Desktop Administrators' Guide to GNOME Lockdown and Preconfiguration

Sayamindu Dasgupta


Revision History
Revision 0.220th August, 2007
Revision 0.115th June, 2007

Lockdown is the mechanism which is used to bar users using a computing environnment from performing certain actions (like, for instance, printing files, or saving files to disk). The GNOME Desktop already has lockdown support in a few areas (especially the panel and the epiphany web browser). This document aims to cover all the lockdown features found in GNOME, as well as act as a guide on how to preconfigure the desktop settings.

The existing GNOME System Administration Guide provides an excellent overview of the GNOME Desktop from an administrator's perspective. However, it does not, in its current form, delve deep into the tools and methods for performing lockdown and preconfiguration. This document aims to cover that gap and act as a complementary document to the System Administration Guide. It is assumed throughout that the reader of this document has already gone through the GNOME System Administration Guide.


This document aims to serve as a guide for setting up the GNOME Desktop (or multiple instances of it) for mass scale deployment. It also explains on how to tweak GNOME for special kind of deployments (unmanned kiosks, public internet access terminals, etc).

An administrator in virtual any kind of deployment (other than the one in a normal home desktop system) usually has to perform two categories of actions before the deployment can be rolled out. They are described in brief below.


Lockdown is the process of disallowing the users from performing certain actions. "Certain actions" can range from changing the desktop wallpaper to saving any kind of to the hard disk. At present, GNOME lets the administrator define any setting in the Desktop as mandatory, meaning that it will not be changeable by the user. Also, quite a few components of the GNOME Desktop define lockdown settings of their own. For example, the GNOME panel can be setup to allow a specific set of applets and action buttons.


Apart from lockdown, the desktop administrator will almost certainly need to preconfigure certain aspects of the Desktop. In a typical deployment this may include changing the look and feel of the desktop and/or the proxy servers. However some of these settings may need to be locked down or made mandatory depending on the type of deployment being made. For example in many scenarios, the wallpaper may need to be made unchangeable. This kind of requirements need to combine pre-configuration with lockdown, and this document will explain how to handle such situations as well.

The internals of GNOME configuration - GConf

The system to store configuration settings for the GNOME applications is known as Gconf. By default, Gconf uses an XML based back-end to store all the data it has to manage, though in theory, other back-ends (such as a LDAP based one) are also possible. The settings are stored in a tree like hierarchy stronly resembling the Unix filesystem, with dedicated directories for each application (eg: /apps/epiphany) and subdirectories specifying the preference category (eg: /apps/epiphany/general/homepage). All the settings related data are stored in in "key-value" pairs. For example, the home-page of the Epiphany web browser is stored as "" under the GConf Preference Key "/apps/epiphany/general/homepage". Values associated with preference keys can be boolean (True/False), strings, integers or lists of strings/integers.

Preferences in GConf can be:

Apart from the settings data repository, GConf also includes a daemon which listens for changes in the repository and notifies applications about the change if and when required. Also, a command line tool gconftool-2 is also included with the GConf package. gconftool-2 lets you view and modify the GConf repository from the command line. For example, to change the value of the homepage of the Epiphany web browser to, you simply need to execute the command:

gconftool-2 --set "/apps/epiphany/general/homepage" --type string ""

For a detailed idea of GConf, you can look at the latest GNOME Desktop System Administration Guide for more in depth information.

Lockdown and GNOME

Lockdown options

The options that can be used to perform lockdown in GNOME can be divided into a few categories. Each lockdown option comes with an associated Gconf key which controls whether the lockdown feature is enabled or not. The relevant Gconf keys are described in the tables below.

General Options

These options apply to the desktop as a whole, and all GNOME applications can be affected by enabling/disabling these options.


Note that applications that are not a part of the core GNOME Desktop and Developer Platform may not be affected by the global lockdown settings. Setting lockdown options does not guarantee that an application would be locked down as intended. The administrator is encouraged to verify that all the lockdown options work for each individual application in the system. The recommended way of implementing lockdown is to enable all the lockdown options and then then disable them one by one, depending on the functionality required.

