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Revision as of 05:07, 9 May 2014 by Ideasman42 (talk | contribs) (Add note about using the PID to for new windows to pick the workspace.)
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From spectrwm website:

spectrwm is a small dynamic tiling window manager for Xorg. It tries to stay out of the way so that valuable screen real estate can be used for much more important stuff. It has sane defaults and does not require one to learn a language to do any configuration. It was written by hackers for hackers and it strives to be small, compact and fast.

Spectrwm is written in C and configured with a text configuration file. It was previously known as scrotwm.


spectrwm is available in the [community] repository.

The modkey (the main key to issue commands with) is set to Mod4, which is usually the Windows key.

spectrwm can make use of the dmenu package, so you may want to install that too.

It can also execute a screenshot command from a keybinding which may be used to call scrot using the script given below.

There is also a screen lock keybinding. By default calls xlock, provided in Arch by the xlockmore package.

xscreensaver is also useful for screen saving and power management after an idle period, and screen locking.

See Xdefaults for details of how to set up fonts, colours and other settings for xterm and xscreensaver. Run xscreensaver-demo to select the animation (or blank) and display power management (recommended).


spectrwm first tries to open the user specific file, ~/.spectrwm.conf. If that file is unavailable, it tries to open the global configuration file, /etc/spectrwm.conf. The initial configuration provides a good set of defaults.

Optionally, spectrwm can call baraction.sh (in the user's path), which should output a text status message to stdout for the status bar at the top of the screen.

Starting spectrwm

To start spectrwm via startx or the SLIM login manager, simply append the following to ~/.xinitrc:

exec spectrwm

Starting spectrwm with XDM

For XDM, create ~/.xsession with the following contents:

# .xsession
# This file is sourced by xdm

Make sure ~/.xsession is executable:

$ chmod a+x ~/.xsession
Note: If you do not create ~/.xsession, then ~/.xinitrc will be used, but you might want different settings depending on if you use startx or XDM. Remember to make ~/.xinitrc executable, or XDM won't start, if you use that method.
Tip: For a nice simple Arch themed xdm, try xdm-arch-themeAUR.

Starting spectrwm with KDM

For KDM, make sure /usr/share/xsessions is listed in SessionDirs in /usr/share/config/kdm/kdmrc as described here. SpectrWM will then be available as an option in the Session Type menu in KDM.

To start other tasks when the session is launched, for example to launch xscreensaver and set the background image, copy /usr/share/config/kdm/Xsession to a custom version as described here, and then edit it, for example like this:

case $session in
    exec xmessage -center -buttons OK:0 -default OK "Sorry, $DESKTOP_SESSION is no valid session."
    exec xterm -geometry 80x24-0-0
    exec $HOME/.xsession
    exec /usr/bin/startkde
    '''feh --bg-scale /usr/share/wallpapers/Plasmalicious/contents/images/1280x1024.jpg'''
    '''xscreensaver -no-splash &'''
    '''eval exec "$session"'''
    eval exec "$session"

Multiple monitors (Xinerama)

With a non-Xrandr multiple monitor setup create regions to split the total desktop area into one region per monitor:

region                = screen[1]:1280x1024+0+0
region                = screen[1]:1280x1024+1280+0

Statusbar configuration

To enable the statusbar, uncomment these two items in /etc/spectrwm.conf (or ~/.spectrwm.conf). By default they are commented out and the statusbar is disabled.

bar_action              = baraction.sh
bar_delay               = 5

Bash scripts

To test the status bar, place the following simple baraction.sh in a ~/scripts (or ~/bin) directory which you have previously added to your $PATH in your ~/.bashrc file.

# baraction.sh script for spectrwm status bar

SLEEP_SEC=5  # set bar_delay = 5 in /etc/spectrwm.conf
#loops forever outputting a line every SLEEP_SEC secs
while :; do
        echo -e "         Hello World! $COUNT"
        sleep $SLEEP_SEC

Press Modkey+Q to restart spectrwm and after a few seconds you should see the output in the status bar. If you have problems at this stage, make sure the script is executable, test it from the command line, and check the path/filename you specified in bar_action.

Next replace baraction.sh with the more useful file below. You need to have bc and lm_sensors installed, and whatever you need for WiFi. You should configure lm_sensors.

