ShellTools is an applet for the Cinnamon Desktop that makes it trivial to add shell commands as a panel popup menu
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Quite simply, this applet generates a dynamic, auto updated popup menu like this:

ShellTools Applet activated Screenshot

from a simple config file like this:



CLICKTXT="terminology -T=Ports -e 'sudo tcptrack -i wlan0'"

LABELTXT="Send .mobi to Kindle"


LABELCMD=" wlan0"
CLICKTXT="terminology -T=NetworkStats -e watch vnstat -i wlan0 -d"

CLICKTXT="terminology -e tail -f /var/log/gogoc/gogoc.log"

LABELCMD=" H /home/abhishek/ D /media/data/abhishek M /media/truecrypt1/"
CLICKTXT="terminology -T=DiskFree -e watch df -h"




LABELCMD="TZ=US/Pacific date +'SFO: %a %b %-d, %I:%M %P'"

LABELCMD="TZ=US/Eastern date +'BOS: %a %b %-d, %I:%M %P'"

LABELCMD="TZ=Europe/London date +'LON: %a %b %-d, %I:%M %P'"


LABELTXT="Edit Tools"
CLICKCMD="echo gnome-open ${TOOLSFILE_IN}"


ShellTools is an applet for the Cinnamon Desktop that makes it trivial to add shell commands as a panel popup menu

I initially wrote the ShellTools applet as a way to learn writing applets for Cinnamon. It quickly became a very useful utility.

Install the applet as normal, add it to panel, and then click the applet icon in the panel. Select the "Edit Tools" menu option to start adding your own custom tools.

ShellTools recreates the menu each time the icon is clicked in the Cinnamon panel. It re-reads the list of tools from tools.ini when it builds the menu. So all you need to do to see any changes you made to the tools.ini, is to wait up to 15 seconds and then click the applet icon.

This allow quite a few fancy tricks. Read on.

Editing tools.ini

The sample tools.ini file included with applet demonstrates various ways of creating your own custom tools. It demonstrates eight different types of tool entries.

Going through each line in tools.ini (listed above):

  • Lines 2 & 3: These are the basic shortcut-like entries. Each entry is a 2-element JSON array. The first element is a string that will become the label of the corresponding menu item. The second element is the shell command to run when the entry is activated. Note that the shell command is spawned in a background process - if its a terminal-based application, you will see nothing.

  • Line 4: This is also a shortcut, but refers to a custom script that might be installed in the users PATH anywhere. It merely needs to be a valid script with a hash-bang header and execute permissions. Note again that this will be run in the background, so you won't see any console output if its a console app. The applet also adds its own appletdir/tools directory in the PATH before searching for commands, so any scripts placed there can also be run similarly.

  • Line 5: Inserts a "Separator" into the popup menu. This is simply a 1-element JSON array.

  • Line 6: This line defines an informational-only, dynamic item with output substitution. It is simply a 1-element JSON array, as it executes no commands. What marks it as a "non-interactive" entry is that its first character is "!". This "!" will be removed by the applet before setting up the menu, but it will cause the applet to make the particular entry "inactive". Next is another special character "~". This is a field separator for output substitution. Output substitution is a powerful function ShellTools offers that allows one to dynamically update the content of the menu label (or command) based on the output of a script. Each output substitution entry requires three fields delimited with ~.

    • The first field (here NETS) is a small identifier, preferably 4-6 characters long, all capitals. It is used by the applet to maintain state. It must be provided.

    • The second field (here empty) is a "notify command" and is optional. In this particular entry, notify command has not been used.

    • The third field (here wlan0) is the shell command whose output will be substituted. is a tool included with the applet that reports total network download and current download rates. wlan0 is the interface to be monitored

    Thus the entire output substitution entry is wlan0~. Note that the delimiter must be used at the beginning as well as end, not just between the fields.

    Note also that as this entry is marked as "informational only", by prefixing it with !, the second element is not needed.

