The Ultimate Guide to Finger Swipe Gestures in GNOME

Learn to effectively use the finger swipe gestures in GNOME. Also learn to customize them on the classic Xorg display server.
Warp Terminal

GNOME 40 brought a radical new interface with a horizontal first approach. One of the features in this approach is a three-finger swipe for the touchpad.

Swipe three fingers up on the touchpad and brings up the activity menu. Do it once more and you’ll have the application menu. Move the fingers down, and you’ll be coming out of the application menu and the activity area.

Illustration of three fingers swipe in GNOME
Illustration of three fingers swipe in GNOME

Similarly, moving three fingers horizontally moves you to the next workspace on your right (or left).

In this article, we shall:

  • Look at various finger gestures in GNOME
  • Troubleshoot why three finger gesture is not working
  • Learn how to get the swipe gestures in GNOME 39 or older version
  • Learn to use some swipe gestures with Xorg display server
For the most part of this tutorial, I have used Arch Linux.

Mastering the finger gestures in GNOME

The gestures I am going to mention here work when the touchpad scrolling is set in the Natural direction. If you are using the Traditional scrolling mode, you'll have to perform the gestures in the opposite direction of what's mentioned here.

You can check the scrolling direction by opening the system settings and going to Mouse and Touchpad. Here, go to the Touchpad tab and look under Scroll Direction section.

Set Scroll Direction to Natural
Natural Scroll Direction

Get Activities Overview and Application Menu

To move to the activities overview, you can swipe up using three fingers. This works anywhere in GNOME.


Go to Activities Overview

Now, while staying on the Activities Overview, you can three-finger swipe up once more to go to the Application dashboard, where you can launch apps, that are not in the dash (left side launcher in Ubuntu).

You can do a swipe down, to get back where you were.

Switch Workspaces

GNOME provides this easy way of switching workspaces, by just swiping left or right using three fingers.


Switch Workspaces

By default, the workspace navigation won’t wrap around, so you will reach the end, on the last workspace and need to swipe back.

Drag windows between Workspaces

While you are in Activities overview, you can drag and drop a window to another workspace.


Move Windows between Workspaces

Ubuntu Workspaces: Enabling, Creating, and Switching
Ubuntu workspaces let you dabble with multiple windows while keeping things organized. Here’s all you need to know.

Zoom in and out of images

Open an image in the Image Viewer application. Now, you can zoom in or out, by pinching or stretching the touchpad with two fingers.


Zoom In and Zoom Out

This also works on many other apps, like Firefox.

Open folders in tabs in Nautilus file manager

This is a mouse click feature, that is more convenient with a touchpad. Here, you can open a folder in a new tab, by three-finger tap on that folder.


Open Directories in New Tab

Also, it has other roles like, opening a link in New Tab in browsers. etc.

Back and forth on Firefox browser

When you are in Firefox, you can swipe with two fingers, left or right to move back and forth in history.


Move back and forth in Firefox browse history

This will show you a guide arrow, while moving.

There are several other common actions along with the one described above. These actions are listed in the table below, for a quick reference.

Action Gestures
Default Left Click Single Tap
Right Click Two fingers Tap
Middle Click Three Fingers Tap
Drag Items Single Tap the item, and move fingers without lifting
Zoom In or Out Pinch or Stretch
Scroll a Page Two finger Move up or Down
Get Activities Overview Three Finger Swipe Up
Get Application dashboard Three Finger Swipe Up from Activities Overview
Switch Workspaces Three-Finger Swipe Left or Right
Open in New Tab Three Finger Tap (Middle Click)

Troubleshoot: Three finger gesture not working

Please ensure that you are:

  • Using GNOME 40 or higher version
  • Using Wayland display server

You can check the desktop environment version using a tool like Neofetch.

Similarly, please verify that you are using Wayland. To check, use the following command:


If it shows x11, you’ll have to switch to Wayland from Xorg. Save your work and log out of your system.

On the log in screen, click on your username. In the bottom-right corner, you’ll see a gear symbol. Click on it. You should see a few options like GNOME, GNOME Classic and GNOME on Xorg. Go with GNOME, which uses Wayland by default.

In my case, I had switched to the legacy Xorg display server instead of the default Wayland. I had to do this because no screen recorder would work with Wayland.

Choose between Xorg or Wayland Session from the GDM Login screen
Xorg or Wayland Session

After selecting that, enter your password and log into the system. You should have the three fingers gesture working again.

The three fingers swipe works only in Wayland by default. It can be used in X display server as well, but that requires some additional effort, and I’ll show that to you in the next section.

Pop!_OS has its gesture support, running in Xorg session.

Using three fingers gesture with Xorg and GNOME 38 and higher version

If, for some reason, you must use X display server (Xorg), you could still make the three fingers swipe work with some additional efforts.

You’ll need two things here:

This works not only on GNOME 40 but older versions like GNOME 38 and 36.

Install and enable Touchegg

Touchegg is a daemon that transforms the gestures you make on your touchpad or touchscreen into visible actions on your desktop.

If you are using Ubuntu or Debian, use the following commands to install it from the official PPA:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:touchegg/stable
sudo apt update
sudo apt install touchegg

If you are using Fedora, Red Hat or openSUSE, install it from the official copr:

sudo dnf copr enable jose_exposito/touchegg
sudo dnf install touchegg

Arch and Manjaro users can find it in the official repository. Install it using:

sudo pacman -Syu touchegg

Once installed, you should start the daemon:

sudo systemctl start touchegg

You should also make it start automatically at each boot:

sudo systemctl enable touchegg.service

With that done, you should go ahead and install the X11 Gestures extension.

