Change background color for content assist pop-ups in Eclipse on Ubuntu

The default grayish tone that is set for selection background in TreeViews on Ubuntu makes text unreadable on my display. Choosing an option among those proposed by Eclipse content assist menus turned into a leap of faith (it usually served me well so, yes, the first option should always be fine! :)).

After looking for an entry among the gazillion appearance-related menus in Eclipse I discovered that no, you can’t change the background color of selected items in TreeViews from within Eclipse. You must change it at system-level, don’t know why.. This StackOverflow question helped me a lot.

So, to change that light gray into a more friendly blue-ish (#55a3ba) without affecting every application in your system you can create a specific GTK theme in a gtkrc file.

Create a file named e.g. .gtkrc-eclipse somewhere (I put it inside my home folder) and write these lines inside it:

style "listitem" {
    base[ACTIVE] = "#55a3ba"

class "GtkTreeView" style "listitem"

Then you have to change your Eclipse launcher so that it loads your gtkrc file. To do so in Unity, I usually create a .desktop entry with alacarte (sudo apt-get install alacarte if you don’t have it in your system) and edit it with vim.

All launchers are stored by default inside ~/.local/share/applications, they’re a bunch of files whose names end in .desktop. What I do is launch alacarte (pressing Alt+F2 and typing alacarte), create a new entry in whatever category I find most suitable, set the executable name, path, icon and comment.

Then, I open the file created by alacarte with vim; alacarte creates its launchers in ~/.local/share/applications, they’re called alacarte-made-N.desktop: the most recent is the one you just created, of course, so just ls -ltr ~/.local/share/applications to find out which one is the one you want to edit.

Once I’ve found the correct file, I open it with vim to change the Exec line into this:

Exec=env GTK2_RC_FILES=/usr/share/themes/Ambiance/gtk-2.0/gtkrc:/home/myuser/.gtkrc-eclipse '/home/myuser/eclipse/eclipse'

(it’s all in one line!)

Please note that you can’t use ‘~’ as a placeholder for your home, you must write absolute paths as in /home/myuser/whatever. What you’re doing here is setting a theme for the application (defined in /usr/share/themes/Ambiance/gtk-2.0/gtkrc, but if you use another theme just change this path into the correct one) and overriding it with custom definitions taken from your gtkrc (:/home/myuser/.gtkrc-eclipse, this must be replaced with the actual path to your gtkrc file).

Save the file and change its name into something more mnemonic, like this: mv alacarte-made-XYZ.desktop eclipse.desktop.

Finally, open nautilus on that folder with nautilus ~/.local/share/applications/; drag the file you’ve just created and drop it to Unity’s bar.

Now you can finally enjoy content assist once again 🙂


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