When editing the Applications menu, I see for some applications their commands have %U such as gedit %U and gnome-mplayer %U, but others don't such as gcalctool.

I was wondering what %U means when calling a command, and when it is needed and when it is not? Thanks!

This is motivated from my previous question, where I followed a reply but did not make it work.


1 Answer 1


It's a parameter for the Exec key in .desktop files (defined in the Desktop Entry Specification) that describes how arguments to the program (from the file manager/program launcher, e.g. multiple selected files) should be handled:

%u A single URL. Local files may either be passed as file: URLs or as file path.

%U A list of URLs. Each URL is passed as a separate argument to the executable program. Local files may either be passed as file: URLs or as file path.

So, e.g., /usr/share/applications/gedit.desktop contains:

Exec=gedit %U

which means that arguments to gedit will be treated as a list of URLs (or local files).

For a complete list of possible parameters, see The Exec key.

  • 2
    Thanks! (1) Could you give some examples? (2) When will none of these is specified?
    – Tim
    Mar 13, 2011 at 19:31
  • 51
    The reason these parameter keys exist is so the desktop manager knows what to do if you open multiple selected objects at the same time or drop one or more objects on it. %U means the program can take all of them in a single invocation; %u means a separate invocation is needed for each object; if none of them are specified then the program doesn't know what to do with things dropped on it. There are other keys which allow the desktop manager to pass customization information to the program, and a separate set of selectors %f, %F, meaning it takes one/multiple files but not URLs.
    – geekosaur
    Mar 13, 2011 at 20:22
  • 2
    @geekosaur: Great comment!
    – Tim
    Mar 13, 2011 at 20:25
  • Is there a way to pass a parameter to have the programme start minimised on startup?
    – Andor Kiss
    Mar 18, 2020 at 11:32
  • 1
    Great answer, was so perplexed by this in a *.desktop entry and this answer nailed it! May 14, 2020 at 21:45

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