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Minimalistic launcher/desktop switcher with searchable command history and search within commands. Uses Dmenu. (Written in OCaml and also uses Wmctrl.)
OCaml Shell
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Bringer is a utility that acts as a program launcher and desktop switcher for Linux. It occupies no screen space and only appears when it is invoked (typically by a keyboard shortcut of the window manager or desktop environment). While its appearance is simple, its features are powerful:

  • All commands in the user's path are presented and can be picked by substring search or arrow keys.

  • All commands the user entered (including commands with arguments, like "emacs myFavoriteFile" of "vi myFavoriteFile") are remembered in a file ("~/.bringerHistory"), and presented on a most-frequently-used basis. They too can be picked by substring search or arrow keys.

  • At the top of all choices, the desktops are presented with descriptions of their windows. They too can be picked by substring search or arrow keys.

  • Bringer also displays the date and time whenever it is invoked

Bringer is optimized for tiling window managers, because the switching is between desktops, not between windows. Still, it may also be useful for "normal" (i.e. stacking or compositing) window managers.

The order of the desktops is based on the windows they contain, not on the desktops' integer numbers. This is to keep the ordering stable. For example, on my machine the desktop containing chromium is always the topmost, so I could switch to chromium without looking at the screen. For the same reason, if a desktop contains several windows, those are sorted alphabetically by the underlying command (not by the title, because that might change during a window's life). The leftmost window in the display line for a desktop is the most significant one when it comes to ordering the desktops. The overall effect of these sorting measures is this: if one closes all windows and then starts all those applications again, bringer's desktop overview will look precisely as before.

The current desktop is marked by an asterisk.

After the desktop lines follow the entries from the command history. The top one (and thereby the most frequently used) also has the date and time displayed to the right of it. Below the history entries follows a wide separator of the form "---...---". Below that follow the commands from the path.

For details about searching and picking entries, see the manual of dmenu.

More features

The extra features come in the form of "suffix commands", which start with the character ! after the selected entry:

  • Delete an unwanted history entry: use the TAB key to select the unwanted history entry. Append the two characters !d to it, and press ENTER. This deletes all occurrences of the entry from the history file. This command loops, that is, bringer is invoked again after deleting a history line. The rationale for looping is this: normally, one invokes bringer to switch between desktops or launch. While doing so, one sometimes realizes that the history is cluttered with unwanted entries. One wants to delete those entries as one goes along, but keep the focus on the original action. To help with this, the !d command loops.

  • Close an off-screen window: use the TAB key to select the desktop from which you want to delete a window. Append !c followed by the window's index within its desktop. The leftmost window has index 0. No index means 0. Press ENTER. This command loops for the same reason as the !d command.

  • Bring an off-screen window to the current desktop: use the TAB key to select the desktop that contains the window you want to bring to the current desktop. Append !b followed by the window's index within its desktop. No index means 0. Press ENTER.

  • Push the active (i.e. focused) window away to a chosen desktop: use the TAB key to select the desktop and press ENTER.


  • When choosing a keyboard shortcut for bringer, it is worth noting that RETURN and the arrow keys tend to be bringer's most frequently used keys: RETURN for invoking a choice, and the arrow keys for selecting a choice. So it is convenient to have the shortcut for bringer in the same keyboard region. CTRL + RETURN works very well.


  • Linux

  • The command-line tool "dmenu"

  • The command-line tool "wmctrl"

  • A window manager that works with wmctrl, see here. Instructions for xmonad are given further below.

  • An OCaml compiler, in particular ocamlbuild (don't be afraid though, it's really simple)

  • The OCaml library "ocaml-extlib"


In the root directory of the project, execute

ocamlbuild -cflags -I,+extlib -libs str,unix,extlib/extLib bringer.native

Or, in the unlikely case where you have no native compiler for your platform, execute

ocamlbuild -cflags -I,+extlib -libs str,unix,extlib/extLib bringer.byte

The executable you need to make a keyboard shortcut for is then "bringer.native" or "bringer.byte", respectively.

Remark: the "extlib" stands for the above-mentioned "Batteries".

If you use xmonad, it must be made EWMH-compatible by using

import XMonad.Hooks.EwmhDesktops

in your "xmonad.hs" and enabling it for example as follows:

main = do
    xmonad $ ewmh defaultConfig { ...


Bringer is configured by editing the file "" and recompiling (as described in the installation section). While the configuration file is written in OCaml, it is so simple and self-explanatory that it can be edited without knowledge of the language. (Thus we follow the approach of the window manager xmonad, which is written in Haskell, just like its configuration file.)

Currently, the only aspect that can be configured is the formatting of the human-readable description of a window. To see why this seems necessary, consider the following cases:

  • Suppose you launch "emacs myFavoriteFile". The title of the resulting window will be "emacs@hostname" (no mentioning of the file), so it is best to display the command instead.

  • Suppose you launch Eclipse. The command, at least on my machine, turns out to be "java hugeHorribleStringOfArguments". So it is best to display the window title instead.

Original motivation

When using Linux, I use the xmonad window manager. By default, xmonad offers dmenu and Gmrun for launching programs. In my setup, I used to add a task bar to see which applications are running and to switch between desktops. Dmenu is very slick but has no command history. Gmrun takes one or two more key presses, but has a command history, which is searchable. I wanted to deal with all those features (launching searchable commands, searchable command history, awareness of running applications and desktop switching) in such a way that the following conditions are met:

  • There should be only one utility, so that there is always one optimal choice for a particular action

  • No screen space should be used until the utility is invoked

  • In particular, when I need an application to run, I want the launcher to show me whether it is already running. To me this looks like a key feature that most launchers and desktop environments fail to understand. (Interestingly, the recent GnomeShell seems to address precisely this issue, although few reviewers seem to understand that.)

Future enhancements

See the items labeled "Feature" in the GitHub issue tracker.

Why is bringer written in OCaml?

  • First-class functions are a must for me, without them I feel like walking on one leg

  • The type system of ML-type languages is very powerful and safe, and at the same time nicely none-intrusive owing to automatic type inference.

  • So far, the same is true for Haskell. However, in my paid job in the .Net-world, I am considering to switch from C# to F#, which is a descendant of OCaml, so I get a boost from using the latter.

  • That might still leave F# on Mono. But referencing Mono is too heavy-weight for my liking, in particular for a small project.

  • I wrote the first version of bringer in Bash, which I soon despised. So I wondered how it would feel to use a high-level language instead. Porting bringer to OCaml served as my test. The result was that the code got a lot nicer, reusable, and more fun to work with. I would never go back to Bash for any program longer than a dozen lines. Admittedly, the OCaml code was about 20% longer than the Bash code (counting characters). This is mostly because Bash needs no boilerplate code to access operating-system functionality.

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