Scripting for X Productivity

Bend X to your will with scripting tools, keyboard customizations and dialog boxes.
Finding Events

We explained how the numerical keycodes corresponding to extra keys can be remapped to mean other events, but how does one come to know them in the first place? The solution is the diagnostic tool xev, which opens an Event Tester window and reports in the original terminal everything that happens to that window. On the author's system, pressing the left Windows key returns (notice the keycode value and comments):

KeyRelease event, serial 23, synthetic NO, window
 root 0x46, subw 0x0, time 1108438536, (175,176),
 root:(627,425), state 0x40, keycode 115
 ↪(keysym 0xffeb,
 Super_L), same_screen YES, XLookupString gives
 ↪0 characters:

Last but not least, screenshots are necessary to show off your shell script GUIs, aren't they? Even in this case, plain X and ImageMagick suffice, without needing fancier front ends installed. The images for this article all were grabbed and converted to PNG format with the following standard commands, all properly documented in their man pages:

xwd -out temp_image -frame
xwdtopnm temp_image  > fig1.pnm
convert fig1.pnm fig1.png

The first command dumps the window selected with the cursor, frame included, into temp_image, and the second and the third convert that file first to “portable anymap”, then to PNG format. It goes without saying that these three commands may be inserted easily in a shell script that asks, through Xdialog, which to grab (screen or window) and in which file to save the result.


For many users, the standard, full-blown desktop environments have either too many features, which slow the PC down, or too few to fulfill their specific needs. The tools and techniques described here can help users greatly improve their productivity and also can be a lifesaver whenever the same PC is shared by CLI and mouse addicts.

Marco Fioretti is a hardware systems engineer interested in free software both as an EDA platform and (as the current leader of the RULE Project) as an efficient desktop. Marco lives with his family in Rome, Italy.


Articles about Digital Rights and more at CV, talks and bio at

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