The State of Drag and Drop in Linux

A few months ago, looking for a replacement for Windows (which always finds new ways to get on my nerves), I spent a couple of weeks playing with Linux Mint with MATE desktop. During this test drive, one of the annoyances I came across was the inability to drag a URL from Chromium’s address bar to create a link on the desktop. I literally ended up asking for help, and still didn’t figure it out.

Creating a URL shortcut on a Windows 10 desktop by dragging the padlock icon in Chrome

In Windows, this is something I’ve been doing for many, many years. It’s not rocket science. You drag the padlock icon next to the address bar onto your desktop and a shortcut is created, pointing to that URL.

Ubuntu 19.10

Since Ubuntu 19.10 was released a week and a half ago, I thought I’d try it out. The first thing I figured I’d make sure was that I could drag and drop links to the desktop. Ubuntu is one of the most popular and mature operating systems around. Surely they’d support such a basic usability feature, right?

Ubuntu 19.10 doesn’t let you drag links to the desktop.

Well, it turns out that dragging links from default browser Firefox to the desktop has no effect whatsoever. Odd, isn’t it? Let’s try dragging that link to some other folder instead.

We try dragging a link from Firefox to the Documents folder
“Drag and drop is not supported. An invalid drag type was used.”

That’s annoying. I mean, drag and drop is a really basic feature that has been around forever. Let’s try dragging a file from one folder to another… obviously that’s going to work, no?

It looks like it’s going to work, but it doesn’t.

As you drag the file, a little plus icon appears beneath the hand as if to tell you that something’s going to happen. Alas, however, this also has no effect.

And of course, dragging the file to the desktop similarly does not work:

Dragging the file to the desktop has no effect

So we can’t drag links from Firefox, and we can’t drag and drop files. Maybe we’ll have better luck with Chromium?

We try dragging a link from Chromium into the Documents folder
Once again, we get that “Drag and drop is not supported” failure.

So it seems, like someone hinted in that original question about drag and drop in Linux Mint, that this has nothing to do with the browser and is something related to the desktop environment.

Once again, I had to swallow that feeling of incompetence and ask for help with this. Aside from the usual Stack Overflow treatment of getting my question closed as a duplicate, one of the comments led to other Q&As that uncovered a bitter truth: that drag and drop support was intentionally removed. Why would anyone in their right state of mind do that?

Kubuntu 19.10

Incredulous, I decided to try the KDE flavour of Ubuntu — Kubuntu. Drag and drop a link from browser to desktop? No problem:

We drag the padlock icon next to the address bar to the desktop
A context menu appears, asking what we want to do with the URL. “Link Here” creates the equivalent of a desktop shortcut in Windows.
An icon is created on the desktop, leading to the webpage we wanted to keep track of.

Was that really so hard? I get it, there were reasons why GNOME decided to do away with desktop icons and the like. But surely there are better ways to solve the problem than to do away with a basic and essential usability feature.

A desktop environment without basic drag and drop support in… almost 2020… is just garbage.

5 thoughts on “The State of Drag and Drop in Linux”

  1. Totally agree- this is one of my bugbears of Linux.
    Been using Mint for years and generally love it… but drag/drop and copy / paste of files is always a will it won’t it work – rather than Windows where it pretty much always works and has done since the Romans were in power….

  2. Totally agree also! It is now mid 2022 Ubuntu v20 and STILL no drag-n-drop!

    “bitter truth: that drag and drop support was intentionally removed. Why would anyone in their right state of mind do that?”

    I can really not come up with one reason why one would remove such a basic and essential function!

    1. I will assume that they simply could not make it work under all conditions.
      Just like MS eliminated ShellBags when going to Windows 10.
      They simply could not make it work under all conditions.
      They wanted to eliminate all of the service calls due to running out of ShellBags at 5K or 10K or 20K ShellBags.
      Appearantly MS just could not make it dynamic.
      The default was 5K ShellBags and it cannot be increased beyond 20K ShellBags.
      When you run out of ShellBags, Windows 7 starts to work just like Windows 10 that abandoned use of ShellBags, All new windows open on top of old windows and previous window positions are forgotten.
      OpenShell on Windows 10 will use the ShellBags which are still in the registry.
      Set the ShellBags to 20K ShellBags and OpenShell will make Windows 10 work just like Windows 7 until you run out of shell bags.
      Then since MS saw fit to create a limited number of ShellBags, one must erase all 20K ShellBags and start over positioning your windows in their desired positions, just like used to happen in Windows 7 that caused all the service calls to MS.

  3. Still the same issue on most Linux desktop. I have tested this with Chromium and Firefox on Debian KDE/Gnome, Elementary, Ubuntu, Fedora, MX Linux (KDE), Linux Mint, Deepin. The only one working out of the box is MX Linux with XFCE desktop environment. This basic things are what make difficult the user migration from MACOS and Windows to Linux desktop, i hope Linux developers fixes this soon.

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