GNOME Without Systemd
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GNOME Without Systemd (for Gentoo Linux et al.)¹

Note: Feel free to skip the introduction and go straight to Getting Started but if you intend to contact me, please read everything to make sure that your question hasn't already been answered.

¹ For details, see: Distributions based on Gentoo. ↩


For those not familiar with the matter, the state of GNOME is such that:

  • systemd is not a hard compile time dependency
  • systemd is a hard run time dependency for basic functionality

Basic functionality is what the GNOME team has decided includes:

  • power management
  • session tracking
  • lid close handling
  • log/event viewing
  • Wayland (in GNOME, not in general)

This means that right now, without applying any patches, you can run GNOME in two official conditions:

  1. GNOME with systemd and with basic functionality
  2. GNOME without systemd and without basic functionality¹

This project delivers:

  • GNOME without systemd and with basic functionality

For our purposes this means a dependency on OpenRC, ConsoleKit (or elogind) and UPower with Power Management Utilities (pm-utils) reintegrated (or elogind support).

Searching for information on this subject in places other than my official contributions on Gentoo Linux (e.g. forum topic #1022050) and Funtoo Linux (e.g. issues #1329, #1637 & #2485 and forum topic #263) will turn up information that is in many cases almost entirely dead wrong. So let me emphasize that this is indeed the full GNOME experience without systemd and with minimal divergence from the vanilla default.

The only feature which does not work is Wayland (unless you are using an elogind implementation).

¹ For details, see: "Basic" OpenRC Mode. ↩


Timeline Description Status
25 Jun 2015 Initial commits¹
16 Jul 2015 Official announcement (and support thread)
05 Jun 2018 Support thread (part 2)
20 Sep 2018 Last Gentoo Linux stage 3 tarball tested build passing with GCC Releases 4, 5, 6 & 7
29 Oct 2018 Documentation revision #278²

¹ See overlay commit history for GNOME 3.14 & 3.16. ↩

² Commit history is not displayed because updates mirror the effect of a git shallow clone with "--depth 1". ↩

GNOME Release Basic Functionality³ Quality of Life Improvements⁴ Grading⁵ Availability⁶
longterm 3.14 ConsoleKit & elogind 14 of 14 (100%) Gold 3.14.2
longterm 3.16 ConsoleKit & elogind 15 of 16 (~94%) Silver 3.16.2
longterm 3.18 ConsoleKit & elogind 15 of 16 (~94%) Silver 3.18.2
longterm 3.20 ConsoleKit & elogind 15 of 15 (100%) Gold 3.20.2
longterm 3.22 ConsoleKit & elogind 16 of 16 (100%) Silver 3.22.2
longterm 3.24 elogind 14 of 16 (~88%) Silver 3.24.2
longterm 3.26 elogind 14 of 16 (~88%) Bronze 3.26.2 (δ)
stable 3.28 elogind 15 of 17 (~88%) Bronze 3.28.2 (δ)
mainline 3.30 elogind 14 of 17 (~82%) Bronze 3.30.2 (δ)
maybe 3.32

³ Power management, session tracking and log/event viewing. ↩

These are optional patches which improve the GNOME experience. ↩

There are three classes of grading: "gold", superb; "silver", satisfactory; and "bronze", acceptable. Loosely speaking, three aspects are graded: accessibility, usability and stability. Each qualifying aspect gives a grade increase. If a GNOME release version is not "gold" and it is not considered "alpha" or "beta", it is lacking in one or multiple aspects.↩

Full GNOME release versions are in the form of MAJOR.MINOR.PATCH. For the purposes of this project, PATCH at: 0 is considered "alpha", 1 is considered "beta" and 2 or higher is considered "stable". A δ symbol denotes a state of active change. ↩


Note: Gentoo Linux users can choose to follow Sakaki's more detailed instructions (GNOME/GNOME Without systemd) for this project instead of continuing below. Likewise, there is also an excellent resource (Sakaki's EFI Install Guide) for those wanting to dual-boot with Windows 8+.

It is assumed you followed the Gentoo Handbook (or what's mentioned in relevant Derivatives section) and have a machine running with the default SysV-style OpenRC init system.

