While debugging is always an important part of programming, it can be a little more difficult with GNOME Shell extensions because of how they integrate into an existing process.

Reloading Extensions

As a technical limitation of JavaScript engines, extensions can not be unloaded from a running instance of GNOME Shell. This can make testing incremental changes tedious.

Running a Nested GNOME Shell

The most convenient way to test incremental changes, especially for Wayland users, is by running a nested instance of GNOME Shell. Running the following command from a terminal will start a new gnome-shell process, with its own D-Bus session:

dbus-run-session -- gnome-shell --nested --wayland

Any errors, warnings or debug messages will be logged in the terminal, which also makes it much easier to fix problems that occur when the extension is loaded.

Note that a nested GNOME Shell is not completely isolated, so you may encounter some problems depending on how the extension interacts with the desktop. Most extensions should work exactly as they do in a standard session, though.

Restarting GNOME Shell

In an X11 session, GNOME Shell can be completely restarted by pressing Alt+F2 to open the Run a Command dialog, then running the built-in command restart. Wayland sessions do not support the restart command, so you must log out and log in to restart GNOME Shell.



Some distributions may require you to be part of a systemd user group to access logs. On systems that are not using systemd, logs may be written to ~/.xsession-errors.

GJS has a number of logging facilities, some particular to GJS, others inherited from JavaScript and a few that are provided by GLib. There is more complete documentation available for Built-in Loggingopen in new window and the consoleopen in new window suite of functions.

GNOME Shell extensions have a special feature available that can be used with journald. By passing an extension's UUID with the GNOME_SHELL_EXTENSION_UUID variable, you can filter out all messages except those that your extension logs:

$ journalctl -f -o cat

Note that the console functions do not work with the GNOME_SHELL_EXTENSION_UUID feature, so if you rely on this you should use the built-in functions instead. This will also filter out messages from the gnome-shell process itself, which may mean you miss errors and warnings still relevant to your extension.

GJS Console

Similar to Python, GJS also has a console you can use to test things out. However, you will not be able to access live code running in the gnome-shell process or import JS modules from GNOME Shell, since this a separate process.

$ gjs-console
gjs> log('a message');
Gjs-Message: 06:46:03.487: JS LOG: a message

gjs> try {
....     throw new Error('An error occurred');
.... } catch (e) {
....     logError(e, 'ConsoleError');
.... }

(gjs-console:9133): Gjs-WARNING **: 06:47:06.311: JS ERROR: ConsoleError: Error: An error occurred

Recovering from Fatal Errors

Despite the fact that extensions are written in JavaScript, the code is executed in the same process as gnome-shell so fatal programmer errors can crash GNOME Shell in a few situations. If your extension crashes GNOME Shell as a result of the init() or enable() hooks being called, this can leave you unable to log into GNOME Shell.

If you find yourself in this situation, you may be able to correct the problem from a TTY:

  1. Switch to a free TTY and log in

    You can do so, for example, by pressing Ctrl + Alt + F4. You may have to cycle through the F# keys.

  2. Start journalctl as above

    $ journalctl -f -o cat /usr/bin/gnome-shell
  3. Switch back to GDM and log in

    After your log in fails, switch back to the TTY running journalctl and see if you can determine the problem in your code. If you can, you may be able to correct the problem using nano or vim from the command-line.

If you fail to diagnose the problem, or you find it easier to review your code in a GUI editor, you can simply move your extension directory up one directory. This will prevent your extension from being loaded, without losing any of your code:

$ mv ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions/ ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/
Last Updated: 11/21/2022, 10:04:30 PM
Contributors: Andy Holmes