Setup xfce4 desktop environment

article on how to style the xfce4 desktop env

Configure the xfce4 desktop environment on linux.


If you use linux, you are likely using the gnome or kde desktop environment, these and popular and generally easy to setup, but when looking for a lightweight option xfce is a possibly better option. But, out of the box xfce looks terrible, espically if your distro packages it with no theme.

install xfce4 from anouther desktop environment or a minimal installation of linux

sudo apt install xfce4

xfce4 panel and applets

The xfce4 desktop environment contains two panels, one at the bottem and one at the top.

  • the default menu for xfce4 panel, is an old gnome2 style menu, and most users will properly prefer a better looking whisker style menu with a search bar.
  • if your installing xfce from a distribution with anouther desktop environment, it likely wont ship with a battery monitor within the panel.
  • it may also not ship with a network manager applet.

install components for the panel

sudo apt install xfce4-whiskermenu-plugin xfce4-battery-plugin network-manager-gnome

After installing, simily right click the panel, and click add new items, from here you can search and add the whiskermenu, battery indicator and network applet.

In future you can copy your ~/.config/xfce4 folder to anouther machine/parition, and your panel settings will persist.

the xfwm window manager

Run xfwm4-settings. You can select a theme, which will mostly effect the style of the window, the gtk themes discussed bellow have more visual impact.

Here you can setup keyboard shortcuts that allow you to

  • maximise/minimise windows
  • quickly tile/snap windows to the corners of the screen
  • cycle through windows

gtk themes

Xfce4 is built using the gtk toolkit, so a system gtk theme will style all xfce4 components, and since most linux GUI apps are written with gtk (EG firefox, thunderbird, …), they will fit in.

Grab a theme from or (both use gtk3) and follow install instructions. Generally, you will have to download and extract an archive, then copy it to /usr/share/themes, finally click it from the xfce4-appearance-settings window.

An example theme with many colour options called midnight


icon themes

Download theme from or

Install the same way as gtk themes, but copy to extracted theme to /usr/share/icons and select from the icon tab of the appearance menu.

log into xfce4

Next time you log in, from your display manager select xfce4-session. This will load your gui with xfce4 rather than gnome or kde.

If you dont use a display manager and manually run startx then run

echo xfce4-session >> ~/.xinitrc
Ethan Hullett

Ethan Hullett
Student at Kent University