It is further assumed that you set VIDEO_CARDS and INPUT_DEVICES in /etc/portage/make.conf and configured the kernel accordingly for the following dependencies:

The remaining dependencies require no kernel configuration:

  • ConsoleKit (not ConsoleKit2) or elogind
  • D-Bus
  • UPower with Power Management Utilities (pm-utils) reintegrated or elogind support

All of the above packages are pulled in automatically. Relevant services will be activated in the Finishing Touches section.


  1. NVIDIA Drivers with Userspace VESA Framebuffer (uvesafb)

    Starting from version 358, the NVIDIA drivers are incompatible with the Userspace VESA Framebuffer (uvesafb) and will crash your system if you attempt to: (1) change between VTT and X, or (2) suspend or hibernate.

    You can work around the issue by switching from uvesafb to the EFI Framebuffer (efifb) with or without the Simple Framebuffer (simplefb). However, this also requires you to switch from a BIOS to a UEFI bootloader and depending on your hardware (especially your monitor) it may disable your high-resolution console.

    If you want to continue using uvesafb feel free to remain on the last working long-lived branch release of the NVIDIA drivers, 352.79 (25 Jan 2016). However, it is only compatible with Linux Kernel versions older than 4.5.


Incompatibilities (ConsoleKit)

  • ConsoleKit2

    ConsoleKit2 is supposed to be backwards compatible with ConsoleKit (which this project is based around) but this is not the case.

Incompatibilities (elogind)

  • NVIDIA Drivers with Wayland

    The nouveau drivers have better support.


Note: If you are using a Gentoo Linux derivative, now is a good time to check if there are any instructions related to getting started.

Last Release Tested Name Status¹
27 Aug 2018 Funtoo Linux Stage 3 Tarball build failing

¹ Derivatives that are build failing are considered to have broken compatibility with Gentoo Linux and are not supported. ↩

Preparing Overlays

Install Layman¹ (checking that the git USE flag is enabled or dev-vcs/git is separately installed):

emerge --ask layman

Add our repositories.xml file to Layman with nano -w /etc/layman/layman.cfg:

#  original unsigned lists and definitions
#  one url per line, indented

overlays  :

Update the cached remote list(s):

layman --fetch

If it went right it will say something similar to:

Fetching remote list,...
Remote list already up to date:
Last-modified: Sat, 01 Oct 2016 21:40:18 GMT
Fetching new list...
Last-modified: Mon, 03 Oct 2016 00:31:03 GMT
Fetch Ok

Warnings like "an installed db file was not found at" are okay if Layman previously had no cached remote list.

¹ If updating old (<=2.0) layman installations, see: Updating Old Layman Installations. ↩

Fetching Overlays

Note: You can add as many GNOME release overlays as you want (even all of them). Your profile selection will determine which one takes precedence.

Add the generic GNOME overlay:

layman --add dantrell-gnome

Add your preferred GNOME release overlay such as GNOME 3.28:

layman --add dantrell-gnome-3-28

In the future, to update all overlays, use:

layman --sync-all

Profile Selection

Note: If you do not select a profile, you are on your own.

There are two sets of bundled profiles:

  1. The "defaults" which globally turns on GNOME related USE flags.

  2. The "extended versions" which closely mirrors Gentoo's GNOME profile¹ and globally turns on USE flags which indirectly affect GNOME in addition to the defaults.

¹ For details, see: Differences Between GNOME Profiles. ↩

To list the bundled profiles use:

eselect profile list

The relevant output will look similar to:

[57]  dantrell-gnome:default/linux/amd64/13.0/desktop/gnome+plasma (stable)
[58]  dantrell-gnome:default/linux/amd64/17.0/desktop/gnome+plasma (stable)
[87]  dantrell-gnome-3-28:default/linux/amd64/13.0/desktop/gnome/3.28 (stable)
[88]  dantrell-gnome-3-28:default/linux/amd64/13.0/desktop/gnome/3.28/extended (stable)
[89]  dantrell-gnome-3-28:default/linux/amd64/17.0/desktop/gnome/3.28 (stable)
[90]  dantrell-gnome-3-28:default/linux/amd64/17.0/desktop/gnome/3.28/extended (stable)

Profile Selection (Gentoo Linux)

To expedite matters for a default install, use the bundled profile for either amd64:

eselect profile set dantrell-gnome-3-28:default/linux/amd64/17.0/desktop/gnome/3.28

or x86:

eselect profile set dantrell-gnome-3-28:default/linux/x86/17.0/desktop/gnome/3.28

Note: If you are using a Gentoo Linux derivative, now is a good time to check if there are any instructions related to profile selection.

