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gpiokey - A GPIO-to-Keypress and Display Power Management Daemon for Raspberry Pi

The gpiokey utility is a daemon for use with Raspbian, intended to be launched from your X11 session manager's auto-start file. It performs two separate yet somewhat related functions:

  • Monitors a specified set of GPIO pins, converting state changes to key-down and key-up events.
  • Monitors X11 idle time (no input from the keyboard, mouse, or monitored GPIO pins), and turns off the display when idle.

System Requirements

The following libraries and utilities are used by gpiokey (some of these might already be installed by default):

  • libx11-6
  • libxss1
  • libxtst6
  • libraspberrypi-bin for the vcgencmd utility
  • WiringPi for the gpio utility

If you want to rebuild gpiokey from source, you will also need the following:

  • libx11-dev
  • libxss-dev
  • libxtst-dev


The gpiokey command should be launched from ~/.config/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart, or the equivalent if you're using a different window manager than LXDE. In any case, it shouldn't be launched until after your X11 session is up and running.

The command line syntax for gpiokey is as follows:

gpiokey [-b minutes] [-i keySym] [-n] [-h] { gpioPin [~] [+|-] keySym }

In the above, [] indicates optional items, {} indicates items that can be repeated zero or more times, and | means "either/or".

If the -b option is specified, followed by a positive integer between 1 and 10000, the screen will be blanked (powered down if supported by the monitor) after the specified number of minutes of idle time. Any keyboard, mouse, or GPIO input (as specified by later arguments) will reactivate the screen.

When a GPIO input becomes active while the system is idle and the screen is blank, the associated key event is sent, causing the screen to be reactivated, and causing the foreground application to respond to the key. The -i option can be used to specify an alternate key to send when in the idle state. For example, sending a left shift key (Shift_L) will wake up the screen without affecting the running application.

By default, gpiokey runs as a daemon. The invocation of the gpiokey command will return immediately, but the daemon will continue to run in the background. If the -n option is given, then gpiokey will remain in the foreground until you terminate it by pressing Ctrl+C.

The -h option displays a summary of the command line syntax.

GPIO Pin to Key Mapping

The remaining arguments specify zero or more GPIO pins to monitor for input and transform into keyboard events (whatever application is running in the foreground will think you have pressed the corresponding key on the keyboard).

Each pin is specified by two to four arguments as follows:

  • The gpioPin refers to the BCM GPIO pin number (not the non-standard WiringPi pin number, nor the physical pin number of the connector). Valid values are 0 to 31, although which pins are actually available depend on the Raspberry Pi model being used.

  • The optional character ~, if present, indicates that active-low logic is being used for this input (e.g., pressing a button produces a low input). If absent, active-high logic is assumed.

  • An optional + or - character, if present, indicates that the GPIO pin's internal pull-up or pull-down resistor respectively should be activated.

  • Finally, the keySym specifies the key to press when the corresponding input becomes active (and release when it becomes inactive). This can be either a single printable character, or a word describing a special key. The latter correspond to the XK_ definitions in /usr/include/X11/keysymdefs.h, with the XK_ prefix omitted. For example, Right refers to the right-arrow key, and Shift_L refers to the left shift key. To specify +, -, or ~ as the keySym, type the character twice so it is not misinterpreted as one of the optional arguments above (this is not necessary if both optional arguments are actually present).

Sample GPIO Setup

Consider a configuration with two normally open pushbuttons, one connected between GPIO 23 (physical pin 16) and ground (such as physical pin 20), and the other between GPIO 25 (physical pin 22) and ground. Pressing a button thus sends a low signal to the respective pin, so this is active-low logic. To ensure the pin is high when a button is not pressed, the internal pull-up resistors are required.

The following invocation of gpiokey supports the above scenario, with a 20 minute screen blanking timeout, and sends a left shift key if one of the buttons is pressed while the screen is blank:

gpiokey -b 20 -i Shift_L 23 ~ + Left 25 ~ + Right

More buttons corresponding to more keys can easily be added (up to 28 depending on the model of Raspberry Pi).


Port setup is done by gpiokey using WiringPi's gpio utility. This was done to avoid the need to run gpiokey with root privileges. If you are using a Raspberry Pi 3 or newer, you may need to manually install a compatible version of WiringPi from

Idle time determination is done using the XScreenSaverQueryInfo function of the libxss library.

Screen blanking and unblanking is done using the vcgencmd utility, invoked as vcgencmd display_power x, where x is 0 or 1 respectively.


Daemon to convert Raspberry Pi GPIO input state changes into X11 key-down and key-up events, and do display power management too.







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