regression: update-notifier stopped showing a tray icon in xubuntu and other desktops

Bug #1246364 reported by b3nmore on 2013-10-30
This bug affects 45 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
One Hundred Papercuts
update notifier
update-notifier (Ubuntu)

Bug Description

update-notifier does not show a tray icon/notification in xubuntu 13.10 anymore. Instead the software updater window appears minimized, when updates are available.
Additionally I tried to trigger the 'System Restart Required'-notification manually by adapting /var/run/reboot-required, but no notification was displayed (although it shows up in motd).
As a side note: I got a 'there is something wrong with updates'-notification by removing update-notifier-common while update-notifier was running.

1) Same for Unity. The update-notifier does not show up as indicator, so it might be the new default behavior.
2) You have to re-launch the update-manager after creating this file. Now you will get asked to restart the system.
3) What kind of notification did you get?

b3nmore (b3nmore) wrote :

Ok, I see. The 'restart required' request is now integrated in the software-updater window. With the fix for #1232363 this should be ok.
It still remains the question, if a minimized window is a meaningful way to inform the user about new updates.

Launchpad Janitor (janitor) wrote :

Status changed to 'Confirmed' because the bug affects multiple users.

Changed in update-notifier (Ubuntu):
status: New → Confirmed
Forest (foresto) wrote :

> It still remains the question, if a minimized window is a meaningful way to inform the user about new updates.

The answer to that question is no.

The question in my mind is: what causes problem?

I didn't notice until just now, but it seems the upgrade from Xubuntu 13.04 to 13.10 removed the notification tray from my panel, causing several icons to disappear. When I manually add the Indicator Plugin widget to my panel, I can once again see several missing icons, including one from update-notifier, though they are unusually small. Manually removing Indicator Plugin from my panel, restores the icons to full size. Strange. Do you see the same behavior?

Forest (foresto) wrote :

(Ugh... please pardon the terrible misuse of punctuation above. I'm tired.)

Forest (foresto) on 2013-11-05
tags: added: saucy
tags: added: regression-release
Forest (foresto) wrote :

It seems my notification tray problem was an unrelated bug. Now that that's sorted out, I see that update-notifier does eventually appear (minimized) when it finds that updates are ready for me, and sometimes even opens its window on the desktop. I'm not sure yet, but it might be that it's showing the window only when security updates are available.

I think this is the behavior on Unity desktops, which makes me think this whole problem is likely another example of someone applying changes to a widely used program to suit Unity, and breaking the program on other desktops in the process. (For example, bug 1186801)

Russian redneck (otaku-8) wrote :

The same problem. After sudo apt-get update indicator of update-notifier doesn't appear if updates available. All files in /var/lib/update-notifier are empty.

Russian redneck (otaku-8) wrote :

output of apt-get upgrade, seems like it's related to the bug:
Подготовка к замене пакета python-apport 2.12.5-0ubuntu2.1 (используется файл …/python-apport_2.12.5-0ubuntu2.2_all.deb) …
Распаковывается замена для пакета python-apport …
Обрабатываются триггеры для ureadahead …
ureadahead will be reprofiled on next reboot
Обрабатываются триггеры для man-db …
Обрабатываются триггеры для libglib2.0-0:i386 …
Ключ «auto-launch» в схеме «com.ubuntu.update-notifier» отсутствует, хотя указан в файле замен «/usr/share/glib-2.0/schemas/20_xubuntu-default-settings.gschema.override»; игнорируется замена для этого ключа.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Okay, I have identified the problem.

update-notifier supports a mode called "auto-launch". When it discovers new updates and auto-launch mode is enabled, it doesn't notify the user at all, but launches update-manager instead. If update-manager detects important security updates, it immediately displays a window interrupting whatever the user was doing. (I suppose some people might like this, but I find it very irritating.) On the other hand, if update-manager detects only unimportant updates, it remains minimized, which might mean it remains nearly or entirely invisible depending how the user's desktop displays minimized windows. It is very easy to miss on Xubuntu, and probably almost every other desktop other than Unity.

