How to Install Xfce Desktop on Debian 11 Bullseye

Xfce is a lightweight free, open-source desktop environment for UNIX-like operating systems. It is designed to be fast and light on system resources while visually appealing than the default desktop environments that ship with most operating systems. Xfce is very popular with older systems with hardware as a key feature in its design is to conserve both memory and CPU cycles.

In the following tutorial, you will learn how to install Xfce on your Debian 11 Bullseye desktop.


Update Operating System

Update your Debian operating system to make sure all existing packages are up to date:

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y

The tutorial will be using the sudo command and assuming you have sudo status.

To verify sudo status on your account:

sudo whoami

Example output showing sudo status:

[joshua@debian~]$ sudo whoami

To set up an existing or new sudo account, visit our tutorial on Adding a User to Sudoers on Debian.

To use the root account, use the following command with the root password to log in.


The tutorial will utilize the terminal for the installation found in Activities > Show Applications > Terminal.


Important Notice Before Installation

Before installing the Xfce desktop, create backups or plans if you do not like it and want to roll back. Removing any Desktop Environment is messy and will lead to system instabilities and random applications still installed. Overall, it is a painstaking process to revert to the original state before the packages were installed, especially for the new and average user.

Unless you have minimal system resources, having multiple desktop environments won’t hinder your system. Often people have several and switch in between.

Install Xfce on Debian

Begin the installation of Xfce by using the following in your terminal.

sudo apt install task-xfce-desktop

Example output:

Type Y, then press the ENTER KEY to proceed with the installation.

The desktop environment installation will not take long, given it is relatively lightweight compared to available alternatives. During the installation, you will see the “Configuring lightdm.”

Xfce is recommended to run on using lightdm. If this will be your default desktop, select it and press the TAB KEY to select <Ok> and hit the ENTER KEY.


Once complete, reboot your system, which can be done by typing the following directly into your terminal.


Switching Default Display Managers

Alternatively, in the future, if you want to change the default display manager back to GDM3 to use GNOME, you can re-run this pop-up using the following command.

sudo dpkg-reconfigure lightdm

Make sure to reboot if you are going from Xfce back to GNOME and vice versa in the future.

First Look & Verifying Xfce Desktop

Once you have restarted your desktop, you will arrive at your login screen.


First, you need to verify the desktop environment. This is done by clicking the configuration in the top right-hand corner.

Next, select “Xfce Session” instead of the default “Default Xsession”

Example (Click Image Expand):

Once logged in, you will notice quite a few UI changes besides the apparent color and background changes. The taskbar is now similar to a more windows type of taskbar, along with more integrations in the top left-hand and right-hand corner of services where the time display is.

Example (Click Image Expand):

To confirm the installation, a handy package to install is Neofetch which is featured in Debian’s repositories.

To install this package, use the following command in your terminal.

sudo apt install neofetch -y

Once installed, run the following command in your terminal.


Example output (Click Image Expand):

And that is it, and you have successfully installed the Xfce desktop environment.

How to Update Xfce Desktop Packages

Run the standard apt update && upgrade commands for future updates for the Xfce desktop environment and any default APT packages.

sudo apt update

When updates are available, run the standard upgrade command as you would with any other apt package.

sudo apt upgrade

Comments and Conclusion

In the tutorial, you have learned how to install the Xfce desktop environment on your Debian 11 Bullseye. Overall, it’s a solid option and is generally up to date with the latest releases from Xfce.

Ideally, you can install this package and switch around depending on your mood if you have a decent system. If you prefer desktop jumping, it’s worth checking out if the looks appeal to you. If unsure, I would suggest installing a VM first, then on your main machine.

For further information on using the Xfce desktop environment, visit the official documentation.

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