Default applications

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Revision as of 15:23, 7 January 2012 by Untitaker (Talk | contribs) (My fault, update-desktop-database does nothing and it is perfectly save to edit the config files.)

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Notes: please use the first argument of the template to provide more detailed indications. (Discuss in Talk:Default applications#)

There are numerous places to configure default applications on Linux. This page will attempt to address problems related to the following issues:

  • You need to change a certain default application (e.g. after switching desktop environments), but there appears to be nowhere to configure it, or an application ignores your configuration
  • You regularly switch back and forth between several desktop environments, and need to configure some applications (e.g. file manager) on a per-desktop-environment basis, but need to configure others (e.g. web browser) globally

Until there is more information/organization, it will just be a dumping ground of random tricks

Changing a default application


Many applications invoke the Template:Codeline command internally.

You can bind mimetypes to .desktop files in Template:Filename with the xdg-mime command:

# This will make Thunar the default file-browser, i.e. the default application for opening folders.
xdg-mime default Thunar.desktop inode/directory

The best way to look up the MIME type is to read the Template:Codeline list in your application's Template:Filename file. You can put custom Template:Filename files into Template:Filename.

The config file

Template:Codeline saves the configuration for Template:Codeline in Template:Filename. Its format is as follows:

[Default Applications]

For example,

[Default Applications]

You *can't* use wildcards such as image/* for opening all kinds of images.

Gnome 3

The xdg-open settings are usually recognized by Gnome, but if they aren't, there are still other methods.


As far as I can tell, on Gnome 3, there are two configuration systems, GConf (older) and dconf (newer). GConf can be configured with Template:Codeline; in particular, you can try messing with the Template:Filename key, but changing settings there didn't fix any problems I had. dconf can be configured with the Template:Codeline command.


To configure the default terminal for the package nautilus-open-terminal to Konsole, use

$ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.default-applications.terminal exec konsole
$ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.default-applications.terminal exec-arg "'-e'"

The second command tells Template:Codeline to expect a command to be passed to it as part of the invocation. nautilus-open-terminal needs this because it passes a Template:Codeline command in order to switch to the appropriate directory. For example, opening a terminal in your Template:Filename directory will invoke something like

$ konsole -e cd "~/Desktop"

Web browser

To configure the web browser used by the AUR package gnome-gmail-notifier, run

$ gconf-editor

and edit the Template:Filename key. You may want to change Template:Filename, Template:Filename, and Template:Filename keys while you're at it.

Exactly how the config files mesh together

This is not necessary reading, but here is, as nearly as I can tell, xdg-open looks for the following sections in the following files.

~/.local/share/applications/mimeapps.list, [Default Applications] section
~/.local/share/applications/mimeapps.list, [Added Applications] section
/usr/share/applications/mimeapps.list, [Default Applications] section
/usr/share/applications/mimeapps.list, [Added Applications] section

Note that ordinarily, if a higher-precedence config file (or config file section) specifies an application that is not installed, it will fall-back to a lower-precedence config file (or section). However, if a non-existent application is specified in any Template:Filename file, then all of the Template:Filename files will be ignored for that MIME type.

See also this page on, "Default application ordering" section.

make xdg-open a wrapper for exo-open

You might want to make xdg-open a wrapper for exo-open from Xfce, because exo-open tends to be more user-friendly to configure outside a desktop-environment. To do so, make sure that your configuration under .local/share/applications is gone (all those .list files) and insert the following somewhere in your .xinitrc:

export DE="xfce"

This will make xdg-open use exo-open, because it assumes it is inside Xfce.

To set your default applications in exo-open, launch the GTK GUI with


Maintaining settings for multiple desktop environments

More info later...


Applications don't appear in the Open With... context menu (of a file manager)

Sometimes, a certain application will not appear in the right-click Open With... dialog. To fix this problem, locate the Template:Filename file in Template:Filename, edit it as root, and add Template:Codeline to the end of the Template:Codeline line. For example, Kile currently has this problem; you need to edit Template:Filename and change the line reading Template:Codeline to read Template:Codeline. Also, please file a bug against the upstream project if you notice this problem.

You may also have to edit the Template:Codeline list in the Template:Filename file if you install extensions that allow an application to handle additional MIME types.