How to Create Desktop Shortcuts in Ubuntu

Ubuntu Desktop Shortcuts Featured

If you came to Ubuntu from Windows, you may be wondering why it’s impossible to create desktop shortcuts in Linux. The truth is that it’s not impossible, but it is somewhat more complicated. Read on to learn how to do it.

Desktop Files

In Linux, every application that you can launch from the desktop comes with an extra file that defines how that should happen. It’s a simple text file with a range of parameters, like the application’s name, file location, icon, and the name presented on the desktop.

Those files are crucial to creating desktop shortcuts for our applications, for they are the desktop shortcuts to our apps.

On Ubuntu you can find those files in the “/usr/share/applications” directory – other distributions may use a different path. To create a desktop shortcut:

1. Open the File Manager.

2. Click on “+ Other Locations -> Computer” and navigate to “/usr/share/applications.” You will find many files with the “.desktop” extension.

Ubuntu Applications Desktop Files Folder 1

3. Scroll down the list to find the application you want to place on Desktop. Right click and select “Copy.”

Ubuntu Copy Firefox Desktop File

4. Paste to the Desktop.

Allow Launching

The files you’ve copied to your desktop in the previous step already contain everything you need to launch their respective applications by double-clicking on them. And yet, if you try it, nothing will happen, and to add insult to injury, they all look identical. Thankfully, both those problems are fixable with a single move.

Ubuntu Desktop Shortcuts Unconfigured

Right-click on your first file and, from the pop-up menu that appears, choose “Allow Launching.”

Ubuntu Desktop Shortcuts Allow Launching

That was all you had to do to turn the desktop file into an actual desktop launcher/shortcut. Repeat the process for the rest of your files.

Ubuntu Desktop Shortcuts Configured

No Desktop File, No Problem!

If the desktop application you want a shortcut for doesn’t come with a .desktop file, you can create one from scratch. Note that you can also edit any existing .desktop file in a typical text editor to customize its parameters to your liking. We suggest you don’t modify the original files, though.

To create a new launcher for any application, open the text editor and add the following information:

Change the “VERSION_NUMBER” and the path to the executable file. Also change the file path for the icon of the app.

Once done, save it as “APP_NAME.desktop” on the Desktop folder. You can change the “APP_NAME”, but keep the “.desktop” extension intact.

For more details, you can refer to this tutorial to create a .desktop file in Linux.

Now that you know how to create desktop shortcuts in Ubuntu, you can also do the opposite: eliminate all icons from your desktop and maybe even the top bar and the dock.

Do you believe desktop shortcuts are useful? Are you in the haters camp and think that icons make any desktop look like a mess? Tell us in the comments section below.

Related:

Odysseas Kourafalos Odysseas Kourafalos

OK's real life started at around 10, when he got his first computer - a Commodore 128. Since then, he's been melting keycaps by typing 24/7, trying to spread The Word Of Tech to anyone interested enough to listen. Or, rather, read.

4 comments

  1. Why make things so complicated?! In every distro I have used, I just click on the Start Menu, right-click on an application, choose “Add to the Desktop” and I have a shortcut icon on the Desktop.

  2. Quote: “If you came to Ubuntu from Windows, you may be wondering why it’s impossible to create desktop shortcuts in Linux.”

    Which is exactly why I recommend and use Ubuntu Mate. This process and others are as straight forward and transparent as it can be to create a desktop icon.

  3. That’s the gnome desktop for Ubuntu, what you get if you just install Ubuntu. There are a number of other desktops. Gnome’s what we use but with a minimal install (no libre office, lots of other bloat and duplicate apps missing). We made some mods to make it behave more like Windows, don’t like the flying open and disappearing launch tiles in gnome. Why Ubuntu is obsessed with having a blank desktop, IDK.

    Not on Ubuntu at the moment but making desktop shortcuts is easy, just copy to desktop, there are context menu entries in a number of places. Also extensions/commands to allow drag and drop as in Windows.

    It’s very helpful to understand bash (born again shell) but gnome has a great set of extensions that install with correct dependencies without having to use bash:
    https://extensions.gnome.org/
    With all the other mods available elsewhere, too, it’s possible to do a huge number of things to Ubuntu without using bash.

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