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To quote xfce.org: "Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment for Unix-like operating systems. It aims to be fast and low on system resources, while still being visually appealing and user friendly."


Avoiding unnecessary dependencies

Avoiding optional GNOME support and packages will keep the system more lean and congruous. This section is entirely optional; proceed in this manner if the goal is to keep the system small(er) rather than large(r).

Ensure that the system is using the basic "desktop" profile:

root #eselect profile set default/linux/amd64/13.0/desktop

app-text/poppler and dev-util/cmake have +qt4 by default:

FILE /etc/portage/package.use/xfceUnset qt4 USE flag for poppler and cmake
app-text/poppler -qt4
dev-util/cmake -qt4

Of course, -qt4 can also be set globally in /etc/portage/make.conf if one desires.


In /etc/portage/make.conf, add and customize the XFCE_PLUGINS variable:

FILE /etc/portage/make.confSetting XFCE_PLUGINS
XFCE_PLUGINS="brightness clock trash"

The above options may change; the current list is available inside ${PORTDIR}/profiles/desc/xfce_plugins.desc.


It is time to install the complete Xfce desktop!

Without explicitly including xfce-extra/xfce4-notifyd in the emerge command, virtual/notification-daemon will draw in GNOME's x11-misc/notification-daemon instead. So install it together with xfce-base/xfce4-meta and later deselect it so it is not included in the world file:

root #emerge --ask xfce-base/xfce4-meta xfce-extra/xfce4-notifyd
root #emerge --ask --deselect=y xfce-extra/xfce4-notifyd

Of course, it is also possible to select only needed packages:

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


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.

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 a ~/.xinitrc file with the following contents:

FILE ~/.xinitrcStarting xfce4 when invoking startx
exec startxfce4

When experiencing authorization or permissions issues within xfce4 in a OpenRC profile (symptoms include being unable to open power manager and unable to suspend/hibernate) be sure the sys-auth/consolekit package has been merged with the pm-utils flag set. Then replace the above line in ~/.xinitrc with the following (see this entry on the Gentoo Forums for more information):

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


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

user $startxfce4

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 to manage the volume keys:

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

When using pulseaudio with xfce4, use xfce-extra/xfce4-volumed-pulse:

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

Keyboard shortcuts

Run xfce4-keyboard-settings to bind the following keys:

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

Consistent GTK+ 3 themes

Native Xfce theme engine

Xfce's own theme engine, x11-themes/gtk-engines-xfce, was updated in version 3.0, which implements native support for GTK+ 3 with no further configuration.

Assuming that the gtk3 USE flag is set, the GTK+ 3 version (revision 300 or higher) should be pulled in by default if xfce-base/xfce4-meta or x11-themes/gtk-engines-xfce were installed with a --deep world upgrade.

If not simply:

root #emerge --ask x11-themes/gtk-engines-xfce

This should pull in the right version of x11-themes/gtk-engines-xfce through the use of a specific SLOT.

After emerging the GTK+ 3 version of x11-themes/gtk-engines-xfce, applications using GTK+ 3 should now blend nicely with applications using GTK+ 2 when one of the native Xfce themes is used.

Greybird theme

Another 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/oxygen-molecule x11-themes/redhat-artwork x11-themes/shiki-colors x11-themes/tactile3 x11-themes/zukini

Additional applications

There are a number of additional applications which are either part of Xfce or support this desktop environment nicely.

Package Description
x11-terms/xfce4-terminal A popular terminal emulator for Xfce; far superior to the standard xterm program.
xfce-base/xfce4-appfinder Application finder
xfce-base/thunar File manager
xfce-extra/xfce4-mixer Volume control
app-editors/mousepad A lightweight text editor.
xfce-extra/thunar-volman Removable media and drives manager
xfce-extra/tumbler Previewer for files from Thunar
app-cdr/xfburn CD burning application
xfce-extra/thunar-archive-plugin Plugin for Thunar for work with archives, uses app-arch/file-roller
xfce-extra/xfce4-battery-plugin Display battery percentage, time remaining, power source (AC or battery), fan status, warnings, and can even be configured to execute commands at certain power levels. This feature 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. It's quicker than opening up another terminal to run a command.
xfce-extra/xfce4-mount-plugin A handy method of mounting devices listed in /etc/fstab just by clicking with the mouse.
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
x11-misc/alacarte Enables Xfce4 menu editing
x11-terms/tilda Lightweight quake style terminal emulator
app-office/orage A simple, handy calendar
xfce-extra/xfce4-power-manager An application to monitor and manage power usage. This is especially important for laptops! The power manager allows to adjust screen brightness, choose maximum performance or battery-saving modes, and setup hibernate, suspend, and shutdown actions when the lid is shut or buttons are pressed. Set xfce4-power-manager to warn when the battery reaches certain levels, or even turn off the machine. The application comes with a couple of helpful panel plugins to display battery/charging status, and a brightness control.


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

Program starting hotkeys are not working / Colors not changeable from appearance

Xfce can have hotkeys for both starting an application as well as modifying the behavior of an already running application or setting. An example of behavior hotkey is the Ctrl+Alt+D combination, which minimizes all windows to show the deskop (and vice-versa).

Assuming that hotkeys for starting an application (such as Alt+F2 to start the application finder) are not working, while the application can be started from the menu, then Consolekit is not running. Start it, and make sure that it gets started at boot time:

root #/etc/init.d/consolekit start
root #rc-update add consolekit default

This will also start D-Bus, a prerequisite for Consolekit. Restart X to enjoy the new hotkeys and colors.

See also

  • Xfce Guide - A highly detailed installation and configuration guide. Read this to get all the juicy Gentoo related details!