KDE System Administration/KDE Filesystem Hierarchy

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KDE defines a filesystem hierarchy which is used by the KDE environment itself as well as all KDE applications. In general KDE stores all it files in a fixed directory tree.

By default there are two such directory trees, one at the system level and one at the user level in the user's home directory. However, as a system administrator you can create additional trees.

KDE and KDE applications look up files by scanning the directory trees. The directory trees are in order of precedence. When a file is present in multiple directory trees, the file from the first listed tree takes precendence. Normally, the tree located in the user's home directory has the highest precedence. This is also the directory tree where changes are written to.

For [config_file.php configuration files] the story is slightly different. If there are multiple configuration files found in the directory trees with the same name their content is combined. The precedence order of the directory trees plays a role here. When two files define the same configuration key, the file with the highest precedence determines which value is used for the key.

Location of the Directory Trees

The location of the KDE Directory Trees is determined by a number of environment variables, each of which is covered below.


This environment variable determines the location of the user level directory tree and is used by KDE applications for creating and saving files. This directory tree has the highest precedence; files or settings found in this directory tree will take precendent over any files or settings found in other directory trees.

This directory tree is, as the name already suggests, normally located in the home directory of the user. If this environment variable is not defined the default location $HOME/.kde is used.

If the environment variable has a value that starts with a tilde (~), the tilde is replaced with the users home directory at runtime. In order to use this care must be taken to add proper quoting, otherwise the shell might do the expansion already resulting in undesired behaviour in combination with su.


In order to prevent problems where applications that run as root save files with root-privileges in the user's home directory, the $KDEROOTHOME environment variable has been introduced in the KDE 3.x series. Applications that run with uid 0 (root) will use this variable to determine the location of the user level directory and where to save their files. If this variable is not defined the home directoy of the root user is looked up in the password file and .kde is appended. Usually that results in /root/.kde .


It is possible to specify multiple system level directory trees. This makes it possible to let groups of users use a directory tree dedicated for their group. Such an additional directory tree can contain additional applications, specialized application resources or a specific set of default configurations suitable for the group. Specifying default configurations this way instead of using a /etc/skel construction has as advantage that changes in the default configuration can be made after the account of the user has been created.

The directories in $KDEDIRS should be seperated with a colon (:). The directories are listed in precedence order, the first directory has highest precedence, the last one lowest precedence.

Since a group level directory tree should normally override any settings present at the system level, one would list the group level directory tree before the system level directory tree.

In general communication, references to the directory trees are made in terms of $KDEHOME to indicate the applicable user level directory tree, and in terms of $KDEDIRS to indicate any of the system level directory trees.


A staff member at a university could have the following settings:

KDEHOME='~/.kde3' KDEROOTHOME='/root/.kde3' KDEDIRS='/opt/kde_staff:/opt/kde3'

In this example the user settings are saved under the .kde3 directory in the user's home directory. Applications that run as root will save their settings to /root/.kde3 . KDE 3 has been installed to /opt/kde3 but there is also an additional directory tree located at /opt/kde_staff . Configuration files under that directory will take precedent over the ones in the /opt/kde3 system directories. /opt/kde-staff could contain additional applications that should only be available to staff members.

Directory Tree

Each directory tree used by KDE has a fixed directory structure. Directories that are not relevant for a certain tree can be left out though. For example, directories used for temporary files are usually only found under $KDEHOME but not in any other directory tree.

The KDE runtime environment combines the sub-directories found under the various directory trees and refers to them as a single KDE resource. The KDE resource name is listed in the tables below.

There are three broad categories: files that are CPU/architecture specific, files that are host specific and files that are not specific with regards to host, CPU or architecture.

CPU/architecture specific directories:

Directory KDE resource Description
bin/ exe Used for KDE executables.
cgi-bin/ cgi CGI scipts that can be used by the KDE Help Center
lib/ lib Used for KDE libraries.
lib/kde3/ module This directory contains components, plugins and other runtime loadable objects for use by KDE 3.x applications.

The following are host specific directories. They are only available under $KDEHOME and are normally symlinked to locations outside the $KDEHOME directory tree.

Directory KDE resource Description
socket-<HOSTNAME> socket This directory contains communication sockets. The filesystem used by $KDEHOME may not be suitable for communication sockets. For that reason this directory is by default symlinked to another location.
tmp-<HOSTNAME> tmp This directory is used for temporary files. The filesystem used by $KDEHOME may be on a network. For performance reasons this directory is therefor by default symlinked to another location which is more likely to be on a local filesystem.
cache-<HOSTNAME> cache New in KDE 3.2. This directory is used for cached information such as HTTP objects, formatted help pages and the system configuration cache (ksycoca).

Since this is non-essential information this directory is by default sylinked to a location outside $KDEHOME to help making backups of other information easier and to make it easier to reclaim diskspace.

