Add an application to GNOME's Autostart

Jack Wallen
Apr 8, 2009
Updated • Dec 5, 2012

When you log into GNOME are there applications that you wish would start automatically? Are you one of those that fire up your web browser or your email client as your desktop is finishing the loading process? If that's the case you're in luck, GNOME (and most Linux desktops) allows you to add applications to the autostart list so that when you start up your desktop those applications will start immediately.

In modern GNOME desktops (I am using 2.24.3) setting up autostart applications is much easier than it once was. In early releases you would have had to write a script to tell GNOME to launch a specific app once the desktop was loaded. Now, like nearly every aspect of the Linux desktop experience, there is "an app for that".

To create an autostart application you need to visit the System menu in the top panel of the GNOME desktop. In that menu you will find the Preferences sub menu. Within the Preferences sub menu you will see the Personal menu which is where the Sessions tool. The Sessions tool is where you add applications for auto start.

GNOME Sessions Window
GNOME Sessions Window

Once in the Sessions window (see the image to the left) you will want to click the Add button. When the new window opens for adding the application you won't find a list of applications to choose actually have to fill out the necessary information manually. What you have to fill out is simple:

Name: This doesn't effect the actual startup of the application, but it does help you locate your new application in the long list of startup applications.

Command: This is the actual command the new application uses to execute. The application should be in your PATH, if not use the full path to the executable (i.e. /usr/bin/firefox instead of just firefox).

Comment: This will be the descriptive text underneath the name of the startup program.

Startup Application
Startup Application

As you can see (in the image to the right) the configuration is quite simple. Once you have your application configured, click the Save button and your start up application is ready to start up the next time you log in.

Faster Route

If you do not want to take the time to create a new start up application entry or you're not sure what the commands are for the applications you want to auto start, there is an easier way.

If you click on the Options tab from the Sessions window you will notice a button labeled "Remember Currently Running Application". What this allows you to do is to open up the application you want to autostart and click this button. When you do this an entry for that application will be automatically created in the Sessions window.

WARNING: There is a bug haunting GNOME >= 2.24.1 that doesn't allow the "Remember Currently Running Applications" feature to work. If you are working within a GNOME earlier than 2.24.1 you shouldn't have any problem. Anything later than 2.24.1 this will not work. The GNOME development team is aware of the problem and is working to fix it.

Final Thougths

If you are like me there are certain applications that might as well start up as soon as the desktop is loaded. And fortunately the Linux desktop allows for such features.


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  1. ECJB said on January 30, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Another way to do this is to put a shortcut (filename.desktop) into the folder ~/.config/autostart. If this folder doesn’t exist, simply create it. BTW, in Ubuntu the path to the aforementioned program is System -> Preferences -> Startup Applications.

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