Some time between Ubuntu Raring and Saucy, somebody ripped out update-notifier's checks for whether the user's system has "auto-launch" mode enabled, forcing everyone into auto-launch mode instead. In one case, they even went so far as to leave this comment in place of the working code:

// everybody wants auto-launch mode

I'm guessing that the author of that comment assumed that the whole world uses Unity, which is clearly a mistake.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

I'm attaching a patch against update-notifier 0.147.1 that restores tray icon notifications. Once the patched version is installed, you'll want to make sure the auto-launch feature is disabled* and then restart update-notifier (or log out and back in).

If you don't want to mess around with source code, you can get patched builds from my PPA:

*You can disable auto-launch using this command line:
gsettings set com.ubuntu.update-notifier auto-launch false

The attachment "restore_tray_icon.patch" seems to be a patch. If it isn't, please remove the "patch" flag from the attachment, remove the "patch" tag, and if you are a member of the ~ubuntu-reviewers, unsubscribe the team.

[This is an automated message performed by a Launchpad user owned by ~brian-murray, for any issues please contact him.]

tags: added: patch
Jackson Doak (noskcaj) wrote :

Is this still any issue with trusty? If so, fixing it there should be pretty easy.

tags: added: trusty
Forest (foresto) wrote :

Yes, the issue still exists in Trusty.

Jackson Doak (noskcaj) wrote :

ok. I'll try and package the patch in a few days.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Thank you, Jackson.

b3nmore (b3nmore) wrote :

The patched version works fine for me. However I don't get any 'restart required'-notification on saucy. Can someone confirm this?

Russian redneck (otaku-8) wrote :

I don't get "Rerstart required" message too, e.g. after installing/updating fglrx.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

That's expected. I restored the update notification code from the earlier version, but didn't do anything about the "restart required" code that had also been removed. I think I read somewhere that update-manager now tells the user when a reboot is required. Is that not the case?

Jackson Doak (noskcaj) wrote :

apparently this was a design decision, but it should appear open, rather than minimised.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

That's disappointing news, considering that it's a step backwards for Xubuntu users and others who rely on update-notifier without Unity.

Changed in update-notifier (Ubuntu):
importance: Undecided → Low
Changed in hundredpapercuts:
status: New → Confirmed
importance: Undecided → Low
Adrianna Pińska (confluence) wrote :

This affects me on Fluxbox. I unset the auto_launch option a long time ago, because I find the popups extremely intrusive and annoying (but I do still find it useful to get a more subtle notification in the tray).

I think the volume of online HOWTOs explaining how to disable this behaviour (sometimes through extreme measures like disabling update notifications altogether or uninstalling the package) is a testament to its unpopularity.

I have installed the patched version from the PPA and can confirm that it restores the expected behaviour for me.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Side note for those using my patch: I have confirmed that update-manager now tells the user when a reboot is required, so it seems there's no need to restore that functionality in update-notifier.

Orawa (orawa66) wrote :

Will this be fix'd soon in Xubuntu Trusty or should I apply the patch?

Matthew Paul Thomas (mpt) wrote :

Forest, you have suggested that this behavior is related to Unity. That is not the case. We concluded that the notification area was a bad way to notify people of software updates way back in 2009 -- well before Unity was designed or developed.

That decision was based partly on usability tests, run on Gnome 2 systems that happened to require updates, where people never noticed the icon in the notification area. I don't see how that problem would be any better on XFCE today than it was on Gnome 2 then.

So, in Ubuntu, Software Updater should never use an indicator menu or a notification bubble for any purpose. Now, you could say this should be an option, so that the designers of Xubuntu and other systems can still use one or both. Maybe the update-notifier maintainers would even agree with you. But in February last year, I found 18 already-reported bugs in update-notifier that are directly caused by the existence of code to generate indicators and notification bubbles. <>

Maybe I missed some. Maybe even more have been reported since then. Some of them affect Ubuntu even though it is not supposed to use indicator menus or notification bubbles in the first place. And *none* of them have been marked fixed in the past year. This is a clear example of the cost of "let's make it an option".

I appreciate that you have spent time on your patch. I hope you can come to see Software Updater's change in behavior as a usability improvement for every OS that uses it, including Xubuntu, not just Ubuntu. And it would be excellent if you could fix some of the many other bugs in update-notifier that affect both OSes.

