Integrating with GNOME

GNOME is a project to build a complete desktop and development platform based entirely on free software. Many companies, governments, schools, institutions, and individuals have deployed the GNOME desktop on their systems. If you are a developer of third-party software (“Independent Software Vendor” or ISV, or “Independent Software Developer” (ISD) if you don’t do it commercially), you may want to ensure that your existing software runs properly under GNOME. This guide explains how to integrate existing software with GNOME, without actually rewriting that software to explicitly use the GNOME platform libraries and development tools.

This guide will be useful in the following situations:

  • You are a software developer or distributor who has an application that is not explicitly designed to work with GNOME, but you want to ensure that it runs comfortably within a GNOME desktop.

  • You are a system administrator for an institution that has deployed GNOME desktops to its users. You also have legacy or in-house applications, and you want your users of GNOME to be able to access those applications comfortably.

  • You are writing a GNOME application proper and you need a checklist of basic things to do to ensure that your application integrates well with the rest of the GNOME desktop.

In general, this guide is about integrating existing software into a GNOME desktop. On the other hand, if you are considering writing new software, we encourage you to develop it completely with GNOME as your target platform; please refer to the GNOME Developer’s Site for more information.

One of the main concerns of GNOME is the user experience. Users should have a comfortable computing environment: this means having a complete desktop and a set of applications which operate together in a consistent way. With relatively little work, applications which are not written explicitly with GNOME in mind can be made to run comfortably within a GNOME desktop.

Basic integration

Desktop files

To run applications from GNOME, users click on icons on their desktops or they select the applications which they want to run from the applications grid. Therefore, the first step in integrating an existing program with GNOME is to register it with the set of applications that users can run.

The applications grid is automatically constructed from the list of registered applications.

In GNOME and other desktops, an application gets registered into the desktop’s menus through a desktop entry, which is a text file with .desktop extension. This desktop file contains a listing of the configurations for your application. The desktop takes the information in this file and uses it to:

  • associate the name, description, and icon of the application

  • associate each window created by the application with the same name and icon

  • recognize the MIME types it supports for opening files

To register your application, create a desktop file using the same application identifier you chose for your application and the .desktop file extension.


For more information about the application identifier, please see the Application ID tutorial.

A typical desktop file will have the following structure:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Your Application
Comment=An amazing application

Some keys in your desktop files can be localized in different languages, like the Name, Comment, GenericName, and Keywords keys. By localizing your desktop file you allow users from different parts of the world to find your application more easily.


For more information about the format of the desktop files, please visit the Desktop Entry specification.


You should ensure that your desktop file is valid as part of your project’s test suite. You can use the desktop-file-validate utility provided by the desktop-file-utils project

Your desktop file should be installed under one of the applications directories of the XDG_DATA_DIRS or XDG_DATA_HOME environment variables, depending on the installation prefix. For system installations, the former typically means /usr/share/applications; for user installations, the latter is typically $HOME/.local/share/applications.


For more information about the XDG directories, please visit the Base Directories specification


Application icons should be installed following the Icon Theme specification. For GNOME applications, you should provide

  • a full color scalable icon using the SVG format


  • a full color, 256×256 pixels raster icon using the PNG format

You should also, optionally, provide a symbolic icon using the SVG format.

You should install your icon under the hicolor icon theme namespace, using the application identifier as the base name for the icon; for instance:

  1. /usr/share/icons/hicolor/256x256/apps/com.example.YourApplication.png

  2. /usr/share/icons/hicolor/scalable/apps/com.example.YourApplication.svg

  3. /usr/share/icons/hicolor/symbolic/apps/com.example.YourApplication-symbolic.svg

Advanced integration

D-Bus activation

Instead of the typical UNIX-style fork()/exec() approach to process creation, launching an application in GNOME is preferably done by sending a D-Bus message to the well-known name of that application, causing a D-Bus activation. In the case that the application is already running, it can respond to the message by opening a new window or raising its existing window, instead of launching a new instance.

Starting processes with D-Bus activation ensures that each application gets started in its own pristine environment, as a direct descendent of the session, not in the environment of whatever its parent happened to be. This is important for ensuring the app ends up in the correct cgroup, for example.

Another reason is that being D-Bus activatable is a prerequisite for using persistent notifications.

In order for D-Bus to know how to activate your service, you need to install a D-Bus service file under /usr/share/dbus-1/services:

[D-BUS Service]

You will also need to add the following key to your application’s desktop file:


If DBusActivatable is true and the desktop file name looks like a valid application ID, then the Exec line will be ignored and your application will be started by way of D-Bus activation instead (using the name of the desktop file minus the .desktop extension as the application ID).

MIME types

If your application can open specific MIME types, you need to let the desktop know in the desktop file. For example, if your application can accept PNG files, add the following line into your desktop file:



Additional MIME types can be added by separating the different types with semicolons.

You will also need to add %F as argument to your Exec line if your application supports opening multiple files at once, or %f if it only supports opening one file at a time, which will open multiple instances of your application when opening a selection of files that your application supports.

The system already knows of a large number of MIME types. However, if you are creating one of your own, you need to register your MIME type into the MIME database, by creating an XML file in the /usr/share/mime/packages directory:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<mime-info xmlns="">
   <mime-type type="application/x-example">
     <comment>Example file type </comment>
     <magic priority="50">
       <match value="search-string" type="string" offset="10:140"/>
     <glob pattern="*.newextension"/>


To avoid collisions with files added by other applications, you should use your application’s ID as the basename for the file, e.g. com.example.YourApplication.xml

In this example, replace the example MIME type with the name of your MIME type. The magic rule searches the contents of the file for the given string for identification. The glob rule uses the suffix of file names for identification.


Because the magic rule forces the computer to open the files to search for the string, the glob rule is preferable.

Once your new MIME type is adequately described in the file, run the following in a shell:

update-mime-database /usr/share/mime


For more information on choosing a good MIME extension and to register your MIME type, go to the IANA website.

URI schemes handling

If your application can open specific URI schemes, you need to let the desktop know in the desktop file. For example, if your application can accept mailto: URIs, you need to add the corresponding x-scheme-handler/mailto to the MIME types in the desktop file, as done in the previous section. You can use any URI scheme you want, not just the common ones like mailto/http/https/ftp, for example the gemini:// URI scheme.

You also need to use %u or %U for respectively one or several URIs, the same way it was done with %f and %F in the previous section. If your app handles MIME types in addition to URIs, you only need to use the %u or %U version, no need to use %f and %F.