Linux GTK Theme Integration

The GTK+ port of Chromium has a mode where we try to match the user's GTK theme (which can be enabled under Settings -> Appearance -> Use GTK+ theme).


At some point after version 57, Chromium will switch to using the GTK3 theme by default.

How Chromium determines which colors to use

GTK3 added a new CSS theming engine which gives fine-tuned control over how widgets are styled. Chromium‘s themes, by contrast, are much simpler: it is mostly a list of about 80 colors (see //src/ui/native_theme/native_theme.h) overridden by the theme. Chromium usually doesn’t use GTK to render entire widgets, but instead tries to determine colors from them.

Chromium needs foreground, background and border colors from widgets. The foreground color is simply taken from the CSS “color” property. Backgrounds and borders are complicated because in general they might have multiple gradients or images. To get the color, Chromium uses GTK to render the background or border into a 24x24 bitmap and uses the average color for theming. This mostly gives reasonable results, but in case theme authors do not like the resulting color, they have the option to theme Chromium widgets specially.

Note to GTK theme authors: How to theme Chromium widgets

Every widget Chromium uses will have a “chromium” style class added to it. For example, a textfield selector might look like:

.window.background.chromium .entry.chromium

If themes want to handle Chromium textfields specially, for GTK3.0 - GTK3.19, they might use:

/* Normal case */
.entry {
    color: #ffffff;
    background-color: #000000;

/* Chromium-specific case */
.entry.chromium {
    color: #ff0000;
    background-color: #00ff00;

For GTK3.20 or later, themes will as usual have to replace “.entry” with “entry”.

The list of CSS selectors that Chromium uses to determine its colors is in //src/chrome/browser/ui/libgtkui/


Chromium's GTK2 theme will soon be deprecated, and this section will be removed.

Describing the previous heuristics

The heuristics often don't pick good colors due to a lack of information in the GTK themes. The frame heuristics were simple. Query the bg[SELECTED] and bg[INSENSITIVE] colors on the MetaFrames class and darken them slightly. This usually worked OK until the rise of themes that try to make a unified titlebar/menubar look. At roughly that time, it seems that people stopped specifying color information for the MetaFrames class and this has lead to the very orange chrome frame on Maverick.

MetaFrames is (was?) a class that was used to communicate frame color data to the window manager around the Hardy days. (It‘s still defined in most of XFCE's themes). In chrome’s implementation, MetaFrames derives from GtkWindow.

If you are happy with the defaults that chrome has picked, no action is necessary on the part of the theme author.

Introducing ChromeGtkFrame

For cases where you want control of the colors chrome uses, Chrome gives you a number of style properties for injecting colors and other information about how to draw the frame. For example, here‘s the proposed modifications to Ubuntu’s Ambiance:

style "chrome-gtk-frame"
    ChromeGtkFrame::frame-color = @fg_color
    ChromeGtkFrame::inactive-frame-color = lighter(@fg_color)

    ChromeGtkFrame::frame-gradient-size = 16
    ChromeGtkFrame::frame-gradient-color = "#5c5b56"

    ChromeGtkFrame::scrollbar-trough-color = @bg_color
    ChromeGtkFrame::scrollbar-slider-prelight-color = "#F8F6F2"
    ChromeGtkFrame::scrollbar-slider-normal-color = "#E7E0D3"

class "ChromeGtkFrame" style "chrome-gtk-frame"

Frame color properties

These are the frame's main solid color.

PropertyTypeDescriptionIf unspecified
frame-colorGdkColorThe main color of active chrome windows.Darkens MetaFrame::bg[SELECTED]
inactive-frame-colorGdkColorThe main color of inactive chrome windows.Darkens MetaFrame::bg[INSENSITIVE]
incognito-frame-colorGdkColorThe main color of active incognito windows.Tints frame-color by the default incognito tint
incognito-inactive-frame-colorGdkColorThe main color of inactive incognito windows.Tints inactive-frame-color by the default incognito tint

Frame gradient properties

Chrome's frame (along with many normal window manager themes) have a slight gradient at the top, before filling the rest of the frame background image with a solid color. For example, the top frame-gradient-size pixels would be a gradient starting from frame-gradient-color at the top to frame-color at the bottom, with the rest of the frame being filled with frame-color.

PropertyTypeDescriptionIf unspecified
frame-gradient-sizeIntegers 0 through 128How large the gradient should be. Set to zero to disable drawing a gradientDefaults to 16 pixels tall
frame-gradient-colorGdkColorTop color of the gradientLightens frame-color
inactive-frame-gradient-colorGdkColorTop color of the inactive gradientLightents inactive-frame-color
incognito-frame-gradient-colorGdkColorTop color of the incognito gradientLightens incognito-frame-color
incognito-inactive-frame-gradient-colorGdkColorTop color of the incognito inactive gradient.Lightens incognito-inactive-frame-color

Scrollbar control

Because widget rendering is done in a separate, sandboxed process that doesn‘t have access to the X server or the filesystem, there’s no current way to do GTK+ widget rendering. We instead pass WebKit a few colors and let it draw a default scrollbar. We have a very complex fallback where we render the widget and then average colors if this information isn't provided.

scrollbar-slider-prelight-colorGdkColorColor of the slider on mouse hover.
scrollbar-slider-normal-colorGdkColorColor of the slider otherwise
scrollbar-trough-colorGdkColorColor of the scrollbar trough

Anticipated Q&A

Will you patch themes upstream?

I am at the very least hoping we can get Radiance and Ambiance patches since we make very poor frame decisions on those themes, and hopefully a few others.

How about control over the min/max/close buttons?

I actually tried this locally. There‘s a sort of uncanny valley effect going on; as the frame looks more native, it’s more obvious that it isn't behaving like a native frame. (Also my implementation added a startup time hit.)

Why use style properties instead of (i.e.) bg[STATE]?

There's no way to distinguish between colors set on different classes. Using style properties allows us to be backwards compatible and maintain the heuristics since not everyone is going to modify their themes for chromium (and the heuristics do a reasonable job).

Why now?

  • I (erg@) was putting off major changes to the window frame stuff in anticipation of finally being able to use GTK+‘s theme rendering for the window border with client side decorations, but client side decorations either isn’t happening or isn‘t happening anytime soon, so there’s no justification for pushing this task off into the future.
  • Chrome looks pretty bad under Ambiance on Maverick.

Details about MetaFrames and ChromeGtkFrame relationship and history?

MetaFrames is a class that was used in metacity to communicate color information to the window manager. During the Hardy Heron days, we slurped up the data and used it as a key part of our heuristics. At least on my Lucid Lynx machine, none of the GNOME GTK+ themes have MetaFrames styling. (As mentioned above, several of the XFCE themes do, though.)

Internally to chrome, our ChromeGtkFrame class inherits from MetaFrames (again, which inherits from GtkWindow) so any old themes that style the MetaFrames class are backwards compatible.