How to Refresh Your Linux Desktop Without Rebooting

Austin Luong 08-06-2017

You’re probably using a desktop environment along with Linux. Whether it’s an extra lightweight one or more fully fledged, you’ll need one if you want to run graphical applications. Sure, you could try running everything in the terminal, but that’s just silly.


But what happens when your desktop kicks up a fuss? The panels lock, glitch up, or decide not to respond? Shut down the computer? Okay, that’s actually a really good idea, but there are alternatives — and no, it doesn’t involve getting a new desktop. Instead, you can just refresh it.

Why Refresh the Desktop?

The thing about rebooting your computer is it takes more time than it should. Refreshing the desktop means you’re only restarting a few programs (though slightly heavy ones). If you don’t want to lose any progress with your currently running software, it can also be quite inconvenient.

Refreshing also makes receiving updates to the desktop more seamless. For example, my Plasma desktop has recently gone through some changes, which only showed after starting it again.

Plus, there are also things that shutting down can’t solve. Glitches in your desktop due to tweaking settings won’t go away on their own for example. You need to do a bit more than that.

1. Cinnamon

Some desktop environments make it easier than others to refresh. Cinnamon is one of them, having the function built in, and quite easy to find. It’s a fairly simple matter as well — no command line An A-Z of Linux - 40 Essential Commands You Should Know Linux is the oft-ignored third wheel to Windows and Mac. Yes, over the past decade, the open source operating system has gained a lot of traction, but it’s still a far cry from being considered... Read More required.


Right click on any of Cinnamon’s desktop panels. Make sure you’re not selecting any applets on the panel accidentally (it won’t show if that’s the case). You’ll see a drop down menu which will let you modify Cinnamon in a number of ways, including restarting it. Select Troubleshoot > Restart Cinnamon.

linux cinnamon refresh

If you’re a fan of keyboard shortcuts, you’re in luck. Cinnamon can do it that way as well. Just hold down Ctrl + Alt + Esc and the desktop will be refreshed. Keep in mind that this is exclusive to Cinnamon (e.g. on KDE KDE Explained: A Look at Linux's Most Configurable Desktop Interface What does Linux look like? Sometimes, Unity; other times, GNOME. Oftentimes, though, Linux runs KDE. If you're not using the erstwhile K Desktop Environment on your Linux PC, now is the time to change! Read More , it lets you kill an application).

Your desktop will blank out for a moment, then refresh itself. It also hopefully means any problems before it will go away. Nice and simple.


If you’ve been fiddling with Cinnamon’s applets Spice Up Your Cinnamon Themes – It's Easy! Ever wanted to customize your Linux desktop, but just couldn't find that one perfect theme? If Cinnamon is your current desktop environment, creating your own theme is easy to learn. Read More , you might also want to reset it to its default panel settings. This can be especially helpful if you’re experimenting with less supported extensions. It’s possible they might have introduced some instability to your desktop.

This is easy enough to fix. Right click on any empty part of Cinnamon’s panels. Then go to Troubleshoot > Restore all settings to default.

linux cinnamon settings

2. Unity

While the Unity desktop is no longer going to be used by default future Ubuntu releases, it’s not going to disappear overnight. After all, if people are comfortable with it, it’s not likely they’ll change.


While it’s quite easy to restart the Unity desktop, you still need to open the terminal to do it. Having done this, simply type in this command:


You could also just hit Alt + F2 and type in the command from there if you wanted.

linux unity refresh launcher

If you like, you could also try setting it as a keyboard shortcut for ease of use. Just go to System Menu > System Settings > Keyboard > Shortcuts and use whatever key combination you like.


3. Gnome

Resetting the desktop has another benefit under Gnome. When installing extensions to improve it, you might find that the change doesn’t always happen instantly. Refreshing Gnome can help solve this problem. Like Cinnamon, there are two ways to do this: either from the command line or the desktop.

For the terminal, enter in this command:

gnome-shell --replace & disown

The last parts of the command are very important. Without them, if you close the terminal, your desktop will stop working. This way, the shell will continue running in the background.

linux gnome refresh

If you’d rather something a bit less strict, you can always refresh Gnome graphically. To do this, press Alt + F2, and in the input that appears, type in r, then Enter.

linux gnome desktop refresh

It seems to be a cleaner way to restart the desktop as well. There are no graphical glitches while it refreshes, for example.

