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Building Xfce from source

To compile a complete Xfce desktop from source requires some information about the dependency chain and the various configure options available in each module. This page will describe this in detail, so you can compile your own Xfce desktop; both system wide as well as in your $HOME directory.

Choosing your Xfce version

First you will need to decide on which version of Xfce that you want to compile. Xfce version numbers are constructed like this: 1.2.3 ⇒ major.minor.micro. If the minor version is an even number, this means that it is a stable release. An odd numbered minor version indicate a development, or testing snapshots. The micro number increases with each release. Also, it is recommended to keep the major.minor version the same for the core components (some packages don't follow those numbers) or there will most likely be dependency version problems during compilation.

The latest releases available can be found on the download page. You can also build from the source repositories if you have enough experience. Additional information about this is provided below.

Obtaining the Xfce source code

Once you have decided which version that you want to compile, there are a couple of ways to download the source code. You can either choose to build official released packages, or clone the source repositories. Choosing the released packages is the recommended option. The source repositories could possibly be broken and are not generally suitable for production environments. However, they always contain the latest features, bug fixes and translations.

If you are not sure which to choose, it is easiest to begin with the latest stable fat-tarball of a collection release.

Released packages

Xfce packages have two types of releases: collection releases and individual releases. Click the links below to open the relevant download location.

  • Collection releases of the core modules
    From time to time a new collection release of Xfce is made. A collection release consists of a number of individual tarballs and a fat-tarball that contains all of the individual tarballs.
    The collection releases always contains the correct versions needed to build the other packages in the release. If you want the latest version of each package, you can start with a collection release and then look for individual bug fix releases, explained in the item below.
  • Individual releases
    Each package in Xfce is allowed to make development and stable releases at any time, see the release model documentation for more information.

From the code repository

For the latest code, you need to make local copies of the GIT repositories. This is the place where developers submit their code. If you decide to use GIT, try to use the same branch for all the packages to avoid dependency version problems.

For additional information about using Git with Xfce, see the Xfce and git information page.

You first need to make clones of each GIT repository, like the command below, where $category is for example xfce and $module xfce4-panel. If you click on a module in the online repository list, the clone uri is shown at the bottom of the page.

git clone https://gitlab.xfce.org/$category/$module

After the repository is cloned, you will need to choose which branch you want to compile. By default, the master branch is selected, but there are also branches for stable releases like xfce-4.18. The stable branches contain the latest bug fixes without any major new features, the master branch is the development version for the next release of Xfce. Both should not be used in a production environment.

To switch to another branch (git branch -a lists all available branches) run the following command inside the cloned directory to switch to, for example, the xfce-4.18 branch:

git checkout --track origin/xfce-4.18

After this, you can update your local copy of the repository with git pull and switch to another branch with git checkout $branchname. Read the GIT manuals for more information about using GIT.

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Xfce Dependencies explained

Build requirements

Before you can start compiling, you need a couple of packages that are required to compile Xfce. Use your distributions package manager to install those packages. Additional packages are required too for some modules, but we'll get to that later.

For history, here are the versions needed for older Xfce releases:

  • Xfce 4.16 requires Gtk+ 3.22 and Glib 2.50
  • Xfce 4.14 requires Gtk+ 3.22 and Glib 2.42
  • Xfce 4.12 requires Gtk+ 2.24 and Glib
  • Xfce 4.10 requires Gtk+ 2.20 and Glib 2.24
  • Xfce 4.8 requires Gtk+ 2.14 and Glib 2.20
  • Xfce 4.6 requires Gtk+ 2.10 and Glib 2.12

Xfce's dependency chain

The Xfce packages need to be built in a specific order. If you don't follow this, compile options might not be available or the configure stage will abort because of missing dependencies.

  • xfce4-dev-tools (only required if you build from GIT)
  • libxfce4util
  • xfconf
  • libxfce4ui
  • garcon, exo
  • thunar
  • xfce4-panel, xfce4-settings, xfce4-session, xfdesktop, xfwm4, xfce4-appfinder, tumbler…

Package specific dependencies

Some core packages in Xfce have additional or optional dependencies, all are listed in the table below for the latest stable version. We only show the top-dependency (so xfce4-panel also requires gtk+, but libxfce4ui already depends on that).

