Lubuntu 16.04 - Openbox session

I can use the terminal to open a time-stamped file with gedit:

gedit ~/$(date +%Y%m%d%H%M%S).txt

The command can also be used via a keyboard shortcut in Openbox.

<keybind key="W-4">        # gedit time-stamped file
  <action name="Execute"><command>sh -c 'gedit ~/$(date +%Y%m%d%H%M%S).txt'</command></action>

But I can't do the same via the Exec= line of a .desktop file.

Exec=sh -c 'gedit ~/$(date +%Y%m%d%H%M%S).txt'

just creates a file called ~/.txt

So how do I get a .desktop file to do what I want?

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    I don't think the .desktop file can call sub-shell $() commands like that. I think you need it to call another script that contains your sub-shell command for opening your file. – Terrance May 29 '16 at 3:37
  • Sure I will do that. =) – Terrance May 29 '16 at 3:43
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    HI @DKBose .desktop files can run sub shells, since Exec=/bin/bash -c "echo $(date) > ~/out.txt" runs fine. the +%Y%m%d%H%M%S seems to be the issue. still chewing on it. – Jacob Vlijm May 29 '16 at 8:12
  • I assume the first thing doesn't work because % is already used as command line arguments for exec in .desktop files It might be possible to escape them somehow, but the other solution seems alright. I would have added this as a comment, but my account here is new. – Mikael Kjær May 29 '16 at 8:48
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    Hi @DKBose see my answer :) – Jacob Vlijm May 29 '16 at 14:19

Unfortunately, .desktop files don't always call sub-shell $() commands the way we would like them to. One way to do this that I have found would be to create another script that contains the sub-shell command to open the file like that.

The Exec line would look like:


then your script file would contain the command to open your new file:


gedit ~/$(date +%Y%m%d%H%M%S).txt

the script would also have to be executable:

chmod +x /path/to/script

Hope this helps!

  • @JacobVlijm Is the issue similar to what one sees in cron where certain characters (%?) need to be esacped? – DK Bose May 29 '16 at 10:22
  • @DKBose Might very well be, I am still fiddling around with it, and I think it should work. Subshells alone are no issue. – Jacob Vlijm May 29 '16 at 10:29
  • @JacobVlijm You are probably correct. I have found that I like to avoid the sub-shell commands within files like these, much like in the sources.list file of apt you cannot replace the release name with $(lsb_release -sc) as that doesn't work either. If you do figure it out, I would love to see how you did it. :) – Terrance May 29 '16 at 13:12
  • Hi Terrance, it works! See my answer... – Jacob Vlijm May 29 '16 at 14:22
  • @JacobVlijm try using +\%Y\%m\%d\%H\%M\%S then it should work. – Videonauth May 29 '16 at 14:27

The issue

A script is not necessary.

The issue is not that a .desktop file cannot run commands with subshells, since

Exec=/bin/bash -c "echo $(date) > ~/out.txt"

works perfectly fine in a .desktop file.

Fiddling around with the command, I came to the conclusion that the % -character is causing the issue. I have no explanation for it though, and so far I could not find information on how to solve or escape that.

I therefore went looking for a command to get the time without using the suspected character.

Alternatively use Ruby for the date & time

This lead me to Ruby, which produces the current date & time from the command:

$ ruby -e 'puts Time.now.inspect'
2016-05-29 16:12:36 +0200

When we edit the output a bit with awk, removing spaces and delimiters, we have just what we want, and a working command in the .desktop file, since we don't use %:

Exec=/bin/bash -c  "gedit ~/$(ruby -e 'puts Time.now.inspect' | awk -F'[: -]' '{print $1$2$3$4$5$6}')"

enter image description here


No doubt, the command can be "charmed up" a bit, I will probably edit the answer a bit today or tomorrow.

  • Nice! This is definitely another way to do it. I didn't have Ruby installed but once it is installed, this definitely works. I agree that fiddling with this you could get it to look the way you want it to be. :) – Terrance May 29 '16 at 14:33
  • @Terrance it turns out to be an interesting question. Never ran into an issue in .desktop files like this before... – Jacob Vlijm May 29 '16 at 14:35
  • Me neither. It is good to know, and I have found that answering questions like these a lot of times we learn a lot ourselves as well. :) – Terrance May 29 '16 at 14:39
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    @Terrance 99% of what I know I learned on answering questions :) – Jacob Vlijm May 29 '16 at 14:40
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    You inspired me to change my wording in my answer as well. I changed mine to be one way instead of the best way. And other such changes so people don't think it is the only way. Thank you! :) – Terrance May 29 '16 at 14:50

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