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I'm trying to understand how Gconf, Dconf and Gsettings works and what the relationship is between them.

All I know is:

  • Gconf - XML based database (backend system). The older one.
  • Dconf - BLOB based database (backend system). The newer one.
  • Gsettings - CLI tool to edit settings. Looks like it works only with Dconf (although I saw somewhere that it might work with Gconf).

I know that for Gconf there is a GUI - Gconf-editor, and for Dconf - Dconf-editor.


  1. Which backend system is more often used - Dconf or Gconf?
  2. Gsettings works with both of them? And why doesn't it show all Dconf schemas?
  3. Where does Dconf save its data?
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I would be particularly interested in which settings are handled by which tool (dconf or gsettings) and why there are differences? – Johsm Sep 21 '15 at 15:06
up vote 19 down vote accepted

GConf is obsolete. It is the older GNOME 2.x configuration API and system, and has been replaced by DConf/GSettings in newer versions. However, some applications still use it.

GSettings is a GLib implementation of DConf, which stores its data in a binary database.

The gsettings command line tool is simply a tool to access or modify settings via the GSettings API, in the same way that the older gconftool command line tool is for GConf.

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Is GSettings works with GConf also? – idgar Jan 31 '13 at 18:05
No, GSettings is an implementation of the DConf spec. The command line tool doesn't work with gconf. There are however, some compatibility layers currently in use on Ubuntu, where changing a setting in gsettings or gconf, will result in the change being propagated to the other. This isn't common though, and not something to rely on. – dobey Jan 31 '13 at 18:39
another thing,i saw somewhere that GSettings works with configuration files. is there something about it? and why does GSettings doesn't show the same schemas as DConf-editor? – idgar Feb 3 '13 at 14:30
The interesting part to know would be which settings are managed by which tool? The keys which are present when using dconf or dconf-editor are different from those accessible with gsettings, for example there is a key /com/canonical/unity/always-show-menus accessible via dconf but there is no equivalent key accessible via gsettings in Ubuntu 15.04. – Johsm Sep 21 '15 at 15:04
@dobey: thank you for helping with this. What I am really after is though: how does the mapping between the key I have to use in dconf and the key I have to use with gsettings work? If I know one, is there an algorithmic way to find the other? In my concrete case I was given /com/canonical/unity/always-show-menus -- now how would I find the appropriate key for gsettings? If both use the same underlying data, should there not be a logical mapping? Or am I still missing something? – Johsm Sep 23 '15 at 11:52

Dconf is a data store designed for storing configuration. It is the replacement for Gconf, which was used for the same purpose. Eventually, no programs should depend on Gconf any more.

Gsettings is a development library used to read and write to a configuration store backend. On Linux, it uses Dconf, but on Windows, it uses the registry, and on OS X, it uses a native data store.

Application developers and end-users are recommended to use Gsettings, not Dconf directly.

See also:

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