Note that some of the package-names may vary between distributions.
Dependency(-ies) Optional Dependency(-ies)
xfce4-dev-tools autoconf, automake, intltool, pkgconfig
libxfce4util glib2
xfconf libxfce4util, gdbus
libxfce4ui libxfce4util, gtk+, xfconf, glibtop libstartup-notification, libgladeui
garcon gio, libxfce4util
exo libxfce4util, gtk+, perl-uri, libxfce4ui
xfce4-panel libxfce4ui, exo, garcon, libwnck libstartup-notification
thunar libxfce4ui, exo, libpng, gtk+, glib libexif, gdbus, libnotify, libstartup-notification, freetype, libjpeg, libxfce4panel, xfconf
xfce4-settings libxfce4ui, exo, xfconf, gdbus, libXi, libXrandr libXcursor, libnotify
xfce4-session libxfce4ui, perl-xml-parser, libwnck, gdbus
xfwm4 libxfce4util, libxfce4ui, libxfconf, gdbus, libwnck libstartup-notification
xfdesktop libxfce4ui, xfconf, libwnck, exo garcon thunarx, garcon, libnotify
xfce4-appfinder libxfce4ui, garcon, gio
tumbler dbus-glib, gio, gmodule, gdk-pixbuf freetype-config (fonts), jpeg (jpeg thumbnails from exif), libffmpegthumbnailer (video), gstreamer-1.0 (video), poppler-glib (pdf), libgsf (odf), libopenraw-gnome (various raw images)

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Building the packages

Installation location and variables

Now it is finally time to start compiling the Xfce desktop. Last remaining thing is to choose an installation location. Possible examples are /usr, /usr/local and /opt/xfce4 for a system-wide installation or $HOME/local if you want to install in your home directory (whatever you choose, never put spaces in the name). We will refer to this location as ${PREFIX} in the code examples below!

You need to make sure the PKG_CONFIG_PATH variable include the path to the *.pc files installed by the Xfce libraries:

export PKG_CONFIG_PATH="${PREFIX}/lib/pkgconfig:$PKG_CONFIG_PATH"

You can also set some optimization flags for the compiler. This may speed up Xfce, but can also make debugging impossible on some systems. Even worse, this can also cause gcc to generate broken code, so be careful with this. The line below should be safe for most system.

export CFLAGS="-O2 -pipe"

If you want a debugging environment, unset the CFLAGS and use --enable-debug, see below for the different debug levels.

export CFLAGS=""

Compiling and installing

Next step is compiling the various packages following the dependency chain above. If you have downloaded the tarballs, you will need to unpack them before going on. Inside each package directory you should run the following command:

./configure --prefix=${PREFIX} && make && make install

To build from GIT you need to install the xfce4-dev-tools package first, all other packages should be installed with this command:

./autogen.sh --prefix=${PREFIX} && make && make install

Specific configure options for each package can be shown with ./configure --help. Note that most packages will see a performance benefit if passed the configure option --disable-debug.

However, if you want to provide backtraces or test new code, no $CFLAGS, no binary stripping and --enable-debug=full are recommended. Please note that --disable-debug is not available for xfce4-dev-tools.

When reusing the ./configure script while building from GIT remember to pass the flag --enable-maintainer-mode.

If you install the package in a public prefix, for example /usr or /usr/local, you will need to run make install using sudo. This way, you will be asked for the system administrator password and will have write permissions to install in those locations.

sudo make install

Understanding Debug levels

Most Xfce modules use the m4 macro XDT_FEATURE_DEBUG to manage the debug compiler levels. If so there are a number of options possible for --enable-debug=

Cast checks and asserts in the Glib macros are disabled, this might be a tad faster, but it can results in segfaults and unexpected crashes.
This is the same as --disable-debug. No additional compiler options are added, but checks in Glib are not disabled. This is the recommended level for users and distributions.
A number of $CFLAGS are set to check the code for different errors. During configure you'll see all the options are tested to avoid binaries that do not work.
Same as the level above, including -Werror so the compilers aborts during compiler errors. The compiler will also generate binaries with debug information suitable for backtraces and memory checks. This is the recommended level for developers or users who want to report bugs.

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Finding additional Help

Hopefully everything went fine after reading this guide. If you still have problems or questions you can ask on the Xfce users mailing list, the forum or ask distribution related questions on their forums and mailing lists.

Have fun building Xfce!

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