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A program should be able to open its own files on Linux

Many years ago, when koffice was fresh and with few users, I decided to test its presentation tool when making the slides for a talk I was giving for NUUG on Japhar, a free Java virtual machine. I wrote the first draft of the slides, saved the result and went to bed the day before I would give the talk. The next day I took a plane to the location where the meeting should take place, and on the plane I started up koffice again to polish the talk a bit, only to discover that kpresenter refused to load its own data file. I cursed a bit and started making the slides again from memory, to have something to present when I arrived. I tested that the saved files could be loaded, and the day seemed to be rescued. I continued to polish the slides until I suddenly discovered that the saved file could no longer be loaded into kpresenter. In the end I had to rewrite the slides three times, condensing the content until the talk became shorter and shorter. After the talk I was able to pinpoint the problem – kpresenter wrote inline images in a way itself could not understand. Eventually that bug was fixed and kpresenter ended up being a great program to make slides. The point I’m trying to make is that we expect a program to be able to load its own data files, and it is embarrassing to its developers if it can’t.

Did you ever experience a program failing to load its own data files from the desktop file browser? It is not a uncommon problem. A while back I discovered that the screencast recorder gtk-recordmydesktop would save an Ogg Theora video file the KDE file browser would refuse to open. No video player claimed to understand such file. I tracked down the cause being file --mime-type returning the application/ogg mime type, which no video player I had installed listed as a MIME type they would understand. I asked for file to change its behavour and use the MIME type video/ogg instead. I also asked several video players to add video/ogg to their desktop files, to give the file browser an idea what to do about Ogg Theora files. After a while, the desktop file browsers in Debian started to handle the output from gtk-recordmydesktop properly.

But history repeats itself. A few days ago I tested the music system Rosegarden again, and I discovered that the KDE and xfce file browsers did not know what to do with the Rosegarden project files (*.rg). I’ve reported the rosegarden problem to BTS and a fix is commited to git and will be included in the next upload. To increase the chance of me remembering how to fix the problem next time some program fail to load its files from the file browser, here are some notes on how to fix it.

The file browsers in Debian in general operates on MIME types. There are two sources for a given files MIME type. The output from file --mime-type mentioned above, and the content of the shared MIME type registry (under /usr/share/mime/). The file mime type is mapped to programs supporting the mime type, and this information is collected from the desktop files available in /usr/share/applications/. If there is one desktop file claiming support for the MIME type of the file, it is activated when asking to open a given file. If there are more, one can normally select which one to use by right-clicking on the file and selecting the wanted one using ‘Open with’ or similar. In general this work well. But it depend on each program picking a good mime type (preferably a MIME type registered with IANA ), file and/or the shared mime registry recognizing the file and the desktop file to list the MIME type in its list of supported MIME types.

The /usr/share/mime/packages/rosegarden.xml entry for the Shared MIME database look like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <mime-info xmlns="http://www.freedesktop.org/standards/shared-mime-info">   <mime-type type="audio/x-rosegarden">     <sub-class-of type="application/x-gzip"/>     <comment>Rosegarden project file</comment>     <glob pattern="*.rg"/>   </mime-type> </mime-info>

This states that audio/x-rosegarden is a kind of application/x-gzip (it is a gzipped XML file). Note, it is much better to use an official MIME type registered with IANA than it is to make up ones own unofficial ones like the x-rosegarden type used by rosegarden.

The desktop file of the rosegarden program failed to list audio/x-rosegarden in its list of supported MIME types, causing the file browsers to have no idea what to do with *.rg files:

% grep Mime /usr/share/applications/rosegarden.desktop MimeType=audio/x-rosegarden-composition;audio/x-rosegarden-device;audio/x-rosegarden-project;audio/x-rosegarden-template;audio/midi; X-KDE-NativeMimeType=audio/x-rosegarden-composition %

The fix was to add "audio/x-rosegarden;" at the end of the MimeType= line.

If you run into a file which fail to open the correct program when selected from the file browser, please check out the output from file --mime-type for the file, ensure the file ending and MIME type is registered somewhere under /usr/share/mime/ and check that some desktop file under /usr/share/applications/ is claiming support for this MIME type. If not, please report a bug to have it fixed. :)

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