herbstluftwm man page

herbstluftwm — a manual tiling window manager for X


herbstluftwm [OPTION ...]


Starts the herbstluftwm window manager on DISPLAY. It also listens for calls from herbstclient(1) and executes them. The list of available Commands is listed below.

OPTION can be:

-c, --autostart PATH

use PATH as autostart file instead of the one in $XDG_CONFIG_HOME

-v, --version

print version and exit

-l, --locked

Initially set the monitors_locked setting to 1


print verbose information to stderr

This manual documents the scripting and configuration interface. For a more verbose introduction see herbstluftwm-tutorial(7).

Tiling Algorithm

The basic tiling concept is that the layout is represented by a binary tree. On startup you see one big frame across the entire screen. A frame fulfills exactly one of the following conditions:

 1. Frame contains windows:

It shows some clients and arranges them. The current layout algorithms are:

  • 0: vertical - clients are placed below each other
  • 1: horizontal - clients are placed next to each other
  • 2: max - all clients are maximized in this frame
  • 3: grid - clients are arranged in an almost quadratic grid

 2. Frame is split into subframes:

It is split into exactly two subframes in a configurable fraction either in a vertical or horizontal way. So it produces two frames which fulfill the same conditions (new frames always are about to contain windows). If you split a frame that already contains windows, the windows are inherited by the first new child frame.

If a new window appears, it is put in the currently focused frame. Only the leaves of the frame tree can be focused.

A frame can be removed, it is then merged with its neighbour frame. Due to the layout structure of a binary tree, each frame (i.e. node in binary tree) has exactly one neighbour.

The analogy to a binary tree is explained the best way with a small example: On startup you have a simple binary tree, with one frame that can contain clients:


When splitting it (e.g. with the command split vertical 0.5) you will get this:

 / \
C   C

You also can split the left frame horizontally and you will get:

   / \
  H   C
 / \
C   C

If you change the focus to the client on the right and remove this frame, it will be merged with the left subtree and you will get:

 / \
C   C

The layout command prints the current layout of all tags as a tree.

Frame Index

The exact position of a frame in the layout tree may be described by its index which is just a string of characters. The lookup algorithm starts at the root frame and selects one of its two subtrees according to the each character in the index.

The characters are interpreted as follows:

Thus an empty string refers to the root frame, and "00" refers to the first subtree of the first subtree of the root frame.

As a special case, the string "@" always refers to the currently focused frame.


Tags are very similar to workspaces, virtual desktops or window groups. Each tag has one layout. There is a list of tags. You can add or remove tags dynamically.


Monitors in herbstluftwm are totally independent of the actual physical screens. This means you can for example split your screen in two virtual monitors to view two tags at once on a big screen.

Each monitor displays exactly one tag on a specified rectangle on the screen.

Each monitor may have a name, which can be set via add_monitor and rename_monitor. It can be unset with the rename_monitor command. A monitor name is an arbitrary non-empty string which must not start with +, - or any digit.

A monitor can be referenced in different ways:


herbstluftwm is controlled by internal commands, which can be executed via herbstclient(1) or via keybindings.


Quits herbstluftwm.


Executes the autostart file.


Prints the version of the running herbstluftwm instance.

echo [ARGS ...]

Prints all given ARGS separated by a single space and a newline afterwards.


Ignores all arguments and always returns success, i.e. 0.


Ignores all arguments and always returns failure, i.e. 1.


Lists all available commands.


List currently configured monitors with their index, area (as rectangle), name (if named) and currently viewed tag.


Lists all active rules. Each line consists of all the parameters the rule was called with, plus its label, separated by tabs.


Lists all bound keys with their associated command. Each line consists of one key combination and the command with its parameters separated by tabs.


Tabs within command parameters are not escaped!


Increases the monitors_locked setting. Use this if you want to do multiple window actions at once (i.e. without repainting between the single steps). See also: unlock


Decreases the monitors_locked setting. If monitors_locked is changed to 0, then all monitors are repainted again. See also: lock

keybind KEY COMMAND [ARGS ...]

