Using Files and Folders on Desktop Screen in Ubuntu

Here's how you can access your files and folders right through the desktop screen on Ubuntu.
Warp Terminal

I know a few people who are habitual of putting all the important/frequently used files on the desktop screen for quick access.

Yes, it is a convenient way of file access for some 😎

An Ubuntu Desktop with many icons placed
Desktop Icons

I am not a fan of a cluttered desktop screen, but it saves time, I'm sure.

With initial GNOME versions, it was difficult to add files on the desktop screen. However, that has changed now with support for files on the desktop.

So, it’s not impossible to add files and folders on the desktop. Let me show you how you can do it.

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Desktop Icons NG (DING) GNOME Extension

As said above, GNOME does not provide a way to add files/folders to the desktop by default. We rely on this extension, called Desktop Icons NG for the purpose.

Ubuntu comes with this extension enabled by default.

If you are using any other distro that comes with GNOME, install this from the GNOME Shell Extensions page, or you can use the GNOME Shell Extension Manager application.

Install Desktop Icons NG extension using GNOME Shell Extension Manager Application
Desktop Icons NG in Extension manager

Once you are done installing the extension, you are good to go now!

Adding files and folders on the desktop screen in Ubuntu

I am using Ubuntu 22.04 LTS in this tutorial. The steps may or may not vary for other Ubuntu versions.

Add the files and folders to the “Desktop folder”

If you open the file manager, you should see an entry called Desktop in the left sidebar or in the folders list. This folder represents the storage location of your desktop screen.

Desktop Folder in Nautilus File manager sidebar and HOME directory.
The Desktop Folder in Nautilus

Anything you add to this folder will be reflected on the desktop screen.

Folders moved to the Desktop will be available on the Desktop Screen and Desktop Folder, and both are the same.
Folders and Files in Desktop Folder and Desktop Screen

If you delete files from this ‘Desktop folder’, it will be removed from the desktop screen as well.

If you copy a folder from one location and pasted on ~/Desktop folder, the original folder and the one on the Desktop will be different. Any changes you make to the one on the Desktop won’t reflect on the other. Make sure, you move the folders/files to ~/Desktop.

Drag and drop files to desktop screen

Now, if you drag and drop files from the file manager to the desktop, it will “move” that file or folder to the ~/Desktop folder. It will be visible on the desktop as well.

Right-click on a folder/file on the desktop to access its context menu actions.
Desktop Icons Context Menu

Here, you can do all sort of things that you actually do in any other locations.

Remember, deleting a file from the desktop won’t just remove it from the desktop, but remove it from your system as well.

Desktop Icons Appearance Settings in Ubuntu

On Ubuntu, you can tweak the appearance of desktop icons. For this, first open Settings and then go to Appearance.

On the Ubuntu Settings Application, the desktop icon settings can be found under the Appearance tab.
Desktop Icons Settings

You can also go to these settings directly from the desktop. Right-click on the desktop and select “Desktop Icon Settings”.

Right-click on an empty space on the desktop and select “Desktop Icons Settings” to reach the Desktop Icons Settings page of the Ubuntu Settings Application.
Go to Desktop Icon Settings from Desktop

Here, you can change the size of desktop icons, to four different levels, as shown below.

Change the Desktop Icons appearance size
Desktop Icons Size

By default, in newer Ubuntu releases, the Desktop icons appear on the bottom-right of the screen. You can change this to another area if it suits you.

Change the position of Desktop icons on the desktop screen.
Position of Desktop Icons

Or, show the Personal Folder, that is /home/$USER/ folder.

Tweak the Desktop Icons Using the Extension

The extension provides customizable options to fiddle with. You need to access the extension settings, preferably using the extension manager.

Here's how it looks like:

Head to the GNOME Shell Extension Manager application and then select the Gear icon corresponding to the Desktop Icons extension.

Click on the gear icon corresponding to the Desktop Icon extension to open its settings.
Access Desktop Icons NG Settings
You can also use a GNOME extension called “Extension List” for quick access to extensions. This will help you access all the extensions you have installed on your system from the top panel.

You can access the settings for each extension from here easily.

This will open the settings menu. Most of the tweaks are straightforward so that you can understand easily. A couple of interesting tweaks will be listed here.

You can show the Trash icon, External Drives, Network Drives, etc., on your desktop, by enabling the respective toggle switches.

Enable the visibility of additional locations on the desktop
Show other Drives on the Desktop

If you are using a very bright wallpaper, it will be good to show the labels in a dark color. Just enable the toggle button as shown in the screenshot below.

Make the label text of desktop icons dark color for better visibility in light backgrounds.
Dark Label Color for Desktop Icons

If you have Nemo file manager installed, you can open the folder on the desktop in Nemo by enabling it in the settings.

Use Nemo File manager to open folders from the desktop instead of Nautilus File Manager.
Use Nemo File Manager

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Wrapping Up

For the most part, you do not need access to the extension settings. If you are new to the Linux world, do not worry about the customization options through the extension settings. The toggle buttons work as expected.

If interested, you may read about adding application shortcuts on Ubuntu desktop as well.

How to Add Desktop Shortcut on Ubuntu Linux
In this quick tutorial, you’ll learn how to add application shortcuts on the Ubuntu desktop and other distributions that use the GNOME desktop.

Moreover, you can improve your workflow with the files/folders if you know how to use the Nautilus File Manager features efficiently:

💬What are your thoughts on having files/folders on the desktop?

About the author
Abhishek Prakash

Abhishek Prakash

Created It's FOSS 11 years ago to share my Linux adventures. Have a Master's degree in Engineering and years of IT industry experience. Huge fan of Agatha Christie detective mysteries 🕵️‍♂️

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