Forest (foresto) wrote :
Download full text (3.6 KiB)

Matthew, I appreciate that you're genuinely trying to make things better, and that you're being communicative here.

However, the statement, "we concluded that the notification area was a bad way to notify people," pretty much sums up the problem here: It might seem like a bad way for you, but it is definitely not a bad way for everyone. The change took many of us from something that was working quite well to something that works quite badly in comparison. In other words, it essentially broke things for existing users, which in software development is generally a sign of a bad change.

I'm not the least bit surprised to learn that this change was made in reaction to usability tests and focus groups, since those are notorious for failing to represent real-world usage. Obviously, this is an example of such a failure, since we already have a dozen people on the "affects me" list of this bug report, and those are just the ones who have enough technical knowledge and motivation to realize what happened, figure out the name of the debian package responsible for the notifications, search for it on, find this bug report, create or log in to an account here, and register the fact that they are affected. Considering the hurdles involved, I think it's safe to say that each person on the "affects me" list represents quite a few others who are unhappy with this change (or will be once they get around to upgrading from Raring or Precise).

My comment about Unity was not meant to suggest that the problem is caused by Unity. I only mean that this is not the first time since Unity was introduced that seemingly Unity-centric changes have been made that negatively impact non-Unity users. (The previous example that comes to mind is liferea having been modified to get rid of its notification tray icon, which is fine on Unity, but leaves the application completely inaccessible on other desktops!) In this case, there are at least two specific problems with the "new" update-notifier behavior on non-Unity systems:

1. When "unimportant" updates become available, update-notifier's only way of notifying the user is now to show a box on the Unity launcher. If the user is not using Unity, this might appear as a small and extremely easy to miss button on a narrow bar at the bottom of the screen (if the user happens to have a desktop panel that shows running tasks), or nothing at all (if the user doesn't happen to have/want a task bar on his desktop). This makes update-notifier effectively useless on such desktops, because it is not only failing to put a notification in the place where we look for notifications, it is actually not notifying the user in any useful way at all.

2. When "important" updates become available, update-notifier pops up a dialog box, immediately interrupting the user from whatever he was doing, which is very irritating. (I'm trying to remember whether it also steals keystrokes from other applications in which the user might be typing, as pop-up dialogs usually do, but I don't know how to trigger this behavior right now.)

As for bugs that you say were "directly caused by the existence of code to generate indicators and notification bu...


hackel (hackel) wrote :

This really needs to be fixed. I'm actually a Unity user myself, but I certainly do not want update-manager to run automatically whenever there are updates, uselessly consuming resources until I manually close it. I want to be *notified* that there are updates, and then choose whether I want to run update-manager to install them, or (much more likely) install them with aptitude from the terminal. I really don't give a damn about your "usability studies." So they didn't notice the indicator icon? Well I never notice it in Unity, which I have set to auto-hide and rarely actually look at. People are *different* and come from different backgrounds.

This one-size-fits-all bullshit really needs to stop—that's what made Windows so awful. There are many different categories of users and they all have different needs. You want to make this awful behaviour the default? Fine. But removing the option entirely is just spitting in the face of your users and driving them to other distributions.

tags: added: xubuntu
Elfy (elfy) wrote :

(I'm trying to remember whether it also steals keystrokes from other applications in which the user might be typing, as pop-up dialogs usually do, but I don't know how to trigger this behavior right now.)

Yes it does - I've been caught more than once with the way I have Xubuntu set up - that I've just happened to click the mouse at the same as the pop-up appears - result was a rebooting machine.

Matthew Caron (matt-mattcaron) wrote :


While I appreciate your explanation, I agree with hackel about the issue. Your usability studies may very well show what "normal" people want, but I freely admit this is not me, hence why I dropped Ubuntu when Unity came out (switched to Xubuntu) and don't run Xfwm on Xubuntu, but rather IceWM because Xfwm's windowshading is broken. You can see my system install instructions at:

Now, while I don't profess to be the "normal" or "common" case, I think that you need to recognize that one of the reason that people like me use Linux is because we get it working and are happy with it, and when folks change UI in order to make it "better" and it breaks our existing user experience, it makes everyone very upset.

