Python based tools for i3 users and developers
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Latest commit 27f88a6 Jun 20, 2012

What is i3?

Well, from i3's website itself:

i3 is a tiling window manager, completely written from scratch. The target platforms are GNU/Linux and BSD operating systems, our code is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) under the BSD license. i3 is primarily targeted at advanced users and developers.

i3-py contains tools for i3 users and Python developers. To avoid the confusion, I'll be refering to i3 as i3-wm from here on.


pip install i3-py
# OR/AND (for Python 2.x)
pip2 install i3-py

Run examples

See examples/ and their README.


The basics

The communication with i3-wm is through sockets. There are 7 types of messages:

  • command (0)
  • get_workspaces (1)
  • subscribe (2)
  • get_outputs (3)
  • get_tree (4)
  • get_marks (5)
  • get_bar_config (6)

You can control i3-wm with command messages. Other message types return information about i3-wm without changing its behaviour.

Subscribe offers 2 event types (read: changes) to subscribe for:

  • workspace (0)
  • output (1)

There are various ways to do this with Let's start with...

Sending commands

This is best explained by an example. Say you want to switch a layout from the current one to tabbed. Here's how to do it:

import i3
success = i3.layout('tabbed')
if success:
    print('Successfully changed layout of the current workspace.')

Each command is just a function which accepts any number of parameters. formats this function and its parameters into a message to i3-wm.

None of these functions are actually implemented. checks each attribute as it is accessed. If it exists in the module, it returns that attribute. Otherwise it creates a function on the fly. Calling that function sends a message to i3-wm, based on the name of the attribute and its parameters.

container criteria

These dynamic functions also take keyword arguments which specify container criteria. So if you want to focus a particular window, you can do it like so:

i3.focus(title="window title")

Other message types

OK, command is one type of message, but what about the other ones? Well, they have to be accessed in a bit different way. You see, when we changed the layout to tabbed, we didn't have to say that it's a command type of message. But for other types we'll have to specify the name of the type.

So, getting a list of workspaces (and displaying them) is as simple as this:

import i3
workspaces = i3.get_workspaces()
for workspace in workspaces:

If the attribute you accessed is an existing message type, then the resulting function sends a message as a parameter. In fact, we could change the current layout to stacked like so:

import i3
i3.command('layout', 'stacking')

This works for all message types. Actually, if you want to get even lower, there's this function:

import i3
i3.msg(<message type>, <message>)

A message type can be in other formats, as an example here are the alternatives for get_outputs: GET_OUTPUTS, '3', 3 is case insensitive when it comes to message types. This also holds true for accessing non-existent attributes, like i3.GeT_OuTpUtS().

Convenience functions

Since all returned data is in a form of a dictionary or list, some convenience function have been written to effectively work with the data.


i3.container will take keyword arguments and formats them into i3-wm's syntax for container criteria. The resulting string can be used in i3.msg. Example:

i3.container(title="abc", con_id=123) # returns '[title="abc" con_id="123"]'

This function is also used internally for dynamic methods.


Some calls to i3 will return a huge amount of data, namely i3.get_tree. It can be quite stressful to find what you want in such large dictionary. i3-py provides this convenience function that will filter the given tree:


The above would get you all unfocused nodes in the tree. One useful thing would be to get a list of focused windows. Since windows are just leaf nodes (that is, nodes without sub-nodes), you can do this:

i3.filter(nodes=[], focused=True)

You can also supply your own tree with tree keyword argument.

Lets continue to more advanced stuff...

Subscribing to events

Say you want to display information about workspaces whenever a new workspaces is created. There's a function for that called subscribe:

import i3

Workspace is one of the two event types. The other one is output, which watches for output changes.

Just displaying the list of workspaces isn't very useful, we want to actually do something. Because of that, you can define your own subscription:

import i3

def my_function(event, data, subscription):
    <do something based on the event and data received>
    if <enough of this, let's end subscription>:

subscription = i3.Subscription(my_function, 'workspace')

There are more parameters available for Subscription class, but some are too advanced for what has been explained so far.

NOTE: Everything in i3-py project contains a doc string. You can get help about any feature like so:

import i3

Okay, so now let's move to some of the more lower-level stuff...


Sockets are created with the help of i3.Socket class. The class has the following parameters, all of them optional:

  • path of the i3-wm's socket
  • timeout in seconds when receiving the message
  • chunk size in bytes of a single chunk that is send to i3-wm
  • magic string, that i3-wm checks for (it is "i3-ipc")

The path, if not provided, is retrieved via this unmentioned function:


The most common-stuff methods of an i3.Socket object are connect, close and msg(msg_type, payload=''). Example of usage:

import i3
socket = i3.Socket()
response = socket.msg(`command`, `focus right`)

To check if socket has been closed use the socket.connected property. There's even more lower-level stuff, like packing and unpacking the payload, sending it and receiving it... See the docs for these.


There are three exceptions:

  • i3.MessageTypeError, raised when you use unavailable message type
  • i3.EventTypeError, raised when you use unavaible event type
  • i3.MessageError, raised when i3 sends back an error (the exception contains that error string)

If you want to get the list of available ones from Python, use i3.MSG_TYPES and i3.EVENT_TYPES.

Okay, that's all for now. Some stuff has been left out, so be sure to check the docs via Python's help function.


Author: Jure Žiberna
License: GNU GPL 3


  • i3 window manager and its author Michael Stapelberg
  • Nathan Middleton and his i3ipc and its current maintainer David Bronke. The existing project was used as a reference on how to implement sockets in Python. i3-py fixed some of the critical bugs that i3ipc contains and added more high-level features in addition to lower-level ones.


i3-py was tested with Python 3.2.2 and 2.7.2.


  • i3-wm
  • Python