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AppImage Launcher Guide

This guide explains why you should use AppImage Launcher, as well as how to install and use it.

If you use AppImage to run applications on any Linux distribution, you may want to take advantage of AppImage Launcher, an open source tool that simplifies the process of working with AppImage packages and apps. Although AppImage Launcher isn't required for using AppImage, it provides a more streamlined experience when running AppImage software.

This guide explains how AppImage Launcher works, which benefits it offers, how to install it, and how to get started using it.

What Is AppImage Launcher?

AppImage Launcher is a program that helps manage AppImages. It's designed to simplify the process of organizing, updating, and removing the files that power AppImage applications.

Specifically, AppImage Launcher offers the following features:

  • Automated integration of AppImage files into your desktop environment. This makes it easy to launch apps without having to set up desktop shortcuts or application launchers manually.
  • Support for automatically launching updates to AppImage apps when a newer image becomes available.
  • The ability to remove AppImages from your system in a few clicks.

You can think of AppImage Launcher as a package manager for AppImages. In other words, it does for AppImages what package managers like apt-get do for Debian packages, or what snap does for snap packages: It streamlines the organization, updating, and removal of packages that you choose to run on your system.

Related: What Is AppImage? Benefits, Drawbacks, and Getting Started

This functionality is useful because AppImage itself doesn't offer any package management features. AppImage is just a way to run applications based on files (called AppImages) that you can download to your computer. If you use AppImage without AppImage Launcher, you'll have to perform these tasks manually.

The main AppImage Launcher program is a GUI tool, meaning it runs with a graphical interface. However, as noted below, there is also a CLI extension for AppImage Launcher, which is useful if you want to write scripts to automate AppImage Launcher operations.

AppImage Launcher Versions (Regular vs. Lite)

Modern versions of AppImage Launcher are available in two main flavors: "Regular" and "Lite."

The regular version offers more features, especially when it comes to integrating AppImages with your desktop environment. That's because the regular version is installed as a normal application on your system using root or sudo privileges.

Related: Why and How to Use AppImage on Ubuntu

In contrast, the Lite version of AppImage Launcher runs as an AppImage itself, which means it has less access to the system and therefore can execute fewer privileges.

The AppImage Launcher developers recommend using the regular version of the tool whenever possible. However, the Lite version is useful in situations where you can't install the full-featured tool for some reason — which would be the case if, for instance, you don't have root privileges.

What Are the Benefits of Using AppImage Launcher?

Again, AppImage Launcher is not required for using AppImage. But AppImage Launcher does offer a number of benefits that you won't enjoy if you use AppImage on its own, including:

  • The ability to automate the storage of AppImage files in a central location.
  • Automatic integration of AppImage applications into your desktop for easy access.
  • Automatic application updates and removals.

Why Use the AppImage Launcher CLI (ail-cli)?

Although you get these benefits if you use the standard, graphical version of AppImage Launcher, you can double down on the value of the tool (if you know how to write scripts, at least) by also taking advantage of the command line interface (CLI) tool that AppImage Launcher provides. The tool is called ail-cli and is included as part of the standard AppImage Launcher package.

Using the CLI tool, you can write scripts in programming languages such as Bash or Perl to AppImage management tasks via AppImage Launcher functionality. For instance, if you wanted to integrate a set of AppImage files into your desktop, you could write a script that calls ail-cli to perform that task for a given set of AppImages.

Currently, ail-cli's features are limited to integrating and removing AppImages, but the developers promise to add features in the future.

Note that you certainly don't need to use ail-cli to use AppImage Launcher. The graphical tool provides all available features; ail-cli is useful only if you want to write scripts.

How to Install AppImage Launcher

There are two approaches to installing AppImage Launcher. One is installing the Regular version of the tool using your Linux distribution's package manager. The other is running it as an AppImage.

Let's walk through each process.

