relative paths in Exec= in .desktop and .service files

Simon McVittie simon.mcvittie at
Mon Sep 8 05:23:05 PDT 2014

On <>, we've been
trying to work out what the semantics of a non-absolute Exec key in
D-Bus services should be. I would like it to be the same as in XDG
desktop entries (whatever that is), which is not currently completely

In particular, Ralf Habacker (maintainer of D-Bus on Windows) would like
D-Bus session .service files to be "relocatable", because fixed paths
like /usr are not something that exists on Windows. I would like to
avoid having the semantics of .service files on Windows and Unix be
completely different, so I would like to have something that can work on
Unix too, hence involving XDG rather than doing a Windows-specific change.

There are three cases:

1) absolute (starts with / on Unix, [/\] or [A-Za-z]:[/\] on Windows)

This is easy and obvious. Exec=/usr/bin/foo executes /usr/bin/foo,
Exec=C:\\mingw\\bin\\bar.exe executes C:\mingw\bin\bar.exe.

2) no path separator (no / on Unix, no [/\] on Windows)

For desktop entries on Unix, this is well-defined: Exec=foo searches the
PATH for foo, the same way execvp() would do.

For D-Bus services, this is not currently specified. Implementation
detail: dbus-daemon on Unix uses execv(), so it will look in its current
working directory, whatever that happens to be; dbus-daemon on Windows
fails to execute the service.

I think a reasonable behaviour would be to use execvp() on Unix and
SearchPath(NULL, "foo.exe", ...) on Windows.

3) contains a path separator but is relative

This is not currently in either specification: it is unspecified what
Exec=../bin/foo or Exec=./foo would do.

Reasonable possibilities include:

* it's relative to the directory containing the executable that is
  interpreting the file, e.g. dbus-daemon[.exe], i.e. normally /usr/bin

* it's relative to the getcwd() of the process that is interpreting
  the file, i.e. normally / or $HOME

* it's relative to the directory containing the file itself,
  i.e. normally /usr/share/applications

(Implementation detail: whichever directory is chosen, on Unix, it
should be relatively straightforward to make Unix dbus-daemon chdir() to
it after fork() but before execvp(), since POSIX.1-2004 says chdir(2) is
async-signal-safe. That would make relative paths do the expected thing.)



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