Ubuntu File Manager and Alternatives

July 20, 2023


The file manager that comes preinstalled in the latest versions of Ubuntu is Nautilus, a GNOME-based application. While Nautilus is user-friendly and relatively simple to operate, having alternatives with higher reconfigurability and additional features is beneficial.

This article presents an overview of the default Ubuntu file manager and its alternatives.

Ubuntu File Manager and Alternatives: Overview

How to Install and Use the Default Ubuntu File Manager

The Nautilus file manager comes preinstalled on GNOME-powered distributions, such as Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora. However, to ensure it's available, check its version with:

nautilus --version
Terminal output for nautilus --version that shows the program is installed.

The terminal shows that Nautilus is present on this system. In case Nautilus is not preinstalled on the system, the output prints the following message:

Terminal output for nautilus --version that shows the program is not installed.

Run the following command to install the Nautilus file manager:

sudo apt install nautilus
Terminal output for sudo apt install nautilus

Once installed and on the system, there are two primary ways to open Nautilus:

  1. Search for Files in the application menu.
  2. Execute the following command:
Nautilus file manager

The command has no output but launches the file manager. Nautilus is packed with features, and enables users to:

  • Create files and directories.
  • Search for specific files or directories.
  • Display files.
  • Open new tabs.
  • Copy and pasting content.
  • Perform undo and redo operations.
  • Show hidden files.
  • Change zoom settings.
  • Sort files and directories based on filters.
  • Connect to the cloud.
  • Access local and remote files.

This file manager has three types of views (Icon Grid, Icon List, and Tree List) and provides intuitive menus. The main window includes a sidebar displaying different locations and a central area for selected directory content. Nautilus also supports tabbed navigation for efficient multitasking.

Ubuntu File Manager Alternatives

While Ubuntu comes pre-packaged with Nautilus, it may not suite every user's needs and wants. Alternative file managers offer advanced features, such as enhanced customization, improved functionality, an advanced search interface, file comparison, advanced permission management, etc.

The list below provides 10 Nautilus alternatives that will satisfy the needs of even the most demanding users:

1. Dolphin

Dolphin is an open-source, lightweight file manager developed within the KDE applications package. The file manager is flexible and allows users to:

  • Customize icons, columns, and previews.
  • Browse, locate, open, copy, and move files.
  • Use undo and redo functionalities.
  • Sort and group files by name, size, type, and other characteristics.
  • Connect to remote servers or network devices.
  • Configure shortcuts and toolbars.
  • Adjust different panels within the interface.
  • Use extensions or plugins.

Dolphin also supports several view modes, including a grid, detailed, and tree view.

Users have access to a tab view, plugin support, file preview features, and integration with many Internet cloud services. Moreover, the split view allows users to view two different directories simultaneously, facilitating file transfer.

Dolphin split view

To install Dolphin on Ubuntu, run: 

sudo apt install dolphin
Terminal output for sudo apt install dolphin

2. Nemo

Nemo is the default file manager in the Cinnamon desktop environment, popular with distributions like Linux Mint.

It is lightweight and featureful. Nemo's most prominent features are:

  • An intuitive and easy to navigate UI, which makes file management straightforward.
  • Integrated search features that allow for a quick file and directory search based on different criteria.
  • Comprehensive navigation offers controls such as back, forward, up, and refresh.
  • Customization options enable users to set up an environment according to their preferences.
  • A dual-pane view which enables easy file transfers and allows users to open multiple directories within a single window.
  • Ability to open as root or in the terminal.
  • Flexible control over file and directory access.
  • GTK bookmarks allow quick access to frequently used directories or files.
  • Mounting/unmounting external media. Allows users to control access to external storage devices.
  • Support for extensions such as Nemo-image-converter, Nemo-filename-repairer, and Nemo-emblems provide additional functionalities.
  • Toggle location entry which allows users to copy the directory path for further use.

Nemo also incorporates features like the free hard disk space display in the sidebar and the bottom information bar.

Nemo free hard disk space in List view

Bulk-renaming of files and directories is another feature that allows for simultaneous work. Progress indicators provide visual cues for ongoing operations, such as file transfers or downloads. Also, Nemo offers different view options, including List, Icon, and Compact View, to cater to user preferences.

To install Nemo on Ubuntu, run the following command:

sudo apt install nemo
Terminal output for sudo apt install nemo

3. Konqueror

Konqueror is a versatile file manager created for the KDE software suite. Apart from file management, it also functions as a web browser, FTP client, file viewer, and document viewer. Konqueror is compatible with most Unix-like operating systems.

Konqueror file manager

Its basic file management capabilities include copying, moving, searching, and deleting files. Konqueror's advanced features and functionalities are:

  • Access to archives.
  • Access to SMB (Windows) shares.
  • File management on FTP and SFTP servers.
  • File management using most of Dolphin’s features.
  • Browsing and ripping audio CDs.
  • Embedded applications to preview files.
  • Different types of plugins.