Adds a key binding. When KEY is pressed, the internal COMMAND (with its ARGS) is executed. A key binding is a (possibly empty) list of modifiers (Mod1, Mod2, Mod3, Mod4, Mod5, Alt, Super, Control/Ctrl, Shift) and one key (see keysymdef.h for a list of keys). Modifiers and the key are concatenated with - or + as separator. If there is already a binding for this KEY, it will be overwritten. Examples:

  • keybind Mod4+Ctrl+q quit
  • keybind Mod1-i toggle always_show_frame
  • keybind Mod1-Shift-space cycle_layout -1
keyunbind KEY|-F|--all

Removes the key binding for KEY. The syntax for KEY is defined in keybind. If -F or --all is given, then all key bindings will be removed.


Adds a mouse binding for the floating mode. When BUTTON is pressed, the specified ACTION will be performed. BUTTON has a similar syntax to the KEY argument of keybind: It consists of a list of modifiers (separated by - or +, valid modifiers are listed in the description of keybind) and exactly one button name:

  • B1 or Button1
  • B2 or Button2
  • B3 or Button3
  • B4 or Button4
  • B5 or Button5

ACTION must be one of the following actions:

  • move: Moves the window by dragging the cursor.
  • resize: Resizes the window by dragging a corner.
  • zoom: Resizes the window into all four directions while keeping the center of the window constant.
  • call: Only calls the specified COMMAND while client.dragged links to the client on which the BUTTON has been performed.

While an ACTION is performed, client.dragged is the client which is dragged. E.g.:

  • mousebind Mod1-Button3 zoom
  • mousebind Mod1-B4 call substitute WID clients.dragged.winid spawn transset-df --inc -i WID 0.05
  • mousebind Mod1-B5 call substitute WID clients.dragged.winid spawn transset-df --dec -i WID -m 0.2 0.05

Removes all mouse bindings.


Spawns an EXECUTABLE with its ARGS. For details see man 3 execvp. Example:

  • spawn xterm -e man 3 execvp

Executes the WINDOWMANAGER with its ARGS. This is useful to switch the window manager in the running session without restarting the session. If no or an invalid WINDOWMANAGER is given, then herbstluftwm is restarted. For details see man 3 execvp. Example:

  • wmexec openbox

chain expects a SEPARATOR and a list of Commands with arguments. The commands have to be separated by the specified SEPARATOR. The SEPARATOR can by any word and only is recognized as the separator between commands if it exactly matches SEPARATOR. "chain" outputs the appended outputs of all commands and returns the exit code of the last executed command. Examples are:

  • Create a tag called "foo" and directly use it:

    chain , add foo , use foo

  • Rotate the layout clockwise:

    chain .-. lock .-. rotate .-. rotate .-. rotate .-. unlock

Counterexamples are:

  • This will only create a tag called "foo,":

    chain , add foo, use foo

  • Separator "." defined, but "," is used:

    chain . add foo , use foo

and SEPARATOR [Commands ...]

"and" behaves like the chain command but only executes the specified Commands while the commands return the exit code 0.

or SEPARATOR [Commands ...]

"or" behaves like the chain command but only executes the specified Commands until one command returns the exit code 0.


"!" executes the provided command, but inverts its return value. If the provided command returns a nonzero, "!" returns a 0, if the command returns a zero, "!" returns a 1.


