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This spec aims to develop a mechanism that would allow GNOME users to transparently switch from Nautilus to an alternate file manager, like Dolphin or Thunar.

Release Note

The default file manager in GNOME can now be selected in the Preferred Applications tool.


Use Cases


A very hackish way to achieve this would be moving the nautilus binary out of the way and replacing it with a wrapper script, determining based on the arguments what to launch: the real nautilus for the desktop (--desktop) or an alternate file manager.

A much cleaner solution is to rewrite the desktop files for Nautilus in /usr/share/applications (nautilus, nautilus-computer, nautilus-home, nautilus-folder-handler), redirecting them to a new wrapper script, which can be called, for example, gnome-file-manager. The wrapper script would read the value for the default file manager using gconf (there is currently no gconf setting for this; it can be, for example, /desktop/gnome/applications/file_manager) and then call it with the required arguments.

Since the arguments can differ, each file manager package (nautilus itself, konqueror, dolphin, thunar, gnome-commander, krusader, mc, etc.) can ship with its own set of scripts installed under /etc (for example, /etc/gnome-file-manager/thunar) providing a unified interface to the main wrapper script. This, however, is a last resort measure.

UI Changes

The "System" tab in gnome-default-applications-properties is currently only used for the terminal emulator. There is enough room to add the file manager chooser there. This will be the only UI change required.

Code Changes

Since we should be able to change the file manager without installing Nautilus, the nautilus-* desktop files will need to be moved out of the nautilus package and into a new package (for example, gnome-file-manager-common), on which Nautilus will then depend.

If there is currently no clean way to obtain a list of available file managers in GNOME, the means to register a file manager in the system will need to be added, and each file manager package will need to be repackaged to register itself in its postinst scenario. Preferably, if we have to invent the mechanism, should be DE-agnostic (for example, not depend on gconf).


There are no migration issues. The process is transparent; existing Nautilus users would continue to use it, unaware of the underlying changes.


CustomizableFileManagerSpec (last edited 2008-08-06 16:37:54 by localhost)