */ after the line). Now go back to ~/Desktop/somewhere and

makepkg --noextract --syncdeps

You will need sudo to be able to install missing dependencies (intltool), but you can always install them separately if you do not want --syncdeps automatically. The --noextract option tells makepkg to not extract sources and use existing src/

pacman -U libwnck-{version}.pkg.tar.gz

Then log out, log back in, and enjoy. Delete dir with the sources from you desktop, you may also uninstall abs if you want. Next step will be to add gconf option, but I will leave this for GNOME gurus. I just do not need this "feature", not even if I use the mouse (Template:Keypress is better anyway).

Custom transitioning background

This will create a transitioning background similiar to the "cosmos" background found in the gnome-backgrounds package. There are three ways to do this.

Note: The image filenames must not have spaces in them.


You can create an XML file similiar to the one created by gnome-backgrounds in /usr/share/backgrounds/cosmos/.

<!-- The first section set an arbitrary start time. -->

Note that the <duration> tag sets each image as the background for 1795 seconds, or 29 minutes and 55 seconds, and the <transition> then takes 5 seconds. You can add any number of images as long as the last one transitions back to the first (if you want a full loop). Once completed, the XML file can be added to GNOME under System > Preferences > Appearance > Background tab > Add.


There is also a script which automates this process:

#This script creates XML files that can act as dynamic wallpapers for GNOME by referring to multiple wallpapers
#Coded by David J Krajnik

if [ "$*" = "" ]; then
  echo "This script creates XML files that can act as dynamic backgrounds for GNOME by referring to multiple wallpapers";
  echo "Usage: mkwlppr target-file.xml [duration] pic1 pic2 [pic3 .. picN]";
  #Grab the name of the target xml file
  xmlfile=`echo $files | cut -d " " -f 1`;
  #remove the first item from $files
  files=`echo $files | sed 's/^\<[^ ]*\>//'`;
  if [ "`echo $xmlfile | grep '\.xml$'`" = "" ]; then
    echo "Your target file must be an XML file";
    firstItem=`echo $files | cut -d " " -f 1`;
    duration="1795.0";#set the default duration
    if [ "`echo $firstItem | grep '^[0-9]\+\.[0-9]\+$'`" != "" ]; then
      echo "The duration must be an integer";
      files=`echo $files | sed 's/^\<[^ ]*\>//'`;
    elif [ "`echo $firstItem | grep '^[0-9]\+$'`" != "" ]; then
      #If the item is a number, then use it as the duration for each wallpaper image
      duration="`expr $firstItem - 5`.0";
      #remove the duration from the list of files
      files=`echo $files | sed 's/^\<[^ ]*\>//'`;
    if [ "$files" = "" ]; then
      echo "You must enter image files to associate with the XML file";
      for file in $files
        if [ ! -f $file ]; then
	  echo "\"$file\" does not exist";
        elif [ "`echo $file | sed 's/^.*\.\(jpg\|jpeg\|bmp\|png\|gif\|tif\|tiff\|jif\|jfif\|jp2\|jpx\|j2k\|j2c\)$//'`" != "" ]; then
	  echo "\"$file\" is not an image file";
      if [ $inputIsValid ]; then
        echo "<background>" >> $xmlfile
        echo "  <starttime>\n    <year>2009</year>\n    <month>08</month>\n    <day>04</day>" >> $xmlfile;
        echo "    <hour>00</hour>\n    <minute>00</minute>\n    <second>00</second>\n  </starttime>" >> $xmlfile;
        echo "  <!-- This animation will start at midnight. -->" >> $xmlfile;
        firstFile=`echo $files | cut -d " " -f 1`;#grab the first item
        if [ "`echo $firstFile | sed 's/\(.\).*/\1/'`" != "/" ]; then
          #If the first character in the filename is not '/', then it is a relative path and must have the current directory's path appended
        firstFile=`echo $firstFile | sed 's/[^/]\+\/\.\.\/\?//g'`;#Remove occurrences of ".." from the filepath
        files=`echo $files | sed 's/^\<[^ ]*\>//'`;#remove the first item
        #TODO add absolute path to the filenames
        #if $currFile =~ "^/.*" then the file needs to path appended
        echo "  <static>\n    <duration>$duration</duration>\n    <file>$firstFile</file>\n  </static>" >> $xmlfile;
        for currFile in $files
          if [ "`echo $currFile | sed 's/\(.\).*/\1/'`" != "/" ]; then
            #If the first character in the filename is not '/', then it is a relative path and must have the current directory's path appended
          currFile=`echo $currFile | sed 's/[^/]\+\/\.\.\/\?//g'`;#Remove occurrences of ".." from the filepath
          echo "  <transition>\n    <duration>5.0</duration>\n    <from>$prevFile</from>\n    <to>$currFile</to>\n  </transition>" >> $xmlfile;
          echo "  <static>\n    <duration>$duration</duration>\n    <file>$currFile</file>\n  </static>" >> $xmlfile;
        echo "  <transition>\n    <duration>5.0</duration>\n    <from>$currFile</from>\n    <to>$firstFile</to>\n  </transition>" >> $xmlfile;
        echo "</background>" >> $xmlfile;

