Explore your e-reader options with Foliate

Tutorial – Foliate

Article from Issue 229/2019

The Foliate ebook reader can be comprehensively customized to suit your needs, including bookmarking, translation, and read aloud features.

About 10 years ago, "Shock your parents – read a book" was a slogan at German libraries. It didn't help much: Book publishers are still battling stagnation. Nevertheless, there is still some reading going on, although now it focuses more on ebooks and less on printed material. It's not without reason that Amazon regularly offers new versions of its Kindle ebook reader.

To read ebooks, you do not necessarily need a special device. The package sources of the current Linux distributions contain numerous software-based ebook readers. In addition to a read mode, they often offer additional functions such as bookmark management, annotations, or a translation tool.

This repertoire is also offered by the still very young Foliate [1] ebook reader. It is based on the modern GTK3 framework and harmonizes perfectly with the Gnome desktop. In addition, it offers many setting options, which already makes the application a good alternative to classics like Calibre.


To install Foliate, most users have to rely on packages provided by the developers. The program is not yet included in the package sources of Debian, Ubuntu or Linux Mint. On the GitHub Releases page you can pick up the latest version in the form of DEB packages [2]. At the editorial deadline, Foliate 1.5.3 was the latest version; it installed on a recent Ubuntu system without any issues.

Of the big distributions, only Fedora (F29 and higher) provides the program in the package manager, but this is an older version. Arch Linux users will always receive the current version of Foliate via the AUR; the entries you need here are foliate or foliate-git. Alternatively, the project provides detailed information on its homepage on how to build the software from the source code.

An Open Book

The software can load ebooks in EPUB, MOBI, AZW, and AZW3 formats. Suitable reading material can be obtained, for example, from Project Gutenberg [3].

At startup time, Foliate launches with an almost empty page. Use the Open File… button or the Open item from the hamburger menu in the top right corner to load an ebook file from the hard disk. Like all modern GTK3 applications, Foliate does without a classic menubar; all options are located in the window bar. On the left, you can open the table of contents; next to it are notes and the bookmarks. On the right, you can configure the display, launch a search, or open the settings menu (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Foliate is a modern ebook reader with gesture support and integrated voice output.

The view can be easily configured. You can specify the type and size of the font, as well as the page margins to suit your own taste – if you do not want to use the specifications defined by the ebook's creator. Foliate comes with four different themes, which you can configure via Preferences | Theme. There are also three layouts to choose from: Auto distributes the contents of the book over one page, or two adjacent pages, depending on the window width; Single uses only one page. Scrolled finally gets rid of pages and displays a continuous text flow.

If you are reading a book on a laptop, Foliate offers a series of gestures that can be triggered using the touchpad. Use a two-finger swipe to the left or right to scroll one page forward or back. The pinch-to-zoom gesture used on smartphones to zoom in and out also works with Foliate.


If you select a word in the text, a small window automatically appears; you can now look up the word in a dictionary – this only works for Wiktionary [4] right now. Alternatively, you can look up the term in Wikipedia; Foliate automatically loads the Wikipedia language that matches the language of the desktop environment for this; you also can use Google Translate to translate (Figure 2). In the dialog header you will find an option for copying the contents of the selection to the clipboard (Copy) or for highlighting the passage (Highlight).

Figure 2: Foliate loads explanations or translations from the Internet for selected words and paragraphs.

The highlight function starts automatically as soon as you select an entire section or paragraph. Click Highlight, and then change the options in the context menu. You can now change the color of the selection or add your own Note. Foliate displays all markers with notes in the Notes dialog (or in the corresponding section of the sidebar if enabled in the preferences) in an overview with colored markers (Figure 3).

Figure 3: In addition to simple bookmarks, Foliate also stores color highlights and notes.

Foliate stores your current position as well as the bookmarks and notes specifically for each book below ~/.local/share/ in the com.github.johnfactotum.Foliate/ directory. If you move this folder to a cloud store such as Nextcloud or Dropbox, the data can easily be synchronized across multiple computers. You can start reading on your desktop computer during the day and continue reading on your laptop later in the evening.

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