ubuntu 18.04 desktop screenshot showing the nautilus file manager

If you miss Nautilus type ahead find feature when using the Ubuntu desktop I’ve some good news.

A community maintained PPA brings the feature, which is sometimes known as ‘interactive search’, ‘type ahead search’, or ‘search as you type’, back to Nautilus, and back to Ubuntu.

GNOME developers removed type ahead functionality from the Nautilus file manager back in 2013, replacing it with full-text search that finds matching files inside the current folder and any sub-directories containing the types letter/word/term.

This more comprehensive search is better at finding things in general, but it’s not for everyone. Some folks (particularly those who’ve switched from other operating systems) are used to being able to hit a letter on their keyboard and jump to the first matching file in the current folder.

Thankfully in the world of open source: if you have an itch you can scratch it — and fans of typeahead search in the Nautilus file manager have done just that!

What is Nautilus Typeahead Search?

type ahead find in nautilus via webupd8

Type ahead find/search in Nautilus works like this: you open a folder and start typing. As you type the file manager instantly jumps to/finds/focuses the first file (or folder) that matches your query — but only in the directory you’re viewing.

I.e. it finds ahead.

This behaviour is fast, efficient, and (I think) rather intuitive.

For example, if I open ‘Pictures’ and start typing ‘summer‘ I instantly jump to the first image (or folder) that starts with ‘summer‘. I can then use the keyboard arrow keys to skip to the next matching result, and so on.

You can see the feature “in action” in this video I found on YouTube. Please note that the method to enable interactive search this video mentions has not worked for several years:

Before I show you how to replace vanilla Nautilus with a third-party build that contains this feature I will mention that you can make full text search work more like type-ahead find without using PPAs or patches.

How? Just alter your Nautilus’ search preferences to “never” search in subfolders, and disable full text search as the default behaviour.


Enable Nautilus Typeahead Find in Ubuntu

If you miss typeahead search in Nautilus you can get it back on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS or 20.04 LTS without needing to downgrade your system or switch to an alternative file manager like Nemo, Caja or Thunar (though those are solid options, ftr).

A third-party PPA (usual risks apply) brings the much-missed file-finding feature back using a patch from the Arch User repo.

Now, caveat time: this PPA replaces the standard version of Nautilus used in Ubuntu for a third-party build compiled with typeahead find feature enabled.

Also note that this PPA only supports Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, Ubuntu 19.10 and Ubuntu 20.04 LTS at the time of writing.

To go ahead and make use of it just open a new Terminal window and run the command:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:lubomir-brindza/nautilus-typeahead

Confirm you want to add the PPA. Ubuntu will automatically refresh your system sources.

Once the update is complete run:

sudo apt dist-upgrade

Review the changes listed and, assuming you’re happy to proceed, hit enter to let it “do its thing”.

Once install is complete you will need to restart Nautilus for changes to take effect and this has to be done from the command line.

Press alt + f2 and run:

nautilus -r

That’s it.

Open any folder in Nautilus and hit a letter key to jump to a matching result in the folder you’re viewing.

To use the regular full-text search just click the search icon in the header bar area.

Be aware that when Ubuntu updates Nautilus the typeahead feature will stop working until the PPA maintainer updates their repo to match it.

You can pin the package(s) provided by the PPA to prevent it being upgraded, or you can just be mindful when running the Software Updater tool.

Can I revert to vanilla Nautilus?

If you encounter any bugs while using this PPA or you just want to return to the regular stock version of Nautilus and the way it handles file searching, you can. Just remove the PPA from Ubuntu like so:

Install PPA Purge:

sudo apt install ppa-purge

Remove the repository:

sudo ppa-purge ppa:lubomir-brindza/nautilus-typeahead

This will display a list of packages to be removed and/or downgraded. If you’re happy with what’s shown just hit enter and the switch will take place.

To finish up just restart Nautilus.

Thanks to Tuomo S.

How To Pro User nautilus