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I'd like to programmatically access and manipulate the Desktop icon positions, their icons, etc.

This is for files and directories that you keep in ~/Desktop .

Where is this stuff stored?

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Stored as GVFS metadata attributes.

To get all GVFS metadata attributes for file/directory:

gvfs-info '/home/user/Desktop/Untitled Folder/'

To get specific attribute - icon position:

gvfs-info -a 'metadata::nautilus-icon-position' '/home/user/Desktop/Untitled Document/'

To set icon position:

gvfs-set-attribute -t string '/home/user/Desktop/Untitled Document/' 'metadata::nautilus-icon-position' '500,500'

Remember to refresh desktop (F5 key) to see effect.

If lower level manipulation required there is Nautilus Extension API (via libnautilus):

https://developer.gnome.org/libnautilus-extension/stable/

and specifically:

https://developer.gnome.org/libnautilus-extension/stable/NautilusFileInfo.html

  • This works well for actual files; is it also possible to access metadata::nautilus-icon-position for the special icons that appear on the desktop for USB drives, ‘Home’, etc? gvfs-info -a 'metadata::nautilus-icon-position' '/home/user/Desktop/External-drive' says “No such file or directory”. – Honore Doktorr Jan 11 '17 at 22:17
  • The commands are now gio info and gio set, for example on Ubuntu 18.04. – David Oct 27 '18 at 2:25

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