Opening .url Files in Ubuntu

When browsing the web with Chrome for Android, I save the URLs on my Nextcloud server by sharing using the Nextcloud App. Each URL is then stored as a .url file looking like this

[InternetShortcut]
URL=https://devio.wordpress.com/

Today I noticed that those .url files cannot be opened on Ubuntu, i.e. a double-click won’t start a browser with the contained URL.

Instead, I get a an error dialog

Could not display “<HTML page title>.url”.

There is no application installed for “Internet shortcut” files.
Do you want to search for an application to open this file?

No     Yes

Screenshot from 2020-03-22 07-40-58.png

Clicking the Yes button, a toast message appears

mimetype required.png

which you have to click before it disappears, which finally opens the software installer:

unable to find software.png

Not good.

Surprisingly, Firefox does not register itself as an application to handle the .url file extension on Ubuntu. It also does not know that the Windows Firefox would know how to open the file.

More surprisingly, Ubuntu knows that .url files are “Internet shortcut” files, and have the associated MIME type application/x-mswinurl.

So I had to solve two problems:

  • Retrieve the URL stored in a .url file
  • Start Firefox using this URL using Ubuntu’s MIME type handling

Retrieving the URL stored in a .url file

As shown above, a .url file is simply a text file in .ini format. In it’s simplest form, it contains a section [InternetShortcut] with a single Key “URL=”. The key’s value is the URL to navigate to.

With a little help from askubuntu, I figured out the command to extract the URL value

grep -Po 'URL=\K[^ ]+' *.url

Using the result of the grep operation as argument for firefox would look something like this:

firefox `grep -Po 'URL=\K[^ ]+' "$1"`

After a bit of digging, I found how you can manually add MIME type handlers in Ubuntu. Following those instructions, I created a file

/usr/share/applications/mswinurl.desktop

(you need sudo in this directory) with the following content (spoiler: don’t copy this yet!):

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Firefox Shortcut
GenericName=Firefox Shortcut

Type=Application
Exec=firefox `grep -Po 'URL=\K[^ ]+' %U`
TryExec=firefox
MimeType=application/x-mswinurl;
Icon=firefox

However, this did not work as intended, as I got an error message complaining about the backtick `. So, if I cannot have shell operations in the .desktop file, let’s create a batch file

/usr/local/bin/runurl

and place the shell magic there:

firefox `grep -Po 'URL=\K[^ ]+' "$1"` &

Don’t forget to make the batch file executable using

sudo chmod 755 runurl

and reference the runurl script rather than Firefox in /usr/share/applications/mswinurl.desktop:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Firefox Shortcut
GenericName=Firefox Shortcut

Type=Application
Exec=runurl %U
TryExec=firefox
MimeType=application/x-mswinurl;
Icon=firefox

After creating the file, run

 sudo update-desktop-database

to register the new .desktop file.

Double-clicking a .url file now opens the URL in a new Firefox tab.

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