Another wallpaper changer for Gnome and Unity

The previous wallpaper changer that I wrote in Python served me well for the last 2 years, but sometimes it would get stuck with some wallpapers: of the 200 pictures I have in my wallpapers folder (mostly taken from the paper wall), some were definitely being shown more often than others. Has the script developed a taste? Probably! 🙂

So this time I decided to put together something very quick, but that does a better job at never showing the same picture twice before all pictures in the folder have been set as desktop background.

It comes as a single bash script, there’s no configuration file to set, it picks pictures from a single folder (whereas the Python version could use several), and it moves files to a folder called shown when setting them as desktop background. Not very elegant, but it gets the job done!

Here it is; you can set your wallpapers folder and the refresh interval at the highlighted lines.

# Copyright 2014 Michele Bonazza
# A simple script to automatically change your wallpaper in Gnome.
# This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
# it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
# the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
# (at your option) any later version.
# This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
# but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
# GNU General Public License for more details.
# You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
# along with this program.  If not, see <>.

REFRESH_INTERVAL=$((5 * 60)) # change every 5 minutes
MODE="zoom" # one between none, centered, wallpaper, scaled, stretched, zoom, spanned

# Changes the desktop background, and moves it to the "shown" folder so that it's
# not shown again before all wallpapers in the folder have been used.
# arg1 the file name of the file to be set as new background; must be in the
#      current folder
function change_wallpaper() {
  mv $1 shown
  gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.background picture-uri file://$WALLPAPERS_FOLDER/shown/$1
  gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.background picture-options $MODE

# Echoes the next wallpaper to be set, picked at random among images in the
# configured folder
function get_next_wallpaper() {
  find . -maxdepth 1 -type f -name "*.png" -o -name "*.jpg" -o -name "*.gif" -o -name "*.jpeg"| shuf -n 1

mkdir -p $WALLPAPERS_FOLDER/shown

while true; do
  # have we used all wallpapers?
  if [[ "$NEXT_WP" == "" ]]; then
    # yes, chdir to shown, and move them all back to the parent folder
    cd shown
    # move them to parent folder
    find . -maxdepth 1 -type f -name "*.png" -o -name "*.jpg" -o -name "*.gif" -o -name "*.jpeg" | xargs mv -t ..
    cd ..

    # check again

    if [[ "$NEXT_WP" == "" ]]; then
      echo "no wallpapers found in $WALLPAPERS_FOLDER, will check again in $REFRESH_INTERVAL seconds..."
  echo "changing background to $NEXT_WP"
  change_wallpaper $NEXT_WP

As always, I’ve also added this to my pastebin.

Save it as, make it executable

chmod +x

and add it to your “Startup applications” list, which can be found in Ubuntu’s main menu (the one you use to log out/shut down the computer), or can be brought up from a terminal using


Click “Add”, use whatever name you want and browse to the script (wherever you’ve saved it).

Sometimes I found that “Startup applications” doesn’t work: make sure that after having added your script and closed the window you can see an entry called in the output of

ls -l ~/.config/autostart

If it’s not there, remove the entry and try again (I know, I know. The alternative is to fiddle with Upstart or init.d so if you want a GUI, that’s better than nothing!)

You can also change the effect to apply to your wallpapers at line 23 in the script.

Enjoy your new desktops! 🙂


Make your own picture-changing wallpaper in Gnome3

[Edit – April 2014]: I noticed my python script here didn’t do a very good job at not showing the same wallpaper twice before all wallpapers in a folder were shown. Hence, I created another simpler version of the script in bash that does a better job at that. You can find it here

I hoped Gnome3 would have had an integrated function to create custom wallpapers that change throughout the day by picking a folder with your images and choose some refresh interval, but still you have to rely on external scripts or programs.

I’ve been using WallCh for quite some time under Unity, and it suited me well. It was a bit too much for what I wanted to actually do, grabbing pictures in a folder and set them as wallpaper every 3 minutes that is.

Another thing that “annoyed” me is that while in Unity minimized windows are quite the same thing as background processes — in that they just stay on the Unity dash and as long as you don’t hit Alt+Tab they never show up — in Gnome3 I very often go through the list of all open applications, and WallCh by default is always there. I’m not a fan of Alt+Tab in Gnome3: I find it faster to hit Super with my left hand and click on a window I instantly recognize with my right hand than to cycle through small pictures with titles. I don’t know whether WallCh has an option to run in the background, but if it does I didn’t instantly find it and I opted for a little DIY 😛

That being said I thought that surely a simple command must exist to just change the wallpaper, and it does! It’s gsettings, with its org.gnome.desktop.background keys. So, to set your ~/Images/1080p/wall_0.png as background you just call

gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.background picture-uri file://$HOME/Images/1080p/wall_0.png
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.background picture-options zoom

you can just add these two system calls in some simple script in whatever language you like and there you have your custom wallpaper changer!

I came up with a simple python script which is actually a stripped-down version of this nice little script by Romano Giannetti. I simply removed all verbosity and moved the pictures folder definition to a properties file that is checked at every interval, so I never have to change the script itself. If anyone is interested, I’ll post it (it’s less than 50 LOC in the end).

Then, I added the script as a startup application with gnome-session-properties so I finally have my lightweight background wallpaper changer 🙂

Edit: as Romano himself asked for it, here’s my version of the script:

Well, if truth be told my version of the script has no error checks whatsoever, but since somebody may try to use this I thought that some information on what’s going on may be helpful. You can list several folders in the configuration file; if you change the configuration file while the script is running the list gets parsed again and reset.