4. KDE Plasma

KDE’s Plasma desktop is known for its extreme flexibility. It’s yours to mold as you see fit Make Linux Look Like macOS With These Easy Tweaks If you like Linux but want it to look more like macOS, you're in luck! Here's how to make your Linux desktop look like macOS. Read More . As a result of this though, this can make getting things done a little bit tougher for the untrained eye. Refreshing the desktop is no exception.

Unlike Gnome, you’ll need to use the terminal to restart Plasma. Enter in this command below:

kquitapp5 plasmashell && kstart5 plasmashell

This will stop and start the desktop in a single line. It might take a few seconds for it to refresh, so be patient.

linux kde plasma shell refresh

If you’re using a lot of custom Plasma applets Widgets on Linux: 5 Plasma Applets You Should Try Out KDE's Plasma desktop offers a flexible Linux experience, you can even make it look like Windows or macOS, thanks to a bunch of excellent applets and widgets like these. Read More , you might want to reset your settings if you find it causes some instability. To do this, you’ll need to delete (or rename) the plasma-org.kde.plasma.desktop-appletsrc file located in your ~/.config folder. Or just enter this command:

mv ~/.config/plasma-org.kde.plasma.desktop-appletsrc old-configuration

linux plasma default refresh

Don’t forget to restart the desktop to see your changes!

5. Xfce

The Xfce desktop environment The Best Lean Linux Desktop Environment: LXDE vs. Xfce vs. MATE Tweaking your choice of Linux desktop environment can speed things up a lot. Here we look at three options: LXQt, Xfce, and MATE. Read More prides itself on being lightweight yet flexible. This shows in the way you go about refreshing it. It’s a two-step affair: restarting the panels and the window manager.

Enter this command:

xfce4-panel -r && xfwm4 --replace

As you can see, it’s basically just two commands strung together. You could type them in separately if you wanted to.

linux xfce refresh

However, this might not be enough to fix your desktop. For example, if you fiddled around with Xfce’s appearance until it crashed, restarting it probably won’t help. In this case, it might be best to restore it to its default state.

Xfce stores its settings in a group of configuration files. However, it provides you with an easy way of accessing them, so you don’t need to touch them directly. This comes in the form of a settings editor app. To launch it, type in this command:


linux xfce default refresh

From there, it’s easy to reset Xfce’s panel settings: all you need to do is right click on the entries you want and select Reset. Don’t forget to reset the panel afterwards!

xfce4-panel -r

It’s also possible to do this entirely in the command line using the xfconf-query tool. It’s basically just the settings editor in the terminal. To reset the Xfce panel settings, enter in these commands:

xfconf-query -c xfce4-panel -p / -R -r

xfce4-panel -r

linux xfce default refresh terminal

Basically, any options under the xfce4-panel group will be removed (hence the -R -r option), leaving the defaults once you restart the desktop.


Like Xfce, LXDE is one of the lighter desktop environments out there. This also means the only way to refresh it is through the command line.

To do so, you need to refresh two components of the desktop at once: the panels and the window manager. Traditionally, LXDE uses Openbox (though you can change it if you want).

lxpanelctl restart && openbox --restart

Since it’s a lightweight desktop, it should only take a second or so to refresh itself.

linux lxde refresh

You might also want to restore LXDE back to its default appearance. This is just a matter of moving the right configuration files What Are Config Files? How to Edit Them Safely Most apps are configured via menu options, and some require you to edit a config file. But how do you use a config file? Read More out. All you have to do is rename (or delete) the correct ones. They’ll be replaced once you refresh the desktop.

For example, if you want to restore LXDE’s panel arrangement, you’ll need to remove/change the ~/.config/lxpanel folder. It contains all the configuration files This can be done either graphically or in the terminal.

mv ~/.config/lxpanel lxpanel.bak

The above command renames the lxpanel folder, forcing LXDE to regenerate it.

linux lxde default refresh

You can do the same with Openbox as well, by renaming the ~/.config/openbox folder to something else.


