Last updated: 2011-07-23


I couldn’t find a great guide for doing this when I set out on my journey, so I figured some people might find this useful. This guide will walk you through installing the Emerald Window Decorator on Debian 6.0 Squeeze (Stable). The guide should work for either x86 or amd64 architectures. It should also work for Debian Wheezy

Our problem is this: you want Emerald to be your window decorator so everything can be all pretty, but the Debian packages for Emerald are still a long way off (not coming until Sid). Luckily, Compiz and Compiz-Fusion are both in the repositories. If you haven’t already, please install Compiz. There is a great guide for doing that here.

As a heads up, this guide will walk you through compiling Emerald. Don’t be afraid to compile your own software.. sometimes this needs to be done and it isn’t as scary as it sounds.


  • Compiz with Compiz Config Settings Manager is installed and working.
  • Download the newest version of Emerald
    • Make sure you get the latest version

Install Libraries

First, you’ll need to install some libraries that you’ll need to compile Emerald. In a terminal execute the following.

$ su
# apt-get install intltool build-essential libxrender-dev libgtk2.0-dev libwnck-dev libdecoration0-dev

That should get your system ready. If you don’t often compile your own software, you may be curious as to why we need the -dev versions of the packages. The -dev packages are specifically to provide header files which allow us to compile software so that they are compatible with the libraries installed on our system.

Compile Emerald

I’m going to assume you know how to use a terminal to get to the directory in which you downloaded emerald on your own, so do that.

$ tar -jxvf emerald-*.tar.bz2 #OR use this if you downloaded the tar.gz: tar -zxvf emerald-*.tar.gz
$ cd emerald-*
$ ./configure
$ make
$ su
# make install

Configure Library Directories

When compiling and installing Emerald, the default setup puts the compiled binary files into /usr/local/

Debian, by default, does not look here for libraries. If we tried executing Emerald now, we’d get the following error.

emerald: error while loading shared libraries: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory

In order for Debian to properly locate Emerald’s libraries, we have to tell it where to look.

# echo "/usr/local/lib" > /etc/

Now we must update the configuration settings.

# ldconfig

Test, Configure, and Replace

You should now be able to run Emerald fine, but we aren’t done yet. Currently you are presumably using some other window decorator, so lets test emerald by replacing the current one.

$ emerald --replace

If everything went well, we can now configure Compiz to load Emerald as the default window decorator. Load Compiz Config Setting Manager. Under Effects you should find Window Decoration. In here, set the command to /usr/local/bin/emerald

Reboot, and enjoy!

Parting Words

If everything went well, you should now have replaced your old window decorator with Emerald. If things did not go as planned, as always, feel free to email me ([dan @ my lastname dot ca]) or leave a comment below. If you have found this guide useful, please consider pressing the +1, or leaving me a comment to let me know my work is useful sometimes. 🙂


28 thoughts on “HOW TO: Install Emerald on Debian Squeeze

  1. great guide, gives me no fear of compiling programs for this platform Linux debian6 2.6.32-5-686, for me there was one fix as the standard sources for debian did not contain the needed autotools but requested ‘intltools’ instead which appears to contain the autotools…also the ’emerald –replace’ did not execute, but once i updated the compiz window decorator with the path all went according to your instructions,
    many thx 😉

    • Thanks tim,

      I looked more into this and you’re absolutely right. I’m not sure how I overlooked that.

      Curious as to why emerald –replace did not execute though.

  2. Hello, great guide! But now that I have emerald running, how do I change the emerald themes? I have 3 themes but I don’t know where or how do I change my current (standart) emerald theme.

    • Hi Raphael,

      You should have a program called emerald-theme-manager (try running it from alt+f2 or terminal)

      From there you can import and edit your themes.

    • Hello again, I just wanna know how to make my theme load automaticaly. Because every time I boot my pc I have to change the default theme.

    • Hi Raphael, sorry for the late reply.

      The Emerald Theme Manager should permanently change your theme. If it doesn’t, there is something wrong with your setup. This could be a million things, and would be rather difficult for me to troubleshoot at a distance.

      Your themes are stored in ~/.emerald/themes/ — Check that these are there.

      Your current theme is stored in ~/.emerald/theme/

      It may be enough to copy all of the files in one of the ~/.emerald/themes/ directories into ~/.emerald/theme/, however since I cannot reproduce this I do not know. Try it, and let me know how it goes.

      Hope that helps!

  3. I followed all the rules but emerald –replace does nothing, just stands there for a bit and then says reload and thats it.

    • Hi Aaron,

      I’d love to help but I’m going to need some more details. Can you confirm that Compiz is running? If not, make sure you follow the linked guide at the top of the page. Did you make sure to run all the commands as root that need to be run as root? (indicated by the #)

      Can you paste the exact output of emerald --replace?

    • well when I run compiz –replace the window change but then go back to xfwm4 or xfwm4 crashes and i need to restart it

  4. Most Excellent tutorial ! !
    Followed it to the letter, compiled latest (0.8) from source and got emerald up and running in about 3 minutes!
    You there My man, you rock!

  5. Awesome! Followed your instructions …. perfect…
    Suggestion: after the last step, mention that a reboot might be required.


  6. Thank you very much for taking the time to make this guide. worked like a charm 🙂
    /bookmarked for future use.

    • Sorry for the extremely late reply al, I’ve been working lots and haven’t had time to checkup on here much.

      I hope you figured out your problem by now, but this guide does not affect anything that has to do with your bootup sequence, so it is likely your problem was caused elsewhere.

  7. This guide worked perfect. I have tried several times compiling my own software but have never had it work once. This guide was very helpful, and the comments were too.

  8. Hummmm…

    “# echo “/usr/local/lib” > /etc/”

    Why not emerald.conf?

    • Thanks, was a typo. Luckily, it wouldn’t affect anything. Fixed.

  9. Hi, awesome! Thanks a lot! But it doesn’t work for me. I’m on debian Squezze, and after doing exactly what is written above, when i do emerald –replace it just tell me it can’t find emerald. bash: emerald : commande introuvable. (french)
    What can i do please?

    • Hi Jack,

      Sorry I’ve been a little lazy responding to comments on my website lately. I’ve been too caught up in work.

      I hope you have everything working, if not, this is probably just a problem setting your PATH environment variable correctly. Can you confirm that the emerald executable is in /usr/local/bin/ and check that the output of echo $PATH has /usr/local/bin/ in it?

  10. Thanks.
    Didn’t want to move from Gnome2.32 on into Gnome3.x, not even to try if the fallback would work with compiz by now.
    XFCE and compiz + emerald with your help it is from now on.

  11. Thanks a lot! It worked perfectly in Debian 6.x. By the way, I faced a few issues the first time I followed your instructions because I had an OLD VERSION OF EMERALD. After I read more carefully I downloaded the latest release and all went well.

    Cheers! 😀

    • Thanks for the info Pedro! I’ve updated the guide to be more obvious about this requirement.

  12. root@WHITEHAT:~# ccsm
    Info: No sexy-python package found, don’t worry it’s optional.
    Traceback (most recent call last):
    File “/usr/bin/ccsm”, line 99, in
    import compizconfig
    ImportError: No module named compizconfig

    hi there thanks solution for emerald can help me ccss (debian wheezy )


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