By default, elementary OS doesn't have a desktop folder - and no files can be placed onto the wallpaper. Note that this isn't just that icons don't show, there really is no desktop folder:

Where should I store my files and folders which I normally have on my desktop?

Where can I place links to start my custom applications?

If I'd still like to have an Ubuntu or Windows-like desktop, is it possible to add this feature? If so, how?

  • 1
    There is a desktop folder though: ~/Desktop :) --- eOS is not the only Linux with the same approach: if you get used to it, the best way to start any program, even in Windows and Mac, is to type a few letters in a search application, the way the Slingshot allows in eOS. Or you may try Synapse. As for 'shortcuts' always visible for some programs, you can keep them in the Dock
    – user170
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 10:00
  • 1
    @cipricus in his screenshot, there is no desktop folder.
    – user3
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 20:24
  • @Tim - True. But how can that be? Can't be any mistery about that. Freya creates a desktop folder. Luna too, as far as I remember. Wasn't that folder deleted?
    – user170
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 20:34
  • 1
    @cipricus no, by default in elementary OS there is no Desktop folder. Installing nautilus does add it back however.
    – user3
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 20:35
  • 1
    The fact that there is a 'Desktop' item in the pantheon-files app as well as a ~/Desktop folder created by default in the user home dir is consistently going to create confusion for new users of Elementary. Apparently attempts to eliminate the folder have been unsuccessful
    – Sysfu
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 15:14

6 Answers 6


elementary tends to take a perspective of "why?" rather than "why not?". Coding and supporting a feature like placing an icon view over the wallpaper takes time to design, code, test, etc. This would be a significant time investment and they don't currently feel that this feature is more important than the others they are working on. It also carries performance implications as this would be another process constantly running in the background whether in use or not.

Ideally files are stored in their respective directories in your Home (Music, Videos, Downloads, etc). However your Home directory is also available as a staging area. The assumption is that file management happens in the file manager app.

Quick launching of apps happens in the dock. You can drag and drop any app from the Applications menu to the dock or right click any running app and select "Keep in Dock".

If you'd still like to install a piece of software to place icons on the desktop, it is possible. Typically this feature is provided by a file manager. Popular alternatives include Nautilus (GNOME Files) and Nemo. Both are available to install from the Software Center. Quassy's answer includes more in-depth information about installation, configuration, and setting up auto-run.

  • 1
    I always thought (i.e. I read on some elementary blog so long ago I don't remember where precisely) the philosophy of why it's disabled is because the desktop is for showing wallpaper and icons should be in the file manager :D
    – jena
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 20:54
  • 1
    Judging by the number of upvotes for the OP and various answers, I think there is a compelling 'Why'--a lot of people want the option. I'd find this the case with many new converts from the windows/osx side of the fence. Maybe the ideal isn't coding it into the native file manager, but instead during install of eOS provide an option to use a more traditional file manager like nautauls
    – Ray
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 19:24
  • desktop is what it is a Desk Top. You have a desk right? do you keep anything on it, notes, pens, maybe some documents, or have you everything nicely stored in a cabinet? Desktops, virtual or otherwise, are the first place where people look for the stuff they need all the time. Do you want to attract Windows an Mac users? Allow them to put what they need on the top of their desk, instead of forcing them to store everything in drawers.
    – Dan Niero
    Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 14:27
  • This is a poor response to a baseline feature that every other major OS has (Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, most other linux distros, etc). Not everyone wants to use the desktop as you use it. Make it a feature you can toggle on and off if you you don't want to use it personally. Most people are familiar with a computer desktop that can have files or launchers on it, why turn off people coming from other OSes over something so basic and easy to implement? Why make the excuse that having icons will be additional performance? Are we in 2021 or 1992?
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 28, 2021 at 17:02

While Daniel Foré adequately explains the design decision, it does not answer the actual question. You can get the old desktop paradigm back by installing the Nautilus file manager (part of the GNOME project). Also Nautilus will appear inside Slingshot as a second, alternative file manger to Files.

  1. Install Nautilus without all the related GNOME packages and dconf-editor, by running the following command in terminal:

    sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends nautilus dconf-tools
  2. Edit the following config entries by running dconf-editor in terminal or starting dconf-editor from Slingshot:


    Check entries you'd like to see on the desktop


    Add nautilus -n so the entry should look somewhat like this:

    ['wingpanel', 'plank', 'slingshot-launcher --silent', 'nautilus -n']

    Run nautilus -n


    Tick the show-desktop-icons box

Based on the blog post "Enable desktop icons and right click on Elementary Freya OS."

  • 2
    Why is it not recommended out of interest?
    – user3
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 21:54
  • I've removed the "not recommended" piece, because you've given no basis as to why.
    – RolandiXor
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 3:31
  • @RolandiXor I think the main reason for it not being recommended is the design decisions, but also the fact that the file managers tend to be more integrated that other apps, and Nautilus has previously conflicted with Pantheon Files (I don't quite remember what was happening, but it made both unusable).
    – Lewis Goddard
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 18:41
  • Well without a concrete reason, it cannot be listed as "not recommended".
    – RolandiXor
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 22:59
  • 1
    I think the original "not recommended" wasn't so much as this community doesn't recommend it, as elementary do not recommend it. So long as the post contains any known issues, I have no problem with the answer as-is.
    – Lewis Goddard
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 8:38

This is just to show how easy is to make programs accessible without clogging your desktop.

Slingshot (Super-Space):

enter image description here

Synapse (Ctrl-Space, customizable):

enter image description here

Pin programs to the Dock

enter image description here

Not to have an empty desktop, put a conky on it.


Although this question is quite old, there is a more acceptable answer for the OP's question now. Appcenter has an application called Desktop folder now, which you can install and use.


screenshot of Desktop folder app

This will allow you to put things/files/folders on your desktop in elementary OS, and is much cleaner than installing something like Nemo or Nautilus.


That option is not available by default because it goes against the design behind elementary OS - that it's a clean and well designed environment.

Applications should be started by using Slingshot. Press Alt + F2 or Super + Space and enter the first letters of the application you want to start.

Alternatively you can use kupfer or synapse for that purpose. .desktop files are saved in your home folder under .local/share/applications/ and globally in /usr/local/share/applications if you want to edit the entries that appear in these launchers.

When you edit them, copy to the home area one and then edit. This will prevent program updates overwriting your changes.

The recommended directory for your documents is the Documents folder in your home directory.

  • 2
    It is possible (see my answer). .desktop files don't only reside in ~/.local/share/applications, but /usr/share/applications is also possible. (On other systems it could also be /usr/local/share/applications.)
    – quassy
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 19:06

You can use Screenlets, which comes with a folder view Screenlet.

To install it simply run:

sudo apt-get install screenlets

Or install it from the Software Centre.

  • Once it is installed, run screenlets
  • You will see this:
  • Double-Click on folder view, or, select it, then click Launch/Add.
  • You will see this: FolderViewScreenlet
  • To show it on all workspaces, right click on the Screenlet, and go to Window>Sticky.
    enter image description here

NB: Screenlets are no longer maintained, but should work with elementary OS Freya (tested).

  • 1
    This app looks like it hasn't been updated in quite a while. Sure it's still being maintained?
    – Gabriel
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 3:14
  • 2
    @Gabriel it's not being maintained, but it still works.
    – RolandiXor
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 2:43

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