I've been struggling this morning trying to associate an application with a custom protocol, namely emacsclient and org-protocol.

I'm calling this protocol from a webbrowser bookmarklet, and I get the following behaviour :

In chromium,
the "Launch Application" dialog comes up, and calls xdg-open org-protocol://... which ends up firing a new chromium frame.

In firefox,
I've tried setting network.protocol-handler.app.org-protocol to an empty string or my emacsclient path, anyhow I get the following error message :
"Firefox doesn't know how to open this address, because the protocol (org-protocol) isn't associated with any program" without even showing any external application selection dialog.

I'm not using any desktop environment, so I need to make this work strictly with xdg, however, despite reading the shared mime info spec etc, I still can't fathom a working configuration.


3 Answers 3


The XDG method: Create an emacsclient.desktop file that handles the x-scheme-handler/org-protocol MIME type:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Emacs Client
Exec=emacsclient %u

(Note the MimeType= line above, which is for org-protocol: URIs.)

Put the file in ~/.local/share/applications or /usr/local/share/applications.

You might have to open the file ~/.local/share/applications/mimeapps.list and add a line like this:


Add that under the [Default Applications] section.

  • it still opens a chrome window for me; anything else? (i happen to be using fluxbox w/out desktop env similar to orig. author)
    – assem
    May 10, 2013 at 1:48
  • 10
    You can also achieve the last step via xdg-mime default emacsclient.desktop x-scheme-handler/org-protocol, which is probably the more official way to do it. Sep 17, 2015 at 19:16
  • Are there any other useful variables besides %u? For example a variable that expresses just the domain or path part of the URI?
    – Coder Guy
    May 5, 2018 at 17:21

@grawity is almost correct, but he overlooked two details:

  1. After installing the .desktop file, you may need to manually run sudo update-desktop-database. (This may be done for you if you installed the .desktop file using xdg-desktop-menu install emacsclient.desktop)

    That was what was required to get my Firefox to display the "What should handle this protocol?" dialog rather than just displaying an error page.

  2. At the time this question was asked, there was a bug in xdg-open which caused it to blindly hand URLs over to $BROWSER on "generic" (non-KDE, non-GNOME, non-Xfce, etc.) desktops and that produces exactly the behaviour @julien was experiencing.

    It should be fixed in modern versions of xdg-open but, if your desktop isn't using a modern version for some reason, here's the version of xdg-open I drop into /usr/local/bin to solve the problem.


At least in Fedora 13 and various Debian-based distros xdg-open opens all URLs that don't have a file:// scheme in a browser if it doesn't run in a supported desktop environment. The way it tries to detect which browser to use depends on the distribution.

As xdg-open is just a shell script you can easily adapt it to your needs.

  • Indeed, but it is the configuration that is needed between xdg-open and xdg-mime which is very opaque to me, despite reading the docs...
    – julien
    Jul 12, 2010 at 21:32
  • If opening a file:// URI Ubuntu doesn't call xdg-mime at all but uses run-mailcap if not running under a supported DE, Fedora 13 first tries to find the default app using xdg-mime and if that doesn't work falls back to mimeopen. xdg-mime uses the Shared MIME Info database freedesktop.org/wiki/Software/shared-mime-info Jul 12, 2010 at 23:27

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