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How to re-enable app indicators on Elementary OS

Elementary OS has a knack for removing useful features. One of the most glaring examples of removed features is “App Indicators,” a feature that allows users to view apps in the system tray on the panel.

It’s understandable why the Elementary OS developers removed app indicator support from the desktop. It doesn’t fit well with the design of Pantheon and makes the system tray look cluttered and inconsistent. Furthermore, they have a specific vision for Pantheon and want their project to reflect it. It’s a bold strategy. However, not every fan of Elementary OS agrees with this approach and would like the ability to see their favorite apps in the system tray again.

Before we begin

Elementary OS 5 has been out for quite a while now, and most fans have been on the latest release. However, it should be noted that Elementary OS is built on Ubuntu Long Term Support, which means that Elementary OS 4 still has support. As a result, some users may still be using it.

Re-enabling app indicator support is best done on Elementary OS 5, as it has the latest software patches and updates. So, before we begin with this guide, you must upgrade your existing installation of Elementary OS to the absolute latest.

Unsure about how to upgrade to the latest version of Elementary OS on your Linux PC? Click on this guide here to learn how to make the upgrade.

Re-enabling app indicator support

Re-enabling support for the app indicator feature in Elementary OS requires installing a package. This package is called “indicator-application.” To install it, you must launch a terminal window on the Elementary OS desktop.

To launch a terminal window, click on “Applications” in the panel to access the app menu. Then, once in the app menu, start typing out “Terminal,” and launch the program with the name “Terminal.” Alternatively, you can launch one by pressing Win + T on the keyboard.

With the terminal window open, use the apt package manager to install the “indicator-application” program.

sudo apt install indicator-application

Following the installation of “indicator-application” on your Elementary OS PC, you will need to run a software update. A software update will ensure that the Pantheon desktop environment has the latest patches, helping the “indicator-application” work better.

Updating software on Elementary OS through the terminal is done with two commands: update and upgrade. The update command refreshes the software sources, and upgrade installs everything.

Using the update command, refresh your Elementary OS PC’s software sources.

sudo apt update

Then, install all pending software patches and updates by entering the upgrade command.

sudo apt upgrade

Once all the software patches are installed on your Elementary OS system, follow the step-by-step instructions below.

Step 1: Use the CD command to move the terminal window into the /etc/xdg/autostart/ directory.

cd /etc/xdg/autostart/

Step 2: In /etc/xdg/autostart/, run the ls command to take a look at the contents of the folder. There should be a file named “indicator-application.desktop”.

ls | grep indicator-application.desktop

Note: If you do not see a file named “indicator-application.desktop” in the /etc/xdg/autostart/ directory, the installation of the “indicator-application” package did happen successfully. Run sudo apt reinstall indicator-application to fix the issue.

Step 3: Once you’ve confirmed that the “indicator-application.desktop” file is in the correct place, copy the file from the /etc/xdg/autostart/ directory into your home folder (~) with the cp command.

cp indicator-application.desktop ~/

Step 4: After placing the “indicator-application.desktop” file in the home folder (~), use the CD command to move into the ~/.config folder.

cd ~/.config

Inside of the ~/.config folder, run the ls command to determine if the autostart folder is present. This folder is necessary for “indicator-application.desktop” to automatically load up in the Pantheon desktop environment at startup.

Can’t see autostart? Create a new directory with the mkdir command.

mkdir -p autostart

Step 5: Using the mv command, move the indicator-application.desktop file from the home directory (~) to the autostart folder.

mv ~/indicator-application.desktop autostart/

Step 6: Open the file in the Nano text editor for editing.

nano -w ~/.config/autostart/indicator-application.desktop

Change OnlyShowIn=Unity;GNOME; to OnlyShowIn=Unity;GNOME;Pantheon;

Step 7: Save the changes to the file with Ctrl + O, and exit with Ctrl + X. Then, update the file’s permissions so that Elementary OS can execute it.

sudo chmod +x ~/.config/autostart/indicator-application.desktop

Step 8: Download the “wingpanel-indicator-ayatana” package from the internet using the wget command.

wget https://ppa.launchpad.net/elementary-os/stable/ubuntu/pool/main/w/wingpanel-indicator-ayatana/wingpanel-indicator-ayatana_2.0.3+r27+pkg17~ubuntu0.4.1.1_amd64.deb

Step 9: Install the “wingpanel-indicator-ayatana” package on your Elementary OS system.

sudo apt install ./wingpanel-indicator-ayatana_2.0.3+r27+pkg17~ubuntu0.4.1.1_amd64.deb

With the indicator-application.desktop file configured in the autostart folder, and the “wingpanel-indicator-ayatana” DEB package installed, the setup process is done. Log out of your current session (or reboot). Upon logging back into your session, you will see system tray icons for your favorite applications!

Undo app indicator support

Did you re-enable app indicator support on your Elementary OS desktop, only to find out that you don’t like it? Here’s how to turn it back off.

Step 1: Open up a terminal window by pressing Win + T or by searching for it in the “Applications” menu.

Step 2: Move into the ~/.config/autostart/ directory with the CD command.

cd ~/.config/autostart/

Step 3: Delete the indicator-application.desktop file.

rm indicator-application.desktop

Step 4: Log out or reboot.


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