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Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment built to be fast, good looking, and user friendly.


Selecting a profile

Read relevant documentation before performing any profile changes.

If desired, a profile can be selected before installing Xfce. Using the basic desktop profile will provide a good set of defaults for Xfce. Other profiles can be used, but this gives a good balance between dependencies and usability, all else aside.

Selecting the desktop profile:

root #eselect profile set default/linux/amd64/17.1/desktop

Avoiding unnecessary dependencies

The package app-text/poppler will be pulled in as a dependency when emerging Xfce. By default, this package has the +qt5 USE flag, and will pull in Qt dependencies that may not be needed for Xfce. One method this can be avoided by is by creating the file, which will disable the qt5 USE flag for poppler:

FILE /etc/portage/package.use/xfceUnset qt5 USE flag for poppler
app-text/poppler -qt5

Of course, -qt5 can also be set globally in /etc/portage/make.conf if desired.


This is an optional step to install xfce-extra/xfce4-notifyd in place of x11-misc/notification-daemon. Skip to the next section if the choice of notification daemon is unimportant.

Emerging xfce-base/xfce4-meta will pull in the virtual/notification-daemon dependency. This virtual dependency is designed to insure that Xfce will be provided with a notification-daemon, whatever suitable software the user chooses to fulfill this role.

By default, virtual/notification-daemon will satisfy this dependency by drawing in GNOME's x11-misc/notification-daemon package. Xfce users may prefer to use xfce-extra/xfce4-notifyd, if a notification-daemon has not already been installed.

By installing xfce-extra/xfce4-notifyd before emerging Xfce, the virtual package virtual/notification-daemon will use xfce4-notifyd, and pull in no other packages. Use the --oneshot option to avoid adding xfce4-notifyd to the world file:

root #emerge --ask --oneshot xfce-extra/xfce4-notifyd

Now proceed with the installation.

USE flags

USE flags for xfce-base/xfce4-meta The Xfce Desktop Environment (meta package)

minimal Install a very minimal build (disables, for example, plugins, fonts, most drivers, non-critical features)
pulseaudio Add support for PulseAudio sound server
svg Add support for SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)
upower Enable power management support


Emerge the default set of Xfce packages:

root #emerge --ask xfce-base/xfce4-meta

Custom Xfce

It is not strictly necessary to use xfce-base/xfce4-meta, Xfce can be "custom built" by installing just the desired components, such as:

root #emerge --ask xfce-base/xfwm4 xfce-base/xfce4-panel

Launching Xfce

Xfce can either be run from a terminal after login, launched automatically after login, or be started by a graphical display manager that will greet the user and ask for login details.

Starting Xfce without a display manager

startx and startxfce4 are two of the readily available options for starting Xfce without using a display manager.


When using startx, create an ~/.xinitrc file with the following contents:

FILE ~/.xinitrcStarting xfce4 when invoking startx
exec startxfce4

If experiencing authorization or permissions issues, see the troubleshooting section.


To launch the Xfce4 desktop, simply type startxfce4 at the command-line and press enter:

user $startxfce4

Display managers

It is possible to use a display manager to start Xfce. Please refer to the display manager article to configure a display manager.

Most display managers use .desktop files to configure available sessions. The following is an example desktop file:

FILE xfce4.desktopXfce4 desktop file for display managers
[Desktop Entry]
Comment=Use this session to run Xfce 4 as desktop environment

The desktop file can be placed in the right location for the display manager.


Xfce is a desktop environment and as such can be tuned and tailored to the needs of (almost) every user. In this section, a number of popular (or more challenging) aspects are covered.

Volume keys

Install xfce-extra/xfce4-volumed-pulse to manage the volume keys:

root #emerge --ask xfce-extra/xfce4-volumed-pulse

media-sound/tudor-volumed may be an option for systems not using pulseaudio.

Alternatively, custom keys can be bound to amixer by running xfce4-keyboard-settings:

  • volume up button: amixer set Master 5%+
  • volume down button: amixer set Master 5%-
  • mute button: amixer set Master toggle

Consistent GTK 3 themes

One option is to use the Greybird theme, which has support for GTK 2, GTK 3, xfwm4, emerald, and metacity:

root #emerge --ask x11-themes/greybird

Go to Xfce menu -> Settings -> Appearance. Or run xfce4-appearance-settings. Select "Greybird" from the "Style" list.

Now GTK 2 and GTK 3 applications should have a consistent look.

