To the best of my knowledge, all shortcuts in the Unity Launcher have a corresponding *.desktop file. I have one shortcut (for skrooge) that doesn't have an icon. How can I find the *.desktop file corresponding to this shortcut so that I can add an icon to it?

8 Answers 8


It's probably sitting in /usr/share/applications/ but if you want to find every .desktop file on the system run this:

find / -name '*.desktop'


sudo updatedb
locate *.desktop

To find files with "skrooge" in their path or name, add a grep to the command:

locate *.desktop | grep -iR "skrooge"
  • 33
    locate -i "*skrooge*.desktop". Though there's mainly three places unity will look for desktop files. ~/.local/share/applications, /usr/local/share/applications and /usr/share/applications. If there are desktop files for the same command in multiple places, it'll use the left-most of the three I listed.
    – geirha
    Mar 30, 2012 at 14:32
  • Showed up as /usr/share/applications/kde4/skrooge.desktop. Thanks. :)
    – KOVIKO
    Mar 30, 2012 at 15:08
  • 2
    This is super useful! Thank you. Note that using locate *.desktop helped me discover that desktop files from snap package installs seem to go into the /snap/ and /var/lib/snapd/desktop/applications/ directories. Aug 10, 2020 at 2:05
  • 1
    locate *.desktop doesn't find anything. find / -name '*.desktop' 2> /dev/null to suppress the 'permission denied' flood. Oct 30, 2020 at 9:48
  • 1
    And ~/.local/share/applications is where you put your desktop files so that in Activities window can find it and add it to Favorite (anchor it on deck).
    – WesternGun
    May 18, 2021 at 7:22

The system stores the .desktop files in /usr/share/applications/. Unfortunately, if you open that folder in nautilus the .desktop files appears with the icon specified in the file and with the file name called out within the file. You also won't be allowed to edit these files by clicking on them and selecting edit.

To edit these files, you need to open that folder within a terminal window. Doing an ls command will show all the .desktop files with their actual names. When you locate the .desktop you wish to change, run gksudo gedit {file-name}.desktop.

It's normal practice to keep any .desktop files you create or edit in your home folder ~/.local/share/applications.

  • 1
    Running from the terminal can be handier for some, but it is also possible to drag from nautilus into gedit or another text editor.
    – Jon Hanna
    May 1, 2014 at 21:40
  • what's the point of the directory "~/.local/share/applications"? Files there don't seem to be used, not I cannot add them as "shortcut" to Unity.
    – Malachiasz
    Feb 8, 2015 at 15:14
  • 4
    @Malachiasz Actually, the *.desktop files from ~/.local/share/applications are reloaded when session restarts. So, log out and log back in. Note that these are specific to that user.
    – akshay2000
    Mar 21, 2015 at 7:11
  • 1
    I also found this Q&A here on site useful: How to force Unity reload ~/.local/share/applications/
    – hakre
    Sep 18, 2017 at 18:19
  • Does copying a desktop file from /usr/share/applications override the entry in ~/.local/share/applications? I'm trying to configure Firefox to use firejail, but whenever the browser updates my edits are removed if I do it in the desktop file from /usr/share/applications/.
    – Daniel
    Oct 19, 2020 at 4:52

Some additional details to supplement the other answers:

Typically, .desktop files for packages will be located in /usr/share/applications.

If you want, you could copy one to ~/.local/share/applications and edit it there without needing sudo. Items in ~/.local/share/applications will override matching items in /usr/share/applications and /usr/local/share/applications, but are only visible to your user.

Alternatively, you could place an edited copy in /usr/local/share/applications where it will override any in /usr/share/applications while also being visible to the entire system.

Note that you should not edit the .desktop files in /usr/share/applications directly; any changes you make will be automatically overwritten when the application is updated by the package manager.

