Installing and Optimizing Xfce on Arch Linux: The Complete Guide – TheLinuxCode (2024)

If you‘re looking for a fast, lightweight, and customizable Linux desktop environment, Xfce is an excellent choice. Xfce offers a traditional user interface with modern features, lower overhead than heavier desktops like GNOME and KDE, and extreme flexibility to tweak the user experience exactly how you want.

In this comprehensive 2500+ word guide, you‘ll learn how to:

  • Set up an Arch Linux base system
  • Install Xfce and all required components
  • Customize the look, feel, layout, and behavior of the desktop
  • Optimize Xfce for the best performance and efficiency
  • Troubleshoot any issues that may arise
  • Optionally remove and switch between desktop environments

So if you‘re ready to enjoy the speedy, customizable Xfce desktop on your Arch Linux install, let‘s get started! This guide will walk you through the process from start to finish.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction to Xfce
  • Preparing Arch Linux
  • Installing Xfce
    • Required Packages
    • Display Manager
    • Enabling the Graphical Target
  • Configuring and Customizing Xfce
    • First Run Wizard
    • Appearance
    • Themes
    • Icons
    • Wallpapers
    • Panels
      • Items
      • Sizing
      • Positioning
    • Desktop Layouts
    • Keyboard Shortcuts
    • Window Manager
  • Optimizing and Tuning Xfce
    • Reducing Graphical Overhead
    • Limiting Background Processes
    • Adjusting Settings
    • Monitoring Usage
  • Troubleshooting Help
    • Display Issues
    • Broken Configurations
    • Debugging Steps
    • Log Files
  • Removing or Switching Desktops
  • Conclusion

Introduction to Xfce

Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment built with modularity, customization, and minimal system resource usage in mind. It aims to provide a familiar user experience similar to classic Unix systems while still supporting modern features and workflows.

Some key advantages of Xfce include:

  • Speed and Lightweight – Uses significantly less CPU, RAM, GPU resources than heavier DEs
  • Customizable – Extremely flexible interface with easy point-and-click customization
  • Traditional Layout – Classic desktop metaphor with minimize/maximize buttons
  • Great Performance – Excellent for slower hardware or low resource single-board computers
  • Easy to Use – Intuitive interface for Linux beginners and power users alike

Xfce was created in 1996 as a clone of another DE called CDE. Over the past 20+ years, Xfce has evolved to support modern Linux technologies while preserving itsUNIX philosophy roots of "do one thing well" and modularity. The current version is Xfce 4 which was first released in 2015.

Now let‘s look at how to get Xfce running on the lightweight and flexible Arch Linux distribution!

Preparing Arch Linux

Before installing Xfce, you‘ll want an up-to-date Arch Linux base system with a regular user account configured.

If you already have Arch installed, make sure to update it before proceeding:

sudo pacman -Syu

Then create a new user account with sudo privileges:

sudo useradd -m myusersudo passwd myuser sudo EDITOR=nano visudo# Uncomment line:%wheel ALL=(ALL) ALLsudo usermod -aG wheel myuser

I strongly recommended installing Xfce or any DE as a regular user rather than logging in as root.

Finally, ensure the systemd unit is enabled so you automatically boot into the GUI:

sudo systemctl set-default

With those preliminaries out of the way, you have a solid Arch foundation to install Xfce on top of.

Installing Xfce

The next step is installing the Xfce desktop itself along with a display manager to handle the graphical login screen.

Required Packages

To install Xfce, you need to download two main packages with pacman:

sudo pacman -S xfce4 xfce4-goodies

This pulls in the core Xfce desktop itself (xfce4) along with extra plugins, utilities, and config tools (xfce4-goodies).

Some key packages included are:

  • xfdesktop – The desktop manager and wallpaper setter
  • xfwm4 – Xfce window manager
  • xfce4-panel – The panel which holds app launchers, clock, system tray, etc
  • xfce4-session – Session manager and start scripts
  • thunar – File manager
  • ristretto – Image viewer
  • xfce4-settings – Central settings app and utilities

Display Manager

You‘ll also want a display manager to start Xfce and handle the graphical login screen. Some options are LightDM, GDM, SDDM, and Ly.