Configuration (Optional GNOME Applications)

Even if you choose gnome instead of gnome-light in the Installation section, there are still some GNOME applications that won't be pulled in automatically. You can manage those through the USE flags on gnome-base/gnome-extra-apps with nano -w /etc/portage/package.use/gnome-extra-apps:

USE flag Default Release Version Supported¹ Description
anjuta ✘ No Install dev-util/anjuta (IDE)
bijiben ✔ Yes Install app-misc/bijiben (note editor)
boxes ✘ No Install gnome-extra/gnome-boxes (remote and virtual system manager)
builder ✘ No 3.16+ Install dev-util/gnome-builder (IDE)
california ✘ No Install gnome-extra/california (calendar)
empathy ✘ No Install net-im/empathy (chat client)
epiphany ✘ No Install www-client/epiphany (web browser)
evolution ✔ Yes Install mail-client/evolution (mail client)
flashback ✘ No (WIP) Install gnome-base/gnome-flashback (session and helper application)
fonts ✔ Yes Install media-fonts/{noto,symbola,unifont} to complement media-fonts/cantarell
games ✔ Yes Install GNOME Games (a collection of small five-minute games in a variety of styles and genres)
geary ✘ No Install mail-client/geary (mail client)
gnote ✘ No Install app-misc/gnote (note editor)
latexila ✘ No Install app-editors/latexila (integrated LaTeX environment)
multiwriter ✘ No 3.16+ Install gnome-extra/gnome-multi-writer (USB device writer)
recipes ✔ Yes 3.22+ Install gnome-extra/gnome-recipes (live cookbook)
share ✔ Yes Install gnome-extra/gnome-user-share (personal file sharing tool)
shotwell ✔ Yes Install media-gfx/shotwell (photo manager)
simple-scan ✘ No Install media-gfx/simple-scan (document scanning utility)
todo ✔ Yes 3.18+ Install gnome-extra/gnome-todo (task manager)
tracker ✔ Yes Install app-misc/tracker (search engine, search tool and metadata storage system)
usage ✔ Yes 3.28+ Install gnome-extra/gnome-usage (system resources)

¹ If no release version is specified then all available versions are supported. ↩

Configuration (Optional Quality of Life Improvements)

These are optional patches which aim to improve the GNOME experience and are mostly aesthetic and performant in nature. They can be managed through the deprecated* and vanilla* USE flags (to determine what flag does what check their classification) on the following packages:

Package Default Release Version Supported¹ Description
gnome-base/gnome-control-center ✔ Yes Disables automatic datetime and timezone options
✔ Yes Disables changing hostname
gnome-base/gnome-settings-daemon ✔ Yes 3.28+ Restores old timeout for user inactivity
gnome-base/gnome-shell ✔ Yes Restores old background code (avoids wallpaper corruption when resuming from suspend)
✔ Yes Forces more frequent garbage collection
✔ Yes Improves handling of motd when logging in (displays text in monospace and decreases the display time)
✔ Yes Improves handling of screen blanking (uses the "Blank Screen" time as the idle delay)
gnome-base/nautilus ✔ Yes 3.16 & 3.18 Improves icons (adds another zoom level)
✘ No 3.16 & 3.18 (Shelved) Use old icon grid and text width proportions (makes text labels in icon view warp at ~16 characters)
✔ Yes Reorder context menu (primarily places "Open In Terminal" below "Open in New Tab" and other extensions below "Open With")
✔ Yes Support slow double click to rename (triggers rename mode by clicking an icon twice with a pause in between)
✔ Yes 3.20+ Support alternative search (find without recursion by pressing CTRL + SHIFT + F)
✔ Yes 3.22+ Use old compress extension from File Roller instead of the native one
✔ Yes Use FFmpeg as the video thumbnailer instead of Totem
media-video/totem ✔ Yes Use FFmpeg as the video thumbnailer instead of Totem
x11-terms/gnome-terminal ✔ Yes Restores background transparency
✔ Yes Disables function keys (avoids clashes with command line utilities)
x11-themes/gnome-backgrounds ✔ Yes Replaces Adwaita live backgrounds (800x600) with the set from GNOME 3.10 (2560x1440)
x11-wm/mutter ✔ Yes Restores old background code (avoids wallpaper corruption when resuming from suspend)
✘ No Disables mipmapping (trades scaled and smoothed window previews for a measurable performance increase)

¹ If no release version is specified then all available versions are supported. ↩

Configuration (Wayland)

Note: This step is necessary since X is the default and Wayland requires the elogind implementation.

