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dex [options] [DesktopEntryFile]...


dex, DesktopEntry Execution, is a program to generate and execute DesktopEntry files of the Application type.


Option Description
-h, --help Show a help message and exit
-a, --autostart Autostart programs
-c, --create PATH Create a DesktopEntry file for the program at the given path. An optional second argument is used to specify the filename of the created DesktopEntry file,or specify the filename - to print the file to stdout. By default a new file is createdwith the .desktop file extension.
-d, --dry-run Dry run, don't execute any command
-e, --environment ENVIRONMENT Specify the Desktop Environment an autostart should be performed for; works only in combination with -a
-s, --search-paths SEARCHPATHS Colon separated list of paths to search for desktop files, overriding the default search list
-t, --target-directory ENVIRONMENT Create files in target directory
--term TERM The terminal emulator that will be used to run the program if Terminal=true is set in the desktop file, defaults to x-terminal-emulator.
-w, --wait Block until the program exits.
--test Perform a self-test
-v, --verbose Verbose output
-V, --version Display version information


Perform an autostart/execute all programs in the autostart folders.

dex -a

Perform an autostart/execute all programs in the specified folders.

dex -a -s /etc/xdg/autostart/:~/.config/autostart/

Preview the programs would be executed in a regular autostart.

dex -ad

Preview the programs would be executed in a GNOME specific autostart.

dex -ad -e GNOME

Create a DesktopEntry for a program in the current directory.

dex -c /usr/bin/skype

Create a DesktopEntry for a programs in autostart directroy.

dex -t ~/.config/autostart -c /usr/bin/skype /usr/bin/nm-applet

Execute a single program from command line and enable verbose output.

dex -v skype.desktop

Execute a single program (with Terminal=true in the desktop file) in gnome-terminal.

dex --term gnome-terminal nvim.desktop

Execute a single program and block until it exits.

dex --wait nvim.desktop

Autostart Alternative

I consider systemd/user as a good alternative for dex's autostart functionality and switched to it recently. In particular, systemd solves the issue of dex losing control over the started processes which causes processes to live longer than the X session which could cause additional annoyances like reboots taking a lot of time because the system is waiting for the processes to terminate.

The following steps will help you to get to a working systemd/user configuration:

  • Create the systemd user directory: mkdir -p ~/.config/systemd/user

  • Create an autostart target at ~/.config/systemd/user/ with the following content:

    Description=Current graphical user session
  • Create service files at ~/.config/systemd/user/<service name>.service that service the same purpose as the <service>.desktop files created by dex. The service file should have at least the following content:

    Description=<service description>
    ExecStart=<path to the executable> [<parameters>]
    • Attention: for the service to work properly it mustn't fork. Systemd will take care of the service management but it can only do this when the service doesn't fork! If the services forks and terminates the main process, systemd will kill all the processes related to the service. The service will therefore not run at all! The man page of the service should list the required parameters that need to be provided to the service to avoid forking.
  • Register a service with systemd:

    systemctl --user add-wants <service name>.service

    • Unregister a service:

      systemctl --user disable <service name>.service

    • List currently active services:

      systemctl --user list-units

  • Finally, start all services in the autostart target during startup by replacing the dex -a command with:

    systemctl --user start

    • Reload all service configurations after making changes to a service file:

      systemctl --user daemon-reload

    • Start a service:

      systemctl --user start <service name>.service

    • Check the status of a service:

      systemctl --user status <service name>.service

    • Stop a service:

      systemctl --user stop <service name>.service

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