herbstluftwm workflow

saturday, 19 march 2016

a lot of *nix users rice their desktops to personalize the look of their operating environments. A choice of wallpapers, GUI theme and careful window placements can look very artful.

I am no less inclined, spending countless hours connected to the web and the open source community. A beautiful environment to work in, and that includes one’s desktop, just puts finishing touches to the experience.

All that being said, workflow is just as important, if not more so – certainly for someone such as myself who has an aversion to using the mouse and fiddling with window size and placement. herbstluftwm is wholly capable of competing with stacking window managers for window layouts. But what makes it supremely effective is its tiling organization of the visual desktop space.

I’ve covered elsewhere in this site the many extensions I have made to the basic herbstluftwm configuration to include..

  • dynamic window placement to balance frames
  • dynamic window focus to avoid empty frame focus on application close
  • distraction free monocle layout proportions (versus fullscreen mode)
  • automatic desktop layout restore on focus and monitor swap*
  • quick monitor and frame swapping with focus directions
  • hide/unhide windows per desktop
  • pulsating borders to indicate overlapped windows
  • virtual monitors to show/hide the conky system information panel
  • single status bar to follow monitor focus and hint monitor geometry width
  • blur background if a window is present on the desktop
  • etc.!

* Monitor geometries are global when set. Restore appropriate monitor geometry for desktop regaining focus.

dynamic window placement & focus

in my configuration, the herbstluftwm window close action is trapped to enable dynamic window focus and layout management. However, application windows closed via their own application mechanism escape event detection by herbstluftwm.

However, a simple polling mechanism is availble: conky (a simple shell script could also be substituted to implement this). This conky configuration updates itself with the active window title. By hooking layout and window focus requirements into the active window title script, dynamic window management can be facilitated for these window close events.

One use case requires attention, though: frame selection for dynamic window placement. When a new window is opened, the next available frame is selected with empty frames having priority – doing so balances window placement on the desktop. However, the window focus method triggered when no active window is present – to dynamically focus the next window – conflicts with this rule.

To avoid this deadly embrace, a persistent lock flag is set in the focus frame script..

touch $LOCK herbstclient lock is fullscreen && toggle fullscreen herbstclient cycle_frame -1 frames=$(herbstclient attr tags.by-name.$TAG.frame_count) for i in $(seq 1 $frames) do herbstclient cycle_frame 1 herbstclient compare tags.by-name.$TAG.curframe_wcount = 0 && break done herbstclient chain . set_layout vertical . unlock rm -f $LOCK

The $LOCK file is exported in the herbstluftwm configuration script. To inhibit the concurrent conky title script’s focus window behaviour..

name=$(herbstclient attr clients.focus.instance 2>/dev/null) if [ "$name" ] ; then if [ $(echo $name | wc -w) -eq 1 ] ;then echo $name else herbstclient attr clients.focus.class 2>/dev/null fi else [ -e $FULLSCREEN ] && draw refresh [ -e $LOCK ] || pidof rofi >/dev/null && exit if [ -e $DYNAMIC ] && is nonempty $(query tag) ;then [ -e $FOCUS ] || focus window else herbstclient emit_hook focus_changed fi fi

status bar focus

one novel feature of this herbstluftwm configuration is a status bar which follows the monitor focus. This gives immediate visual confirmation of the active monitor and application and keeps the unfocused monitors clean.

Originally, this was achieved by killing and respawning the lemonbar panel script on the appropriate monitor. This was not without its own problems: in use case testing, while switching back and forth between monitors as rapidly as possible, the queued terminations can disable the status bar completely. This condition is addressed by spawning a secondary background process to check that the status bar, in fact, is running after a delay and respawn as required. Not elegant but it works.

A lag is apparent when switching monitors as the status bar is respawned – not significant but still noticeable. Because the status bar reflects the virtual monitor geometry which can be toggled to differing widths depending on the distraction free mode in use, this status bar creation can occur frequently.

A more responsive solution is to create, as required, the appropriate status bar and use xdotool to manage the visibility of the panels. Doing so, renders the status bar handling instantaneous (save for the initial creation) and eliminates the complexity of the former solution..

if is primary ;then [ -e $CONKY ] && conky=’:conky’ [ -e $MONOCLE ] && monocle=’:monocle’ fi fifo="$(herbstclient attr monitors.focus.index)$conky$monocle" xdotool search --onlyvisible --limit 1 --maxdepth 1 --name 'lemonbar' windowunmap >/dev/null [ -e $PANEL ] || exit echo "$PANEL_FIFO:$fifo" >$PANEL_FIFO xdotool search --limit 1 --maxdepth 1 --name "lemonbar:$fifo\$" windowmap >/dev/null && exit exec draw panel $fifo

The $fifo variable defines the particular lemonbar fifo created by the draw panel script and subsequently referenced. In my multihead setup, half a dozen status bar panels can ultimately be spawned depending on the monitors and layouts referenced within a particular session.

Until the WinterBreeze version of herbstluftwm is released, I don’t expect I’ll be tweaking this environment much more, save for code refactoring and addressing the odd corner case. The dotfiles for this herbstluftwm configuration can be found here.

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