  • Line 7: This is another informational item with output substitution. The difference between the previous entry and this one is that it also uses the notify function. As explained, the second field in the output substitution entry is the notify command. Here it is set to, which is an included tool.

  • Line 8: This is another output substitution entry but this one is an active item, not simply "informational". Thus, its a 2-element array, the second element defining the command to be run. It also demonstrates how simple command sequences can be included in the tools file itself without having to save a new bash script. This is only recommended for the very simplest of cases, though.

  • Line 9 is again a separator.

  • Lines 10,11,12: These entries are further examples of informational-only items. They show the local times in three different time zones. Note the use of echo -n here preceding the date command so that the entire output is generated on one line.

  • Line 14: Here, output substitution is used, not for the menu label text, but for the command text itself. The location of the tools file is inserted using a variable substitution. Note the use of echo here.

Writing your own tool

Writing your own tool is easy. A tool is simply a shell script, placed in the users path somewhere, or in the tools/ directory under the main applet directory (typically ~/.local/share/cinnamon/applets/ShellTools@abgoyal/).

The script may generate 1,2 or 3 lines of output. If it generates more, the 4th and subsequent lines are ignored. If it generates no output, you are doing it wrong.

The most general case is when the script generates three lines of output. In this case, the first line of output is the "notify state", the second line is "internal state" and the third line is the substitution text.

If the script outputs exactly two lines, the first line is used both as the notify state as well as the internal state. The second line is used as the substitution text.

If the script outputs exactly one line, this line is used as the notify state, internal state as well as the substitution text.

Notify state

notify state is simply a one-line opaque blob of text the script can output. This blob is saved by the applet without further processing. If on the next invocation of the script, the new notify state returned by the script is different, the applet calls the notify command, if defined. The applet passes the old and the new notify states to the notify command as environment variables named SHELLTOOLS_NOTIFYSTATE_OLD and SHELLTOOLS_NOTIFYSTATE respectively.

Internal state

internal state is also a one-line opaque blob of text. When the substitution command is run, the internal state is passed to it in the environment variable named SHELLTOOLS_STATE

Client script API

Client scripts, the ones referenced in, for example in the example above, have access to certain environment variables that they can use to get their work done

  • SHELLTOOLS_STATE: Provides the value of the internal state as set by the last run of the script.
  • SHELLTOOLS_DT: Provides the time in seconds between consequent executions of the client script. This might be useful for, e.g. averaging etc. uses it.

The following environment variables are also available but as these are essentially applet-internal variables, their use is discouraged.

  • APPLETDIR: The directory the applet has been installed in
  • TOOLSFILE_IN: The absolute filename of the file
  • TOOLSFILE_OUT: The absolute filename of the tools.json file
  • TOOLSDIR: The directory where the tool script live
  • STATEFILE: The absolute filename of the internal state file

Substitution text

This is the text that the applet will substitute in place of the substitution entry.

Do-es and Don'ts

  • Do not make your custom tools and command long running. For example, obtaining your externally visible IP using an api is a big no-no.
  • A line in the file must contain exactly zero or one output substitution entries. Not more.
  • Do not use ~ anywhere in the file except as a field separator for output substitution. Otherwise things will break.


  • Q: Why do this with bash?

    A: Minimizes dependencies. It would be a lot easier to do in python, but that would mean requiring python and various modules to be installed. Bash is essentially always present. Also bash is a much lighter process than python.

  • Q: Why not simply process in the Applet code itself?

    A: Multiple reason:

    • The entries in are bash scripts. Its a lot simpler to process them in Bash. There is no way to read output of a spawned bash script from inside an applet right now. Also, even if there were a way, it would require synchronous spawning, which would be dangerous in this context.
    • By spawning a single processing script ( in the background, we take it out of the applet critical path, thus reducing chances of taking down/blocking/slowing the applet or Cinnamon itself.
    • itself can be edited while developing, without having to reload the applet. The applet will just call the new version at the next update.


  • Add configuration option and right click menu
    • Configuration option for update frequency
    • Centrally Enable/Disable notifications without having to manually change alpha