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🏃 Small python script to focus or launch program under X server
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LICENSE Phrasing Jan 25, 2020


Small script to focus or launch program under X server.


I was annoyed with GNOME 3 inability to define a keyboard shortcut doing the following:

  • attempt focus on a window for program, on current desktop, if any
  • launch the program as a fallback

I ended up with this small script that does the trick.

For more context, read the accompanying blog post.

General Usage

$ focus-or-launch --app-class <window-class> --app-launch-command '<launch-command>'
argument description
--app-class The program's window X window class
--app-launch-command The command to run to launch the program

Finding out the window class of a program

To find out the X window class of a window, run xprop in a terminal and then click on the window.

Search for the value of WM_CLASS(STRING).

In should be in the form "program", "Program".

You should then use the value program.Program as the argument for focus-or-launch.



$ focus-or-launch --app-class emacs.Emacs --app-launch-command 'emacsclient -c -a ""'

To declare a shortcut in GNOME 3, go to Settings > Keyboard Shortcuts, all the way down and click on the + to add a custom shortcut.



  • python 3
  • wmctrl
  • xdotool

Implementation details

wmctrl is used to determine the list of windows for current desktop.

xdotool is used to list the windows for a given class.

They share the same id system for windows (property WM_TRANSIENT_FOR(WINDOW) as returned by xprop).

I also explored using commands xwininfo -root -children, xlsclients -l but they seemed to be using another id (property WM_CLIENT_LEADER(WINDOW) in xprop).

With xprop -id <window_id>, window_id being either one of the 2 id system, we could join the results.

But this is cumbersome and not necessary for our use-case.


Similar projects

There is a a script on the fluxbox wiki (at the end of the page) that relies solely on xdotool but I assume it does not distinguish between desktops.

StackOverflow user desgua shared another implementation.

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