Dynamic tagging configuration system for awesomeWM
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Tyrannical—A simple tag managment engine for Awesome


December 2016

The master branch is for Awesome 4.0+. If you use Awesome 3.5, use the 1.0.0 version

April 2016

Tyrannical 1.0.0 has been released. This is the first and last version for Awesome 3.5. Tyrannical is still in active developement and a brand new implementation will be released shortly after Awesome 3.6 is released.

Tyrannical goal is and has always been to avoid re-inventing the wheel and use existing Awesome APIs to manage tags. This will now get much easier with Awesome 3.6 and a new "request" API designed with Tyrannical like workflows in mind. This will avoid turning the code into a unreadable ball of spagatti as the current implementation became.


Tyrannical is a tag management system for Awesome 3.5+. It is inspired and intend to replace the Shifty module popular in older versions of Awesome.

Compared to Shifty, Tyrannical doesn't try to replace awful.tag and awful.rules, but rather extend them to support the following features:

  • Declarative tags declaration description
  • Rules based around the tags rather than the clients
  • Rules based around the client properties rather than the clients
  • A dynamic tag workflow where tags are created and removed on demand
  • A stateful tag model
  • More powerful focus stealing rules

Tyrannical was created because:

  • Shifty code is too complex and outdated to be maintained
  • awful support dynamic tagging, but it's awkward to use
  • It implements a workflow that better fit my taste than the default one

Tyrannical 1.0 versus 2.0-alpha:

While I am among the first AwesomeWM user, I only became a major contributor during the 4.0 development cycle. The new version of Awesome has new APIs designed to improve alternate workflows such as the one proposed by Tyrannical.

The new version aim to rewrite Tyrannical to use these APIs instead of the hacks that allowed the original version to work. The original code also became maintainable due to horrible coding practices and repeated hacks to fine tune its behavior.

Finally, Awesome 4.0 introduces support for adding and removing screen at runtime. Therefor, being able to expand and contract the tag set dynamically is finally possible. Being able to support the use case where a laptop is optionally plugged to an external monitor will be implemented once feature parity has been achieved.


My first attempt at implementing dynamic layouts failed back in 2012, but for a year I have been using a new implementation. This isn't expected to land in Awesome anytime soon. But once it does, Tyrannical will gain the ability to describe whole dynamic layouts instead of "just" its tag.

Tag model

Tyrannical turn awful.rule upside down. Instead of having to define rules for specific classes or matches, you define an array of tags, each with their own set of properties and rules. When a new client will arrive, it will be matched with a set of tags without any client specific configuration.

All tags can have one "current" state:

  • inclusive: The default state. All new clients will be allowed
  • exclusive: Clients have be part of the allowed classes to be added
  • locked: No new clients will be allowed in the tag
  • fallback: If a client cannot be added to the current tag, then it will go there

These rules are bypassed by intrusive clients. In that case, the client will be allowed no matter what. If there is no fallback tag and the client cannot be added to an existing tag, then a new one will be created with the client class as name. If the tag is set to volatile, then it will be destroyed when the last client is closed. If set to init, it will be present by default even if there is nothing in it.

Client properties model

Tyrannical offer a bunch of dynamic table for each properties (see below). When a class is present in one of those table, clients will be assigned the properties from the table name. For example, if you add Firefox to tyrannical.properties.floating, then it will float by default. Specific values can also to other value by using the class name as table key:

tyrannical.properties.maximized = {
    amarok = false,

Focus model

Tyrannical focus model is very fine tuned. It is possible to add rules on how the focus will be attributes to clients and tags.

block_children_focus_stealing: This is a fancy X11 name for something very common: modal dialogs and popups. If this is set to true, then a dialog wont be able to steal the focus from whatever your doing. This is useful for some misbehaving apps such as Firefox that can decide to show an update popup at the worst possible moment.

group_children: While not directly related to focus, when using with no_focus_stealing_out, it allow new "children" clients to silently be added to their "parent" tag. A good taglist widgets such as Radical can take care of notifying the user without disturbing your workflow.

no_focus_stealing_in: When a new client is added to a tag with no_focus_stealing_in set to true, then the tag wont be selected and the current one will be kept.

no_focus_stealing_out: Similar to no_focus_stealing_in. If a tag enable this, then the tag will stay selected no matter what event happen. This is useful for video games and video players.

no_autofocus: When a class has this flag, then new clients wont be focused when they are launched. This is useful for download managers or background terminals tasks.


