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Gimp Dockable Dialog Tutorial: Managing Tool Boxes

Managing tool boxes in Gimp

This explains in simple language how to manage the tool boxes in Gimp. (Mostly as asides, it also critiques the user interface, to help you understand.)

First, terminology. Gimp calls them "Dockable Dialogs". Here I call them tool boxes. (programmers distinguish tool boxes, where you choose a tool then hit something with it, from list boxes, where you choose something, for example a layer, and pull down a menu for it, or just choose something to activate or select it. Gimp reserves the word "Toolbox" for the window of drawing tools like the Pencil tool, and it is NOT a lower-case tool box.)

Docks. There is not "a dock". You can have many docks. It is best to think of docks as rafts, that is, tool boxes lashed together inside a window. You dock tool boxes to each other to make a raft. (A window that holds a raft has controls for docking, but has no frame or outline that distinguishes it as a raft.)

What rafts look like. A raft of tool boxes is in a window, separate from any image window. The tool boxes in a raft are either tabbed, or adjacent (one north of another), or both. A window that holds a raft is titled with a list of the tool boxes in the raft. (Except that the Toolbox window always says just "Toolbox" even if it is a raft with other tool boxes.) A raft always contains these (obscure) controls: a dock bar near the top, a dock bar at the bottom, and a "Tab Menu button" near the top right.

Cloning tool boxes: there is not "a toolbox" of each kind: the same toolbox can have clones visible (even with clones together in the same raft!) All clones of a toolbox present the same information, that is, they stay synced. (I haven't figured out the conditions when a clone will be created versus an existing tool box brought to the top. This might be a bug.)

Controls for docking.
1) The "Windows>Recently Closed Docks": to open recently closed rafts (but only those that had more than one toolbox)
2) "Windows>Dockable Dialogs" menus : to open toolboxes inside a new raft, or bring them to the top
3) "dock bars" : a target for drag-and-dropping tool boxes
4) other places to drop toolboxes
5) "dock handle areas" : a grab place to drag a tool box from
6) other places to drag toolboxes from
7) "Tab Menu" buttons : a menu in a tabbed raft to control the tool boxes there, or add tool boxes

"Windows>Recently Closed Docks": This shows you rafts (windows) of tool boxes that you recently closed. Choose one to reopen it, as it was. (It should just be "Window>Open Recent" like "File>Open Recent". Recently closed, solitary toolbox windows aren't listed. By that logic, a dock is not a dock until it has more than one toolbox in it, which is paradoxical. )

"Windows>Dockable Dialogs": This lists all the tool boxes that Gimp provides. Choosing one opens it in a new raft OR brings it to the top if it is already open OR creates a clone if it is already open. (The Gimp User Manual erroneously says it will bring it to the top if it is already in a raft. In my experience, it sometimes opens a clone in a new raft, sometimes opens a clone in an existing raft, and sometimes brings it to the top.)

Dock bars: A dock bar is a sliver of a rectangle, one at the top and one at the bottom of a raft. It is a target for drag-and-drop. Dragging a toolbox to a top dock bar puts the toolbox in a tab in the raft. Dragging a toolbox to a bottom dock bar puts the toolbox adjacent (south of) the toolboxes already in the raft. A tooltip tells you it is a target for drag-and-drop. It does highlight when you drag a toolbox over it. (The dock bar is too small for most users to notice, it looks like a separator bar.)

Other places to drag and drop toolboxes: You can also drop a toolbox on top of another toolbox. The dropped toolbox becomes tabbed with the target toolbox. You can drag to either the tab or the body of a toolbox. (Except: when a toolbox is in the Toolbox window, you can only drag to its tab, and not to its body!)

Dock handle areas: The displayed name in a toolbox, like "Layer", is one place where you can start drag-and-drop. The cursor changes to a hand icon when you CAN begin a drag, and the cursor becomes a small box with the name of the tool box as you drag. (!!! Note the banner of the window of a raft will also be the name of the toolbox(es) in the raft, but you can't drag a toolbox from the banner, only the window.)

Other places to drag toolboxes from: you can drag a toolbox starting from its tab if the tab is on top. (The tooltip says "Open..." but it should say "Open or drag...". Also, as you mouseover a tab, the cursor remains the pointer icon, and doesn't change to a hand icon, even though you can start a drag.)

Tab menu button: This a button with a left arrow icon, to the right of the name or tabs for every tool box. Clicking on it brings up a menu. All but the top menu item affect the raft. For example, let you add or delete tool boxes, or change the appearance of the raft. The top menu item is NOT about the raft, but about the tool box. For example, for the Layers tool box, it brings up the Layers menu.

