On macOS in the default Terminal running bash, I can type:

open -a Firefox http://www.wikipedia.org

to open a URL with Firefox, or another browser. It also works to launch a program, e.g. open -a maps, and to open a file in the default program, e.g. open file.pdf.

How can I do the same on Ubuntu in the default GNOME Terminal also running bash? I know that I can open a file or URL with xdg-open /path/to/file, and I can open the default browser with sensible-browser. Does Ubuntu have a general command to open files, applications, or files in specific applications?

I am running bash on both machines, 3.2.57(1)-release on macOS and 4.4.19(1)-release on Ubuntu.

  • I've never used a Mac, so can you tell me why you'd use open -a Firefox http://www.wikipedia.org? Can't you do firefox http://www.wikipedia.org? It seems like a useless feature of open, when opening programs is the very point of bash.
    – JoL
    Oct 4, 2018 at 15:26
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    Bash on macOS works differently, e.g. your command gives the error bash: firefox: command not found. Same error with Firefox as program name. Oct 4, 2018 at 16:36
  • 3
    bash works exactly the same; it's Firefox that is installed differently than it is on Ubuntu. On macOS, you could, for instance, run /Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox-bin from the command line. Firefox.app is a special kind of folder that contains not just the executable, but files that in Linux might be scattered about in various /usr/bin/, /usr/lib, /etc, etc. directories. The Finder knows how to run the actual application when you, for instance, double-click on Firefox.app. open is a way to "run" the special folder from the command line.
    – chepner
    Oct 4, 2018 at 18:53
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    It's not that bash works differently: firefox is installed as an OS X application (Firefox.app) and is not on the regular PATH. Another reason to use open -a is that it properly backgrounds the application it launches, instead of waiting on it until it exits.
    – alexis
    Oct 4, 2018 at 18:54
  • askubuntu.com/a/15356 &
    – Dev
    Oct 4, 2018 at 20:00

2 Answers 2


You can specifically use your desired program's name (if it's able to be used as a command line tool).

For example, urls:

firefox duckduckgo.com
chromium-browser askubuntu.com


evince foo.pdf
okular bar.pdf


gpicview foo.png
feh bar.jpeg


gedit foo.txt
mousepad /etc/config
leafpad bar.xml


mpv  foo.mp3
vlc  bar.mp4

If you want the program to be run detached from the terminal then this is the way that I prefer doing it:

nohup program args &

For example:

nohup firefox askubuntu.com &

Remember that you can always redirect the outputs as usual, e.g. :

nohup firefox duckduckgo.com &> /dev/null &
  • 2
    eog picture.jpg for images too if you have gnome-desktop installed :)
    – Videonauth
    Oct 4, 2018 at 11:19
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    @Videonauth Yeah, or any other kind of tools ;)
    – Ravexina
    Oct 4, 2018 at 11:20
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    @BaptisteCandellier I don't get the point of calling open to call another program. Why not just call the other program directly? What usefulness does open add? This answer reflects the natural thing to do to open specific applications.
    – JoL
    Oct 4, 2018 at 15:35
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    @BaptisteCandellier I agree, and open on macOS works both for opening files and folders in the default application and in specific applications. It seems the original bash went on a different path with xdg-open for files and the application names for the rest. Oct 4, 2018 at 17:00
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    Another thing that is different about open in MacOS is that it launches the application detached from the console it's run from, i.e. if the console closes, the app will stay on. On Ubuntu one needs to use the nohup command to get the same behaviour. (since prefixing each command with nohup and redirecting output for each command you run gets tiring, it may make more sense to define a custom shortcut)
    – undercat
    Oct 5, 2018 at 4:20

As indicated in a response to the accepted anwser, the equivalent to the open command from macOS in Linux is xdg-open:

xdg-open opens a file or URL in the user's preferred application. If a URL is provided the URL will be opened in the user's preferred web browser. If a file is provided the file will be opened in the preferred application for files of that type. xdg-open supports file, ftp, http and https URLs.

When compared to the macOS open, the main difference is that here you can't specify an specific application to use from the command line. For that, you can refer to the accepted answer, as the problem is kind of pointless in Linux because applications are normally available in your PATH already.

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