Note: You may need to modify this script slightly for your computer. You may have different units in the acpi battery info, different temperature output from sensors or a different wifi interface than wlan0.
#baraction.sh for spectrwm status bar

#loops forever outputting a line every SLEEP_SEC secs
while :; do

 	eval $(cat /proc/acpi/battery/BAT0/state | awk '/charging state/ {printf "BAT_CHGSTATE=%s;", $3}; /remaining capacity/ {printf "BAT_REMNG=%s;",$3}; /present rate/ {printf "BAT_RATE=%s;",$3};' -)
 	eval $(cat /proc/acpi/battery/BAT0/info | awk '/present/ {printf "BAT_PRESENT=%s;", $2}; /last full capacity/ {printf "BAT_LASTFULL=%s;",$4};' -)
	BAT_REMNG_WH=`echo "scale=1; a=($BAT_REMNG+50)/1000; print a" | bc -l`
	BAT_RATE_W=`echo "scale=1; a=($BAT_RATE+50)/1000; print a" | bc -l`
	BCSCRIPT="scale=0; a=(100*$BAT_REMNG / $BAT_LASTFULL); print a"
	BAT_PCT=`echo $BCSCRIPT | bc -l`%

	case $BAT_PRESENT in

		case $BAT_CHGSTATE in
			#on ac
			#on ac
			BCSCRIPT="scale=1; a=(60*($BAT_LASTFULL - $BAT_REMNG) / $BAT_RATE); print a"
			TIMETOFULL_MIN=`echo $BCSCRIPT | bc -l`
			TIME_REMNG_MIN=`echo "scale=0; a=(60*$BAT_REMNG / $BAT_RATE); print a" | bc -l`
			TIME_REMNG_HH=`echo "scale=0; a=($BAT_REMNG / $BAT_RATE); if (a<10) {print "0"; print a} else {print a}" | bc -l`

			TIME_REMNG_MM=`echo "scale=0; a=($TIME_REMNG_MIN-60*$TIME_REMNG_HH); if (a<10) {print "0"; print a} else {print a}" | bc -l`


	#spectrwm bar_print can't handle UTF-8 characters, such as degree symbol
	#Core 0:      +67.0°C  (crit = +100.0°C)
	eval $(sensors 2>/dev/null | sed s/[°+]//g | awk '/^Core 0/ {printf "CORE0TEMP=%s;", $3}; /^Core 1/ {printf "CORE1TEMP=%s;",$3}; /^fan1/ {printf "FANSPD=%s;",$2};' -)

	WLAN_ESSID=$(iwconfig wlan0 | awk -F "\"" '/wlan0/ { print $2 }')
	eval $(cat /proc/net/wireless | sed s/[.]//g | awk '/wlan0/ {printf "WLAN_QULTY=%s; WLAN_SIGNL=%s; WLAN_NOISE=%s", $3,$4,$5};' -)
	BCSCRIPT="scale=0;a=100*$WLAN_QULTY/70;print a"
	WLAN_QPCT=`echo $BCSCRIPT | bc -l`
	WLAN_POWER=`iwconfig 2>/dev/null| grep "Tx-Power"| awk {'print $4'}|sed s/Tx-Power=//`

	CPUFREQ_STR=`echo "Freq:"$(cat /proc/cpuinfo | grep 'cpu MHz' | sed 's/.*: //g; s/\..*//g;')`
	CPULOAD_STR="Load:$(uptime | sed 's/.*://; s/,//g')"

	eval $(awk '/^MemTotal/ {printf "MTOT=%s;", $2}; /^MemFree/ {printf "MFREE=%s;",$2}' /proc/meminfo)
	MUSED=$(( $MTOT - $MFREE ))
	MUSEDPT=$(( ($MUSED * 100) / $MTOT ))

        #alternatively if you prefer a different date format
        #DATE_STR=`date +"%H:%M %a %d %b"`

	sleep $SLEEP_SEC

Here are some other ideas for status bar items: ethernet, email notification, disk space, mounts, now playing (mpc current).

The baraction.sh script may also show the date, in which case the built-in clock can be disabled:

clock_enabled     = 0


Instead of a bash script, conky may be used. It should be used in non-graphical mode as shown below to output a text string to stdout which can be read in by spectrwm. First install conky. It is not necessary to install the cut-down "conky-cli" from AUR (although that would work too).

