Remote applications and Gnome settings: an irritation

March 31, 2010

Here is a conundrum that I have recently run into, posed as a question: when you run a Gnome application remotely through ssh-forwarded X, where does it get its Gnome configuration settings from?

In the old days of X resources, this sort of question had a simple answer; custom settings were attached to the screen itself (they got stuffed into an X property) and thus were accessible to all X programs, regardless of where they were running. In the new ultra-modern world of GConf and friends, the answer is far from obvious.

In theory, Gnome applications get their settings from a per-user GConf daemon, which they talk to via DBus. As usually implemented, DBus is strictly local to the local machine, so the answer should be that they get their configuration settings from whatever Gnome settings you have established on whatever machine the application is running on. (I will not think too hard about how the necessary user GConf daemon gets started; I find it better not to think much about Gnome magic.)

In practice, this seems to work for some settings but not others. In my testing, Gnome's application specific settings work on a remote machine, but the general desktop settings do not (even when they influence application behavior). Specifically, I know that a custom setting for the cursor_blink key in /desktop/gnome/interface is ignored when my session isn't actually on the machine that I'm running gnome-terminal on. Sadly, this is is kind of a problem for me.

(In theory this behavior could be justified on the grounds that my session isn't on that machine, but it results in undesirable behavior that I have no way to control. And yes, gconftool on the remote machine claims that the key is properly set and everything works if my session actually is native to the remote machine (apart from the bit where I am using a slow LTSP instead of my nice desktop machine).)

Written on 31 March 2010.
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Last modified: Wed Mar 31 01:01:10 2010
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