For as long as it has existed on Linux, Gnome Shell has had desktop icons. However, in version 3.28, the developers decided that it would be better to disable this functionality altogether.
Understandably, disabling desktop icons in the Gnome Shell desktop environment created some backlash within the community from users. They wondered why this was done, and how they can get their functionality back? Well, Gnome has never introduced a proper way to re-enable this feature in its settings. Instead, users must rely on third-party fixes to re-enable desktop icons in Gnome Shell.
In this guide, we’ll go over various extensions you can install to re-enable desktop icons in Gnome Shell. Additionally, we’ll talk about Gnome Classic, which is an excellent alternative to Gnome Shell and offers desktop icon functionality.
Option 1: Desktop Icons extension
The “Desktop Icons” extension is the most popular solution for Gnome Shell users to get icons back on the desktop instantly. The reason it is so popular is that it brings back the functionality users miss, without complicating things. There’s no hard to understand configuration steps involved. Just download and go!
To get the Desktop Icons extension working on your Gnome Shell PC, follow the instructions below.
Extension site instructions
To get the Desktop Icons extension from the Gnome website, do the following. First, head over to the Desktop Icons page here. Then, once there, install the Gnome browser plugin. After getting the browser plugin set up, head over to our guide to learn how to install the “chrome-gnome-shell” program on your Linux PC.
Finally, once both the browser extension and the “chrome-gnome-shell” app are set up on your Linux PC. Go back to the Desktop Icons page, and click the “OFF” slider so that it changes to “ON.”
Once you’ve clicked the slider to set it to “ON,” a prompt will appear. Select the “Install” button to get the Desktop Icons extension set up on your Gnome Shell desktop.
Gnome Software instructions
Don’t want to deal with the Gnome extension website? Consider installing the Desktop Icons extension to your Gnome Shell desktop through the Gnome Software app instead! Here’s how to do it.
First, launch Gnome Software on your Linux PC. Then, when the app is open, click on the search button and search for “Desktop Icons.”
Click on the search result that says “Desktop Icons” with the puzzle icon to go to its extension page in Gnome Software. Then, select the blue “Install” icon to load it up on your Linux PC.
Getting icons back – Desktop Icons
Installing the Desktop Icons extension is all you need to do to re-enable icons on the Gnome Shell desktop environment. If icons don’t appear immediately after installing the extension, re-download the extension.
Option 2: Desktop Folder
Desktop Folder is a program that you can install in Gnome Shell to restore desktop icons. To get started with the Desktop Folder program on your Gnome Shell PC, open up a terminal window by pressing Ctrl + Alt + T or Ctrl + Shift + T.
Note: Desktop Folder can also be used to restore desktop icon functionality in Elementary OS. Learn more here.
Once the terminal window is open, follow the installation instructions below to learn how to install the Desktop Folder application on your system.
sudo apt install desktopfolder gnome-tweak-tool
sudo apt-get install desktopfolder gnome-tweak-tool
sudo pacman -S git base-devel gnome-tweak-tool git clone https://aur.archlinux.org/trizen.git cd trizen makepkg -sri trizen -S desktopfolder
sudo dnf install desktopfolder gnome-tweak-tool
sudo zypper install desktopfolder gnome-tweak-tool
Getting icons back – Desktop Folder
Once the Desktop Folder application is set up on your Gnome Shell PC, open up the Gnome app menu, search for “Desktop Folder” and launch it.
After the Desktop Folder app is open, press the Win key on the keyboard to open up the app browser. Then, search for “Tweaks” and open up the Gnome Tweaks app.
Inside of the Gnome Tweaks app, find “Startup Applications” and click on it. Then, click the “+” symbol at the bottom.
Using the “Applications” window, select “Desktop Folder” and click “Add” to create a startup entry for the app.
Now that Desktop Folder is a startup application in Gnome Shell, you will always have access to your desktop icons!
Option 3: Gnome classic mode
The Gnome Shell developers may have taken away desktop icons from Gnome Shell proper, but they haven’t for Gnome classic mode. So, if you need the desktop icon functionality back, yet aren’t happy with options 1 and 2 in this guide, classic is the way to go.
To gain access to Gnome classic mode, log out of your current session and select it, as it should already be installed. If you do not have classic mode set up on your Linux PC, check out our guide on how to gain access to classic mode.