To install Konqueror on a Debian-based system, run:

sudo apt install konqueror
Terminal output for sudo apt instal konqueror

4. Xfe

The X File Explorer (Xfe) is a lightweight and efficient file manager designed for the X Window system, conceived as a successor to the once-popular X Win Commander. Due to its minimalist design, Xfe offers speedy performance and low system resource consumption. This file manager is desktop independent and works across various Linux environments, including GNOME, KDE, and Xfce.

Xfe is easily customized and offers many features, such as:

  • File associations.
  • Ability to change file attributes.
  • Auto-save registry.
  • Integrated text editor (Xfwrite), image viewer (Xfimage), and package manager (Xfpack).
  • Quick graphical user interface.
  • Viewing, installation, and uninstallation of integrated RPM or DEB packages.
  • File associations.
  • Drag and Drop functionality to and from the desktop (GNOME/KDE/XFCE) and Xfe.
  • Bookmarking capability (up to 20 bookmarks).
  • Color and icon themes (including GNOME, KDE, Windows 95, iMac, BeOS, and many more).
  • Thumbnails image previews.
  • Progress bars for extended operations.
  • Modification and restoration of key bindings.

Furthermore, Xfe enables users to mount and unmount devices and presents a directory tree for easy navigation. It provides a choice of Commander and Explorer styles, with four file manager modes:

  1. Single panel.
  2. Directory tree and single panel.
  3. Two panels.
  4. Directory tree with two panels.
Xfe mode: directory tree with two panels

Other functionalities include a status line, an optional trash can for file-delete operations, and the right mouse click pop-up menu in the tree and file list.

To install Xfe, run:

sudo apt install xfe
Terminal output for sudo apt install xfe

5. Krusader

Krusader is a twin-panel file manager and part of the KDE software suite with user-friendly and highly customizable features. The Krusader Graphical User Interface (GUI) includes a dual panel. The panel displays files and directories, making drag-and-drop or copying between panels significantly easier.

Krusader twin panel GUI

Krusader's key features are:

  • Archive handling.
  • Support for mounted filesystems.
  • Batch renaming capabilities.
  • An advanced search module.
  • Support for FTP file transfers.
  • Directory synchronization.
  • File content comparison capabilities.
  • Terminal integration that allows users to enter CLI commands for the active panel.
  • An internal viewer and editor.

To install Krusader on Ubuntu, run: 

sudo apt install krusader
Terminal output for sudo apt install Krusader

6. Thunar

Thunar, the default file manager for the Xfce desktop environment, is simple, lightweight, and efficient. The file manager has a clean and intuitive interface with few important user options available.

Thunar interface

Despite its minimalist design, Thunar still provides various essential features and third-party plugins.

Thunar's key features include:

  • Support for remote locations.
  • Custom commands for common extensions.
  • Bulk renaming, which allows users to rename multiple files at once.
  • Terminal emulator integration.
  • Third-party plugin support.
  • Emblem support, which lets users visually mark files and directories for quick reference.

To install Thunar in a Debian-based system, execute the command:

sudo apt install thunar
Terminal output for sudo apt install thunar

7. Polo

Polo is a relatively new, modern, and lightweight file manager developed for power users. It comes with many features, including:

  • Multiple panes. Polo supports single-pane, dual-pane (vertical or horizontal split), and quad-pane layouts. This file manager also allows multiple tabs in each pane, with each tab having an embedded terminal.
  • Multiple views. Various views, such as list, icon, tiled, and media views, are available.
  • Device manager. Displays a list of connected devices with options to mount and unmount and supports locking and unlocking LUKS encrypted devices.
  • Archive support. Allows browsing archives the same as regular directories and supports the creation of archives in multiple formats with advanced compression settings.
  • PDF actions. Right-click menu options for PDFs, such as splitting and merging pages, adding or removing password protection, and rotating pages.
  • ISO actions. Rght-click menu actions for ISO files, such as mounting, booting in a virtual machine, and writing to USB drives.
  • Image actions. Right-click menu options for image files, such as rotating, resizing, reducing quality, optimizing PNG files, converting to other formats, booting or reducing colors, etc.
  • Checksum and hashing. Allows users to generate MD5, SHA1, SHA2-256, and SHA2-512 checksums for files and directories. Polo also supports verification of these checksums by double-clicking on files with the corresponding extensions.
  • Video downloads. The file manager integrates with the youtube-dl utility to allow the pasting of URLs from YouTube and other video websites directly into a directory to download video files.
  • Cloud storage support. Cloud storage platform support, which enhances its functionality further.
Polo quad pane interface

Polo also includes features for handling Docker images, and running and managing containers. The project is still active and its developers are still building and releasing new features.

