Switch to a lightweight filemanager (Thunar)

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Thunar is the default file manager used in the stripped-back Xfce4 desktop of Xubuntu. It starts quickly and has a low-memory footprint, yet it is very powerful and provides all the features you are likely to need. In fact, it beats Nautilus in many departments when it comes to features. One feature of Thunar I particularly appreciate is the ability to rubber-band-select many files in list view, something Nautilus doesn't allow. Thunar also includes the ability to define your own right-click functions, something that is possible in Nautilus but only if you add the Nautilus Actions component.

Thunar can be used to replace Nautilus within the Ubuntu desktop for some operations, although bear in mind that Nautilus windows will still appear sometimes, such as when using Nautilus CD-R/DVD Creator.

Follow these steps to switch to Thunar:

  1. Start Synaptic, and search for and install the thunar and thunar-archive-plugin packages. After installation, you can run Thunar by typing thunar in a terminal window.
  2. To cause Thunar to open whenever you click an entry in the Places menu, you’ll need to edit a configuration file: open a terminal window, and type the following:
  3. gksu gedit /usr/share/applications/nautilus-folder-handler.desktop

  4. Scroll to the bottom of the file, and look for the line that reads Exec=nautilus --no-desktop %U. Change it so it reads Exec=thunar %U. Then save the file, log out and back in again, and test the changes by selecting Places --> Home.

This tip works equally well for any alternative file manager. Others you might like to try are Konqueror (KDE’s file manager), Dolphin (KDE4’s file manager), and Rox-filer, a stripped-down file manager that is extremely lightweight. Just use Synaptic to search for and install konqeuror, doplhin, or rox-filer, respectively. When altering the earlier nautilus-folder-handler.desktop file to make Rox-filer the default, change the line to read Exec=rox-filer, without the %U; Dolphin and Konqueror still require the %U after the command. Note that Rox-filer’s configuration is carried out by right-clicking a blank spot in its program window. It doesn't use a traditional menu system, like most application windows.

If you want a lightweight command-line file manager, install Midnight Commander (search for and install the mc package using Synaptic). Then type mc at the prompt to start the program. Once it's started, hit Alt+1, use the cursor keys to highlight Contents, and then hit Enter. This will display the help file explaining how to use the program. If you ever used Norton Commander back in the days of DOS, you'll find Midnight Commander very familiar, because it's modeled on that product.

To go back to using Nautilus after installing Thunar (or Konqueror/Dolphin/Rox-Filer), just edit the nautilus-folder-handler.desktop file again, and change the line you edited to read Exec=nautilus --no-desktop %U (note there are two dashes before no-desktop). Then save the file, and log out and back in again.


This is an extract from the new book Ubuntu Kung Fu, which was published last week and contains over 300 fun and useful tips, tricks, hints and hacks for Ubuntu users. Written by award-winning Linux author Keir Thomas, it's available at all good bookstores and also in PDF format for a recession-busting $22.

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17 Responses

  1. Olog says:

    Thunar is light weight and quick to load, but it’s missing some key features that keep me from using it.

    The deal breakers:

    1. No file search capability.

    2. Network shares are completely inaccessible to Thunar. It cannot connect to networks, view files on networks or copy files to and from network shares. The developers suggest it may never have this capability.

    It’s still amazing to me how heavy-weight and feature-poor most Linux file managers are in comparison to the standard Windows file manager. The 8 year old Windows 2000 file manager is much lighter weight and better featured than Nautilus or Thunar.

  2. Tim says:

    Thanks for the detailed explanation. For those who happen to be less capable of making the changes comfortably that you mention in your article, I suggest the following:

  3. witcher says:

    It doesnt works for me. I’ve changed /usr/share/applications/nautilus-folder-handler.desktop and after logout, login and clicking on Home handler on my desktop nautilus is running.

    BTW. Tim, where is the “following” ?

  4. Ubuntu Kung Fu says:

    2. Network shares are completely inaccessible to Thunar. It cannot connect to networks, view files on networks or copy files to and from network shares. The developers suggest it may never have this capability.

    FIle managers have long been a bone of contention with me. I was astonished to read recent reports of the GNOME developers considering their “job done”. Nowhere near, guys! Nautilus needs a LOT of work. How about making it start instantly, rather than taking a few seconds to appear each time I boot? Then we can start working elastic banding of files in list mode, and getting a decent “grid” view for icons so they don’t always look oddly spaced. However, I must admit that the tabbed interface they’ve recently added is a genius stroke, and may lead to me installing Ubuntu 8.10, even though I’m mostly happy with Ubuntu 8.04.