This is how to install Tyrannical for Awesome 4.X:

mkdir -p ~/.config/awesome
cd ~/.config/awesome
git clone https://github.com/Elv13/tyrannical.git

Awesome 3.5 users should fetch the version 1.0.0.

Then either use the sample rc.lua or upgrade your existing one.


If you previously used Shifty, you will feel comfortable using Tyrannical. The only difference is that in Tyrannical class matching is integrated into the tag configuration section. More advanced rules can be created using awful.rules. Again, Tyrannical was not created to duplicate awful, but to make dynamic (and static, as a side effect) tagging configuration easier. This module doesn't require any major initialisation. Compared to shifty, it is much more transparent.

The first modification is to include the module at the top of your rc.lua (after awful.rules = require("awful.rules")):

local tyrannical = require("tyrannical")
--require("tyrannical.shortcut") --optional

Then this line has to be removed:

awful.tag({ "1", "2", "3", "4", "5", "6", "7", "8", "9" }, s, awful.layout.layouts[1])

And this added outside of the awful.screen.connect_for_each_screen section:

tyrannical.tags = {
        name        = "Term",                 -- Call the tag "Term"
        init        = true,                   -- Load the tag on startup
        exclusive   = true,                   -- Refuse any other type of clients (by classes)
        screen      = {1,2},                  -- Create this tag on screen 1 and screen 2
        layout      = awful.layout.suit.tile, -- Use the tile layout
        instance    = {"dev", "ops"},         -- Accept the following instances. This takes precedence over 'class'
        class       = { --Accept the following classes, refuse everything else (because of "exclusive=true")
            "xterm" , "urxvt" , "aterm","URxvt","XTerm","konsole","terminator","gnome-terminal"
    } ,
        name        = "Internet",
        init        = true,
        exclusive   = true,
      --icon        = "~net.png",                 -- Use this icon for the tag (uncomment with a real path)
        screen      = screen.count()>1 and 2 or 1,-- Setup on screen 2 if there is more than 1 screen, else on screen 1
        layout      = awful.layout.suit.max,      -- Use the max layout
        class = {
            "Opera"         , "Firefox"        , "Rekonq"    , "Dillo"        , "Arora",
            "Chromium"      , "nightly"        , "minefield"     }
    } ,
        name        = "Files",
        init        = true,
        exclusive   = true,
        screen      = 1,
        layout      = awful.layout.suit.tile,
        exec_once   = {"dolphin"}, --When the tag is accessed for the first time, execute this command
        class  = {
            "Thunar", "Konqueror", "Dolphin", "ark", "Nautilus","emelfm"
    } ,
        name        = "Develop",
        init        = true,
        exclusive   = true,
        screen      = 1,
        layout      = awful.layout.suit.max                          ,
        class ={
            "Kate", "KDevelop", "Codeblocks", "Code::Blocks" , "DDD", "kate4"}
    } ,
        name        = "Doc",
        init        = false, -- This tag wont be created at startup, but will be when one of the
                             -- client in the "class" section will start. It will be created on
                             -- the client startup screen
        exclusive   = true,
        layout      = awful.layout.suit.max,
        class       = {
            "Assistant"     , "Okular"         , "Evince"    , "EPDFviewer"   , "xpdf",
            "Xpdf"          ,                                        }
    } ,

-- Ignore the tag "exclusive" property for the following clients (matched by classes)
tyrannical.properties.intrusive = {
    "ksnapshot"     , "pinentry"       , "gtksu"     , "kcalc"        , "xcalc"               ,
    "feh"           , "Gradient editor", "About KDE" , "Paste Special", "Background color"    ,
    "kcolorchooser" , "plasmoidviewer" , "Xephyr"    , "kruler"       , "plasmaengineexplorer",