The Polo file manager is not available in the official Ubuntu repository. However, users are able to install Polo on Ubuntu-based distributions via a Personal Package Archive (PPA).

Take the following steps:

1. Run:

sudo apt-add-repository -y ppa:teejee2008/ppa
Terminal output for sudo apt-add-repository -y ppa:teejee2008/ppa

This process adds the repository that contains Polo.

2. Update the repository with:

sudo apt update
Terminal output for sudo apt update

3. Install the Polo file manager with:

sudo apt install polo-file-manager
Terminal output for sudo apt install polo file manager

8. nnn - Terminal File Manager

nnn is a highly efficient and feature-packed terminal file manager, primarily intended for Linux, but also runs on various other systems. The application offers a modern, keyboard-driven interface with intuitive operations and easy navigation.

Key nnn features:

  • Functions as an application launcher.
  • Facilitates file reviews through a FIFO-based previewer.
  • Allows users to create, list, extract, and mount archives.
  • Offers sorting options, such as by name, access/change/modification time, size, and extension.
  • Includes an instant filtering feature with a search-as-you-type functionality.
  • Supports both regex (POSIX/PCRE) and string filters.
  • Lets users bookmark and visit directories.
  • Does not collect unconfirmed user data.
  • Provides Unicode support.
  • Integrates with scripts in various programming languages.

nnn is extendable via a plugin system for additional functionalities such as thumbnail generation for images, videos, and audio files. Various modes, like a Type-to-nav mode, expedite data browsing.

Compliant with POSIX and the Linux kernel coding style, nnn supports symlinks, FIFO, and direct access to frequently used items. The architecture includes plugin support for a wide range of file types, bookmarks, and batch renaming.

To install nnn on an Ubuntu system, run:

sudo apt install nnn
Terminal output for sudo apt install nnn

Since nnn is a terminal file manager, run the following command to open it:

Running nnn in the terminal.

The terminal lists the current directory files and directories the file manager is running on.

9. PCManFM

The PCMan File Manager, commonly known as PCManFM, is a fast, lightweight, and feature-rich file manager. Initially developed for the LXDE desktop environment, PCManFM is a standalone application that works with any desktop or window manager.

With its low resource usage and high-speed operation, PCManFM is commonly used as an alternative to other file managers such as Nautilus, Konqueror, and Thunar. Apart from offering speed and functionality, PCManFM supports integration with various desktop or window managers.

Its main features are:

  • Comprehensive GVFS support. Full support for GVFS, which allows access to remote filesystems.
  • Desktop management. A built-in support for managing desktop environments is capable of setting a background wallpaper and displaying desktop icons.
  • Thumbnail previews. PCManFM shows thumbnail previews for images, making navigating and managing picture files easier.
  • Bookmarks. Users are able to create bookmarks in PCManFM, which provides easy access to frequently visited directories or locations.
  • Drag and drop support. This functionality simplifies moving and organizing files.
  • User-friendly interface. GTK+2 interface with a clean and organized design simplifies the navigation.

This GTK+-based file manager provides four viewing modes: icon, compact, detail, and thumbnail. Apart from mentioned features, PCManFM includes tabbed browsing, efficient loading of large directories, basic thumbnail support, and file association.

The default layout includes a toolbar, a side panel for quick access, and a status bar for current selection details, all customizable via the View menu.

PCManFM default layout with tabs

PCManFM offers customization features like changing the default file manager or assigning a default in the mimeapps.list file. Installation methods vary across different Linux distributions. For instance, to install PCManFM on Ubuntu, run:

sudo apt install pcmanfm
Terminal output for sudo apt install pcmanfm

10. Double Commander

Double Commander is a cross-platform, free, and open-source file manager with a user interface displaying two side-by-side panels. Double Commander runs on various platforms and operating systems and supports both 32-bit and 64-bit processors.

Double Commander interface

Double Commander's key features are:

  • Unicode support.
  • Background file operations.
  • Multi-rename tool.
  • Tabbed interface.
  • Configurable file panel columns.
  • Internal text editor with syntax highlighting.
  • File operations logging.
  • A file viewer which interprets hex, binary, or text data.

Moreover, Double Commander treats archives like subdirectories and supports various archive types. The ability to perform a full-text search in files adds depth to its searching abilities, typically not found in all file managers.

Search feature for Double Commander

A distinctive feature is its configurable button bar, which helps to streamline workflows by starting external programs or internal menu commands. 

To install Double Commander, run:

sudo apt install doublecmd-gtk
Terminal output for sudo apt install doublecmd-gtk


After reading this article, you are able to choose the best file manager for your needs. Next, learn how to show hidden files in Linux using a file manager.

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Sara Zivanov
Sara Zivanov is a technical writer at phoenixNAP who is passionate about making high-tech concepts accessible to everyone. Her experience as a content writer and her background in Engineering and Project Management allows her to streamline complex processes and make them user-friendly through her content.
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