Recent Folder/List in Nautilus

Hi all,

so I had filed an issue against Files/Nautilus, which got justly closed as requiring further design input and UX research and I was advised to put this to discussion here.

My user experience broke with the Recent Folder/List in Nautillus’ sidebar, which I had always experienced as a folder and I could not delete its contents by pressing the delete button.

My Workflow

is as follows

  • When working on something I often download random files, take screenshots, copy things here and there in order to inform myself about a new topic. This can take some days and I organize relevant files in corresponding folders.

  • After some days of course I cannot remember all the files, that were relevant to my work, so I head to the Recent Folder/List to look them up.

  • It turns out, that the Recent Folder/List is now pretty cluttered by files, that

    • are not useful anymore, i.e. files I had downloaded, but were not really interesting.

    • are still useful and are already organized somewhere, but are not of current interest.

At that point

The desired behaviour

of Files/Nautilus would have been, that I can organize the Recent Folder/List by deleting the clutter, so that in the next few days I can use it again efficiently to look quickly up the useful files.

My UX breaking point

was, that I cannot use the delete button to delete these files from the Recent Folder/List. But the question is, what should deleting a file from the Recent Folder/List do?

  • If the Recent Folder/List is to be considered a folder - and in Files/Nautilus it is presented as a folder - then deleting one of its elements by pressing the delete button should

    • remove that element from the Recent Folder/List

    • copy the element to the Trash

    • not delete its corresponding file somewhere else - just as deleting one of two files of the same name located at different folders should not affect the other one.

  • If the Recent Folder/List is not to be considered as a folder, but just a list of recently used files, then why is it presented as a folder in nautilus’ side pane?

This example exposes the

Underlying Question

what the nature of the Recent Folder/List actually is? Is it a folder, is it a list or something else? And how far should the analogy go? What are the user expectations?

Importantly should the user be able to organize it?

For me the Recent Folder/List was

  • just a folder, which

    • I wished to organize as any other one.

    • strangely never contained subfolders.

  • I expected to be able to delete its elements just like in any other folder.

  • I did not expect the latter to affect the original file located somewhere else.

But other users may have other expectations. For instance deleting a file from the Recent Folder/List one may expect this operation to send to the Trash the underlying file itself, which would now be a destructive operation.

The weather fallacy

tells us, that with the highest probability the weather tomorrow will be the same today. Of course that does not mean, that the weather will never change. But likewise we will work tomorrow with the highest probability on the same things as today, so

  • if the Recent Folder/List should become the default entry point, of what nature should that be? Folder, list or something else?

  • what’s then the prominent user story for this entry point?

  • should it be customizable and if so how? For instance

    • it changes by nature over time, but should we be able to remove files?

    • is removing the same as deleting?

    • should we be able to pin things - like pinning prominent apps on the dash, while

    • the app grid changes by installing apps, but is yet organizable?

So, what are the designers’ opinions or plans? What are other GNOME users’ use stories of the Recent Folder/List? What’s the plan in general?

Some brainstorming points from the discussions

  • Interplay of Recent and Starred

    • Currently we cannot even “star” a file from Recent


Thanks for starting this brainstorm!

The “Finding and Reminding” initiative from a decade ago has some related insights on this topic:

It mentions a concept of “Archiving”, which has some overlap with the “Remove from recent” action.

We also have a Starred view now, which is a kind of “Pin” action, except in a different view.

The idea of an entry point combining Recent + Starred could be explored too.

I guess a simple solution to clarify the situation of deleting from the View vs. actually deleting the file would be a user-interaction dialog. Maybe something like this:

Screenshot from 2021-01-24 18-55-59

Hi. @p3732 Let’s not confuse user problems with designer problems. This dialog indeed sweeps the designer problem under the rug, but burdens the user with it instead.

The relevance of Delete would be as a fast and convenient shortcut. A dialog makes it slow. And “Don’t ask again” is thorny.

I think we should make Recent and Starred consistent in regard to Delete.

Pressing Delete in the Starred view correctly sends the file to Trash. And there is a notification explaining what just happened and offering to undo.

This approach avoids interruptions while keeping the user informed. On the other hand, I’m concerned that a user might not expect that the trashed starred file is gone from the real folder as well.

You are right, the “Don’t ask again” is nothing but a hidden preference that would not be able to be triggered later, so that is bad.

However, with the current situation being very ambiguous on what delete should do (virtual folder vs. real folder) an interactive dialog seemed like the most straightforward way to clarify that, without touching too many other things. If we are talking about bigger UI changes to clarify the special state of Recent and Starred, then there are of course many more possibilities.

Some ways for the user to be able to better distinguish Recent and Starred views from ‘regular folders’:

  • Do not show regular path bar, as it is not supposed to be a path
  • Represent differently in sidebar, not listed with all the regular folders
  • Add visible option to remove elements from the history, thereby implicitly stating that this is a special action and other actions behave like anywhere else

Here is a mockup of how that could manifest (this was made in Glade, not all differences to current nautilus are intentional):

Making non-folder places feel different sounds interesting. Centering the title makes sense to me.

Some form of “Clear History…” button would be really interesting to explore as well, and may help address the “recent list becomes too big and slow” issue.

Okay… by mere accident I discovered, that Shift+Delete does exactly, what I supposed, Delete would do: removing an element from Recent without removing it from the folder, of which it really belongs.

To reproduce

  • Clear Recent, empty Trash
  • Go to another Folder and open a File there - e.g. images+jpg+shotwell
  • Head back to Recent
  • Focus the File
  • Click Shift+Delete, watch the file gone from Recent
  • Head back to the previous Folder, check that the File is still there
  • Check Trash, the File is not there


  • Is Shift+Delete being functional here, while Delete is not, intuitive?
  • Should the File appear in Trash and if so, reappear in Recent, when restoring from Trash?

that Shift+Delete does

  • remove a file from Recent

  • without removing the underlying file

  • does not move or copy anything to Trash

From a user perspective therefore Shift+Delete
acts as a Delete without sending to Trash action and is insofar

  • consistent with the shortcut description of Shift+Delete
  • inconsistent, as it does not, as Shift+Delete should, trigger the destruction warning dialog
  • indicates, that Recent is acted on, as if it was a folder.
  • Is Shift+Delete being functional here, while Delete is not, intuitive?

I would agree that this is somewhat inconsistent behavior, yes. But as already established, this comes from the ambiguity of what Delete should do.

  • Should the File appear in Trash and if so, reappear in Recent, when restoring from Trash?

If you mean whether this should happen for Shift+Delete then I’d say no, as it is supposed to be a destructive action. The file would not appear in the trash for shift+deleting anywhere else either.

  • inconsistent, as it does not, as Shift+Delete should, trigger the destruction warning dialog

You are right, such destructive actions usually come with warning dialogs, but as in this case it only deletes metadata (access time of file), it should be fine without one.

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