-- Ignore the tiled layout for the matching clients
tyrannical.properties.floating = {
    "MPlayer"      , "pinentry"        , "ksnapshot"  , "pinentry"     , "gtksu"          ,
    "xine"         , "feh"             , "kmix"       , "kcalc"        , "xcalc"          ,
    "yakuake"      , "Select Color$"   , "kruler"     , "kcolorchooser", "Paste Special"  ,
    "New Form"     , "Insert Picture"  , "kcharselect", "mythfrontend" , "plasmoidviewer"

-- Make the matching clients (by classes) on top of the default layout
tyrannical.properties.ontop = {
    "Xephyr"       , "ksnapshot"       , "kruler"

-- Force the matching clients (by classes) to be centered on the screen on init
tyrannical.properties.placement = {
    kcalc = awful.placement.centered

tyrannical.settings.block_children_focus_stealing = true --Block popups ()
tyrannical.settings.group_children = true --Force popups/dialogs to have the same tags as the parent client

Then edit this section to fit your needs.

The available tag properties are:
Property Description Type
class Match these classes to this tag array of string
instance Match these instances to this tag. ★ array of string
exclusive Allow only client from the "class" attributes boolean
exec_once Execute when the tag is first selected string (command)
force_screen Force a screen boolean
hide Hide this tag from view boolean
icon Tag icon path
init Create when awesome launch boolean
layout The tag layout layout
master_width_factor Tiled layout master/slave ratio float(0-1)
column_count Number of columns number
master_count Number of master clients number
no_focus_stealing_in Do not select this tag when a new client is added boolean
no_focus_stealing_out Do not unselect when a new client is added elsewhere boolean
screen Tag screen(s) number or array
selected Select when created boolean
volatile Destroy when the last client is closed boolean
fallback Use this tag for unmatched clients boolean
locked Do not add any more clients to this tag boolean
max_clients Maximum number of clients before creating a new tag number or func
onetimer Once deleted, this tag cannot be created again boolean

★Takes precedence over class

See: http://new.awesomewm.org/apidoc/classes/tag.html

The available client properties are:

Note that every property can also be a function. In that case it has a client as the first parameter and the property array as the second. It must return a value with a compatible type. Those properties are directly converted into awful.rules.

Property Description Type
above Display above other clients boolean
below Display below other clients boolean
border_color Change client default border color* string
border_width Change the client border width number
placement Center the client on the screen at launch awful.placement
floating Make the client floating or insert into layout boolean
focusable Allow focus boolean
fullscreen Cover the whole screen boolean
hidden Hide this client (minimize) boolean
intrusive Ignore tag "exclusive" property boolean
maximized_horizontal Cover all horizontal space boolean
maximized_vertical Cover all vertical space boolean
ontop Display on top of the normal layout layer boolean
skip_taskbar Do not add to tasklist boolean
sticky Display in all tags boolean
master Open a client as master (bigger) boolean
slave Open a client as slave (smaller) boolean
no_autofocus Do not focus a new instance boolean
tag Asign to a pre-existing tag object tag/array/string
tags Asign to a pre-existing tag object array
new_tag Do not focus a new instance boolean or array
callback A function returning an array or properties function

*Need default rc.lua modifications in the "client.connect_signal('focus')" section


The available global settings are:
Property Description Type
block_children_focus_stealing Prevent popups from stealing focus boolean
default_layout The default layout for tags layout
group_children Add dialogs to the same tags as their parent client boolean
master_width_factor The default master/slave ratio float (0-1)
force_odd_as_intrusive Make all non-normal (dock, splash) intrusive boolean
no_focus_stealing_out Do not unselect tags when a new client is added boolean
favor_focused Prefer the focused screen to the screen property boolean

It's worth noting that some settings like master_width_factor and default_layout should be set before the tag arrow. Otherwise they wont take effect at startup.

favor_focused Is enabled by default for tags created after startup for convinience. Use force_screen or tyrannical.settings.favor_focused = false to do otherwise.


Is it possible to add, remove and move tags?

Yes, this feature is now part of awful. It does not require an external module anymore. Awful's dynamic tag implementation is compatible with Tyrannical. See the API and this user contribution

How do I get a client class?