Table 1. Lockdown options: General

Gconf KeyTypeDescription
/desktop/gnome/lockdown/disable_command_line Boolean This key, if enabled, prevents the user from accessing the "Run Command" dialog.


Remember that users can access the command line from other parts of the desktop as well. If you want to disable any kind of access to the command line, you will have to remove entries for GNOME Terminal and any other kind of terminal emulator (xterm, rxvt, etc) from the main menu. You will also need to disable the Deskbar applet from the panel lockdown options since it lets users execute commands.

/desktop/gnome/lockdown/disable_lock_screen Boolean This key, if enabled, disallows the user to lock the screen.
/desktop/gnome/lockdown/disable_printing Boolean This key, if enabled, prevents the user from printing (it disables the print option).
/desktop/gnome/lockdown/disable_print_setup Boolean This key, if enabled, prevents the user from modifying print settings by disallowing access to the "Print Setup" dialog box.
/desktop/gnome/lockdown/disable_save_to_disk Boolean This key, if enabled, prevents the user from saving any files via GNOME applications. All "Save" and "Save As" options are disabled if this key is set to True.
/desktop/gnome/lockdown/disable_user_switching Boolean This key, if set, disallows the user to switch to another user account if her session is already running.


These options apply to the GNOME Panel.

Table 2. Lockdown options: GNOME Panel

Gconf KeyTypeDescription
/apps/panel/global/locked_down Boolean This key, if enabled, prevents the users from modifying the panel altogether (though this may not apply to the individual applets in the panel).

Note: Enabling/disabling this key requires a restart of the panel.

/apps/panel/global/disable_force_quit Boolean This key, if enabled, disallows the user from forcing an application to quit uncleanly (killing the application) by remving access to the force quit button.
/apps/panel/global/disable_lock_screen Boolean This key, if enabled, prevents the user from accessing the "Lock Screen" panel button and menu entries.
/apps/panel/global/disable_log_out Boolean This key, if enabled, prevents the user from logging out by disabling access to the "Log Out" button and menu entries.
/apps/panel/global/disabled_applets List of Strings This is a list of disabled applets (identified by IIDs). As an example, if you wish to disable the Clock applet, add "OAFIID:GNOME_ClockApplet" to the list.

Note: Changes to this key requires a restart of the panel.

Epiphany Web Browser

These options apply to the Epiphany Web Browser.

Table 3. Lockdown options: Epiphany Web Browser

Gconf KeyTypeDescription
/apps/epiphany/lockdown/disable_arbitrary_url Boolean This key, if enabled, prevents the user from entering anything in the address bar of Epiphany. They may only follow links from the home page.
/apps/epiphany/lockdown/disable_bookmark_editing Boolean This key, if enabled, disallows the user from editing the bookmark list.
/apps/epiphany/lockdown/disable_history Boolean This key, if enabled, disables all historical information by disabling back and forward navigation, not allowing the history dialog and hiding the most used bookmarks list.
/apps/epiphany/lockdown/disable_javascript_chrome Boolean This key, if enabled, disables JavaScript's control over window chrome.
/apps/epiphany/lockdown/disable_quit Boolean This key, if enabled, prevents the user from quiting the browser.
/apps/epiphany/lockdown/disable_toolbar_editing Boolean This key, if enabled, prevents the user from editing the browser toolbar.
/apps/epiphany/lockdown/hide_menubar Boolean This key, if enabled, will hide the menubar.

Note: However, the menubar can be accessible by pressing the F10 key on the keyboard.

/apps/epiphany/lockdown/disable_unsafe_protocols Boolean This key, if enabled, prevents the user from loading content via protocols other than http and https. However, additional protocols maybe added to this list by modifying the Gconf key /apps/epiphany/lockdown/additional_safe_protocols (described below).
/apps/epiphany/lockdown/additional_safe_protocols List of Strings This is a list of additional protocols (other than http and https) which may be used by the users to load content using Epiphany when the key /apps/epiphany/lockdown/disable_unsafe_protocols is set.