Please bring back the indicator tray notification icon.

Tina Russell (tinarussell) wrote :

I want to add that I have Attention Deficit Disorder, and this change—that “everybody wants auto-launch”—makes the system much more inaccessible to me. Pop-up distractions, however well-intentioned, are absolute murder on my workflow and concentration. A “one size fits all” approach isn’t just arrogant, it’s the opposite of Ubuntu’s mission of being accessible to all.

blimblam (vpohjol3) wrote :

Removing basic features that users have gotten used too and rely on, is probably the best way of
driving them to other distributions.

The update popup window drives me personally crazy, because it such an inelegant solution. I have now wasted several hours trying to bring back the old behaviour from Xubuntu 12.04 LTS, of an icon in the notification area.

I just want a simple working desktop. I do not want spend hours configuring basic desktop functionality or even worse applying some patch, which will be messed up when the system updates. And I dont want to use a PPA I do not really trust.

This "// everybody wants auto-launch mode" bullshit should stop. It reminds me of the condescending Gnome attitude of knowing what is best for the user. (And do not put too much value into usability studies.)

So please, ubuntu developers merge Forests patch and gives us back our notification area icon.

Configurability is not the oposite of simple or usable. You should strive for simple configurability.

Serhii Gipsy (serhii-gipsy) wrote :

Popup window behavior is weird. There are must be at least configurable option to keep notification area icon.

Same problem as many people here...

The update popup is an inelegant solution. Like blimblam I have wasted several hours trying to bring back the old behaviour from Xubuntu 12.04 LTS, of an icon in the notification area.

There are must be at least configurable option to keep notification area icon, so users can choose between popup and/or notification icon.

summary: - update-notifier does not show a tray icon in xubuntu 13.10
+ update-notifier does not show a tray icon in xubuntu

Focus stealing is a serious usability issue. The notification bubble and tray icon in 12.04 were more than enough to draw my attention to the presence of updates without being overly intrusive.

Bring back the old behavior, please.

jimk (jim-by-the-bay) wrote :

I also use XUbuntu, and several times have overlooked the backgrounded Software Updater. I prefer the notification bubble and systray icon... I guess I am not a member of {everybody}, and I obviously did not participate in the usability studies (probably because I am not in {everybody}).

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Here's a patch against the version of update-notifier in current utopic snapshots. The patched version preserves the new (broken) behavior by default, but restores the ability to disable auto-launch using this command line:

gsettings set com.ubuntu.update-notifier auto-launch false

Once that setting is in place, restarting update-manager will restore the old behavior.
(If someone wants to expand on this patch and add a GUI check box for this setting, please do.)

Note: There is a related bug that can prevent the update-notifier icon from showing up on non-Unity desktops. Libappindicator is supposed to fall back to good old systray icons in that case, but it doesn't always. If your system exhibits the bug, try installing an Indicator plugin on your desktop's panel, if one is available. Xfce users can get one from the xfce4-indicator-plugin package, which I believe is installed by default in new utopic installations. Here's the bug report:

tags: added: utopic
Forest (foresto) wrote :

My patch works on the version in trusty, too. Since trusty is an LTS release, it probably ought to get the fix for this regression as well.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Here's an updated patch. The previous one used a gschema description from an old version, while this new one more accurately describes current behavior.

redman (patrick-libert) wrote :


I like what you did to restore the old indicator icon, many thanks.
Can you make it that the icon is always visible en when there are updates it changes to the "red icon"?
In ubuntu 12.04, the icon showed all the time but it just changed colors when there was an update.

Many thanks

Forest (foresto) wrote :

redman, I think you're mistaken. I just installed 12.04 in a virtual machine, and here's what update-notifier did:

When there were no updates, it showed no icon.
When there were basic updates, it showed an orange icon.
When there were security updates, it showed a red icon.

This matches my memory of how it worked.

It's also worth pointing out that my patch simply restores code that was already present in older versions of update-notifier, so it's pretty unlikely that it behaves much differently.

redman (patrick-libert) wrote :


In Ubuntu 12.04 is was using this:

It was configurable, to always show the icon.

