Section: User Commands (1)
Updated: May 2020
gnome-session - Start the GNOME desktop environment
gnome-session [-a|--autostart=DIR] [--session=SESSION] [--failsafe|-f] [--debug] [--whale]
program starts up the GNOME desktop
environment. This command is typically executed by your login manager
(either gdm, xdm, or from your X startup scripts). It will load
either your saved session, or it will provide a default session for the
user as defined by the system administrator (or the default GNOME
installation on your system). Note that gnome-session
is a wrapper
script for gnome-session-binary
The default session is defined in gnome.session, a .desktop-like
file that is looked for in
When saving a session, gnome-session saves the currently running
applications in the $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/gnome-session/saved-session
directory. Saving sessions is only supported with the legacy non-systemd
gnome-session is an X11R6 session manager. It can manage GNOME
applications as well as any X11R6 SM compliant application.
The following options are supported:
The directory DIR to be searched for autostart .desktop files. This option can be used multiple times.
When this option is present, then default autostart directories will not be searched.
Use the applications defined in SESSION.session. If not specified,
gnome.session will be used.
Use the legacy non-systemd method of managing the user session. This is the
opposite of the --systemd option.
Use the systemd method of managing the user session. This is the opposite of
the --builtin option.
Run in fail-safe mode. User-specified applications will not be started.
Enable debugging code.
Show the fail whale in a dialog for debugging it.
Sessions are defined in .session
files, that are using a .desktop-like
format, with the following keys in the GNOME Session
Name of the session. This can be localized.
List of component identifiers (desktop files) that are required by the session. The required components will always run in the session.
Here is an example of a session definition:
In systemd managed sessions the RequiredComponents may be provided by
systemd units instead. In this case the corresponding .desktop file needs
to contain X-GNOME-HiddenUnderSystemd=true. gnome-session will
ignore these components and rely on systemd to manage them appropriately,
see the systemd for more information on how this works.
The .session files are looked for in
can pass much of the session management over to systemd
(see the --systemd
option which may be the default since 3.34). In this
case, startup components that have X-GNOME-HiddenUnderSystemd=true
set in their .desktop
file will be ignored by gnome-session
instead relies on the fact that these components are managed by systemd.
As of GNOME 3.34 the systemd support is new and the customizing the
configuration is not yet easily possible. With GNOME 3.34 it may be best to use
--builtin if session customizations are required. This is due to the way
that GNOME currently defines the components that will be started on each session
systemd provides the two special targets graphical-session.target
and graphical-session-pre.target which are fully functional and should be
used. gnome-session provides the following main targets:
Generic unit that will be active throughout the session. Similar to
Used for tasks that need to be done before session startup. Similar to
- gnome-session-x11@SESSION.target gnome-session-wayland@SESSION.target
Main unit started for X11/wayland based session. SESSION is set according
to the session that is passed in --session.
- gnome-session-x11.target gnome-session-wayland.target
Convenience units without the session embedded into the target.
Convenience unit with just the SESSION information embedded.
Special unit started when X11 services are needed. This will be used from GNOME
3.36 onwards. Programs will need to use the special GNOME_SETUP_DISPLAY
environment variable instead of DISPLAY.
Note that care must be taken to set appropriate After= rules. It is also
strongly recommended to always do this in combination with BindsTo= or
PartOf= on one of the core targets (e.g. graphical-session.target).
Units are required to set CollectMode=inactive-or-failed. In addition, it
is strongly recommended to set TimeoutStopSec=5 so that logout
will not be delayed indefinitely in case the process does not stop properly.
sets several environment variables for the use of
its child processes:
This variable is used by session-manager aware clients to contact
This variable is set to the X display being used by
gnome-session. Note that if the --display option is used
this might be different from the setting of the environment variable
when gnome-session is invoked.
Behavior of gnome-session ifself can be modified via the following environment variable:
This variable specifies a list of directories to the searched for autostart
files. This variable overrides all directories specified via the
--autostart option, as well as all default autostart directories.
Applications defined via .desktop files in those directories will be started on login.
These directories contain the .session files that can be used
with the --session option.
This directory contains the list of applications of the saved session.
If you find bugs in the gnome-session
program, please report
these on https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/gnome-session/issues.