Install and enable the X11 Gestures GNOME extension

I have written in detail about how to use GNOME extensions, so I am not going to repeat the steps here.

Go to the extension page and enable it:

Enable X11 Extensions from GNOME Shell Extensions website
X11 Extensions

Once you have enabled it, you can test the three-finger swipe immediately. No need to log out or restart.

There is a setting on this extension, where you can decide on the number of fingers you want to use for the swipe action. For this, go to the extension manager and then click on the gear icon corresponding to X11-gestures.

Click on gear Icon corresponding to X11-gestures extension to configure it
X11 Gestures Settings

In the Settings dialog, you can specify the number of fingers you would like to use (3 or 4).

Set number of fingers you need to use on X11-gestures settings
Specify Gestures Finger Number

That’s it. Enjoy GNOME 40+ to its fullest.

Bonus: Use Touché to customize X11 gestures

Touché is a neat tool you can use to customize touchpad/touchscreen gestures on GNOME running X11.

The settings created by this work on X11 and didn't give any result on GNOME running Wayland.

To install Touché, you need to have touchegg installed. Follow the tutorial in the previous section for that.

Once you have Touchegg installed and started, install Touché from Flathub.

flatpak install flathub com.github.joseexposito.touche

That's it. To make everything OK, just restart your system.

Now, login to X11 session.

Touché provides essential yet basic functionalities. Below is an overview of what it can do.

It's always a good idea to avoid adding different gesture actions to a single gesture. Unless you are sure you can manage all those different meanings.

When you open Touché, you will find three tabs like Swipe, Pinch, Tap. Here, the Tap functions are available only to touch screen devices.

Gesture Tabs on Touché
Gesture Tabs on Touché

Under the Swipe tab, you can see, there are gestures like three finger swipes, four-finger swipes etc. This is also present on the Pinch tab. You can configure these gestures, with various actions.

Add an action to a gesture

Go to the Global Gestures Tab and decide which gesture you want to use. Let’s say you would like to set four-finger swipe left to tile a window to the left side.

So, scroll down to 4-finger swipe, and enable the “Left” toggle button. Now, from the dropdown list, select the action called “Tile a Window”.

Select the action you want to do with a particular gesture from the dropdown menu, corresponding to that gesture
Select an Action for the Gesture
In the above screenshot, there are several entries on the dropdown menu. These are all the actions you can assign to gestures.

Now, you can select what direction to tile.

Set the direction to Tile the window.
Tile Window Direction

This secondary field appears according to your choice. Now, when you swipe left using 4-fingers, the current window will be tiled.

Swipe using 4 fingers to tile, as per the settings we have enabled
Swipe to Tile

Add a gesture to an application

Open the application to which you want to add a gesture. Now, click on the “+” button on the bottom left of Touché.

Click on the "plus" key on the bottom left of Touché. This will be used to add a new application to the list.
Click on the Plus Button

This will make the cursor a “+”. You can select the application by clicking on it.

Select the application by clicking on it.
Select Application

Once clicked on the application, that application name will now appear on the left sidebar. Select it from that and apply a gesture as we have seen above.

Add gesture action to an application. Here, Firefox have assigned two gestures, two-finger pinch inwards to minimize and two-finger pinch outwards to maximize.
Add Gesture Actions to an Application

Above, you can see, I have given a 2 finger pinch gesture to Firefox, which will minimize and maximize its window. Remember, this has no effect on other windows.

Add a gesture to a keyboard shortcut

First, go to the Global Gestures. Now, decide which gesture you want to assign as a keyboard shortcut. Toggle on those gestures you intend to use.

CTRL+L in Firefox will highlight the address bar for you. So, if you want to set that keyboard shortcut only to Firefox, then instead of selecting Global Gestures, select that particular application, in this case Firefox.

Now, select “Keyboard Shortcuts” from the dropdown menu.

Add a gesture to a particular key-combination. Here, the screenshot key (PrtScr) is assigned a gesture "Pinch inwards with four Fingers"
Add a Gesture to a Key Combination

Select the field below, and press the shortcut you want. Here, I have set “Pinch with four fingers” as a gesture for PrtScr key.

You can experiment with other fields like Animation, if you want a bit more effects to the gesture.

Add a gesture to a command

In this method, you can assign a particular command to a gesture. In the example below, I am using the “Four Finger Right Swipe” gesture to open Nautilus File Manager.

So, first toggle on that particular gesture. Now, select the “Execute a Command” option from the dropdown. This will give you a field to enter the command.

I have entered nautilus to open Nautilus File Manager.

This setting opened Nautilus very slow for me, on my Laptop. Also, there were some delay issues for me, while using this.
Add a gesture to execute a particular command. Here, "nautilus" command is assigned to "four-finger swipe right" gesture. It will open Nautilus File Manager, when used.
Add a Gesture to a Command

That’s it. You can now open Nautilus file manager by swiping right.


As you can see, the finger swipe gestures have their usefulness. From quickly moving between applications to switching between workspaces, it makes you feel more productive and powerful.

While most of it work with the newer Wayland, there are tools that will let you use it on the classic Xorg display server as well.

I have covered everything in detail and I hope you find it useful.

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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