Anyway, thanks for all the great work.

Forest (foresto) on 2015-06-18
tags: added: vivid
Forest (foresto) wrote :

This is still a problem in vivid. It looks like GNOME users have a new update notification based on PackageKit, but AFAICT, users of Xubuntu and other desktops are still stuck using the (now broken) update-notifier. My patch still works with the version of update-notifier that is included in Vivid, so it really wouldn't take much for the maintainer(s) to fix this problem.

Side note: I did find a relatively new package called pk-update-icon that looks like it's intended to take over the job that update-notifier used to do, but sadly, it depends on GNOME packages (including, indirectly, gnome-settings-daemon and libwacom2). This makes it look like a bad choice for Xfce.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Here's an updated patch, for update-notifier 3.168.1, which is current on Ubuntu 16.04 (xenial).

Forest (foresto) wrote :

This additional patch restores the reboot-required icon. It is intended to be applied after update_icon.patch.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Launchpad statistics report 300 downloads for my patched Ubuntu 14.04 (trusty) builds.

In order to download those packages, all 300 of those people had to figure out what package was responsible for the removed functionality, find their way to this bug report, read through the comments to discover my PPA builds, and take it upon themselves to either add my PPA to their systems or manually download and install my package. For each of those 300 people who had the knowledge and perseverance to overcome all those obstacles, there are surely more who did not, and simply had their workflows broken by this bug.

The usability studies that led to this change were obviously flawed.

Dear maintainers, I hope you will reconsider your earlier decision soon, and fix the problem. I have already done the hard part for you. We, along with those who haven't the time or knowledge to speak up in this bug report, are depending on you.

For now, I have attached new patches for the version of update-notifier that is current in Ubuntu 16.04 (xenial):

restore_icon.patch is an update of my earlier patch.

restore_reboot.patch builds upon that work, additionally restoring the "Reboot Required" UI.

I have also uploaded new builds to my PPA for Ubuntu Xenial. These include both of my patches, along with updated debian packaging (actually just an additional line in debian/update-notifier.install) to ensure the reboot-dialog.ui file gets installed.

John Bigboote (4d2tabsyjy) wrote :

Forest: Any chance for a Trusty .deb of this in your PPA? I've been running with update-notifier uninstalled for over a year, since it is effectively broken due to this bug. Real world situations I encountered before removing it:

1. The update dialog stealing focus while I was typing, causing me to inadvertently activate it through keyboard shortcuts.

2. The update dialog stealing focus while I was watching a video in full screen XBMC (now Kodi).

Both of these scenarios are completely intolerable, so I now run updates manually whenever I happen to think of it.

>Forest: Any chance for a Trusty .deb of this in your PPA?

Not likely. I don't have a need for a Trusty build, and I suspect making
one myself would be counterproductive to the goal of this bug report:
Getting the maintainers to do it, so everyone can have the fix through
official channels.

Forest (foresto) on 2016-07-25
tags: added: wily xenial

Hi Forest!
I was using the patched version from your PPA (Ubuntu Xenial/Mate Desktop) and worked really well! :)

Since some time ago, the update-notifier is back to the old "ugly" behaviour, and despite showing the icon, it launches the update window... :S

I see that a recent system update installed a new version (3.168.3), and surpassed your version (3.168.2). Do you plan to add the update to your patched version?


Forest (foresto) on 2017-02-10
tags: added: yakkety
Forest (foresto) wrote :

The solution here is to convince the package maintainers that WE NEED THEM TO FIX THIS BUG.

My patch still works on the latest release. ALL THEY NEED TO DO IS APPLY IT.

I occasionally update my PPA for the release that I run myself (currently Xubuntu yakkety), but expecting me to do maintain a parallel distribution of update-notifier is not a realistic solution.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Clarification: I split my changes into two patches. They both still work on the latest release.

My patches simply restore code that was removed a while back, so it's pretty safe to consider them already-tested. They don't change the default behavior, so applying them shouldn't affect current users unless they specifically enable the restored functionality.

In other words, these patches should be fairly easy to validate and safe to apply.

