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Xlib window manager (at one time based on tinywm, but SmallWM has long outgrown it)
C++ Makefile C
Latest commit b6fc626 Dec 26, 2015 @adamnew123456 Add nofocus
*nofocus* is a modification to certain classes of windows which prevents
them from being focused automatically - the only way to give them the input
focus is by clicking on them. This prevents accidentally moving/resizing
things like system trays or clocks.

- `nofocus` is now a class action, which enables this behavior for a
  given class of windows.
- `ClientModel` has been augmented to store which windows are/are not
  autofocusable. It also allows the focus to be forced, which is useful
  when clicking on windows.
- Added tests to `ClientModel` as well as `WMConfig` ensure that the
  modifications work.


What is SmallWM?

SmallWM is an extended version of TinyWM, made for actual desktop use. This is the newest version, rewritten in C++ - you can checkout the legacy branch if you want to use the old C version.

Improvements over TinyWM

  • Window Iconification
  • Window Layering
  • Click-To-Focus (Focus Is Indicated By Colored Borders) and Focus Cycling
  • Moving/Resizing Placeholders
  • Multiple Virtual Desktops (With Window Sticking)
  • Window Snapping
  • Class Actions


Note that these are the default controls - one of the improvements of the C++ port is that it SmallWM now supports configurable keybindings. See the Configuration for details on how to setup keybindings. The only non-configurable key bindings are the ones that involve clicking the mouse, and the Super+1 ... Super+9 bindings.


  • Super+[: Move a client to the previous desktop (client-prev-desktop).
  • Super+]: Move a client to the next desktop (client-next-desktop).
  • Super+,: Swicth to the previous desktop (prev-desktop).
  • Super+.: Switch to the next desktop (next-desktop).
  • Super+\: Sticks/unsticks a window; a stuck window is shown on all desktops (toggle-stick).


  • Super+h: Iconifies the current client (iconify).
  • Super+m: Maximizes the current client (maximize).
  • Super+c, Requests the current client to close (request-close).
  • Super+x: Force-closes the current client (force-close).
  • Super+Up, Super+Down, Super+Left, Super+Right: Snaps a window to either the top-half, bottom-half, left-half or right-half of the screen.
    • snap-top, snap-bottom, snap-left, snap-right
  • Super+Ctrl+Up, Super+Ctrl+Down, ...: Moves a window to the screen in the relative direction of the arrow key. Note that the window will keep its maximized/split status.
    • screen-top, screen-bottom, screen-left, screen-right
  • Super+PageUp, Super+PageDown: Increments or decrements the layer of this client.
    • layer-above, layer-below
  • Super+Home, Super+End: Puts a client on the topmost or bottommost layer.
    • layer-top, layer-bottom
  • Super+Tab: Focuses the next visible client; note that, on occasion, SmallWM will focus a window which is not actually visible - in this case, just keep cycling until another visible window is chosen (cycle-focus).
  • Super+LClick: Dragging the left mouse button starts moving a window - to place it, let go.
  • Super+RClick: Dragging the right mouse button starts resizing a window - to scale it, let go.
  • Super+1 ... Super+5 ... Super+9: These change the layer to the specified value (1, 5, or 9 respectively, in this example)


  • Super+LClick: Left-clicking the root window launches a new terminal.
  • Super+Escape: Quits SmallWM.


As a dependency, you'll need to have access to the headers for Xlib and XRandR. You should be able to easily obtain these via your package manager. You'll also need a C++ compiler - GNU G++ and clang++ work well.

Other than the dependencies, the Makefile contains everything you need to build and test SmallWM.

  • make compiles a version with symbols useful for debugging. Note that there is no optimized build - if you want an optimized version, open the Makefile and change -g to -O3 in CXXFLAGS.

For modifying SmallWM, the other target that you should be aware of is make check which compiles everything but does no linking. This is useful for incremental building to track compiler errors in source files.


Typically, the easiest place to put the smallwm binary is in /usr/local/bin.

If you want to run SmallWM from your login manager, you should put a file like the following in /usr/share/xsessions/smallwm.desktop:

[Desktop Entry]

Inside the script /usr/local/bin/, you should enter something like the following (my personal launch script is more complicated than what follows, because mine contains options to allow me to run SmallWM under GDB server or via valgrind):

if [ -x $HOME/.smallwmrc ]; then
    $HOME/.smallwmrc &

exec /usr/local/bin/smallwm

At this point, you may choose to write a .smallwmrc file to start any programs you wish to run for the duration of your session. Note that SmallWM does not include a process manager to handle session programs (unlike say, XFCE, which will restart components like the panel or the desktop if they crash). I use a tool I wrote myself, called jobmon, to manage my system tray and other programs, but you are free to choose whatever process manager you like, since SmallWM doesn't care about it.


