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Install GNOME Desktop Environment on Debian: Easy Guide

In Operating Systems, System Administration & Devops by Željko JaguštLeave a Comment

GNOME is renowned for its elegant and user-friendly interface. It combines simplicity with a host of advanced features, making it suitable for both newcomers and experienced Linux users. Whether you're looking for a beautifully designed workspace, an intuitive application launcher, or seamless multitasking capabilities, GNOME has you covered.


Installing the GNOME Desktop Environment on your Debian system may seem daunting, but fear not. Our step-by-step guide will make the process effortless, ensuring you can enjoy the GNOME experience without hassle. And as a bonus, we will provide you with a script that will do it all for you automatically. How great is that! Let's get started.


An installation of the Debian minimal system is a requirement for this guide. Don't worry; we've got you covered here also. We have a complete guide on how to install the Debian minimal system along with an initial customization guide of the same, and you can see those guides by clicking on the buttons below:
Encrypting your hard drive is something you may consider if you intend to install GNOME Desktop Environment along with Debian on your notebook computer. Hypothetically, you may leave your notebook unattended, and it might get stolen. With a hard drive encrypted, accessing the data on your laptop and booting the operating system will be almost impossible. In combination with our Home/Small Office - Debian Server guide, you can also check our guide on encrypting hard drives:

GNOME Desktop Environment - Installation

Currently (at the time of writing this article), the latest version of the Debian operating system is 12 (codename Bookworm), and with it comes GNOME 40, which is also the latest version and the one we will install.

With the prerequisites fulfilled, and if you followed our guides, once you boot your Debian and log in as root, you will see the following screen:

GNOME Desktop Environment on Debian - Root Login Screen
Root Login Screen
From here, you will first update the APT catalog (repositories). To do it, please execute the following:
apt update
With the APT catalog up to date, you can install the required packages for the GNOME Desktop Environment. In the example below, only the most essential packages will be installed. This means only the GNOME Desktop Environment will be installed with no additional software or programs. To install it, please execute the following:
DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive aptitude install -y -R alsa-utils bat chrome-gnome-shell cups-common \
dbus-user-session dbus-x11 dconf-editor firefox-esr fuse_ fuse3 gdm3 gjs gkbd-capplet gnome-applets \
gnome-control-center gnome-disk-utility gnome-keyring gnome-online-accounts gnome-session \
gnome-shell-extension-dashtodock gnome-shell-extensions gnome-shell-extensions-extra \
gnome-shell-extension-manager gnome-terminal gnome-tweaks mutter nautilus nautilus-extension-gnome-terminal \
network-manager-gnome power-profiles-daemon rclone sane-airscan sane-utils seahorse software-properties-gtk \
sudo xdg-desktop-portal xdg-desktop-portal-gnome xdg-desktop-portal-gtk xdg-user-dirs
GNOME is now installed, but you're not done yet. You need to set your user and reconfigure the network setup a bit. Let's do that.

Create User

By default, the root user cannot log in to the desktop environment (it's disabled by default but can be enabled). For that purpose, you need to create a "desktop" user. In the example below, I will demonstrate how to create a user John Doe whose login name will be jdoe. I will also add that user to all groups the desktop user requires. To do all that, please execute the following:
useradd -m -c "Test User" -G adm,cdrom,sudo,dip,plugdev -s /bin/bash test
In the above command, the -m parameter will create jdoe's home directory at /home/jdoe. Parameter -c will set jdoe's first and last name, something you will see on the login screen once you reboot the computer. Last, the -G parameter will add the jdoe user to all required groups. To check if everything is correct, you can execute the following two commands:
id jdoe
cat /etc/passwd | grep jdoe
The output of those commands should be identical to the one in the image below:
GNOME Desktop Environment on Debian - Desktop User Details
Desktop User Details
Now, you need to set a strong password for your user. You can do it by executing the following command (please replace passpass with your password and jdoe with your username):
usermod --password $(echo passpass | openssl passwd -1 -stdin) jdoe
To complete your user setup, you need to grant it sudo privileges. To do so, please execute the following:
echo "jdoe ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL" > /etc/sudoers.d/jdoe
Optionally, you can now log in as a user you created and generate an SSH key. To do so, first execute the following:
su - jdoe
To create SSH key, please execute the following:
ssh-keygen -b 4096 -t rsa -f /home/jdoe/.ssh/id_rsa -q -N ""
You can also authorize your user for local SSH connections by executing the following:
echo "From=\"\" $(cat /home/$USER/.ssh/" > /home/$USER/.ssh/authorized_keys
Press Ctrl + D on your keyboard to log out when you're done. You can also "extend" the PATH variable for your user here. To do so, please execute the following:
printf "\n# Extend \$PATH variable\nexport PATH=\$PATH:/usr/local/sbin:/usr/sbin:/sbin" >> /home/jdoe/.bashrc
With your user in place, the last thing you need to do is reconfigure the network. Let's do that in the following subsection.

