How-To Geek

How to Make a Program Run at Startup on Any Computer

computers

Programs you install often add themselves to the startup process on Windows, Mac OS X, and even Linux. But you can also add your own favorite programs to the startup process and have them launch automatically after you log into your computer.

This is particularly useful for background applications or tools that automatically perform a function, but you can even add desktop applications and they’ll pop up when you log in.

Windows

On Windows 7 and earlier versions of Windows, the Start menu contained a “Startup” folder to make this easy. On these versions of Windows, you can simply open your Start menu, locate a shortcut to an application you want to start automatically, right-click it, and select Copy. Next, locate the Startup folder under All Apps in the Start menu, right-click it, and select Paste to paste a copy of that shortcut.

This folder is no longer as easily accessible on Windows 8, 8.1, and 10, but it’s still accessible. To access it, press Windows Key + R, type “shell:startup” into the Run dialog, and press Enter. Yes, you’ll need to use the folder — you can’t simply add shortcuts from the Task Manager’s Startup pane.

Shortcuts you add to the “shell:startup” folder will only launch when you log in with your user account. If you’d like a shortcut to launch itself whenever any user logs in, type “shell:common startup” into the Run dialog instead.

Paste shortcuts into this folder and Windows will automatically load them when you sign into your computer. On Windows 10, you can just drag-and-drop shortcuts from the “All Apps” list in the Start menu directly into this folder.

Mac OS X

On Mac OS X, the same interface that allows you to disable startup programs also allows you to add your own custom ones. Open the System Preferences window by clicking the Apple menu and selecting System Preferences, click the “Users & Groups” icon, and click “Login Items.”

Click the “+” button at the bottom of this list to add applications, or drag-and-drop them into the list of applications. They’ll load automatically when you sign into your computer.

Linux

Different Linux desktops have different ways of doing this. For example, on Ubuntu’s Unity desktop, open the Dash and type the word “start.” Click the “Startup Applications” shortcut to see a list of startup applications. Click the “Add” button in this list to add your own applications. Type a name and provide the command to launch the application. You can also just use this tool to run a command at login.

The GNOME desktop seems to have removed the old gnome-session-properties tool, but this option is still available in GNOME Tweak Tool, which is even installed by default on some Linux distributions. Examine your Linux desktop’s settings windows to find the appropriate tool.

You can also manage this from the hidden ~/.config/autostart/ directory, which all desktops should read. The period in front of .config indicates that it’s a hidden directory, while the ~ indicates that it’s in your home directory — so, at /home/username/.config/autostart/. To open it, launch your desktop’s file manager, plug ~/.config into its address bar, and press Enter. Double-click the “autostart” folder or create it if it doesn’t yet exist.

Add .desktop files to here to have programs start automatically at startup. These .desktop files are application shortcuts — you can often create them by dragging-and-dropping an application onto your desktop or even just into the ~/.config/autostart/ window.

If you’re not using a desktop environment but just want to automatically run a command — or several commands — each time you log in, add the commands to your .bash_profile file located at ~/.bash_profile, which equates to /home/username/.bash_profile.


There are other ways to make programs launch at startup, of course. For example, you could add registry entries to do this on Windows. But these are the easiest ways to do this.

Image Credit: Jonathan Lin on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 09/15/15

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