The usual rafts: The Toolbox window can be a raft. (But the name of the window never changes to list the tool boxes in the raft.) The Devices windows can be a raft. You can create as many other rafts as you want.

Casual readers can skip the following critique of annoyances.

Special case: Tool Options toolbox. On a newly installed Gimp, this toolbox is open rafted underneath the tools in the "Toolbox" window. This is the natural place for it, but you CAN move it elsewhere, and it might persist there across invocations of Gimp.

Special case: the dock bar at the bottom of the Toolbox window. This dock bar grows larger and displays "You can drop dockable dialogs here" if the Toolbox window is resized larger. This differs from other dock bars (which I have yet to see resize to other than a sliver.)

Special case: the dock bar near the top of the Toolbox window. It is below the tools, not at the top of the window like other rafts.

Special case: Device Status toolbox. It appears in Windows>Dockable Dialogs, but it is not draggable to any other raft, but always appears in the "Devices" window. That raft will hold other toolboxes, but the Device Status toolbox can't leave the raft of the "Devices" window.

Special case: some toolboxes are NOT named as in the Windows>Dockable Dialogs menu. For example, the "Tool Options" toolbox is named for the current tool (for example is named "Paint" but should be named "Tool Options: Paint". For another example, the "Colors" tool box is named "FG/BG Colors" when it opens.)

You can't drag a raft (the window containing the raft) into another raft to combine them. You must drag toolboxes one at a time from raft to raft.

Hidden new tool box gotcha: a newly opened toolbox in its own raft can be hidden behind other windows! This might depend on Edit>Preferences>Window Management>Window Manager Hints>Hints for Other Docks ?

Closing the Toolbox: closes the Gimp application. It is a raft that closes differently from other rafts.

The dock versus raft metaphor. Some docks have slips. Only one boat can usually be put in each slip. A long dock might not have slips defined, in which case many boats can be docked, but only generally in the configuration the dock defines (a long row.) A docked boat is moored (fixed), but can later move elsewhere. Docks usually don't move. Docks with slips often have boats assigned to a slip. Long, public docks might allow boats anywhere. Rafted boats are tied together in a variety of configurations, as many boats as you want. A raft of boats is often moored to an anchor, but can move. The Apple dock is like a long dock. The Gimp dock concept is more like a set of rafts.



I just started using your program, after experience with various image editing programs (remember "Harvard Graphics" or "GEM Draw"??) as well as other "freeware". I was hoping to find "the" image editing program, but can't get this one to do anything that matches the instructions (yes, I read them), the Helpfile (yes I know how to use them) or these "tutorials" (yes, I write "tutorials" for my apps too - but they match the user experience!!!).

Firstly, what's keeping me from doing ANYTHING with your program: your trick "docks" don't work as described. I accidentally deleted a "dock-within-a-dock" (not really sure what happened, it just went away and I NEED it - no way to know what name to call whatever went away) and have found no way to "undo" the action. You guys have heard of "UNDO", right? Google it!!
(TIP: you have at least two mouse buttons!! Consider using the other one!!)

I did go looking for self-help. I'm looking back over a decade of Technical Support ("Help Desk" in the ADD vernacular), so I can prove I'm pretty good at finding answers for myself. The problem I'm having here is the "answer" doesn't match the question!

In order to try to find the "whatever" I deleted, I found "dockable docks" which should build into "rafts". Right? Not for me.

When I "drag & drop" a sub-dock (Controls) onto the Pencil Tool's dock-dock (as the caption on the dock-cock area clearly states: "You can drop dockable dialogs here""), the Controls dock just sits over (or under -- yes this is the Z-axis, not "up" and "down" the screen!!!)) the Tool dock, and does not actually "DOCK" to the "meta-dock"... Perhaps you guys have run down this "dock" rabbit hole far enough. WTF are you trying to do? (If we can see where you're heading, as from 20,000' AGL, we can adapt to your oddball quirks and erratic designs along the way!)


As to why no one will pay any of you for this:
I notice this "tutorial" is dated 2009!!! EVERYTHING has changed since then!! Is it possible for someone, preferably one who knows a lot about this app, might modify this to match what's actually going on in late 2012? That's what the payers mean by "value".

I like to write good software, especially when I'm getting paid for it. This isn't what I'd call "useful", nevermind "good".

Any irate responses, telling me what a luzr I am? Go ahead & get it out of your system. We'll all wait for you...

What luzr would put this code out just because it compiles clean? Do you not System Test? To what "Standard"??
What luzr would waste his/her time writing this (or any) code without any clear, unambiguous, verifiable "target" (my euphemism for the Design Document which describes the functionality of this program)? How can you know if what you've done "works" according to "the plan"? (Hint: AFAIK, it does NOT, but only you know that "plan".)

