There are some gui programs where if you select them from the menu, if it is already open, instead of opening a new instance, that window will become foremost. However, there are some programs that will open multiple instances of themselves.

There is a certain program that exhibits the latter behavior but I want it to do the former. How can this be done?


I would recommend replacing the link to the program with a link to a shell script that checks if the program is running, and if it is, it uses the window manager's function to bring the program foremost, and if it isn't, starts it.

  • When I do ps ax | grep for the program it shows its status as S when it's running. If I close the program, then it doesn't disappear from the list. Instead it shows its status as S+. What does that mean? – tony_sid Aug 2 '10 at 14:35
  • 3
    ^^^ That's a new question. ;-) – Chris Nava Aug 2 '10 at 14:37

I found this thread and implemented it, sharing my version.

I created a executable file /usr/local/bin/run_once.sh containing

#! /bin/bash
if wmctrl -xl | grep "${application}" > /dev/null ; then
    # Already running, raising to front
    wmctrl -x -R "$application"
    # Not running: starting

This checks using wmctrl if the application you are trying to start already has a window open (some gui programs keep workers without a gui running) instead of using ps, using -x to use the WM_CLASS instead of the title-bar name.

For each program that I only want one window of I copied the system .desktop file to ~/.local/share/applications and changed the exec field from exec=program --arguments to exec=/usr/local/bin/run_once.sh program --arguments


Generally the application source code must be modified. It is not something done by the operating system.

  • Unfortunately this is incorrect as the other answers have shown. – Asfand Qazi Jun 25 '20 at 9:07
  • The other answers to date are but workarounds. Nothing wrong with that approach except it is not robust or self-contained. You might want to learn about the contents of /var/run and/or /run. – fpmurphy Jun 25 '20 at 13:09
  • Nonsense. They are perfectly sound. You can look for a GUI's title or Window Class and go from there. – RichieHH Aug 14 '20 at 8:04

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