Linux 101: How to Run a Program in Linux

Michael Franklin

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If you are new to Linux, particularly the command line, and want to learn how to run a program in Linux, you’ve come to the right spot. Running programs in Linux is no different than how it’s done in Windows. Easy to say, right? But no worries, you’ll get to run any program in no time.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn many ways to run programs in Linux, both via GUI and a command-line environment. From a novice Linux user to a power user, you will find knowing these methods to run a program helpful.

Ready? Let’s get started!

Prerequisites

Ubuntu Desktop 15.04 or later – Ensure you have a Linux host ready to go. This tutorial uses Ubuntu 15.04 (Desktop version) with GNOME installed, but any newer distribution should work similarly.

Launching Programs with the Application (App) Launcher

There are generally multiple ways to run a program within Windows, and Linux is no different. We will start with the most common way to run a program using the Launcher.

The most common method to run programs in Linux is to use the Launcher. The Launcher is a bar similar to the Windows start menu that contains a list of icons you can click on to run programs.

In Ubuntu, the App Launcher is located on the left side of the screen, as you can see below, containing default commonly run applications. To open the program, simply click the icon representing the program.

Accessing the Launcher programs through GUI
Accessing the Launcher programs through GUI

Launching Programs with the Applications Menu (Unity Dash)

You can also run programs in Ubuntu Linux with Unity Dash. The Applications Menu or Unity Dash is a handy way to search for and run programs in GNOME. To use the Applications Menu, click on the Ubuntu button in the top left corner.

Selecting the icon to search and launch programs using the Unity Dash
Selecting the icon to search and launch programs using the Unity Dash

You’ll see below that the menu opens a search bar with any recently run programs.

Search for the program you want to run using the Unity Dash in older versions of Ubuntu
Search for the program you want to run using the Unity Dash in older versions of Ubuntu

Type in the correct name of the program you are looking for (i.e Firefox) and it will appear, then select it to launch the program.

In Ubuntu Linux v20.04+, Unity Dash has been replaced with Activities in the upper left of your screen but the process to run a program remains the same.

Using the Run Command to Launch Program

Another way to launch programs in Linux is to use the Run command. The Run command is a handy way to quickly run a program in Linux by typing the program and executing it.

To run programs via the Run command, select the Alt-F2 to open the Run Command box.

You can also hit Alt-F2 as a shortcut to the run command.

Using the run command
Using the run command

Next, type the name of the program you want to run. In this example, you’ll run the Terminal application, type terminal, select the Terminal icon and hit Enter.

Selecting the icon or hitting enter will launch the program
Selecting the icon or hitting enter will launch the program

You’ll see below that Linux will launch the Terminal application.

Running Programs Using Hot Keys

If you’re more of a keyboard ninja and would rather skip the mouse like we started with in the last example, you can also run programs with hotkeys. In all Linux distros, you can use the Super Key (Windows Key) + A. The Super Key will bring up all applications in alphabetical order and a text box to type in the name of a program, as shown below.

You can type the name of the program in the search box to navigate to the program or click on the program with your mouse if it appears immediately.

Running Programs Using Hot Keys
Running Programs Using Hot Keys

Setting Up Keyboard Shortcuts to Run Programs in Linux

Now that you have learned the GUI options to run programs, the remainder of this tutorial will focus on using non-GUI-based options to run programs. Let’s first begin with keyboard shortcuts. Using keyboard shortcuts can remove a lot of clicking around.

To set up keyboard shortcuts in Ubuntu:

1. Select the icon in the top left corner again and Keyboard Shortcut. The Keyboard application should show up below. When it does, click on it.

Selecting the icon and launching the Keyboard Shortcut
Selecting the icon and launching the Keyboard Shortcut

2. In the Keyboard application, click on the Shortcut tab.

In Ubuntu 20.04 and newer, selecting Keyboard Shortcut from the Activities menu brings you directly to the Shortcuts tab.

Accessing the Shortcuts Tab
Accessing the Shortcuts Tab

3. Click on the + icon to create a new keyboard shortcut. Ubuntu will direct you to the Custom Shortcuts section.

Adding a New Shortcut
Adding a New Shortcut

4. Next, enter a descriptive Name for the shortcut key and provide the Command (program) to execute and click Apply.

Entering the name and program to use for the Shortcut
Entering the name and program to use for the Shortcut

When Ubuntu creates the shortcut, you’ll see that the Name shows up under Custom Shortcuts but it’s disabled.

Seeing the Created, but not Active Shortcut Key
Seeing the Created, but not Active Shortcut Key

5. Now, click on the Disabled text as shown above and press the desired keyboard shortcut such as Ctrl+T. Once you type your desired shortcut, it will show up, as shown below.

Activating the Shortcut
Activating the Shortcut

6. Finally, launch the application by pressing the keyboard shortcut!

Running a Program within the Terminal

Although if you’re a newcomer to Linux, chances are you’ll be running programs with the GUI but if you need to use the command line for any reason, the Terminal makes it easy to do so. The Terminal is a command-line application that allows you to manage all facets of Linux with the keyboard.

To run programs in the Terminal, open the App Launcher (or Activities) in the upper left corner and run the Terminal application as shown below.

Accessing the Terminal
Accessing the Terminal

When the Terminal opens, as shown below, simply type the name of the program and press Enter.

Running programs in the Terminal will not work for all programs. Some programs may not be in the PATH.

Launching the program end result
Launching the program end result

Conclusion

In this tutorial, you’ve learned many different methods to run programs in Linux. Using both GUI-based and command-line-based methods, you should now know how to launch programs wherever you are within Linux.

Try installing programs in Linux such as the tutorial to install a common program such as Docker for practice and then run it using a shortcut, command line, or GUI Interface. Which way will you use most often to run your favorite programs?

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