Enabling Lockdown

Lockdown can be done directly using the command line tool gconftool-2. One can also use the graphical application Pessulus to do the lockdown (one of the advantages of Pessulus is that it allows you to lockdown as well, apart from the usual GNOME applications.)

Locking down with gconftool-2

You will almost certainly want your lockdown setting to be mandatory, ie unchangeable by the user. To do, so you will need to bypass the GConf daemon and write to the mandatory GConf sources (using the --direct option). For example, to disable "quit" in the Epiphany web browser, you may issue the command (as the administrator of the system):

gconftool-2 --direct --config-source xml:readwrite:/etc/gconf/gconf.xml.mandatory --type boolean --set /apps/epiphany/lockdown/disable_quit true


Note that you must ensure that the GConf daemon is not running when you use the --direct option.

Locking down with Pessulus

The other alternative is to use Pessulus, which offers a graphical interface to manage all the lockdown settings from a single application.

Figure 1. The Pessulus Window

As evident from the screenshot, the lockdown options are organised by category (as in the previous section), and if Pessulus is run as root (or via sudo in Ubuntu like distributions), to the left of each option (checkbox), a lock icon appears. Clicking on the icon closes the lock, indicating that the option has been made mandatory. To make it the default option instead of making it mandatory, just make sure that the icon is showing an open lock (if it is closed, click on it, and it will immediately become open).

Predefining user profiles for deployment with Sabayon

Sabayon is a tool to (pre)configure and lockdown user desktops for large scale deployments. Sabayon presents the desktop as it would appear to the end user to the administrator, who further customises it and locks it down if required. All the customisations and modifications are stored in a zip file which is applied over a user's settings when the user logs in.

Sabayon profiles

In any deployment, there are bound to be different categories of users, each with different requirements. For example, in a school, the people in the finance department may only require to run a specific accounting package, while students would need access to almost all the applications installed in their computers. The desktop settings for each such category would obviously be different. Sabayon handles this by having multiple users belonging to the same category (students, for instance) associated with a single profile.

Creating a profile

The Sabayon main window (Figure 2) shows the list of profiles that have been created by the user. The administrator may choose to add a new profile, to edit an existing profile, to delete an exisiting profile or associate users with an existing profile. There is also a Details button which shows the settings associated with a particular profile.

Figure 2. Sabayon: Main Window

Editing a profile

Once the Edit button is pressed while a profile is selected, a GNOME session starts inside the Sabayon editor window (Figure 3). Once the desktop starts up, the administrator may modify and customise the the desktop as per the requirements. The administrator may also choose to modify the lockdown settings for the profile being editing by accessing the integrated version of Pessulus via the Edit->Lockdown menu item.

Figure 3. Sabayon: Edit Window

Sabayon keeps track of all the changes being made to a profile, and the list of the changes can be accessed via the Edit->Changes menu item. The window which pops up (Figure 4) shows a list of all the changes that have been made. It also allows the administrator to ignore a particular change via a checkbox, or to make a particular change mandatory (by clicking on the lock icon).

Figure 4. Sabayon: Profile Changes Window

Once editing is complete, the administrator can save the profile and associate users with it.

Associating users with a particular profile

Multiple users can be associated with a given profile by clicking on the Users button in the Sabayon main window. The user database is an XML file, usually located in /etc/desktop-profiles/users.xml. The XML file looks like

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
    <default profile=""/>
    <user name="alahiri" profile="Teachers"/>

This file says that the profile "Teachers" (which is an alias for "", stored in /etc/desktop-profiles/ should be applied to the user with the username alahiri. For large scale deployments, it is not always a viable option to keep copies of the different profiles in each machine. For such situations, the profile value can also be valid URI, eg:

To automate the process of applying profiles, the command sabayon-apply should be run by the user during login. To do so, create a file called /etc/X11/Xsesssion.d/60sabayon_apply with the following content:

# Apply the Sabayon profile for the current user (if any)
if [ "x$DISABLE_SABAYON_XINITRC" = "x" ] ; then
  if [ -x /usr/sbin/sabayon-apply ] ; then

60sabayon_apply will be run each time an user tries to login via X Windows, and it will, in turn execute sabayon-apply which will apply the profile if required.

Further resources