How can I add an application to the GNOME window manager?

In GNOME and other desktop environments, such as KDE and Unity, applications are added to the desktop's menus or desktop shell via desktop entries, defined in text files with the .desktop extension (referred to as desktop files). The desktop environments construct menus for a user from the combined information extracted from available desktop entries.

Desktop files may be created in either of two places:

  • /usr/share/applications/ for desktop entries available to every user in the system
  • ~/.local/share/applications/ for desktop entries available to a single user

You might need to restart GNOME for the new added applications to work.

Per convention, desktop files should not include spaces or international characters in their name.

Each desktop file is split into groups, each starting with the group header in square brackets ([]). Each section contains a number of key, value pairs, separated by an equal sign (=).

Below is a sample of desktop file:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Application Name
Comment=Application description


  • [Desktop Entry] the Desktop Entry group header identifies the file as a desktop entry
  • Type the type of the entry, valid values are Application, Link and Directory
  • Encoding the character encoding of the desktop file
  • Name the application name visible in menus or launchers
  • Comment a description of the application used in tooltips
  • Icon the icon shown for the application in menus or launchers
  • Exec the command that is used to start the application from a shell.
  • Terminal whether the application should be run in a terminal, valid values are true or false
  • Categories semi-colon (;) separated list of menu categories in which the entry should be shown

Command line arguments in the Exec key can be signified with the following variables:

  • %f a single filename.
  • %F multiple filenames.
  • %u a single URL.
  • %U multiple URLs.
  • %d a single directory. Used in conjunction with %f to locate a file.
  • %D multiple directories. Used in conjunction with %F to locate files.
  • %n a single filename without a path.
  • %N multiple filenames without paths.
  • %k a URI or local filename of the location of the desktop file.
  • %v the name of the Device entry.

Note that ~ or environmental variables like $HOME are not expanded within desktop files, so any executables referenced must either be in the $PATH or referenced via their absolute path.

A full Desktop Entry Specification is available at the GNOME Dev Center.

Launch Scripts

If the application to be launched requires certain steps to be done prior to be invoked, you can create a shell script which launches the application, and point the desktop entry to the shell script. Suppose that an application requires to be run from a certain current working directory. Create a launch script in a suitable to location (~/bin/ for instance). The script might look something like the following:

pushd "/path/to/application/directory"
./application "[email protected]"

Set the executable bit for the script:

$ chmod +x ~/bin/launch-application

Then point the Exec key in the desktop entry to the launch script:


Very good answer from Thomas Nyman.

Gnome comes with gui tool gnome-desktop-item-edit assisting in creating *.desktop files. We need to use it from command line, or create a desktop file for it.

Instructions to make Gnome Application from gnome-desktop-item-edit

  1. Open terminal windows and type the following command:

    gnome-desktop-item-edit --create-new /home/[your user name]/.local/share/applications

  2. In the opened window fill the following: enter image description here

Name: Gnome Applicaiton

Command: gnome-desktop-item-edit --create-new /home/[your user name]/.local/share/applications

Click on the icon to select a different icon.

  1. Click OK to close the windows

  2. Close the terminal window

Testing newly generated Gnome Application

  1. Open dash
  2. Type Application
  3. You should see the Gnome Application entered before
  4. Select it
  5. Create another application

To create for all users use:

sudo gnome-desktop-item-edit --create-new /usr/share/applications

If the command is missing on debian/ubuntu try:

sudo apt-get install gnome-panel 

The previous answers from Thomas Nyman and Dudi Boy are very good and detailed. I am posting this because I didn't found a answer for my doubt in any other posts and I had to search in git issues.

After I followed the steps like Thomas Nyman suggested I have been able to make the icon for my program to appear in the App Menu. The problem here is that I use Dash to Dock as side bar and I could not pin the icon as a favourite like other icons. After searching I found that you need to add the line StartupWMClass=ApplicationName in .desktop file. After that the option to add to favourites will appear by right clicking on the icon in Dash to Dock.