For this guide, we‘ll use LightDM for its lightweight footprint:

sudo pacman -S lightdm lightdm-gtk-greeter

And enable it:

sudo systemctl enable lightdm

LightDM will automatically detect and display Xfce as a available session.

Enabling the Graphical Target

Finally, enable the systemd unit if you haven‘t already:

sudo systemctl set-default

This ensures you boot directly into the graphical desktop rather than the console.

Reboot your system and you should see the LightDM greeter! Enter your username and password to log into Xfce.

Configuring and Customizing Xfce

When you first login, you‘ll be prompted to configure your desktop layout. Feel free to customize as desired during the wizard.

Some options are:

  • Number of workspaces
  • Default wallpaper
  • Panel placement (top, bottom, edges)
  • Placement of menu/icons on panel

First Run Wizard

Installing and Optimizing Xfce on Arch Linux: The Complete Guide – TheLinuxCode (1)

You can always change these later in the Settings app.

Speaking of settings, let‘s explore all the ways you can customize Xfce‘s appearance and behavior.


The Appearance settings allow changing the entire Xfce theme, which includes:

  • Window decorations
  • Widget style
  • Icons
  • Fonts
  • Cursor theme

Xfce‘s compositor handles visual effects like transparency. I recommend disabling compositing if you don‘t need effects for max efficiency.

Installing and Optimizing Xfce on Arch Linux: The Complete Guide – TheLinuxCode (2)


To install new themes, grab the xfwm4-themes package which provides additional options like Adapta, Arc, and more:

sudo pacman -S xfwm4-themes

Some of my favorite Xfce themes are:

  • Adapta – modern flat theme with nice blues
  • Arc – popular theme with transparent elements
  • Matcha – combines light and dark elements
  • Vimix – colorful flat theme
  • Zukitwo – Netflix-inspired red theme

Try out a few to find one that suits your tastes!


Along with the theme, you can set a custom icon set under Icons settings. Some icon options to checkout:

  • Papirus – Material/flat icons
  • Numix – bright colorful circle icons
  • Moka – softer colored icons

Arc and Papirus are some of my personal favorites.


To set a desktop wallpaper, head to the Desktop settings and click the Wallpaper tab. You can even have different wallpapers per workspace!

I suggest checking out sites like and for tons of cool Xfce-compatible wallpapers.

Or take a screenshot of your own to really customize your desktop!


No Xfce desktop is complete without the panel. This bar holds app launchers, widgets, the system tray, clock and more.

Right click the panel and select Panel > Panel Preferences to open settings.


You can add or remove panel items like:

  • Workspace switcher
  • App menu
  • Clock
  • Weather plugin
  • Notifications
  • Clipboard manager
  • Media player controls
  • Whisker menu

This allows incredible flexibility in your panel setup. Add widgets you use often for quick access.


Under the Size settings, you can:

  • Set a fixed size like 24px or 50px
  • Let the panel autohide
  • Set it to expand automatically when hovered over
  • Position it vertically for a more unified look


Panels can live on the top, bottom, left or right edges. Add multiple panels to divide up your widgets.

For example, have a small top panel for the clock and tray, and a wider bottom panel for launching apps.

Desktop Layouts

Xfce offers a few built-in desktop layouts to auto-organize your shortcuts and icons:

  • Traditional vertical
  • Horizontal
  • Clean chart-style
  • Distributed tree
  • Centered grid

Set these under the Desktop tab of Settings.

I‘m a fan of the traditional layout with items aligned vertically for quick access. But explore and see which works for your workflow!

Keyboard Shortcuts

For power users, setting custom keyboard shortcuts can greatly speed up common actions.

Go to the Keyboard tab in Settings and click the shortcuts you want to customize. Some useful ones are:

  • Switch workspaces: Ctrl + Alt + ←/→
  • Launch terminal: Ctrl + Alt + Enter
  • Launch app menu: Ctrl + Esc
  • Maximize window: Super + ↑
  • Minimize window Super + ↓
  • Close window: Alt + F4

The possibilities are endless for creating your own shortcut combinations to be more efficient.

