Alt & F2 – The Ultimate Linux Keyboard Shortcut

Justin Pot 12-01-2011

One Linux keyboard shortcut gives you quick access to all of your software and some useful commands. It’s like a portable command line, and it’s probably already built into your Linux distro of choice. Just hit “Alt” and “F2” at the same time to get started. Whether you want to force-quit a hanging application or quickly launch your favorite text editor, this shortcut is indispensable for Linux users.


Most long-time Linux users are probably already familiar with Linux keyboard shortcuts, but new Linux converts might not have discovered this simple shortcut yet. They should, because once you get used to using it you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. It’s a great way to quickly launch your favorite applications, and can be used to do much more.

We’ve already highlighted various Ubuntu keyboard shortcuts you might not know 10 Useful Ubuntu Keyboard Shortcuts That You Might Not Know Read More , but somehow we neglected to mention this one. It’s time to remedy that. This keyboard shortcut works by default on Gnome, KDE and XFCE systems. Not sure what any of that means? Then you’re probably using one of them, so you should be fine. Let’s check out what this shortcut can do.

What It Does

Press Alt and F2 and you’ll see a humble window:

linux keyboard shortcuts

It doesn’t look like much, and might look slightly different depending on your distro. One thing is for sure, though: start typing the name of a program and you’ll see results quickly:


linux shortcuts

Using this to launch programs requires that you know their command name, but it’s usually fairly obvious. Just type the name of the program, without caps in most cases. As shown above, a handy auto-complete feature will let you know when there’s only one possible program including all the letters you’ve typed already. This can make typing certain commands very quick; type “fire“, for example, and Firefox comes up.

Any program can be launched this way; you just need to know the command for a given program. Check out this thread on the OpenSuse forums for a quick list of programs you might want to launch.

Use this shortcut to launch programs for a while and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it, I promise you that. But it’s not just great for launching programs.


Awesome Commands To Try

No, there’s a bit more you can do. For example, should you want to kill a certain program, you should try typing “xkill“. This command will give you a cursor you can use to force any program to quit by clicking on it, perfect when a piece of software hangs on you:

linux keyboard shortcuts

Just click to kill; it’s that easy.

Alternatively, you could try the “killall” command. Type “killall” followed by the system name of the program you want to kill and hit enter. For example, to kill the file browser Nautilus, type “killall nautilus” and the program will be forced to close.


Ubuntu Netbook Edition

Users of Ubuntu’s Netbook Edition (10.10) will notice that this shortcut doesn’t work. This is very irritating, but can be overcome. The good folks at OMG! Ubuntu! wrote a great article about 5 ways to add ALT F2 functionality to Ubuntu, which outlines a few options. Just install one of those programs, then add a keyboard shortcut using the keyboard shortcut tool found under the settings.

Apparently the version of Ubuntu in 11.04 will bring back this feature by default, but it’s nice to have a way to restore the feature.


Alt F2 isn’t just my favorite Linux shortcut; I end up missing it on Windows and OS X as well. I think you’ll love using it.

If not, you should perhaps check out search and launch app Synapse Synapse - Quickly Launch Apps & Easily Find Anything [Ubuntu] Read More or Gnome Do. These programs offer not only application launching but much more, so check them out.


For me though, no bells and whistles are needed. I want to launch software quickly, and this keyboard shortcut delivers. Let me know what you think below, and also feel free to share some handy commands as well.

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  1. Guest
    January 13, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    GnomeDo is for those who can't AltF2

    • Anonymous
      January 14, 2011 at 12:06 am

      Or Synapse which is the new DO.

  2. Thameera
    January 13, 2011 at 3:31 am

    I use Gnome Do for opening apps/files and Alt+F2 for killing apps.

  3. Miggs
    January 12, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    True! Guess I'd use Alt + F2 as a launcher if there weren't Synapse. Practically, it combines Run Application (Alt + F2) and the terminal (as it suports any comand). It's lightweight, intuitive, and customizable through plugins. Definetly a must-have!