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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.


Install the spectrwm package.

You will need to set an available font for the status bar. Check installed fonts with the fc-list command and set one in the bar_font field in your local configuration file. For example:

bar_font = xos4 Terminus:pixelsize=14

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

There is also a screen lock key binding, which by default calls xlock from 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).


Run spectrwm with xinit.


spectrwm looks for the user configuration file in ~/.config/spectrwm/spectrwm.conf and ~/.spectrwm.conf. If none of these exist it opens the global configuration file at /etc/spectrwm.conf. It also supports the XDG Base Directory paths.

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


Default keybindings are in /etc/spectrwm/spectrwm_<<keyboard layout>>.conf. In order to customize keybindings:

  • Set keyboard_mapping to /dev/null in your ~/.spectrwm.conf
  • Copy-paste the contents of /etc/spectrwm/spectrwm_<<keyboard layout>>.conf to the end of your ~/.spectrwm.conf.

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


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.

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

The 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-cliAUR (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


Help, I just logged in and all I see is a blank screen

Press Shift+WinKey+Return and an xterm will start. See spectrwm(1) for other default key bindings. Also check your configuration file.

Why does my window open in a desktop other than the current active one?

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

  • #spectrwm at OFTC - Official IRC channel.
  • dmenu - Simple application launcher from the developers of dwm