Window Manager

By default Xfce uses the xfwm4 window manager. But advanced users can swap in a tiling window manager like i3 or bspwm for more efficiency:

  1. Install your preferred tiling window manager
  2. Go to Settings > Session and Startup
  3. Select the tiling WM as the window manager

Now you‘ll have tiling support alongside the rest of the Xfce desktop!

Optimizing and Tuning Xfce

Even though Xfce is lightweight out of the box, you can tune and slim it down even more for the absolute fastest performance.

Reducing Graphical Overhead

The full xfwm4 compositor adds transparency and effects at the cost of using more system resources.

Switching to a basic window manager like openbox removes graphical overhead:

sudo pacman -S openbox# Then select openbox as your window manager

Also, be sure to disable compositing in Xfce‘s settings if you don‘t need it.

Limiting Background Processes

Some services like Bluetooth may start automatically even if unused. Prevent them from running with:

sudo systemctl disable bluetooth.service

Adjusting Settings

Tune options like disabling overlay scrollbars, animations, opaque dragging, and more in the Settings app.

Also consider lowering timeouts for actions like hover tooltips.

Monitoring Usage

Use performance monitoring tools like glances and htop to identify processes that consume large amounts of CPU, RAM, or disk. Then optimize them further.

For example, limit pacman‘s CPU usage when downloading updates:

cpulimit -p pacman -l 20

Troubleshooting Help

Like any Linux distro, you may encounter issues getting Xfce up and running. Here are some common problems and their solutions.

Display Issues

If Xfce fails to start properly, you may just see your wallpaper but no panels, icons, or right-click menu. This is often caused by the xfdesktop or xfwm4 components crashing.

First, log out and log back in, selecting the Xfce session again before signing in. This restart often resolves temporary issues.

If problems persist, check the LightDM and Xorg logs in /var/log for error messages that could indicate the source. Reinstalling xfdesktop and xfwm4 can also help.

Broken Configurations

If you customized something incorrectly, it may prevent Xfce from loading properly. Rename the config folder to reset:

mv ~/.config/xfce4 ~/.config/xfce4-backup

This will revert to the default settings so you can pinpoint what went wrong.

Debugging Steps

General debugging tips for Xfce issues:

  • Try restarting the LightDM service with sudo systemctl restart lightdm
  • Scan the Xorg log at /var/log/Xorg.0.log for crash messages
  • Read the LightDM log at /var/log/lightdm/lightdm.log for login errors
  • Monitor dmesg output for GPU, driver, or rendering issues
  • Reinstall packages like xfdesktop if files are corrupted

Log Files

Some key log files to consult:

  • /var/log/Xorg.0.log – X server and GPU/driver issues
  • /var/log/lightdm/lightdm.log – Display manager failures
  • ~/.xsession-errors – Xfce session errors and crashes
  • /var/log/pacman.log – Package manager messages
  • ~/.cache/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xsettings.xml – Xfce settings issues

Hopefully these troubleshooting tips will help resolve any Xfce problems! The Arch and Xfce wikis contain even more detailed debugging procedures.

Removing or Switching Desktops

If you ever want to uninstall Xfce or switch to another DE entirely, that process is quick and easy on Arch.

To remove Xfce, just delete the main packages:

sudo pacman -R xfce4 xfce4-goodies

Then delete the config files if desired:

rm -r ~/.config/xfce4

You‘ll be left with the base Arch system to install another DE.

Or if keeping Xfce, you can install multiple desktops and select the desired one from the LightDM greeter before signing in.

No need to remove Xfce entirely!


In this 2500+ word guide, you learned how to:

  • Prepare an Arch Linux base system
  • Install the lightweight Xfce 4 desktop environment
  • Customize the user interface and layout
  • Optimize performance by reducing overhead
  • Troubleshoot issues like display failures
  • Optionally remove or switch between desktops

Xfce is an excellent choice for Linux users seeking a fast, customizable, traditional desktop experience. Its modular design empowers you to shape your ideal working environment.

I hope this comprehensive guide covered everything you need to start enjoying Xfce on Arch Linux! Let me know if any part needs more explanation or if you run into snags setting up your system. I‘m happy to help you get up and running with this fantastic desktop.

Thanks for following along! Enjoy your speedy new Xfce desktop.

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Installing and Optimizing Xfce on Arch Linux: The Complete Guide – TheLinuxCode (2024)


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