Even hackers (at least this writer) have some GOAL and the ability to plan a legitimate approach to that goal. What is the goal of GIMP software? Image editing or throwing garbage at the User?

Any USEFUL responses, telling the world how to use your software??

Anybody still care?

(note: thank you for reading this far. I took the slightly (I promise) antagonistic approach because I have NEVER found ANY of you "copyleft" programmers to respond to ANY request for documentation or instruction (correct or not), EVER.)

The gauntlet :== Down. Any takers?
(forward-looking statement: I predict this comment will be deleted, but not the incorrect "tutorial". And no correct tutorial will emerge. And GIMP will continue to bloat. Just sayin...)

Bootchk isn't the author/creator/coder of GIMP. He is merely explaining the "programmer" side of how things are termed, for users of GIMP software, regarding dockable dialogs. This really isn't so much a tutorial as it is an "explanation" of processes, both in the coder vernacular, and in laymen's terms. It's also very brief, with simple explanations for how docks work in GIMP, which can be retrieved via Windows/Dockable Dialogs on the top menu bar (when you lose them).

Deleted? Nope.

Tutorial? Not so much.

Neither Harvard Graphics nor GEM Draw are imaging editing programs. Perhaps you'd be better served to ignore what you think you already know and start afresh.

If you need help, ask for it -- forgoing the "slightly antagonistic approach" and the derogations. All of your questions have ready answers, however, theatrical histrionics will only interfere with your receiving them.

In addition to the fact that I completely agree with your reply to the above derogatory novel, I want to add that nothing that was addressed in it is accurate. Is the writer even using Gimp? Lost docks/windows are EASILY retrievable, and if you hate the program this much,..why would you NEED the lost dockable window? Nothing works to your liking..correct? I just wanted to ask. Am I missing something here?

So I'd move on to something more to your liking, like perhaps PhotoShop CS6 at an approximate starting cost of $250.00. Gimp is just as good if not better, and equally if not more user friendly than any of it's expensive counterparts. Not to mention the fact that it is available to anyone for FREE. And as said by saulgoode, there is a whole community out there of ready answers for anyone who is willing to simply ask. This is a friendly community..and Gimp is a friendly program.

I just recently had the same problem that Old-School-Master had, with the disappearing toolbox. I agree they should have been more professional about their question, but no one has yet to answer this question. So I nicely ask, does anyone know how to restore the toolboxes to the original setup? I have tried uninstalling and reinstalling twice, and when I try to "drop dialog box" it just sits on top, it doesn't "dock" inside of the toolbox. Can anyone PLEASE help me?

I also do second saulgoode's response

I came here because I am just having the same problem as Crwgrl and Old-School-Master, and cannot find a way to solve it. Unfortunately this good tutorial doesn't tell me how to reverse or undo any change to the toolbox and the dialogs just don't incorporate back into it ,,, I'm using GIMP 2.8.4.

As for the discussion here, I'm not a tech geek at all but I've been using GIMP for quite a while and must say that it is absolutely as good as any of the paid ones, so really find unfair what Old-School-Master said above. I have installed an open source system in my computer a few years ago, so had to start learning from scratch. My experience has been so enriching and have found so many wonderful people, so kind and obliging. So it is my moral duty to express my absolute disagreement to what Old-School-Master said.

However, he pointed out something that is important ... I also right-clicked for options, and even though there's a "restore" item, it is nonfunctional in this case. Perhaps in the future, the Gimp writers could take in account this matter because it could be solved so easily with only one click ... and I think it would also be a good idea to add something that would "lock"/"unlock" all the dialogs, so it would be more difficult to take them out of their place by mistake.

I would really appreciate any help you could give me, I really don't want to uninstall/reinstall the application ... Thanks !!!!

OK, finally found out how to restore back the dockable dialogs in the Toolbox or wherever a dialog is taken out by accident, as happened to me some days ago ... the reason I came here the last time ...

It is quite simple ... as an example I'll use my own problem ... have taken out the "Tool Options" dialog from the Toolbox and wasn't able to "drop" it back. I tried again and again to do so, taking it from the logical place : its name on the border.

The fact is that it isn't there where you have to "take" it, but the name UNDER the border (same name), which is in the window itself. Voilà! It will drop in immediately ... and you can do this with any dialog to any "You can drop dockable dialogs here" place :-))

Thanks so much to KenzieCupcake for his clever hint which helped me so much. Hope my answer here will help more people struggling with this problem as I was.

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