Is there a way to set the enviroment variable in .desktop file? I'm trying to run application (eclipse) with custom gtk style, so basically I want to get the following result by runing a .desktop file:

GTK2_RC_FILES=gtkrc.custom /path/to/eclipse

I've tryied to put it in a bash script and run it from the .desktop file, but then it does not integrate well with the Unity launcher.

3 Answers 3


You can add an environment variable to an application by editing its .desktop file. For example, to run "digiKam" with the environment variable APPMENU_DISPLAY_BOTH=1, find the corresponding digikam.desktop file and add the setting of the variable, via the env command, to the entry "Exec":

Exec=env APPMENU_DISPLAY_BOTH=1 digikam -caption "%c" %i

In your case:

Exec=env GTK2_RC_FILES=gtkrc.custom /path/to/eclipse
  • 2
    how can I set env variable containing user's $HOME?. Neither Exec=env MYVAR="$HOME/foo" nor Exec=env MYVAR="~/foo" gets expanded. Instead, they are passed literally. Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 9:25
  • 1
    it seems you can do it as described in stackoverflow.com/a/8980518/1446479
    – peedee
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 13:58
  • for other looking for a slight variation on this, you can also unset env vars with the -u flag, like env -u DONT_WANT_THIS_SET some-command Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 4:42

An alternative to modify the .desktop file is to put a wrapper script in e.g. ~/bin.

$ cat ~/bin/eclipse
export GTK2_RC_FILES=gtkrc.custom
exec /usr/bin/eclipse "$@"

This way the customization won't be overwritten next time the application package is updated.


A hint about why this works can you see by checking out what the PATH variable contains. In my case:

$ echo $PATH

~/bin is the first folder in the list, and thus is looked at before /usr/bin.

  • If you just put your .desktop file in your local settings, it won't get overridden, anyway.
    – Auspex
    Commented May 31, 2019 at 9:24
  • @Auspex: True. But at the same time, if you use a local copy, you won't benefit from possible updates of the package owned .desktop file. Commented May 31, 2019 at 10:27
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    I'm not seeing how putting a wrapper in ~/bin is going to help with that. The package-owned .desktop file is never going to see that wrapper! You'd need to also use update-alternatives
    – Auspex
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 13:11
  • @Auspex: The .desktop file does not need to "see" the wrapper. It just executes eclipse, and due to PATH the wrapper is picked instead of /usr/bin/eclipse. I edited the answer to clarify. Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 16:06
  • 1
    @Auspex: Well, the one which is provided in the Ubuntu archive (up to 18.10) has Exec=eclipse. But I agree, if .desktop specifies a full path, my answer does not apply. Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 1:31

This seems to be a problem with kmenuedit. It never saves the "Environment Variable" field in the .desktop file. Hope this helps. I opened a bug with KDE. "FOO=my_var_1" never gets saved, and never gets sent to the app.

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