From a terminal, execute xprop, then click on an instance of that client. There will be a "CLASS" line with one or more class. Always pick the second one, Tyrannical is not case sensitive.

Is it possible to have relative indexes (position) for tags?

Tyrannical shares awful's tag list. It does not keep its own indexes since this would make it harder to implement this feature in the core. Given that, this feature is outside the project scope. That being said, nothing prevents you from adding a "position" property to the tag. Once this is done, edit the default rc.lua keybindings to find the position by looping the tags. In case the tag is not yet created, you can access it with tyrannical.tags_by_name["your tag name"] array. This array is automatically generated. You can then add it using awful.tag.add(tyrannical.tags_by_name["your tag name"].name,tyrannical.tags_by_name["your tag name"]). Tyrannical's purpose is not to duplicate or change awful.tag behavior, it is simply a configuration wrapper.

Is it possible to change the layout when adding a new client?

Yes and no. There is a workaround using a max_clients callback. This function has to return a number of clients for a given tag, but can also be used to alter them. The function take a client as first parameter and a possible tag as the second. Returning 0 will always force a new tag to be created. Returning nil will allow the client into that tag. This function switch between tile and magnifier:

local function aero_or_magnifier(c,tag)
    local count = #match:clients() + 1 --The client is not there yet
    if count == 2 then
        tag.layout = awful.layout.suit.tile
        tag.master_width_factor = 0.5
        tag.layout = awful.layout.suit.magnifier
    return 5 -- Use a maximum of 5 clients

Is it possible to directly launch clients in the current tag or a new one?

This feature is mostly available for Awesome 3.5.3+, 3.5.6+ is recommanded. Tyrannical will use the "startup notification" field in clients that support it to track a spawn request. Some applications, such as GVim and XTerm, doesn't support this. URxvt, Konsole and Gnome terminal does.

Here are some example:

-- Spawn in a new tag

-- Or for more advanced use case, you can use a full tag definition too
awful.spawn("urxvt",{ new_tag= {
   name = "MyNewTag",
   exclusive = true,

-- Spawn in the current tag, floating and on top
awful.spawn(terminal,{intrusive=true, floating=true, ontop=true})

-- Spawn in an existing tag (assume `my_tag` exist)
-- Note that `tag` can also be an array of tags or a function returning
-- an array of tags

For Awesome 3.5.6+, it is possible to replace the default mod4+r keybinding with a more powerful one:

awful.key({ modkey }, "r",
    function ()
        awful.prompt.run({ prompt = "Run: ", hooks = {
            {{         },"Return",function(command)
                local result = awful.spawn(command)
                mypromptbox[mouse.screen].widget:set_text(type(result) == "string" and result or "")
                return true
            {{"Mod1"   },"Return",function(command)
                local result = awful.spawn(command,{intrusive=true})
                mypromptbox[mouse.screen].widget:set_text(type(result) == "string" and result or "")
                return true
            {{"Shift"  },"Return",function(command)
                local result = awful.spawn(command,{intrusive=true,ontop=true,floating=true})
                mypromptbox[mouse.screen].widget:set_text(type(result) == "string" and result or "")
                return true
        awful.util.getdir("cache") .. "/history")

When using this, instead of pressing Return to spawn the application, you can use Alt+Return to launch it as an intrusive client. You can add more sections to support more use case (such as Shift+Return to launch as floating as shown above)

Can I alter the client properties based on runtime criterias?

Yes, everytime Tyrannical consider a client, it will call the callback function. This function can return an array or properties that will have precedence over any properties set by rules. The only limitation of this system is that the callback function need to be synchronious. So long bash commands will cause Awesome to block until the result is parsed.

Is it possible to match clients based on properties other than class or instance?

Yes, but not directly. You need to create a new awful.rule that overrides the class property and then match that to your tag:

awful.rules.rules = {
--default stuff here,
    rule = { class = "URxvt", name = "dev"  },
    callback = function(c)
        c.overwrite_class = "urxvt:dev"

This example changes the class of URxvt with name "dev" from "urxvt" to "urxvt:dev" which then can be matched to a tag.

For more information on possible properties look at Awful Rules or API

What is Tyrannical license?

Tyrannical is licensed under the 2 clause BSD