The Cairo Dock is an eye-catching and convenient dock interface for your Ubuntu desktop. With its features like multi-docks, launchers, taskbar, and many useful applets, you can advantageously replace it with your default dock panel. The panels can be easily detached from the Cairo dock and used as desktop widgets. You can totally customize the dock by using numerous ready-to-use themes that can be downloaded with a single click. So, if you are looking for a better looking, and much more easily customizable dock panel for your Ubuntu, Cairo Dock is a great choice for you.

In this article, we will explain how to install the Cairo Dock, which is now luckily available through the official Ubuntu Bionic Universe repository. We will also explain how you can set up customize the dock in order to:

  • Launch it automatically at startup
  • Give it a new look and feel with a new theme
  • Edit Dock panel items
  • Configure Add Ons

We have run the commands and procedures mentioned in this article on a Ubuntu 18.04 LTS system.

Installing Cairo Dock

For a Terminal-savvy person, there are just two commands through which you can install Cairo Dock on your Ubuntu. Open the Terminal application through the Ctrl+Alt+T shortcut and enter the following commands:

$ sudo apt-get update

This command will update the local repository index with that of the Internet and you will be able to install the latest available version of the software.

Then use the following command as a sudo user in order to install Cairo Dock and its plugins to your Ubuntu:

$ sudo apt-get install cairo-dock cairo-dock-plug-ins

Alternatively, you can use the Ubuntu Software Manager through the UI to install Cairo Dock as follows:

On your Ubuntu desktop Activities toolbar/dock, click the Ubuntu Software icon.

Software Icon

In the Software Manager, click the search icon and then enter Cairo Dock in the search bar. The search results will list the relevant entries as follows:

Search for Cairo Dock in application list

The Cairo-Dock entry listed here in the second place is the one maintained by Ubuntu Bionic Universe. Click on this search entry to open the following view:


Click the Install button to begin the installation process. The following authentication dialog will appear for you to provide your authentication details.

Authenticate as admin user

Please note that only an authorized user can add/remove and configure software on Ubuntu. Enter your password and click the Authenticate button. After that, the installation process will begin, displaying a progress bar as follows:

Installing Cairo Dock

Cairo Dock will then be installed on your system and you will get the following message after a successful installation:

Cairo-Dock successfully installed

Through the above dialog, you can choose to directly launch Cairo Dock and even Remove it immediately for whatever reason.

Launching the Cairo Dock

You can access the Cairo Dock from the Ubuntu application launcher bar as follows, or directly access it from the applications listing:

Launch Cairo Dock

When you launch the application for the first time, the following message will appear:

Accept OpenGL License

We prefer that you click on the Yes button as OpenGL reduces CPU load through hardware acceleration. You will be able to get a better experience of using Cairo Dock with OpenGL activated.

Important: At this point, some users might get a message that a compositing manager is needed to run Cairo Dock. In that case, you can install it by running the following command in your Terminal.

$ sudo apt-get install xcompmgr

After this, you will be able to see the default Cairo Dock panel as follows at the bottom of your Ubuntu Desktop:

install xcompmgr

Customizing Cairo Dock

The real power of the Cairo Dock comes when you are able to customize its features according to your visual and functionality-based preferences. Here are some of the things you can customize in the Cairo Dock

Launch Cairo Dock at Startup

It will be just a burden if you have to launch the dock each time at startup since we are looking for quick access to our applications in the first place. In order to make your Cairo Dock to be launched automatically at startup, right-click anywhere on this dock. In the right-click menu, click on the “Launch Cairo-dock at startup” option.

Launch Cairo Dock at Startup

You are now free from the hassle of launching the application every time you boot your system.

Activate a new theme

Activating a new theme will entirely change the look and feel of your Cairo Dock. From the numerous available downloadable themes, you can select one that represents just you!

Change Theme in Cairo-Dock

Right-click anywhere on the dock and select the Configure option from the menu. From the Cairo-Dock configuration window, click on the Themes tab to open the Themes view as follows: Cairo-Dock Configuration

You can preview how a theme would look like by clicking it from the list. After choosing one, click on the Apply button to enable it. You can even add more themes from this page:

Some of the themes have a single panel, while others might have two. Some themes put applets like clock and audio player in a separate panel right on your desktop. You can, of course, customize the new theme even further.

Edit Dock Items

Some more power comes to you by editing individual dock items. Right-click on an item and you will be able to see a menu option dedicated to that specific item.

For example, when I right-clicked the Terminal application icon from the Cairo Dock, I am able to see a Terminal option in the menu as follows:

Edit Dock Items

Note: The Terminal applet does not come by default in the dock; I have added it as an add-on by a procedure I will describe in the next section.

There are many things I can do to an individual dock item: Edit its configuration, Remove it, move it another dock, etc. We can also drag and drop the applet to the desktop. For example, this is one way through which you can add the Trash can to your desktop.

Configure Add Ons

By configuring add-ons, you can add applets and plug-ins to your Dock for quick access. I work with music, a lot, therefore I would like to add the Sound Control applet to my Cairo Dock. For configuring Add-ons, right click on the Dock and select Configure from the menu. Select the Add-ons tab to open the Add-ons view as follows:

Add-On Configuration

Select the add on from the Plug-in list; this will add the applet on your Cairo Dock. This is how my dock looks like after adding the Sound Control plug-in.

Audio Volume settings

Remove Cairo Dock

If you ever want to remove Cairo Dock that was installed using the Software Manager, you can remove it from your system as follows:

Open the Ubuntu Software Manager and search for Cairo Dock. You will see the “Installed” status in the search entry. Click this entry and then click Remove from the following view:

Remove Cairo-Dock

The system will prompt you with an Authentication dialog. The software will be removed when you provide the password for sudo user and click Authenticate on the dialog.

If you want to remove the software through the command line, you can do so through the following command as sudo:

$ sudo apt-get remove cairo-dock cairo-dock-plug-ins

If you also want to remove the application along with all the configuration you might have made, then use the following command:

$ sudo apt-get purge cairo-dock cairo-dock-plug-ins

After following the steps of this article, you are ready to install, use and configure an alternative dock panel on your Ubuntu. You can now have a more eye-pleasing, simple, yet highly-customizable dock for your desktop.

Cairo Dock, A Highly Customizable Dock panel for Ubuntu