Assuming all other conditions are met, you can enable Wayland with nano -w /etc/portage/make.conf:

USE="${USE} -ck elogind"
USE="${USE} egl wayland"


Regardless of whether GNOME is already installed or not, upgrade all installed packages, dependencies, and deep dependencies that are outdated or have USE flag changes (avoiding unnecessary rebuilds when USE changes have no impact):

emerge --ask --update --deep --changed-use --with-bdeps=y @world

This step is necessary to switch to my forks of certain packages. As an added bonus, if you already have GNOME installed, it should just Do The Right Thing™.


Note: Build failures are possible if you have parallelism enabled. In such cases, re-issue the previous command.

Proceed with either:

emerge --ask --keep-going gnome


emerge --ask --keep-going gnome-light

Finishing Touches

Note: The following commands assume you want a GUI-based login and NetworkManager support.

Configure xdm with nano -w /etc/conf.d/xdm:

# We always try and start X on a static VT. The various DMs normally default
# to using VT7. If you wish to use the xdm init script, then you should ensure
# that the VT checked is the same VT your DM wants to use. We do this check to
# ensure that you haven't accidentally configured something to run on the VT
# in your /etc/inittab file so that you don't get a dead keyboard.

# What display manager do you use ?  [ xdm | gdm | kdm | gpe | entrance ]
# NOTE: If this is set in /etc/rc.conf, that setting will override this one.

Allow users to manage devices:

getent group plugdev && gpasswd -a <username> plugdev

Allow users to run games which reside in /usr/games/bin/:

getent group games && gpasswd -a <username> games

Configure services:

rc-update del dhcpcd default

rc-update add NetworkManager default
rc-update add dbus default
rc-update add xdm default

Finishing Touches (ConsoleKit)

Configure services:

rc-update add acpid default
rc-update add consolekit default

rc && exit

Finishing Touches (elogind)

Configure services:

rc-update add elogind boot

rc && exit

Finishing Touches (text-based login)

Configure autostart (startup applications) with nano -w ~/.xprofile:


Finishing Touches (text-based login with ConsoleKit)

Configure startx (or anything that calls xinit) with nano -w ~/.xinitrc:

# Fix Missing Applications in GNOME
export XDG_MENU_PREFIX=gnome-

# Properly Launch the Desired X Session
exec ck-launch-session gnome-session

Finishing Touches (text-based login with elogind)

Configure startx (or anything that calls xinit) with nano -w ~/.xinitrc:

# Fix Missing Applications in GNOME
export XDG_MENU_PREFIX=gnome-

# Properly Launch the Desired X Session
exec gnome-session


Update all overlays (and fetch new ones):

layman --sync-all

Add your preferred GNOME release overlay:

layman --add dantrell-gnome-3-28

Set your profile to your preferred GNOME release:

eselect profile set dantrell-gnome-3-28:default/linux/amd64/17.0/desktop/gnome/3.28

Upgrade all installed packages, dependencies, and deep dependencies that are outdated or have USE flag changes (avoiding unnecessary rebuilds when USE changes have no impact):

emerge --ask --update --deep --changed-use --with-bdeps=y @world

Clean dependencies:

emerge --ask --depclean


Note: The overlays do some of their work even if you don't use one of the bundled profiles so if you don't want to delete them, you must dereference them.

Start with either:

emerge --ask --unmerge gnome


emerge --ask --unmerge gnome-light

Remove all of the project overlays:

layman --delete dantrell-gnome
layman --delete dantrell-gnome-3-28

Switch profiles:

eselect profile list
eselect profile set <target>

Update @world:

emerge --ask --update --deep --changed-use --with-bdeps=y @world

Clean dependencies:

emerge --ask --depclean


  • Sleep and Shutdown Hooks:

    Implementation Sleep Shutdown
    ConsoleKit /etc/pm/sleep.d /etc/pm/sleep.d
    elogind-227.* /lib/elogind/system-sleep /lib/elogind/system-shutdown
    elogind-234.0+ /usr/lib/elogind/system-sleep /usr/lib/elogind/system-shutdown

External Resources