The C++ version follows a similar configuration file format to the original C version, but with some extended options. It should be placed at $HOME/.config/smallwm.

For example:


The options in the [smallwm] section are (in order):

  • The shell launched by Super+LClick (default: xterm). This can be any syntax supported by /bin/sh.
  • The number of desktops (default: 5).
  • The width in pixels of icons (default: 75).
  • The height in pixels of icons (default: 20).
  • The width of the border of windows (default: 4).
  • Whether to (1) or not to (0) show application icons inside icon windows (default: 1).
  • The severity of logging messages to send to syslog. By default, this is WARNING. See syslog(3) for the other log levels.
  • What window to apply hotkeys like MINIMIZE to - this can be either focus (which means that the currently focused window is acted upon) or mouse (which means that the window under the cursor is acted upon). The default is mouse, since that was the only behavior available in SmallWM until recently.

The options in the [actions] section are covered next, and then the [keyboard] section after that.


X has the notion of an application "class" which is supposed to be a unique identifier for a window which belongs to a particular application. For example, there is a popular system tray called stalonetray which I use personally to manage status notifiers (like for NetworkManager, Dropbox, and the like). A quick xprop of the window shows that its class name is stalonetray.

The example given in the Configuration section shows how to stick any window belonging to stalonetray and layer it on top of all other applictation windows. Generally speaking, any number of these class actions can be chained together by separating them with commas.

The possibilities for a class action are:

  • stick makes a particular window stick to all the desktops.
  • maximize maximizes that window.
  • layer:x sets the layer of the window to x where x is a number in the range 1 to 9; 9 is the highest layer, 1 is the lowest.
  • snap:left, snap:right, snap:top, snap:bottom snap the window to the relevant side of the screen.
  • xpos:X and ypos:Y set the relative position of the window on the screen. X and Y are decimals in the range 0 to 100, inclusive. For example, setting xpos:50 puts the window's left edge in the middle of the screen (because xpos:50 is equivalent to saying that the X position should be 50 percent of the screen's width).
  • nofocus prevents SmallWM from automatically focusing windows of the given class. This is useful for windows like system trays, clocks, or other utility windows that you don't want to manipulate by accident. SmallWM will not focus this window after moving it or resizing it; SmallWM will also not focus this window when another is closed, or when switching virtual desktops.

Keyboard Bindings

Starting with the C++ rewrite, keyboard bindings in SmallWM are almost entirely (except for Super+1 ... Super+9) configurable. The mechanism isn't that sophisticated, however, so make sure that you have a copy of /usr/include/X11/keysymdef.h or an equivalent file open.

In order to bind a key, you first have to know the name of the "keysym" that the key uses. To do this, search keysymdef.h for your key - the keysym name is the first word after the #define. The text that you put in the configuration file is the keysym name but with the leading XK_ removed. For example, take toggle-stick=asciitilde in the example configuration file. This binds the toggle-stick action to the XK_asciitilde keysym.

The following options can be set under the [keyboard] section to configure SmallWM's keyboard bindings. Their meanings should be fairly obvious - if not, go to the list of default bindings and see what each of these bindings mean.

  • client-next-desktop, client-prev-desktop
  • next-desktop, prev-desktop
  • toggle-stick
  • iconify
  • maximize
  • request-close
  • force-close
  • snap-top, snap-bottom, snap-left, snap-right
  • layer-above, layer-below, layer-top, layer-bottom
  • cycle-focus
  • exit-wm

Note the key binding given for snap-right in the example - the ! that prefixes the 'a' is used to indicate that this key bindings uses a secondary modifier key (Ctrl, by default) - that is, in order to activate snap-left, you need to press Super+Ctrl+a rather than just Super+a. Only the key bindings used to move windows between screens use this by default.


  • Support for the EWMH and the _NET* atoms


  • Nick Welch, the original TinyWM author.
  • Myself (Adam Marchetti
  • The author(s) of the inih library.
  • Possibly, you - assuming you make any useful changes and I accept your pull request. Refactorings are welcome, as are those who are actually knowledgeable about Xorg and could spot any obvious mistakes.


SmallWM was migrated to the 2-Clause BSD License on 2013-11-18. See LICENSE.txt for details.

The inih code, included as a part of SmallWM, is available under the New BSD License. See inih/LICENSE.txt for details.

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