Copy the code for the script above into a file called mkwlppr (short for "make wallpaper"). Make the script executable by typing:

sudo chmod 711 mkwlppr

Move the file so that you can run it from any directory by just using its name:

sudo mv mkwlppr /bin

Execute the script; it will tell you what input it requires from you. Use the script with input to create as many wallpaper XML files as you want.

Notes: Since this script is not interactive, you can use Unix's wildcards with it if you want to use all files in a directory and/or if you do not care about the order of the images. You can specify paths relative to your current directory, and the script will put the files' absolute paths into the XML file for you; so you can create the XML file anywhere you want and move it afterward without rendering it useless. If you want to run the script inside the /usr/share/backgrounds/ directory, you might have problems with permissions unless you run the command with sudo like this: sudo mkwlppr -parameters If you do not know what duration to specify for the images, simply do not provide a number in the input, and the progam will use the default values of 29 minutes and 55 seconds per image and a 5 second transition. For more information, please see this page.


If you prefer using a GUI, you can install CreBS from the AUR, which is a PyGTK app for creating background slideshows for GNOME.

Change default size of gnome-terminal

Method 1

The terminal emulator gnome-terminal does neither allow the set a default size nor does remember the last size. In order to set the default size consider the following steps:

  1. Change the following line in /usr/share/vte/termcap/xterm accordingly:
    Here 80 stands for the number of columns (i.e. width in characters) and 24 for the number of lines (i.e. height in characters).
  2. To prevent pacman from overwriting this file when upgrading the package vte, make enter the following in /etc/pacman.conf
    NoUpgrade = usr/share/vte/termcap/xterm
  3. Terminate all gnome-terminal processes to let the changes take effect.

Method 2

Another option is to simply use the --geometry switch when starting gnome-terminal (can be done via a right-click/properties on the launcher, then enter the following in the "Command" field: gnome-terminal --geometry 105x25+100+20).

Install a cursor theme

The default cursor theme of Xorg looks pretty outdated. See X11 Cursors for easy instructions on installing new cursor themes. Then go to to the desktop -> right click -> Change background -> Theme tab -> customise -> cursor to apply them.

Autostart programs

You can place .desktop files in the ~/.config/autostart directory (which you might need to create) to have them started automatically after starting a GNOME session.


Leave message feature in gnome-screensaver

This is a cool feature provided by gnome-screensaver 2.20, somebody can leave a message for you when you are not at your desk. Please install notification-daemon to make this work.

Change gnome-screensaver background

There isn't any option to change the screensaver's default background. The only way is to:

   cd /usr/share/pixmaps/backgrounds/gnome
   rm background-default.jpg
   ln -s /home/user/my_background.jpg background-default.jpg
Note: You can save your wallpaper to a static path like /home/user/wall.jpg and configure gdm, gnome-desktop and gnome-screensaver to point at it. This way you can have the same wallpaper on each of them.

Toolbar style in GTK applications

The default setting in GNOME 2.30 displays text next to icons in the toolbar of GTK applications. This means labels will only appear near buttons that the developer marks as "important". To have labels always show under the buttons in the toolbar:

gconftool-2 --set --type string  /desktop/gnome/interface/toolbar_style both

Possible values are:

  • both (text is always displayed below the button's icon)
  • both-horiz (default, text is only displayed next to "important" buttons)
  • text (only labels on buttons, no icons)
  • icons (only icons on buttons, no labels)

Missing icons in System Menu

The default setting under 2.30 does not display the usual icons under the System menu. In the 2.28 version, they could be enabled from System >> Preferences >> Appearance >> Interface. This case is not possible anymore. Now this can be enabled from:

gconftool-2 --set --type boolean  /desktop/gnome/interface/menus_have_icons true

Nautilus location entry

Since GNOME 2.30, Nautilus does not have an icon to switch the location type between using a text input entry and of a pathbar. Since pathbar is enabled by default, to change to text input entry do:

gconftool-2 --set --type boolean /apps/nautilus/preferences/always_use_location_entry true

See also