2021-03-18

Enable 3 Finger Drag on Linux

3 Finger Drag (3FD) is not available on Windows, and not built-in on Linux

On Windows, we can achieve something similar.  Let's call it:  3 Finger Tap to Drag Lock.  See Enable 3 Finger Drag on Windows for how.

On Linux, it is apparently possible to have pretty good 3 Finger Drag!  See below.

Pretty good but not as good as Mac's 3FD, but without Apple's tightly integrated hardware, software, OS, driver, etc., it's impossible to get Apple Mac's high quality 3FD.

What's 3FD anyway?

3 Finger Drag refers to a Mac accessibility feature.  When enabled, if you place three fingers on the Mac's trackpad or touchpad, then move those fingers in unison on the trackpad, the mouse pointer behave as if you left-clicked-and-are-dragging.

It's a better more ergonomic alternative to the tap-twice-and-drag method that's common on Macs, Windows, and Linux.

It's better because there's less finger tapping movement which can develop into "trigger finger" type repetitive strain injury.  If you drag things around a lot, tap-twice-and-drag plus another tap to deactivate dragging starts to add up to being a nuisance!

And at least for me, when dragging using the  tap-twice-and-drag gesture, I often have trouble continuing to drag mid-drag if I lift my hand away from the trackpad to reposition.  And ironically, I also have trouble disengaging the drag once I've reached the target of the drag motion too!

How to add 3FD to Linux

As of 2021 January, the happy path to getting 3FD on Linux is:

  1. Use a desktop Linux system that uses libinput for handling the trackpad
  2. build your own custom 3FD enabled libinput
  3. install your custom libinput.

(1) Use a desktop Linux system that uses libinput for handling the trackpad

Fortunately, Ubuntu and Debian uses libinput.  And libinput works with both Wayland and X11.  And Gnome/Xfce/KDE/LXDE all work with libinput.  So practically everyone's standardized onto libinput for trackpad and gesture support in 2021!

(2) Build custom 3FD enabled libinput

Unfortunately, 3FD isn't standard in libinput.  And likely won't be for a very long time if ever.

But there's a patched version of libinput with 3FD added!  Here's the most recent patch:  aakside's libinput.

(3) install your custom libinput

See Dakshin Karthikeyan's article for the Linux specific instructions on how to install.

Caution: Dakshin's article references a different 3FD patched libinput that's by jafd, which is slightly older and apparently with less 3FD enabling features.

To be clear, aakside's 3FD enabled libinput is a rebasing of complyue's 3FD libinput patch onto a more updated libinput.

I wrote a State of Built-in 3 Finger Drag on Linux post earlier if you want to understand more the relationship between the various libinput patches / forks.

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