And, in theory, this should apply to other software as well, but don’t get mad at me if something goes terribly wrong….

As we have discussed before, in Linux, everything is a file. Your monitor, your scanner, your dog, whatever. Some, perhaps most, of those “files” are actual files, which means you can delete them.

Settings for software that you use in your account tends to be hidden in dot files (files that start with “.”) in your home directory. Or folders . For Gnome, many of these settings are stored in .gconf or similar folders that contain files that are accessed by the gconfig utility. Also, a lot of what Gnome seems to be is actually “metacity,” which is a windows manager.

So, to reset back to the default values, you just find the hidden configuration files and delete them. Then, when you restart your session, they will be magically re-generated using default values. Probably.

A piece in Linux Journal gives this suggested line of code:

rm -rf .gnome .gnome2 .gconf .gconfd .metacity

and that should work nicely. But, your mialage may vary (I hate that term almost as much as I hate “just type in something like this…” followed by some esoteric code.)

Playing around with stuff like this is why you should always have a second computer on hand that has no important function. You can play around deleting dot files and see what happens, and the worst case scenario is that you are installing a new distro. And that’s always fun!


  1. #1 John S.
    August 1, 2010

    Without a second computer on which to try this, create another account. Copy the entire home directory of your “real” account into the home directory of the new one. Try the procedure in the throwaway account, and if everything works there, you’ll be a little more confident about doing it for real.

    By the way, what are the possible bad results? I bet it’s nothing that would require reinstallation.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    August 1, 2010

    Good idea bout the second account.

    The bad result of randomly deleting dot folders and files would be losing data stored in them, like your email. Deleting these gconfig files can’t be bad, but other dot files have important stuff in them sometimes.

  3. #3 D. C. Sessions
    August 1, 2010

    Deleting these gconfig files can’t be bad, but other dot files have important stuff in them sometimes.

    Deleting dot files is usually not too bad, but dot directories can contain amazing amounts of stuff — like, for instance, your address book and calendar, stored as ordinary files in a dot directory.

    A good example is ~/.mozilla/firefox/$USER/* which includes your bookmarks, cookie exceptions, stored passwords, stored cookies, browser history, …

  4. #4 Dan Chen
    August 1, 2010

    An interesting idea that I’ve been using for a while is to keep $HOME in a version control system like bzr or git. That way if you nuke something in .gnome or .gconf, you simply logout, revert the commit, and login again.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    August 1, 2010

    Dan, I was thinking about keeping $HOME in a dropbox folder on more than one computer. Dropbox does not recommend it, but they are unclear as to why. I think it is just really scary .

  6. #6 Lowell Gilbert
    August 2, 2010

    Even better than using a VCS for $HOME is using a filesystem with snapshots. I still keep a number of things in VCS, but for most files and directories, I would never want an old version except for immediately after doing something stupid.

  7. #7 Mal Adapted
    August 2, 2010

    …your mialage may vary…

    I hate that phrase too. What does it mean?

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    August 2, 2010

    It means I just told you something that sounds useful but really isn’t.

    (It comes from old car commercials which would claim mileage for their cars, then stick this on at the end.)