Multiple styles in icon themes and the future of the XDG icon specs

Noah Davis noahadvs at
Tue Nov 19 04:00:52 UTC 2019

Hello, I work on KDE's Breeze icons.

The Breeze icon theme currently has an issue where we (KDE's designers) want to use different styles for different parts of a GUI, but what we want to do cannot be done without breaking compatibility with XDG icon specs. That, or creating a ton of icons with special names that kind of defeat the purpose of adhering to the XDG icon naming spec (allowing themes to be interchangeable). Icon themes with good icon coverage typically use tons of symlinks anyway though.

Examples of what we want to do:
- We want all applications to use monochrome/symbolic icons for buttons, comboboxes, appmenus and context menus without requiring applications to ask for symbolic icons.
    - Note: We have some icons with names that end with "-symbolic", but those are mainly for compatibility with GNOME apps. We normally don't use any name suffix or prefix to mark icons as monochrome/symbolic or full color. If we did, then many applications would not use any monochrome/symbolic icons.
- We want to use just full color icons in certain situations, such as our system settings sidebar.
- We want to do both of these things while allowing our users to use other icon themes that may work differently (e.g., full color icon themes like Oxygen).

Problems we have with our icon theme and the XDG icon specs:
- Since before I started working on icons, Breeze has had 32px monochrome/symbolic icons in the actions category and 32px color icons in other categories. The people who created Breeze clearly wanted buttons and menus to use monochrome icons and other parts of applications to use color icons.
- The XDG icon specs do not allow us to do what we want. They seem to be designed around themes that only use one style. Icon categories are only for organization.
- App developers sometimes use icon names in ways that assume icons will only be in one style.
    - For example, action icons like edit-find are sometimes used for preference categories.
    - It's not necessarily wrong and it allows app developers to be compatible with many icon themes, but with Breeze it causes their apps to show a mix of color and monochrome/symbolic icons in cases where one or the other is not desirable.

Could the XDG icon specs be modified to allow the use of different icon styles for different GUI components without requiring apps to request those different styles?
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