If you find yourself having to refresh the desktop lots of times, you might be interested in using command aliases How to Define Command Line Aliases on Any Operating System We've talked about, and recommended getting to grips with your computer's command line terminal numerous times in the past. Tina wrote a good primer for Windows users with A Beginner's Guide To The Windows Command... Read More . This will let you enter in a shorter terminal command for ease of use. These are located in a hidden file, called .bashrc.

To do this, first, open up the file using this command:

nano ~/.bashrc

From there, you can add your aliases using this format:

alias refresh='xfce4-panel -r && xfwm4 –replace'

If you type in refresh into a newly opened terminal, you’ll run the assigned commands. Remember to keep these commands wrapped in quotation marks, and separated by && signs!

Last Resort

Perhaps your desktop has locked up — you can’t launch the terminal, but your mouse still moves for example. In this case, it might be best to restart the system; soft refreshes can only go so far. But if it’s a single app that’s bothering you, it might be quicker to kill that particular app only. You have quite a few ways to kill unresponsive programs in Linux 7 Ways to Kill Unresponsive Programs in Linux When a Linux app becomes unresponsive and crashes, how can you kill it? Try one of these tricks to kill a stuck program in Linux. Read More !

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  1. Peter Flynn
    December 31, 2018 at 10:53 am

    In Enlightenment — the most zen or Mac-like of all Linux desktop environments — you restart the window manager by left-clicking on the desktop background to get the menu, and then clicking Enlightenment and then Restart. It's also possible to do it from the keyboard with a single compound keystroke: Ctrl-Alt-End.

  2. Fitzcarraldo
    August 30, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    Thanks for this article. I'm running Lubuntu 18.04 (Ubuntu 18.04 with LXDE instead of GNOME) on one of my machines, and occasionally the icons on the Desktop disappear. Your Section 6 on LXDE is the only place I found during my searches that tells me how to restart the desktop without logging out or rebooting.

  3. Dustpuppy
    July 25, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Running Cinnamon 3.2.7 which often gets things "stuck" on the desktop. in front of other windows.
    NONE of your tricks work for me. None. I still have to reboot to get rid of them.

    • Austin Luong
      July 25, 2017 at 10:41 pm

      Oh? Even my suggestion of rebooting the computer if all else fails?

      Jokes aside, that's quite a shame. Good luck with your desktop in the future - perhaps an update might help your problems. If I recall correctly, the Cinnamon desktop is currently at version 3.4.4 right now.

      Lots of things might have changed from Cinnamon 3.2.7, after all.

    • Dustpuppy
      July 25, 2017 at 11:25 pm

      Rebooting works, yeah, that's what I said. Or ctrl-alt-backspace, but it shuts everything down and is effectively a reboot. I'm looking for something that will just "repaint" the desktop so to speak, while leaving running programs alone, and just get rid of stuff that's no longer part of a running app.

      And if Cinnamon is at 3.4.4, I'm wondering why the updates aren't updating it. Hmmm.

      Thanks, it must be the particular programs. It mostly happens with Alltray, which leaves it's little thingy in front of everything sometimes. Really frustrating.

      But thanks again for the help. It does work with most issues.

  4. Dave Wheitner
    June 9, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Great article!

    In XFCE, if you just want shortcut buttons for one or both of the commands on one of your panels for easy access:

    Right-click on panel -->add new items, select launcher. Right-click on the newly added launcher-->properties. Click on "add new empty item" button. Enter the command for panel restart in the "command" field, and whatever you want for name and icon.

    For some reason the commands don't seem to work if entered on the same launcher, so you'll need to have two buttons. I imagine there's a way to do this I'm just not aware of. But the panel relaunch seems to be the only one I ever need to use. One click and all looks great again.

  5. William Vasquez
    June 9, 2017 at 12:41 am

    Don't forget. When all else fails. do this...Hold down Ctri/Alt/Print Screen-SysRq, then type REISUB (slowly, one key at a time). This will reset the entire system; reload and restart the entire OS without the danger of just turning off the computer by holding in the off button. As good as Linux is at not freezing up, sometimes, things happen and this is the best way to recover your OS from a catastrophic crash.