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How To Back Up The XFCE4 Desktop Settings On Linux

Setting up the XFCE desktop environment to a point where it’s comfortable to use is exhausting and time-consuming. What’s worse is that the desktop environment doesn’t have a built-in backup feature, so you’ll need to save your custom desktop configuration files manually. Here’s how you can back up the XFCE4 desktop settings.

SPOILER ALERT: Scroll down and watch the video tutorial at the end of this article.

Back Up XFCE Desktop Settings

Though the XFCE desktop environment uses a lot of Gnome technologies, it’s not possible to quickly export the settings from Dconf for an easy backup solution. Instead, those looking to create a backup for this desktop environment will need to create one using the file system.

To create a new backup of the XFCE desktop settings, you’ll need to compress and save the critical desktop files inside of the ~/.config folder. Luckily, this process is quickly taken care of with a few terminal commands.

Full Backup

Creating a backup of the XFCE desktop environment through the ~/.config folder isn’t impossible, though it’s time-consuming, as the user will need to isolate and copy out a few individual folders to save for later. If you’re in a hurry and want a quick backup, a great alternative is to create a complete backup of the configuration file instead. This way, not only will your desktop settings be safe, but other aspects of your Linux desktop will have a backup as well.

Keep in mind that choosing to backup everything in the configuration folder will take up much more space than just backing up the XFCE4 files. In the terminal, compress the configuration folder in /home/ using the tar command.

Note: be sure to repeat the backup process for each user that has an XFCE desktop.

tar -czvf full-backup.tar.gz ~/.config

When tar completes, move the file from /home/username/ to your home server, external hard drive or cloud storage host of choice.

Back Up XFCE desktop

If you don’t have time to wait for the entire ~/.config folder to compress, consider just creating a backup of the XFCE desktop files. To start the process of saving your desktop settings, open up a terminal and run the following commands.

mkdir -p ~/Desktop/xfce-desktop-backup

mkdir -p ~/Desktop/xfce-desktop-backup/thunar

mkdir -p ~/Desktop/xfce-desktop-backup/xfce-settings

cp -R ~/.config/Thunar/ ~/

cp -R ~/.config/xfce4/ ~/

mv ~/xfce4 ~/Desktop/xfce-desktop-backup/xfce-settings

mv ~/Thunar ~/Desktop/xfce-desktop-backup/xfce-settings

If you’re on Xubuntu, you’ll also need to copy the Xubuntu folder inside of the configuration directory.

mkdir -p ~/Desktop/xfce-desktop-backup/xubuntu-settings

cp -R ~/.config/xubunu~ ~/

mv xubuntu ~/Desktop/xfce-desktop-backup/xubuntu-settings

With all of the configuration files in the right place, use the tar command to create an archive backup.

tar -czvf xfce4-backup.tar.gz ~/Desktop/xfce-desktop-backup

Themes And Icons

Creating a backup of your XFCE files will not save your custom themes and icons. To ensure that these are safe, you’ll need to create backups of ~/.themes and ~/.icons in your home directory. If your custom themes and icons aren’t set up as a single user, you’ll instead need to create backups of /usr/share/themes and /usr/share/icons.

In the terminal, use the tar command to create an archive backup of your custom theme and icon files.

tar -czvf icons-backup.tar.gz ~/.icons

tar -czvf themes-backup.tar.gz ~/.themes


tar -czvf icons-backup.tar.gz  /usr/share/icons 

tar -czvf themes-backup.tar.gz /usr/share/themes/

Compression may take a while, due to how many files themes and icon sets tend to have on Linux. When the compression is done, take both TarGZ archives and place them somewhere safe.

Restore Backup

Restoring an XFCE desktop environment with a backup has a lot of work to it. To set your Linux PC back to the way it was before you created a backup, open up a terminal window and follow the steps below.

Step 1: Download your backups and place all of them in the /home/username/ folder.

Step 2: Decompress and restore the desktop archive backup.

Full-backup Restore

tar -xzvf full-backup.tar.gz -C ~/

XFCE Only Restore

tar -xzvf xfce4-backup.tar.gz -C ~/

cd xfce-desktop-backup/xfce-settings

mv * ~/.config

cd xfce-desktop-backup/thunar

mv * ~/.config

Finish up by restoring your custom icons and themes.

tar -xzvf icons-backup.tar.gz -C ~/

tar -xzvf themes-backup.tar.gz -C  ~/


sudo tar -xzvf icons-backup.tar.gz -C /usr/share/

sudo tar -xzvf themes-backup.tar.gz -C /usr/share/

Step 3: Use the rm command and remove all of the TarGZ archive files.

rm *.tar.gz

Alternatively, if you’d like to keep the XFCE backup archive files on your Linux PC, it’s a good idea to move them somewhere else on the file system, where they’re out of the way.

mkdir -p ~/Documents/tar-archives/

mv *.tar.gz ~/Documents/tar-archives/

Step 4: Applying the backups should force your XFCE desktop setup to instantly change. However, this isn’t always the case. To ensure that the backup is in full effect, reboot your computer and log back in.

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