The majority of directories involves data that is not CPU, architecture or host specific, all these directories are prefixed with share/:

Directory KDE resource Description
share/applnk/ apps Contains .desktop files describing the KDE-menu.
share/apps/ data Contains applications specific data files. Each application has a sub-directory here for storing its files.
share/config/ config Contains configuration files. Configuration files are normally named after the application they belong to followed by "rc". There are also files that are specific to a component and as such referenced by all applications that use that component. A special case is "kdeglobals", this file is read by all KDE applications.
share/config/session/ - This directory is used by session management and is normally only available under $KDEHOME. At the end of a session KDE applications store their state here. The file names start with the name of the application followed by a number. The session manager "ksmserver" stores references to these numbers when saving a session in "ksmserverrc".
share/doc/HTML/ html Documentation of KDE applications is stored here. Documentation is categorized by language and the application it belongs to.

Normally at least two files can be found in a directory: "index.docbook" which contains the documentation in the unformatted docbook format and "index.cache.bz2" which contains the same documentation formatted as bzip2 compressed html. The html version is used by khelpcenter, if the html version is missing it will regenerate it from the docbook version but this is a time-consuming process.

share/icons/ icon Under this directory icons are stored. Icons are categorized per theme, dimension and usage category.
share/mimelnk/ mime In this directory .desktop files that describe mimetypes are stored.
share/services/ services This directory contains .desktop files that describe services. Services and Applications are very similar, the major difference is that a Service is usually used by other Services or Applications while an Application is in general started by the user. Services do not appear in the KDE menu.
share/servicetypes/ servicetypes This directory contains .desktop files that describe servicetypes. A servicetype usually represents a certain programming interface. Applications and Services include in their .desktop files the servicetypes that they provide.
share/sounds/ sound This directory contains sound files.
share/templates/ templates This dir contains templates for creating files of various types. A template consists of a .desktop file that describes the file and that includes a reference to a file in the .source sub-directory. The templates in this directory appearem in the "Create New" menu available on the desktop and in the file browser. When a user selects a template from the menu its source file is copied.
share/wallpapers/} wallpaper This directory contains images that can be used as background picture.

Outside the Directory Tree

As mentioned in the description of the directory tree, there are three host-specific directories that are usually symlinked to other locations. If the directories do not already exist, the following symlinks and directories will be created using the lnusertemp utility. Since both /tmp and /var/tmp are world writable, there is a possibility that one of the mentioned directories already exists but is owned by another user. In that case the lnusertemp utility will create a new directory with an alternative name and link to that instead.


Symlink: $KDEHOME/socket-<HOSTNAME>

Default destination: /tmp/ksocket-<USER>/

lnusertemp socket creates a directory for local communication sockets and point a symlink to it. The combined length of the directory name and the name of any communication socket should not exceed 106 characters. By default this directory is created under /tmp, other locations can be used by setting the KDETMP environment variable.

Temporary Files

Symlink: $KDEHOME/tmp-<HOSTNAME>

Default destination: /tmp/kde-<USER>/

lnusertemp tmp creates a directory for temporary files and points a symlink to it. For performance reasons it is recommended to have this directory on a local filesystem but this is not strictly necassery.

Cache Files

Symlink: $KDEHOME/cache-<HOSTNAME>

Defualt destination: /var/tmp/kdecache-<USER>/</code>

lnusertemp cache creates a directory for cache files and points a symlink to it. For performance reasons it is recommended to have this directory on a local filesystem but this is not strictly necassery.

The system configuration cache (ksycoca and ksycocastamp) is located in here. It is recommended NOT to delete these files during boot since that will slow down the startup of KDE.

By default this directory is created under /var/tmp, other locations can be used by setting the $KDEVARTMP environment variable.

Adding Lookup Locations

KDE applications look up data files using the resource names listed in the [#dir_structure Directory Tree] section. The KDE runtime environment translates these names to actual directories. It does so by combining the locations of the directory trees with the directories listed in the tables.

Defining Search Paths

A user has the following directory tree settings:

KDEHOME='~/.kde3' KDEDIRS='/opt/kde_staff:/opt/kde3'

When an application now looks for a "wallpaper" file, to each of the directory trees the directory "share/wallpapers/" is added. All of the resulting directories are then searched for the file:

~/.kde3/share/wallpapers/ /opt/kde_staff/share/wallpapers/ /opt/kde3/share/wallpapers/

By adding more directory tree to the KDEDIRS environment variable it is possible to expand the number of directories that are being searched. Sometimes it is desirable to include only a single directory in a search but not a whole directory tree. Additional directories can be configured in the kdeglobals configuration file in the "Directories" section. To do so assign one or more directories to the key "dir_" followed by the name of the resource. Multiple directories are seperated by a commas (,).

Adding a Resource Directory

To add the directory /data/photos to the wallpaper resource, put the following two lines in kdeglobals:

[Directories] dir_wallpaper=/data/photos

When the application now looks for wallpaper files, it will look in the following locations:

/data/photos ~/.kde3/share/wallpapers/ /opt/kde_staff/share/wallpapers/ /opt/kde3/share/wallpapers/