Other themes

Other themes available in Portage that are compatible with XFCE can be emerged with the following list:

root #emerge --ask x11-themes/clearlooks-phenix x11-themes/gnome-themes-standard x11-themes/gtk-engines-aurora x11-themes/light-themes x11-themes/murrine-themes x11-themes/nimbus x11-themes/redhat-artwork x11-themes/shiki-colors x11-themes/tactile3 x11-themes/zukini

Additional applications

There are a number of additional applications that are part of Xfce.

Package Description
x11-terms/xfce4-terminal A popular terminal emulator for Xfce; superior to the standard xterm program.
xfce-base/xfce4-appfinder Application finder.
xfce-base/thunar Xfce's file manager.
xfce-extra/xfce4-pulseaudio-plugin Volume control. media-sound/volumeicon may be an option for systems without pulseaudio.
xfce-extra/thunar-volman Manages removable media and drives.
xfce-extra/tumbler File previewer for Thunar.
xfce-extra/thunar-archive-plugin Plugin for Thunar to work with archives; uses app-arch/file-roller.
xfce-extra/xfce4-battery-plugin Displays battery percentage, time remaining, power source (AC or battery), fan status, warnings, and can even be configured to execute commands at certain power levels, which can be used to put the laptop into hibernate mode when the battery is almost exhausted.
xfce-extra/xfce4-verve-plugin A small command line embedded into the panel; quicker than opening up another terminal to run a command.
xfce-extra/xfce4-mount-plugin One-click mounting of devices listed in /etc/fstab.
xfce-extra/xfce4-sensors-plugin Monitor hardware sensors, such as CPU temperature, fan RPM, hard drive temp, motherboard voltage, and more.
x11-themes/xfwm4-themes Several window-manager themes.
xfce-extra/xfce4-power-manager An application to monitor and manage power usage (especially important for laptops). Choose maximum-performance or battery-saving modes. Adjust screen brightness and setup hibernate, suspend, and shutdown actions (i.e., when the lid is shut or buttons are pressed). Can warn when the battery reaches certain levels, or even turn off the machine. Includes panel plugins to display battery/charging status, and control brightness.

The following applications work well in Xfce and round out a basic desktop environment.

Package Description
app-editors/mousepad Lightweight text editor.
app-cdr/xfburn CD burning application.
x11-misc/alacarte GNOME's menu editor works fine in Xfce.
x11-terms/tilda Lightweight quake-style terminal emulator.


Enable vertical window snapping

Most modern desktop environments have vertical window snapping enabled by default. This is also possible in Xfce, but not by default. To enable, navigate to: SettingsWindow managerAdvanced tab.

  • Make sure the "Snap windows to screen border" checkbox has been checked.
  • Make sure the checkboxes under "Wrap workspaces when reaching the screen edge" have been unchecked. These interfere with vertical window snapping.

Once the checkboxes are set it should be now possible to drag a window to the right or left side of the screen, which should cause the window to resize to 50% of the screen width.

Keyboard shortcuts can be set in order to do this via the typical Super+ or Super+ behavior. Navigate to SettingsWindow managerKeyboard tab.

Set the "Tile window to the left" and "Tile window to the right" actions with the Super+ and Super+ key combinations respectively.

Audio mixer complains about missing pavucontrol binary

Clicking the speaker (audio) icon in the panel and then selecting Audio mixer... results in a message saying "pavucontrol binary not found".

The solution is to install media-sound/pavucontrol:

root #emerge --ask media-sound/pavucontrol

Xfce4-screensaver unable to unlock

Xfce-screensaver uses gnome-keyring by default to authenticate. By applying the installation method above, gnome-keyring will not be pulled and pam will be unable to service the default configuration installed in /etc/pam.d/xfce4-screensaver. You can pull gnome-keyring if you don't mind, otherwise the file should be modified to allow system-auth to be used on passwords:

FILE /etc/pam.d/xfce4-screensaver
auth include system-auth
password include system-auth

Authorization or permissions issues

When experiencing authorization or permissions issues within xfce4 in an OpenRC profile (symptoms include being unable to open power manager and unable to suspend/hibernate) make sure that sys-auth/elogind is installed and properly configured, and that the elogind USE flag is globally enabled.

If launching with startx, replace the appropriate line in ~/.xinitrc with the following:

FILE ~/.xinitrcStarting xfce4 the right way when invoking startx
exec dbus-launch --exit-with-session xfce4-session

See also

  • Xfce/Guide — provides an extensive introduction to Xfce, a fast, lightweight, full-featured desktop environment.