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How GNOME 42 Lights the Way with New ‘Dark Mode’ Preference

GNOME 42 is on course to ship with support for a proper ‘dark mode’ toggle.

Right now Linux desktops lack a standardised, system-level way for users to indicate to the system, its apps, and even the websites they visit that they’d prefer them to use a dark appearance.

Now, you’re probably thinking: “Joey, Ubuntu already has a dark mode: I use it” — and you’re not mistaken.

Major desktop Linux distros, including Ubuntu and Pop!_OS, do include a dark theme option. But changing GTK theme the best way to approach this?

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Alexander Mikhaylenko: Dark Style Preference

  • Alexander Mikhaylenko: Dark Style Preference

    Lately, I’ve been working on having a proper dark style preference in GNOME. It’s a frequently requested feature, but also hard to get right. elementary UX architect Cassidy James Blaede did a good write-up about this, please read it if you haven’t yet (or watch his GUADEC talk if you prefer a video).

    That was more than two years ago. Since then, elementary OS has started shipping an elementary-specific implementation designed in a way that it could be standardized later without many changes. While I could introduce another preference in GNOME, it was a good excuse to standardize it instead.

    [...]

    The libadwaita API is already available in alpha 3, the libhandy one is not released yet.

    Another difference is — the dark style preference is supported by default if you’re using libadwaita. While in libhandy the default is keeping the previous behavior — apps that were always light remain always light – libadwaita goes ahead and makes following the preference the default. Since it’s not API-stable yet, it’s an acceptable behavior break, same way as macOS and iOS support it automatically when building against new enough platform libraries, but don’t do it otherwise in order to keep existing apps working.

    When porting from GTK3 and libhandy to GTK4 and libadwaita, apps are expected to start supporting this or otherwise opt out. When already using older versions of libadwaita, apps are expected to start supporting this when updating to alpha 3. When using libhandy, apps don’t get the support by default, but can explicitly opt in.

    Transitions

    Another thing libhandy and libadwaita do when switching appearance is they try very hard to block the CSS transitions that would usually occur. These transitions can take a long time and are inconsistent between widgets. For widgets with custom drawn content such as WebKitWebView this can’t work at all, so no point in trying.

    An approach that yields much better results is doing the transition on the compositor side — then it works for any content automatically:

    It’s still not perfect: GTK3 apps can take a pretty long time when doing this, and it will be noticeable: for example the GTK4 Patterns window on the video changes its appearance immediately while Settings and Web lag behind. The video was recorded in a VM though, and the transition should be smoother on bare metal.

GNOME 42 to Introduce a System-wide Dark Style Preference

  • GNOME 42 to Introduce a System-wide Dark Style Preference, Thanks to elementary OS

    There’s still time for GNOME 42, but it looks like it will implement a system-wide dark mode preference similar to elementary OS 6.

    If you have been reading our coverages, you must have noticed mentioning it as one of the best elementary OS 6 features.

    And for all the right reasons. Unlike a GTK theme change, elementary OS 6 approached the dark style preference as an opt-in preference that application developers can detect and choose to respect.

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