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I've seen a lot of talk about the Dash to Dock extension, but I'm really struggling to see the difference between dash and dock.

As someone who also has extensive experience of Mac, it seems the OSX dock has almost exactly the same functionality as GNOME dash.

What am I missing?

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  • Does this reference help explain things? – 24601 Apr 20 at 9:09
  • @24601 "It modifies the default Ubuntu dock to macOS styled dock" - so it's just about visual appearance? – Andy Apr 20 at 9:46
  • @24601 no? Probably a screenshot with arrows would help more. One arrow to point: this is the dash. Another arrow to point: this is the dock. – Levente Apr 20 at 9:59
  • @Levente Vanadium's answer nails it so no need for further dialogue or graphics. I'm sure that will resolve the matter for the OP. – 24601 Apr 20 at 10:03
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    @24601 this situation could be an excellent example for technical writing, or even education (and pedagogy?) in general. Case in point: to you, who already knows the answer, the current state of Vanadium's answer (original, before edits) appears to be excellently revealing and sufficient. To me however, who came here uncertain and hoping to finally find a clarification, it still does not help much. – Levente Apr 20 at 10:12
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It is terminology. In default GNOME Shell, the "Dash" is the bar with favorites and running applications that appears in the Activities Overview. It is only visible in the Activities Overview, which you see when you click "Activities" in the top bar, or hit and release the Super key.

A GNOME Shell extension, "Dash to Dock" can turn that Dash into what from then on is referred to as a Dock on your desktop. Then, it is directly available on your desktop, and thus behaves much more like a dock in for example MacOS.

In a default Ubuntu install, a custom GNOME Shell extension, Ubuntu Dock, is active. That is actually derived from "Dash to Dock" and uses the same configuration settings. So you already have the "Dock" instead of the "Dash", and do not need to install an additional extension for that.

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  • Sorry but I'm still not getting it. To me the words dash and dock both refer to the bar with the icons in, and for me that bar is shown all the time, not just in activities view. Are you saying the difference is mainly in activities view? I don't use activities view so maybe that is why I'm confused. – Andy Apr 20 at 10:34
  • I see, I clarified a bit more. Your confusion is because in Ubuntu, an extension that has converted the Dash to a Dock is already active by default. – vanadium Apr 20 at 11:06
  • @vanadium yes thanks I get it now. My situation was also confused by the fact that "Ubuntu dock" appears off by default in the "tweaks" app, and turning it on seems to have no effect, but I guess that's maybe a bug and really it's on all the time. – Andy Apr 20 at 11:31
  • Use the gnome-shell-extension-prefs app to control these system extensions. That appears to be more reliable. In Gnome 40, extension management has been removed from Tweaks. – vanadium Apr 20 at 12:36
  • Here s an official description of dash: help.gnome.org/users/gnome-help/stable/… – BeastOfCaerbannog Apr 20 at 20:23
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I'm as uncertain as you, but this seems like an opportunity for clarification.


This I know is the dock:

Screenshot of the Dock


Then there is this group of screens:

  • Activities Overview
  • Activities Overview (in searching mode)
  • Apps Overview / Apps Grid

I originally assumed (perhaps inaccurately, as revealed later), they together are making up what's called dash.

I arrived to this conclusion partly through my memories from using Unity. In Unity it was more clear, because it occupied only the top left part of the screen, and had this distinct border, and of course it needed a name, and got named dash. And in it, you performed the same tasks as you now do in these screens.

I also tried to verify this theory by doing an image search for "Unity dash" and "Gnome dash"; the results didn't seem to contradict.

Activities Overview screenshot:

Screenshot of the Activities Overview screen


Enter the rabbit hole

The unexpected tale of the gnome shell extension Dash to dock:

What we need to establish first, is that Ubuntu is not responsible for much of the Gnome UI. Gnome is a third party "software foundry", whose software (the part responsible for the UI, gnome-shell) gets used by Ubuntu.

But of course, Ubuntu needs to carry out some customizations to gnome-shell before they can present the entire release to us. Even Ubuntu is using gnome shell extensions to achieve some of this (as opposed to trying to maintain an Ubuntu-favoured gnome-shell fork).

Now, thanks to Vanadium's answer, cursory findings from my earlier, briefly relevant experimenting, and the annotated illustration in the referenced gnome-shell Wikipedia post, I have put it together:

In the original unmodified gnome-shell (without the Ubuntu distro's customizations), the part we in Ubuntu know as Dock,

  • is only a "subcomponent" of the Activities Overview (and Apps Grid) screen, available only together with it, while you are in the activities overview mode. If you leave the Activities Overview, this subcomponent disappears too, and can't be accessed otherwise.
    • as you can observe in the above screenshot of the Activities Overview, the vertical bar with the app launcher icons on the left side is present
  • in original gnome-shell terminology however, this subcomponent is called — wait for it — Dash.

The gnome shell extension Dash to dock (shipped with and enabled in Ubuntu by default) "extracts" this subcomponent (at that point, still called Dash) out of the Activities Overview, sticks it to the edge of your desktop permanently, and invites you to refer to it as Dock from then on.

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  • "I assume, they together are making up what's called dash." - according to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNOME_Shell, dash and dock seem pretty much synonymous – Andy Apr 20 at 10:39
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    In retrospect, I can conclude that the amount of time that can be wasted to understand (and on ocassion, tame) gnome-shell seems to be endless. – Levente Apr 20 at 11:57
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(From the OP) TL;DR - they are the same thing :-)

The difference in terminology comes from the fact that the "dash" only appears when you are in activities view (i.e. press the super key), but the "dock" is there all the time.

Thanks to the other answers and comments - I hope I have summarised the situation correctly.

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