Network Setup

If you followed our prerequisites and suggested guides there (and I hope you did), you will have GNOME Desktop Environment installed on top of the Debian minimal installation at this stage. In Debian minimal installation, the network is controlled (configured) over a static file at /etc/network/interfaces.

In desktop environments, such as GNOME, the network is controlled by the Network Manager. For the Network Manager to take control of the network, you need to remove all configuration options from the /etc/network/interfaces file. To do so, open the /etc/network/interfaces file in your chosen text editor and comment all interface-related lines with a # character. Everything should look like in the example below:

# This file describes the network interfaces available on your system
# and how to activate them. For more information, see interfaces(5).

source /etc/network/interfaces.d/*

# The loopback network interface
#auto lo
#iface lo inet loopback

# The primary network interface
#allow-hotplug eth0
#iface eth0 inet static
#       address
#       gateway
#       # dns-* options are implemented by the resolvconf package, if installed
#       dns-nameservers
Once done, save and exit the file. At this stage, you can reboot your computer by executing the following command:
shutdown -r now

GNOME Desktop Environment - Post-Install Steps

Once the operating system boots again, you will be greeted by the Debian welcome screen:
GNOME Desktop Environment on Debian - Welcome Screen
GNOME Welcome Screen
Once you click on your user's name, a password prompt will be displayed, so please input your password and press Enter on your keyboard to continue. Once login is complete, the following screen will be displayed:
GNOME Desktop Environment on Debian - Show Applications
Show Applications
Click on Show Applications button (01 on the image above), and on the next screen, click on Terminal:
GNOME Desktop Environment on Debian - Start Terminal
Start Terminal
Once the Terminal is started, you can enable the dash-to-dock GNOME shell extension. To enable the extension, please execute the following in the Terminal window:
gnome-extensions enable [email protected]
The default behavior of the dock is to auto-hide once any application is started in full screen. I don't like that, and it can be turned off. To turn off such a behavior, please execute the following in Terminal:
gsettings set autohide false
gsettings set dock-fixed true
With the extension enabled, a small application dock will appear at the bottom of the screen:
GNOME Desktop Environment on Debian - Application Dock
Application Dock

If you are on a DHCP-enabled network, then congratulations! You have successfully installed the GNOME Desktop Environment on Debian. Additional steps are required if you are on a static network.

To configure the static network, click on the menu bar in the top-right corner of the screen (01), and once the menu pops up, click on a gear-like icon (02) to access the Settings:

GNOME Desktop Environment on Debian - Settings
Desktop Settings
To access the network configuration screen, click on Network (01) and then again on the gear-like icon on the right (02):
GNOME Desktop Environment on Debian - Network Settings
Network Settings
Once the network configuration screen opens, click first on the IPv4 tab (01). There, click the Manual radio button (02). Under the Addresses section, insert your IP address (03), Netmask (04), and Gateway (05). Under the DNS section, insert the IP address(es) of the name servers (06) which will be used for resolving. You can use the ones from Google (, or Cloudflare ( Once you click the Apply button (07), your network should be active in a few seconds.
GNOME Desktop Environment on Debian - Static Network Configuration
Static Network Configuration
To finish this, you can optionally set all user directories (i.e., Downloads, Desktop, Videos, Pictures...) by executing the xdg-user-dirs-update command. You can do it in the Terminal without sudo privileges:

GNOME Desktop Environment - Automation Script

We have a script that will do everything described in this guide automatically. The script is available on GitHub along with the instructions, and you can find it by clicking on the link button below this text:
And that's it. You have successfully installed GNOME Desktop Environment on your computer. Congratulations, and thank you for reading.

Share if you like. Thank you in advance!

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