Extracted from here

  • 1
    +1, most complete answer out of all of them Feb 19, 2019 at 0:22
  • 1
    Don't forget that snap applications store their .desktop files in /var/lib/snapd/desktop/applications/
    – Flimm
    Jan 20, 2022 at 7:27

You can find all directories with desktop files in the XDG_DATA_DIRS environment variable. The *.desktop files can be in the applications directory in each of the directory in that variable. E.g.:


You can use this bash script to list all desktop files used by the system (e.g. to build the panel or applications menu):

for p in ${XDG_DATA_DIRS//:/ }; do 
  find $p/applications -name '*.desktop' 

It seems that desktop files can also be placed in one more directory, which isn't in the XDG_DATA_DIRS variable:

  • ~/.local/share/applications

So, the complete script to find all *.desktop files in the system is:

for p in ${DATA_DIRS//:/ }; do
  find $p/applications -name '*.desktop' 

I didn't find any documentation for this but there's some information about this environment variable here: https://unix.stackexchange.com/a/531664

  • 3
    This is the best answer!
    – xaxa
    Oct 15, 2021 at 21:36
  • 2
    This is missing ~/.local/share/applications and ~/var/lib/snapd/desktop/applications isn't it?
    – lrkwz
    Oct 28, 2021 at 11:13
  • 1
    @lrkwz */var/lib/snapd/desktop/applications
    – wjandrea
    Nov 1, 2021 at 20:27
  • 1
    Freedesktop.org (formerly the X Desktop Group) maintains the XDG Base Directory Specification which includes the XDG_DATA_DIRS environment variable. The spec is used beyond the Unity Launcher; Google's ChromeOS Crostini and Microsoft's WSLg also use it to integrate GNU/Linux programs into their respective UIs.
    – M.W.
    Nov 18, 2021 at 21:55
  • @lrkwz I found /home/USERNAME/.local/share/applications and /var/lib/snapd/desktop/applications in my XDG_DATA_DIRS environment variable.
    – Flimm
    Jan 20, 2022 at 7:29

Desktop files of snap packages can be found in /var/lib/snapd/desktop/applications/ and below /snap/.

  • In what order are they looked up, relative to ~/.local/share/applications and $XDG_DATA_DIRS?
    – wjandrea
    Nov 1, 2021 at 21:55

I know I'm late to the party, but I have a faster solution than the one accepted as the answer:

find / -iname "*desktop" -type f -not -path "/media*" -exec grep -il skrooge '{}' ';' 2> /dev/null

It's faster because it doesn't search the data mounted file systems and most probably the desktop file is located in the system partition.

Moreover, it's more likely to find what the command from the accepted answer would miss. That's because the desktop files doesn't have to hold the application name. This command actually searches the text in every desktop file.

  • This did not work for me at all (not even with sudo). I am using Manjaro linux though, but the command should work independent of the OS as long as it has find, grep. It results in a crash of the command printing nothing. Jun 9, 2020 at 1:31
  • @RahatZaman, what's the output of running the command?
    – joker
    Jun 10, 2020 at 18:12
  • there is no output. After 2-3 minutes, it just returns back to the shell prompt. Jun 12, 2020 at 7:28
  • You mentioned crash in your first comment. What do you mean by it? Also, where do drives get mounted in Manjaro? Did you update skrooge to the application you're looking for?
    – joker
    Jun 16, 2020 at 12:21
  • /usr/share/applications (most applications, admin rights)
  • ~/.local/share/applications (personal ones)
  • 1
    These answers have already been provided in the two top voted answers in much more detail. Apr 9, 2022 at 2:20

I do not actually now which .desktop file becomes effective. My best guess is, from https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Desktop_entries , to make a script like this and run it:


# try to find the effective desktop file
# (there seems to be no documented standard for this)

use_if_desktop_file () {
  if [ -r "$1" ] &&
     [ "$(xdg-mime query filetype "$1")" = application/x-desktop ]; then
       echo "$1"

for d in ~/.local/share/applications /usr/local/share/applications \
         /usr/share/applications; do
  use_if_desktop_file "$d/$1"
  use_if_desktop_file "$d/$1.desktop"

# no file found
exit 1

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