Standard AppImage Launcher installation on Ubuntu Linux

To install AppImage Launcher using a package manager, first configure your system to connect to a repository that hosts packages for AppImage launcher. Then, install the package.

The specific steps here will vary depending on which Linux distribution you use because different distributions use different package managers. But to use Ubuntu as an example, here are the steps for installing AppImage Launcher.

First, add the AppImage Launcher repository to your system's software sources list:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:appimagelauncher-team/stable

Then, install the package:

sudo apt install appimagelauncher

Lite installation

You can run AppImage Launcher Lite using an AppImage, without installing it to your system as a package.

To do so, first navigate to the list of AppImage releases on GitHub. You'll find on that page a series of releases, each of which corresponds to a different version of the tool.

Decide which release you want to run (the most recent version is typically best), then click the Assets button, which will reveal a list of individual files:

AppImage Release Build

The files whose names end in .AppImage are AppImage files. The i386.AppImage file is for systems running a 32-bit kernel, while x86_64.AppImage is for those with a 64-bit kernel, so be sure to select whichever package is right for your system. Most modern Linux systems run 64-bit kernels, but if you're unsure of yours, run the command "uname -m" in a terminal; the output will be your kernel version.

After deciding which package you want, click on the file to download it. Then, make sure it is executable by running a command like the following:

chmod +x appimagelauncher-lite-2.1.4-travis987-7cb4d70-x86_64.AppImage

Now, you can run the file with:

./appimagelauncher-lite-2.1.4-travis987-7cb4d70-x86_64.AppImage

Or launch it graphically by double-clicking on the file in your file browser.

How to Use AppImage Launcher

AppImage Launcher is designed to "intercept" actions involving AppImages. This means you don't have to run the program explicitly and tell it where your AppImages live. Instead, it runs in the background as a system process and automatically detects whenever you open up an AppImage file.

You'll know it's working because you'll see a prompt like this the first time you run an AppImage file with AppImage Launcher installed:

AppImage Launcher

This screen asks you to confirm configuration details. You can customize if you want. Otherwise, click the OK button, and you'll move onto the main AppImage Launcher screen:

AppImage desktop installation

Here, you can tell AppImage Launcher whether or not to integrate the AppImage you've selected into your desktop. If you just want to run the app once without integrating (which you may if you're just testing it), choose the "Run once" option. If you plan to use the app more than once, it's a smart idea to integrate it.

So, as long as you installed AppImage Launcher using a package or by running the Lite release as an AppImage, the tool should automatically run whenever you launch another AppImage file.

Updating and removing apps

Once you integrate an application, you can check for updates or choose to remove it using the context menu of the application. To access that, start typing the application's name in your system's application launcher, and you'll see a selection of options related to AppImage Launcher.

Note that this means you don't have to run any application to update or remove applications using AppLauncher. You handle these tasks through the context menu.

What if AppImage Launcher Isn't Working?

If you find that AppImage Launcher doesn't start when you launch an AppImage, the most likely reason is that the AppImage Launcher process is not running. To check whether this is the case, type this command in a terminal:

ps -e | grep appimagelaunch

If that command generates no output, the process is not running. In that case, you can attempt to start it manually by typing:

appimagelauncherd

If that works, you may want to set up a startup program to launch appimagelauncherd automatically whenever your system starts.

Note as well that if you run AppImage Launcher Lite as an AppImage and then reboot, the AppImage Launcher process won't start again until you run its AppImage (although your configuration data should persist between reboots). You'll need to run the AppImage Launcher AppImage manually again after each reboot.

If you run into other unexpected issues with AppImage Launcher, consider downloading a different version of the tool (in case the one you're using is buggy) or submit an issue to the developers on GitHub.

Conclusion

On its own, AppImage makes it easy to run applications on any Linux distribution. But AppImage Launcher makes AppImages even simpler to work with, thanks to features that automate application integration into your desktop environment and that streamline application updates and removal.

About the author

Christopher Tozzi headshotChristopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.
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