XDG desktop portals

Portals are a standardised framework allowing desktop applications to use resources outside of their sandbox. The file chooser portal, for example, opens a native file chooser on the host system. When the user selects a file, the application is granted access to that file.

Portals provide a range of common features to applications, including:

  • Opening a file with a file chooser
  • Opening URIs in other applications
  • Preventing the device from suspend/sleep/powering off
  • Sending email
  • Showing notifications
  • Taking screenshots and screencasts

See the Portal API reference for all supported portals.

Portals originated from the Flatpak project, but are now a common Linux desktop standard with support from GNOME, KDE and Snapcraft. They are even used outside of sandboxes to provide a standardised API to common desktop features such as screenshots and screen casts on wayland.

How to use portals in your snap

  1. Use the Portal API’s in your application
    Unlike regular Snapcraft interfaces, portals require applications to use a new API in order to access resources. Toolkits like GTK 3 and Qt5, however, provide transparent support for portals. See Portal support in GTK 3 or Portal support in Qt5 and KDE for detailed information.
    If your application is not using one of those toolkits, you will need to use the Portals API directly. See the Portals API documentation for more information.

  2. Add the desktop interface to your snap
    This interface gives your snap access to the portals.

  3. Enable Portal support in your application.

  • GTK 3: turn on portal support in GTK 3 by setting the following environment variable:
    GTK_USE_PORTAL=1

  • Qt: often defaults to using portals, but you can enable it manually by changing the platform theme:
    Set QT_QPA_PLATFORMTHEME=gtk3 on GTK based desktops and
    Set QT_QPA_PLATFORMTHEME=flatpak and QT_QPA_FLATPAK_PLATFORMTHEME=kde for Qt based desktops.

  • Electron: portal support in the Electron file chooser is being worked on.

Both the gnome-3-34 extension and the kde-neon extension automatically enable portal support for GTK 3 and Qt applications on GTK-based desktops. If your snap uses either extension, you only need to do step 1.

File chooser portal vs home interface

It is recommended to use the file chooser portal instead of the home and removable-media interfaces for the following reasons:

  • The portal gives the user complete control over what exact files your application should access while the interfaces are all-or-nothing toggles.
  • The portal works with hidden files and folders in the home directory. If a user chooses a hidden file, the portal will give your application access to it. The home interface does not give your app access to hidden files and folders in the home directory for security reasons. Note that the home interface does give access to hidden files and folders elsewhere, just not in the home directory itself.
  • The portal works with removable-media out of the box. If a user chooses a file from a USB stick, your app will get access to it. The removable-media interface, however, does not auto-connect by default.

However, the file chooser portal works a bit differently than the home interface:

  • Files are fuse-mounted to /run/user/<uid>/doc/<hash>/ in order to give your application access to it. So the path your application sees is different from the path a user chose, even though both are the same file.

The FileChooser portal also contains a few bugs:

Known Limitations

  • org.freedesktop.portal.Flatpak.Spawn only works in a Flatpak. If your application needs to run abritrary binaries on the host system, you can use classic confinement.
  • Portal support depends on the version of xdg-desktop-portal in the host system. Older versions do not support all portals. Repology shows what version of xdg-desktop-portal each distribution has and the portals NEWS file explains what portals each version supports.

See Desktop applications for more information on how to snap a desktop application.

Last updated 7 days ago. Help improve this document in the forum.