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In this post I show you how to get the Nautilus typeahead feature back on all supported versions of Ubuntu.
Nautilus’ type ahead functionality was retired way back in 2013. Ubuntu devs continued to patch the feature back in on until 2017 when they switched to a more ‘vanilla’ GNOME desktop experience.
At present when you start typing in a Nautilus window (with no search box or other input field selected) the file manager performs a full-text search in the current folder AND any of its sub-folders. It then shows you results that match your term.
It’s a comprehensive search approach that is better at finding things for most people. But most people isn’t everyone and some folks (particularly those who’ve switched from macOS) want to hit a letter(s) on their keyboard (with the file manager in focus) to jump to the first file or folder that matches (without hiding everything else).
Thankfully in the world of open source: if you have an itch you can scratch it — and fans of Nautilus typeahead search have done just that.
What is Nautilus Typeahead Search?
So what this feature and how does it differ to the ‘out-of-the-box’ experience?
Typeahead search in Nautilus works like this: you open a folder and start typing. As you type the file manager instantly jumps to/finds the first file (or folder) that matches the letter(s) you enter but — crucially — only in the directory you’re viewing.
I.e. it finds ahead.
This behaviour is fast, efficient, and (I think) rather intuitive.
For example, if I open ‘Pictures’ and start typing ‘screenshot‘ I instantly jump to the first image (or folder) that starts with ‘screenshot‘. I can use keyboard arrow keys to skip to the next matching result, and so on.
In an unpatched Nautilus the file manager would instead search for all files that match, be it in the file name or the document contents (full-text search is courtesy of Tracker).
If you still don’t quite get it (it’s a very visual thing, don’t worry) here’s an ancient video I found on YouTube. Do note that the actual point of the video (to enable interactive search) no longer works.
Before I show you how to replace Ubuntu’s stock Nautilus with a third-party build I will mention that you can make full text search behave more like type-ahead find without using PPAs or patches.
- Open Nautilus > Preferences
- Change ‘Search in Subfolders’ setting to ‘Never’
Now you’ll only see matching files from the directory you’re viewing.
Which sounds like a good idea until you try to search for a file whose location you’re not aware of…
So for the real deal, read on.
Enable Nautilus Typeahead Find in Ubuntu
If you miss typeahead search in Nautilus you can get it back on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS through 20.10 without needing to downgrade your system or switch to an alternative file manager like Nemo, Caja or Thunar (though those are solid options, for what it’s worth).
The third-party PPA (usual risks apply) we’ll use brings the much-missed file-finding feature back thanks to a patch from the Arch User repo. The PPA replaces the standard version of Nautilus used in Ubuntu for a third-party build compiled with typeahead find feature enabled.
To add it, open a new Terminal window and run this command:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:lubomir-brindza/nautilus-typeahead
Enter when prompted to add the PPA. Ubuntu will automatically refresh your system sources.
sudo apt dist-upgrade
Review the changes listed and, assuming you’re happy to proceed, hit
Enter to let it “do its thing”.
Once install is complete you will need to restart Nautilus for changes to take effect and this has to be done from the command line.
f2 and run:
Open any folder in Nautilus and hit a letter to jump to a matching result in the folder you’re viewing.
You use regular full-text search in Nautilus by clicking on the search icon in the app’s toolbar.
Be aware that when Ubuntu updates Nautilus the typeahead feature will stop working until the PPA maintainer updates their repo to match it. You can pin the package(s) provided by the PPA to prevent it being upgraded, or you can just be mindful when running the Software Updater tool.
Revert to Vanilla Nautilus
If you encounter any bugs while using this PPA or you decide you want to return to the way the stock version of Nautilus behaves just remove the PPA using the PPA Purge.
First, install PPA Purge:
sudo apt install ppa-purge
Then, remove the repository:
sudo ppa-purge ppa:lubomir-brindza/nautilus-typeahead
This shows you a list of packages to be removed and/or downgraded. If you’re happy with what’s shown just hit that
Enter key and the switch will take place.
Finish up by restarting Nautilus.
Thanks to Tuomo S.