I want to permanently prevent Ubuntu 12.10 from creating a "recently used" file list. This list seems to be stored in the file:


I have tried deleting this file, but it keeps being recreated every time I start a new login session. I need to know how to prevent this file from being recreated.

  • 1
    I'd love to see this solved too.
    – invert
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 19:42
  • 1
    Can someone file a bug on bugzilla.gnome.org?
    – int_ua
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 16:21
  • Just found out it logs TOR browser´s downloads too. A little bit sloppy of the Ubuntu devs. Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 19:06

7 Answers 7


To disable the list for GTK 3 based applications follow these steps:

rm ~/.local/share/recently-used.xbel

If THERE ISN'T a "~/.config/gtk-3.0/settings.ini", then

mkdir -p ~/.config/gtk-3.0
    echo -e "[Settings]\ngtk-recent-files-max-age=0\ngtk-recent-files-limit=0" > ~/.config/gtk-3.0/settings.ini

If THERE IS a "~/.config/gtk-3.0/settings.ini", then

echo -e "\ngtk-recent-files-max-age=0\ngtk-recent-files-limit=0" >> ~/.config/gtk-3.0/settings.ini

(note the ">>" vs the ">" difference ; ">>" appends to a file while a single ">" completely overwrites it, without backup, if it already exists)

And in either case:

rm ~/.local/share/recently-used.xbel

To disable the list for GTK 2 based applications follow this step:

echo gtk-recent-files-max-age=0 >> ~/.gtkrc-2.0

These steps are better than changing permissions on the file as they prevent error messages from being shown when launching GTK based applications that rely on the file.

Detailed information can be found here - https://alexcabal.com/disabling-gnomes-recently-used-file-list-the-better-way/

  • It will be nice if you include the actual codes for gtk2 and gtk3 in your answer. People can then look at the link for background if they want. It would be helpful in case the link is inaccessible
    – user25656
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 10:30
  • @vasa1 Good idea will do so shortly.
    – kingmilo
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 10:32
  • 1
    Okay, I made the changes, deleted all the bookmarks from recently-used.xbel and logged in again. I created a few files. Looking good so far. Although it looks like some programs may have their own internal "recently used" lists. LibreOffice Calc seems to be one of them.
    – user25656
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 10:47
  • 1
    One last point :) Someone could still find out what has been accessed. See this code for example: find ~/{Documents,Desktop,Downloads,Music} -ctime -1 -type f -exec bash -c 'select f;do [[ -n $f ]]&&xdg-open "$f"||exit;done' _ '{}' +. It's based on suggestions by schragge in this thread and doesn't rely on recently-used.xbel. Bottom line: if someone else has access to the PC, "ordinary" measures won't be enough.
    – user25656
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 11:02
  • 1
    Note: these settings doesn't prevent some additional disk writes: (meld:3588): Gtk-WARNING **: Attempting to store changes into '/home/user/.local/share/recently-used.xbel', but failed: Failed to rename file '/home/user/.local/share/recently-used.xbel.ZT44NX' to '/home/user/.local/share/recently-used.xbel': g_rename() failed
    – int_ua
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 14:29

I've found that fiddling with the recently-used.xbel file has no effect (at least on Ubuntu 17.04+). You can delete it, clear it, /dev/null it, set it immutable, shoot it in any way and it won't work. For example Nautilus has a "Recently used" section hardwired into the side panel - and it's not deletable by any means and survives the .xbel file being wiped.

On GNOME / Ubuntu do this (which worked for me):

  1. Open a terminal and start gnome
$ gnome-control-center
  1. Navigate to the "Privacy Group" and click on "Privacy" enter image description here

  2. Click on "Usage & History" and on the following dialog set the "Recently Used" toggle to OFF.

Right when you do this, you can see the "Recently used" list in Nautilus going empty. (This also wipes the .xbel file - check it out.) Done.


As before, whatever you do, it's always there. But you can make it immutable so it stops logging and stays empty. Command: sudo chattr +i ~/.local/share/recently-used.xbel .The system, and you as well, will not be able to do anything with it, until you change +i(immutable). This is the reverse command to restart logging back again: sudo chattr -i ~/.local/share/recently-used.xbel .(only if you want recently-used functioning again for some reason). I've had success clearing logs out by moving the folder to /dev/shm and shutdown computer. The folder comes back, empty.


Why not just disable recently-used files through gsettings?

gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.privacy remember-recent-files false
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.privacy remember-app-usage false
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.privacy recent-files-max-age 0

This should work; If not please reply and point out any errors!

  • Although it's a good answer and I really like automating with gsettings, this doesn't work on Ubuntu 21.10 :( Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 12:08

So far this file gets recreated even if you chown it to root or make it immutable. Even if you set the max-age settings to 0, it still remembers directories.

I have implemented a workaround that clears this file every 5 minutes. It's a very nasty workaround: create a cron entry that clears the file frequently:

crontab -e

# clear gtk recently used list every 5 minutes
*/5 *   *   *   *   echo "" > .local/share/recently-used.xbel

Certain applications still default to the recently used list, but this satisfies your question to permanently prevent Ubuntu 12.10 from creating a "recently used" file list.


Testing this on RHEL9.2 (Gnome 40) I found an option in Gnome:Settings (near the power button)

"Privacy:File History & Wastebasket"

There's a button to disable history and another button to clear history. I used both, and 'recently-used.xbel' has collapsed down to "nothing", and the annoying "recent" link has gone from the nautilus.

Before this, I had a user who would open a file from "recent" and then not know where the file actually was in the filesystem.


Assuming it's only that file that you want to prevent from being written, you could try changing its permissions so it cannot be accessed.

First, delete the file. Then, create a new, blank one. Then, customize its permissions.

cd ~/.local/share
rm recently-used.xbel
touch recently-used.xbel
chmod 000 recently-used.xbel

If you want, you can even change its ownership so no program running as your user can change its permissions and write to it:

sudo chown root:root recently-used.xbel

Some programs might issue errors (with or without that final customization).

  • Any idea which program(s) write to that file?
    – user25656
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 10:05
  • I see this file (xml) in Lubuntu which does not have Zeitgeist, AFAIK.
    – user25656
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 10:08
  • I get just the prompt returned. Yes, mine is a pure Lubuntu install.
    – user25656
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 10:15
  • 1
    @vasa1 GTK based applications write to that file.
    – kingmilo
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 10:16
  • GTK programs do issue an error to stderr if this file is chmod to root, remarkably the file gets recreated as the user as owner. How mysterious! This solution does not seem to work.
    – invert
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 19:39

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .