I3/Beginners Customization Guide

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i3 is a dynamic tiling window manager. i3 is very fast and powerful. To be most productive you will want to configure it to your liking. This guide will assist you in your i3 desktop customization. If you are accustomed to using a full Desktop Environment like Gnome, KDE, or Xfce this will greatly help to ease the transition to i3.


You should have already installed the i3 window manager from the official repositories. If not, Please see I3 for installation instructions.

It is also strongly recommended to read the official i3 User Guide



First we need to copy over the default configuration files that we will be working with to our home directory.

cp /etc/i3/config ~/.i3/config
cp /etc/i3status.conf ~/.i3status.conf

Network Interface Status

Now we can fix the status bar (i3status) at the bottom of the screen. If you recently installed Arch Linux then you will be using the new systemd/udev Predictable Network Interface Naming scheme. As a result we need to change the references for eth0 (ethernet) and wlan0 (wireless) to match your system. To view your available network interfaces use the command ip link

Here is an example output of what you will see:

1: lo: <LOOPBACK,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 65536 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN mode DEFAULT
   link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
2: enp6s0: <NO-CARRIER,BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP> mtu 1500 qdisc pfifo_fast state DOWN mode DEFAULT qlen 1000
   link/ether aa:bb:cc:dd:ee:ff brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
3: wlp3s0: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1500 qdisc mq state UP mode DORMANT qlen 1000
   link/ether aa:bb:cc:dd:ee:ff brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff

From the example we can see that ethernet interface is labelled enp6s0 and the wireless interface is wilp3s0. Your interface names may vary. Edit the file ~/.i3status.conf

Replace the lines:

order += "wireless wlan0"
order += "ethernet eth0"
wireless wlan0 {
wireless eth0 {

To match your corresponding network interface names:

order += "wireless wlp3s0"
order += "ethernet enp6s0"
wireless wlp3s0 {
ethernet enp6s0 {
Note: wlp3s0 and enp6s0 are only used as examples. Enter your own network interface names here. If you are using eth0 and wlan0 then you do not need to change them.

Temperature Status

If you would like to add your CPU temperature to the i3status bar simply add these lines to ~/.i3status.conf

order += "cpu_temperature 0"
cpu_temperature 0 {
        format = "T: %degrees °C"
    max_threshold = 65
        path = "/sys/devices/platform/coretemp.0/temp1_input"

If the temperature column complains that it cannot get the temperature value then change the path line to:

path = "/sys/class/thermal/thermal_zone0/temp"

Volume Manager

To enable easy management of your system volume, you can install a volume manager applet such as pa-applet from the AUR. This should also allow you to use your keyboards volume up, volume down, and mute keys as well as using the applet directly to manage your volume. Once it is installed add the following line to your ~/.i3/config to auto start the applet:

exec /usr/bin/pa-applet

Network Manager

If you would like to use the Network Manager applet to manage your network connections you can install it with the command:

# pacman -S networkmanager network-manager-applet

To have the Network Manager daemon auto start at bootup use the command:

# systemctl enable NetworkManager
Note: If there are any other services managing your network interfaces (ie netctl) then you must disable them before starting Network Manager.

Finally add the the following line to your ~/.i3/config to automatically start the Network Manager applet in your system tray

exec /usr/bin/nm-applet

Workspace Names

Although it is not required, many people prefer naming frequently used workspaces. First you need to determine which monitor you want the workspace to open to. Simply type xrander into a terminal and it will show you the available display ports. Some common ones are LVDS1 for laptops or VGA1, HDMI1, HDMI2, etc for external monitors. If you are using Xinerama instead use the outputs xinerama-0, xinerama-1, etc. Add your workspace names to ~/.i3/config You also need to modify the corresponding lines to switch to your workspaces as well as moving focused containers to those workspaces.

# Workspace names
workspace "1:Web" output LVDS1
workspace "2:Mail" output LVDS1
workspace "3:Irc" output LVDS1
workspace "4:Shell" output LVDS1
# switch to workspace
bindsym $mod+1 workspace 1:Web
bindsym $mod+2 workspace 2:Mail
bindsym $mod+3 workspace 3:Irc
bindsym $mod+4 workspace 4:Shell
# move focused container to workspace
bindsym $mod+Shift+1 move container to workspace 1:Web
bindsym $mod+Shift+2 move container to workspace 2:Mail
bindsym $mod+Shift+3 move container to workspace 3:Irc
bindsym $mod+Shift+4 move container to workspace 4:Shell

Launching programs on specific workspaces

Desktop Wallpaper

To be able to manage the desktop wallpaper, you need a lightweight image viewer like Feh or Nitrogen. Install feh with the command # pacman -S feh. Then you can set your wallpaper with the following command:

$ feh --bg-scale /path/to/image.file

To have feh set your image to the Desktop Wallpaper add the following line to your ~/.i3/config

exec --no-startup-id sh ~/.fehbg

Terminal Emulator

By default when you press $mod+Return it launches the i3-sensible-terminal which is a script that invokes a terminal. It attempts to start one of these terminals in the following order: $TERMINAL urxvt rxvt terminator Eterm aterm xterm gnome-terminal roxterm xfce4-terminal. You can force it to launch your terminal of choice by modifying the line bindsym $mod+Return exec i3-sensible-terminal


Having a scratchpad to jot down or paste notes quickly is very handy! i3 has a feature that allows you to move a window to a scratchpad workspace. Basically it will be hidden from view until you recall it with the scratchpad show command. To send a focused window to the scratchpad with $mod+Shift+minus or to recall it with $mod+minus enter these lines into your ~/.i3/config

# Make the currently focused window a scratchpad
bindsym $mod+Shift+minus move scratchpad

# Show the first scratchpad window
bindsym $mod+minus scratchpad show

You can start your favorite editor (ie Gedit, vim, nano, etc) on startup and have it automatically moved to the scratchpad workspace to quickly recall it when needed. The following example when placed in ~/.i3/config shows how you can start the urxvt terminal, have it launch the nano editor, and then move it to the scratchpad:

# starting a specially named term automatically 
exec --no-startup-id urxvt -name scratchpad -e /usr/bin/nano
# move this to scratchpad, if active
for_window [class="URxvt" instance="scratchpad"] move scratchpad

Shutdown, Reboot, Lock Screen

As there are no Shutdown, Reboot, or Lock Screen buttons, we can add some hotkey combinations to help us out. First we need to create this script and save it as i3exit. Remember to to make it executable with chmod +x and to place it somewhere in your $PATH.

lock() {

case "$1" in
        i3-msg exit
        lock && systemctl suspend
        lock && systemctl hibernate
        systemctl reboot
        systemctl poweroff
        echo "Usage: $0 {lock|logout|suspend|hibernate|reboot|shutdown}"
        exit 2

exit 0

Now add the following lines to your ~/.i3/config Once completed you will be presented with a prompt whenever you press $mod+pause.

set $mode_system System (l) lock, (e) logout, (s) suspend, (h) hibernate, (r) reboot, (Shift+s) shutdown
mode "$mode_system" {
    bindsym l exec --no-startup-id i3exit lock, mode "default"
    bindsym e exec --no-startup-id i3exit logout, mode "default"
    bindsym s exec --no-startup-id i3exit suspend, mode "default"
    bindsym h exec --no-startup-id i3exit hibernate, mode "default"
    bindsym r exec --no-startup-id i3exit reboot, mode "default"
    bindsym Shift+s exec --no-startup-id i3exit shutdown, mode "default"  

    # back to normal: Enter or Escape
    bindsym Return mode "default"
    bindsym Escape mode "default"
bindsym $mod+Pause mode "$mode_system"

Screensaver and Power Management

You can use DPMS to blank your screen or to suspend/poweroff your monitor. Adding the following line to your ~/.i3/config will suspend your monitor after 10 minutes.

exec --no-startup-id xset dpms 600

See also

Arch Linux Forums