Pascal Mons (anton+) wrote :

Sometimes the update-notifier packages gets updated by Ubuntu. Then if you don't recompile / build new packages with the patches provided by Forest PPA, you may loose capabilities given by the patches.

You can simply block any update to the update-notifier packages by running these Terminal cmd. lines:

$ sudo echo "update-notifier hold" | dpkg --set-selections
$ sudo echo "update-notifier-common hold" | dpkg --set-selections

To revert the changes:

$ sudo echo "update-notifier install" | dpkg --set-selections
$ sudo echo "update-notifier-common install" | dpkg --set-selections

You can as well set it in a Bash script block-upd-update-notifier:

if [ $(id -u) != 0 ]; then
   echo "This script requires root permissions"
   sudo "$0"
echo "update-notifier hold" | dpkg --set-selections
echo "update-notifier-common hold" | dpkg --set-selections

The same goes for unblock-upd-update-notifier

I guess the change was an Ubuntu policy change about the updates as they like to force them a bit like Microsoft does. I don't expect them to ever revert to the previous behaviour.

Pascal Mons (anton+) wrote :

Here are my rebuild packages for Xenial update-notifier_3.168.3.orig.tar.xz

To install:

$ sudp dpkg -i update-notifier_3.168.3-1.0pmo1~xenial_amd64.deb update-notifier-common_3.168.3-1.0pmo1~xenial_all.deb

Pascal Mons (anton+) wrote :

Here is package update-notifier-common

Pascal Mons (anton+) wrote :

Sorry but the packages in my previous post won't work. Don't use them. When I have more time I will upload the working ones in one of my PPAs.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Pascal Mons wrote:

> I guess the change was an Ubuntu policy change about the updates as they like to force them a bit like Microsoft does. I don't expect them to ever revert to the previous behaviour.

That would be a silly reason not to accept the patch, since it doesn't change the behavior for Unity users, and it helps people on other desktops to notice and install updates *sooner* than they do with the current behavior.

Forest (foresto) on 2017-06-02
summary: - update-notifier does not show a tray icon in xubuntu
+ regression: update-notifier stopped showing a tray icon in xubuntu
Forest (foresto) on 2017-06-02
summary: - regression: update-notifier stopped showing a tray icon in xubuntu
+ regression: update-notifier stopped showing a tray icon in xubuntu and
+ other desktops
tags: added: zesty
Adrianna Pińska (confluence) wrote :

This is still a problem for me four years later. I've been using Forest's patched packages all this time, but now I have also inadvertently upgraded to the newer Xenial version. I agree that it's ridiculous to expect Forest to keep maintaining a parallel fork forever. Is there any process that we can use to ask the maintainers to re-evauluate this design decision?

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Dear maintainers,

Won't you please accept my patch into mainline?

It is well-tested.

It fits the project's code style perfectly.

Most importantly, it gives users a way to fix this regression without affecting default behavior.

You can see from this bug report that dozens of users have managed to find their way here, which hints that there are many more impacted users who don't know how to identify the root cause of the regression and its bug reporting system, or simply don't have the time to do so.

To underscore that point, my PPA stats show hundreds of downloads of my patched version, and even those numbers only represent a fraction of affected users (my PPA builds are only announced in this bug report).

Moreover, I regularly have people contacting me directly, asking for patched builds for the Ubuntu variants that they run. I don't want to be in the business of maintaining a fork of your project. Please just fix this problem in the mainline code.

Your users are asking for help, and we have so far been ignored for over three years. I have done all the hard work for you. All you have to do is accept the patch. It's easy. It's safe. It works.


Your users

Stuart Denyer (denyer) wrote :

What kind of usability study concludes that stealing the focus from whatever the user's typing into is acceptable?

Don't encourage users to turn off security updates.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Refreshed patch for update-notifier-3.186 (artful).

tags: added: artful
Forest (foresto) wrote :

Refreshed patch for update-notifier-3.186 (artful).

Forest (foresto) wrote :

Sigh... The maintainers don't seem to care about the users.

I have refreshed my patches for ubuntu 17.10.

Forest (foresto) wrote :

My PPA has moved, and has a current package for ubuntu bionic. New location:

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