In ~/.spectrwm.conf set

bar_action = conky

Then in each user's ~/.conkyrc file place for example:

out_to_x no
out_to_console yes
update_interval 1.0
total_run_times 0
use_spacer none
${time %R %a,%d-%#b-%y} |Mail:${new_mails} |Up:${uptime_short} |Temp:${acpitemp}C |Batt:${battery_short} |${addr wlan0} |RAM:$memperc% |CPU:${cpu}% | ${downspeedf wlan0}

Alternative status bar

An alternative is to use dzen2 to create a status bar. This has the advantage that colors and even icons may be used, but the disadvantage that the bar is not integrated with spectrwm. So the current workspace number and layout and the bar-toggle keybinding are not available. The "region" option can be used to reserve the required screen space. For example to reserve 14 pixels at the top of the screen in spectrwm.conf change

bar_enabled             = 1
region                  = screen[1]:1024x768+0+0


bar_enabled             = 0
region                  = screen[1]:1024x754+0+14

(adjust for your screen resolution).

Then, for example using i3status to supply the information:

$ i3status | dzen2 -fn -*-terminus-medium-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-* &

Spectrwm's own bar can still be enabled and disabled with Meta+b.


Spectrwm has the facility to execute a script called screenshot.sh with the keybindings

Meta+s       for a full screenshot
Meta+Shift+s for a screenshot of a single window

First install scrot Then copy the default script supplied in the spectrwm package to a location in your $PATH, for example:

$ cp /usr/share/spectrwm/screenshot.sh ~/bin

Screen locking

By default the lock keybinding Mod+Shift+Delete executes xlock

program[lock]      = xlock

An alternative, if xscreensaver is already running, is to use

program[lock]      = xscreensaver-command -lock

Using spectrwm

  • To save space, window title bars are not shown. Window borders are one pixel wide. The border changes colour to indicate focus.
  • Layouts are handled dynamically and can be changed on the fly. There are three standard layouts (stacking algorithms): vertical, horizontal and maximized (indicated in the status bar as [|], [-] and [ ])
  • There is the concept of a master area (a working area). Any window can be switched to become the master and will then be shown in the master area. The master area is the left (top) portion of the screen in vertical (horizontal) mode. The size of the master area can be adjusted with the keys. By default the master area holds one window, but this can be increased.
  • The area excluding the master area is called the stacking area. New windows are added to the stacking area. By default the stacking area has one column (row) in vertical (horizontal) mode, but his can be increased.
  • Windows may be moved to a floating layer -- i.e. removed from the tiling management. This is useful for programs which are not suitable for tiling.

Some of the most useful key bindings:

Meta+Shift+Return: open terminal
Meta+p: dmenu (then type the start of the program name and return)
Meta+1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/0: select workspaces 1-10
Meta+Shift+1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/0: move window to workspace 1-10
Meta+Right/Left: select next/previous workspace
Meta+Shift+Right/Left: select next/previous screen
Meta+Spacebar: cycle through layouts (vertical, horizontal, maximized)
Meta+j/k: cycle through windows forwards/backwards
Meta+Tab/Meta+Shft+Tab: same as Meta+j/k
Meta+Return: move current window to master area
Meta+h/l:  increase/decrease size of master area

Advanced stacking

Meta+,/. : increase/decrease the number of windows in master area (default is 1)
Meta+Shift+,/. : increase/decrease number of columns(rows) in stacking area in vertical(horizontal) mode (default is 1)
Meta+Shift+j/k: swap window position with next/previous window
Meta+t: float<->tile toggle

Mouse bindings

Mouseover: focus window
Meta+LeftClick+Drag: move window (and float it if tiled)
Meta+RightClick+Drag: resize floating window
Meta+Shift+RightClick+Drag: resize floating window keeping it centred

Other useful bindings

Meta+x: close window
Meta+Shift+x: kill window
Meta+b: hide/show status bar
Meta+q: restart spectrwm (reset desktops and reread spectrwm config without stopping running programs)
Meta+Shift+q: exit spectrwm


  • Q: Help, I just logged in and all I see is a blank screen.
  • A: Press Shift+WinKey+Return and an xterm will start. See man spectrwm for other default key bindings. Also check your configuration file.
  • Q: Why does my window open in a desktop other then the current active one?
  • A: Currently the PID of window is used to determine the desktop for new windows. To workaround this with terminals for example, you can often pass an argument to open the terminal in a new process.

See also

  • dmenu - Simple application launcher from the developers of dwm
  • #spectrwm at irc.freenode.net - (un)official IRC channel