SpaceFM universal file manager

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© mvalle -

© mvalle -

Growing Out

SpaceFM provides a solid file manager. With additional plugins, you can expand it into an optimized tool for all your daily tasks.

A well-known adage of Unix states that "everything is a file," which means a variety of tools exist for moving, copying, and opening files. Most tools either follow the Windows Explorer model, like Nautilus and Dolphin, or hold up the banner of the antiquated Norton Commander, whose concept of split views still seems convincing to many users.

SpaceFM [1], which developed out of the PCManFM code, resembles Explorer at first glance, as the main window shows (Figure 1). Over and above the inherited concept, however, SpaceFM provides functionality that leaves almost all other file managers in the dust.

Figure 1: SpaceFM's window layout seems familiar but goes its own way in terms of range of functionality.


Some distribution maintainers have already opted to ship SpaceFM as their default file management tool [2]. Parted Magic [3], for one, provides a Live CD with SpaceFM as its sole tool for disk partitioning and system restoration.

Generally, the smaller distributions and special rescue programs are the ones that rely on the newcomer, including a few lightweight systems, such as ArchBang [4].

To set up SpaceFM on your system, you can install it either from the distribution repository (see "Installation" box) or – to use the latest version – you can build the software from its sources (see the "Installation" box).


The mainstream projects are still somewhat behind the small distributions regarding SpaceFM. Only Fedora, Mageia, and Arch Linux have officially maintained packages of the file manager. If you expect full network capabilities, however, the offerings are limited to Arch Linux. Fedora and Mageia are missing the required udevil package [6].

You don't necessarily need to compile the program yourself, because the SpaceFM project provides packages for Debian, Ubuntu, and openSUSE [7] that are enhanced with udevil. They are still a good choice despite not having quite the quality management of the larger distributions. For Ubuntu, for example, Mateusz Åukasik provides a PPA that can be added to your sources by copying the following lines to your list of repositories if you are using Saucy:

deb saucy main
deb-src saucy main

If not, change to your version of Ubuntu.

Installing from the sources may prove useful in some cases when you find a prebuilt package on the net. Either download the current tarball or use the following command to download the sources (around 60MB):

git clone

Now all you need when unpacking the tarball in the downloaded folder is the usual three-step configuration configure && make && make install (with root privileges) to get SpaceFM on the disk.

Although the program provides an installation script, the transfer of various options are poorly documented. GTK3 might result in other smaller problems (see the "SpaceFM and GTK3" box).

You can also integrate udevil , if desired. The SpaceFM package site includes the matching source code links.

SpaceFM and GTK3

SpaceFM is currently making a switch to GTK3. The code isn't quite mature and provides no new features, so compiling with the --with-gtk3 option is hardly worthwhile. You must ensure, however, that regardless of the GTK3 default, the corresponding developer package for the older GTK version is actually present on the system. Otherwise, the GTK3-devel package is used.

Occasionally, errors occur while displaying and navigating when in combination with the newest GTK3 engines, so a change to the last version is not recommended. That applies to Oxygen (oxygen-gtk3 ), which was used for this article's screenshots and whose Fedora package is already based on GTK3. A do-it-yourself program from the sources could be a remedy in this case.

Additionally, some non-English translations in the last published SpaceFM version 0.8.7 are incomplete and don't largely follow the syntactical and grammatical rules that apply to other GTK software, such as Gnome itself, Ubuntu, and XFCE. These shortcomings were largely eliminated in Git.

Starting out with SpaceFM

SpaceFM does all the basic stuff well, such as file operations and access to network resources and removable media. Removable media are in the Devices | Show menu.

When activating a menu entry, SpaceFM creates space in the upper left window corner for access to available media such as CDs and memory sticks.

You can connect the SpaceFM drives to the network. However, this might not work right away, because the program needs udevil. Fortunately, you can get it from the same place you got SpaceFM. Without the additional software, you would need to access such resources using external tools (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Integrating resources from the network requires some work if the udevil tool isn't available.

A really interesting feature of SpaceFM is its ability to display four simultaneous views while making fine adjustments in each one. Thus, you can create almost a Commander out of Explorer, or vice versa. For example, you can have one view as a list while another has icons, as you wish.

You can open and close views using the check boxes at the upper right, with the SpaceFM folder always in the last active view (Figure 3). The elements of the visible views are always active, with the check marks of the inactive views grayed out.

Figure 3: A window with four views requires considerable concentration.

This approach makes navigation easier, especially with keyboard operations. You can also use the tab version, where simply clicking the plus sign opens another tab. Keeping track of the four open views takes some practice, but having the feature doesn't necessarily mean using it. Usually, a single view works best initially, with others added as you go along. The behavior is somewhat reminiscent of the dynamic working interface of the Gnome shell.

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