    But as for connecting to network shares, I’m not sure what you mean. You should be able to create a network mount and just access that…? Thunar will have no problems because it won’t be aware it’s accessing a network share.

    Nowadays Ubuntu provides mount points in the hidden .gvfs folder in your /home directory if you choose to access them using a desktop icon. Or you could just add a permanent mount point in fstab (the old fashioned way). Or even just create a desktop launcher that ran a mount script… There are lots of ways to get around this issue, and none of them would make me stop using Thunar.

  5. Tim says:

    oops, sorry about that, I must have forgotten to paste it…

  6. nomemory says:

    I guess the best file manager remains Krusader… 🙂

  7. murlidhar says:

    pcmanfm seems to be a better file management too. guess what it can manage the desktop . has tab-support. open-in-root.

    All these are enabled by default.

    I haven’t tried krusader yet so i guess i should try it out first and then which is better.

  8. rich says:

    Konquerer all the way. You can config it to be really stripped down, and it does *everything*. For things it doesn’t do you can write your own stuff and link it through service menus. I tried Dolphin for 6 months but went back to Konqueror in the end, much happier. Great.

  9. Toni says:


    I also think Nautilus need a lot of thingd to be done/modified

    – Midnight commander views
    – There’s a lot of lost space around it’s winows
    – Some views are not very nice
    – The connection to remote hists, v¡a ssh, are clumsy and you need to give the password to many times
    -Previws on the sidebar
    -Information on the sidebar: information on the content of the file (duration, author, etc. for audio, etc.; size,. for images)
    – Nicer icons

  10. karlzt says:

    how it is with PCManFM?
    without the %U or with the %U?

  11. alextud says:

    Here are some screenshot of thunar using samba share and tracker for file search:
    but they are not finished or ready to integrate in thunar.

  12. henkidefix says:

    Olog is quite wrong: Thunar CAN work with network shares:
    You need xfce4-mount-plugin, see information here:
    than you and open any networked NFS directory listed in fstab.

    You can even set it to open Thunar after it is mounted.
    So with 2 clicks i mount & open Thunar at that specific folder.

    I have a linux file server and a linux desktop machine Archlinux
    and this works very nice. i can copy files in 2 directions using drag & drop.

  13. MilanK says:

    henkidefix: well, Thunar can work with _mounted_ network shares.
    What the user wants, is to search through LAN, find a share and mount it. This cannot be done by Thunar nor xfce4-mount-plugin…

  14. Gary says:

    “…What the user wants, is to search through LAN, find a share and mount it…”

    Not this user.

    I usually know what network mounts I wish to browse.
    I do not need my network hosts to be configured to ‘advertise’ or need reminding of their names to do my work.

    If network host discovery tool is such an ‘essential’ feature then perhaps MilanK you might wish to contribute such an add on.

    Now I just replace one word in your original sentence to make a security observation:
    “…What the worm wants, is to search through LAN, find a share and mount it…”

    Here is a little extract of some advice that suggests that browsable shares might not be a great idea, if you wish to have protection against a worm attack:

    “You can reduce your network’s susceptibility to worms and viruses by tightening security on network shares. Take these steps to protect your network from worms and viruses:

    Where possible, hide shares from browsing by adding a dollar sign [$] to the end of the share name.”

    The advice above is windows specific, but the principle of avoiding browsable network shares is one that might be good practice, whatever your choice of OS.


  15. Asrail says:

    Actually, you should edit /usr/share/applications/mimeinfo.cache and replace each occurrence of “nautilus-folder-handler.desktop” with the desktop file of your choice.

    Run “update-desktop-database” as root later.

  16. Asrail says:

    Before running that command, you should assure your desktop file has one entry in the mime type list.

    Sorry for the double comment.

  17. Devi 710 says:

    Hi Asrail, I am trying to replace nautilus with pcmanfm.

    Do you mean I should replace “nautilus-folder-handler.desktop” with “pcmanfm-folder-handler.desktop” or do I need to create a file with the .desktop extension?

    I edited “nautilus-folder-handler.desktop” and changed every occurrence of “nautilus” with “pcmanfm”.

    Sorry if I am way off.

    Many thanks. Thread here if you can help:

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