"try" executes the provided command, prints its output, but always returns success, i.e. 0.

silent COMMAND

"silent" executes the provided command, but discards its output and only returns its exit code.

focus_nth INDEX

Focuses the nth window in a frame. The first window has INDEX 0. If INDEX is negative or greater than the last window index, then the last window is focused.

cycle [DELTA]

Cycles the selection within the current frame by DELTA. If DELTA is omitted, DELTA = 1 will be used. DELTA can be negative; DELTA = -1 means: cycle in the opposite direction by 1.

cycle_all [--skip-invisible] [DIRECTION]

Cycles through all windows and frames on the current tag. DIRECTION = 1 means forward, DIRECTION = -1 means backward, DIRECTION = 0 has no effect. DIRECTION defaults to 1. If there are multiple windows within on frame, then it acts similar to the cycle command. (The cycle_all command focuses the next/previous leave in the layout tree.). If --skip-invisible is given, then this only cycles through all visible windows and skips invisible windows in the max layout. The focused window is raised.

cycle_frame [DIRECTION]

Cycles through all frames on the current tag. DIRECTION = 1 means forward, DIRECTION = -1 means backward, DIRECTION = 0 has no effect. DIRECTION defaults to 1.

cycle_layout [DELTA [LAYOUTS ...]]

Cycles the layout algorithm in the current frame by DELTA. DELTA defaults to 1. You can find a list of layout algorithms above. If a list of LAYOUTS is given, cycle_layout will cycle through those instead of the default layout algorithm list. Each layout name should occur at most once. Example:

  • cycle_layout -1
  • cycle_layout 1 vertical grid
set_layout LAYOUT

Sets the layout algorithm in the current frame to LAYOUT. For the list of layouts, check the list of layout algorithms above.

close WINID

Closes the specified window gracefully or the focused window if none is given explicitly. See the section on Window Ids how to reference a certain window.


Closes the focused window or removes the current frame if no window is focused.


Splits the focused frame into two subframes with a specified FRACTION between 0 and 1 which defaults to 0.5. ALIGN is one of

  • top
  • bottom (= vertical)
  • left,
  • right (= horizontal)
  • explode
  • auto (split along longest side)

    It specifies which of the two halves will be empty after the split. The other half will be occupied by the currently focused frame. After splitting, the originally focuse frame will stay focused. One special ALIGN mode is explode, which splits the frame in such a way that the window sizes and positions are kept as much as possible. If no FRACTION is given to explode mode an optimal fraction is picked automatically. Example:

  • split explode
  • split bottom 0.5
  • split horiz 0.3
  • split vertical 0.5
  • split h
focus [-i|-e] DIRECTION

Moves the focus from current frame to the next frame or client in DIRECTION which is in:

  • l[eft]
  • r[ight]
  • u[p]
  • d[own]

If -i (internal) is given or default_direction_external_only is unset, then the next client in DIRECTION can also be within the same frame. If there is no client within this frame or -e (external) is given, then the next frame in specified DIRECTION will be focused.

The direction between frames is defined as follows: The focus is in a leaf of the binary tree. Each inner node in the tree remembers the last focus direction (child 0 or child 1). The algorithm uses the shortest possible way from the leaf (the currently focused frame) to the root until it is possible to change focus in the specified DIRECTION. From there the focus goes back to the leaf.

Example: The focus is at frame A. After executing focus right focus will be at frame C.

 Tree:  V,0     Screen: .-----..-----. (before)
        / \             |  B  ||  C  |
       /   \            '-----''-----'
     H,1   H,0          .-----..-----.
     / \   / \          |  A* ||  D  |
    A*  B C   D         '-----''-----'

 Tree:  V,0     Screen: .-----..-----. (after focus right)
        / \             |  B  ||  C* |
       /   \            '-----''-----'
     H,1   H,0          .-----..-----.
     / \   / \          |  A  ||  D  |
    A   B C*  D         '-----''-----'

If the currently focused client is floated, then the next floating window in the specified direction is focused and raised.
If focus_crosses_monitor_boundaries is set and no client or frame is found in the specified DIRECTION, then the next monitor in that DIRECTION is focused.

focus_edge [-i|-e] DIRECTION

Focuses the window on the edge of the tag in the specified DIRECTION. The DIRECTIONS and -e behave as specified at the focus command.

If -i (internal) is given or default_direction_external_only is unset, then the window on the edge of the tag will be focused. Else, only the frame on the edge of the tag will be focused, and the window that was last focused in that frame will be focused.

raise WINID

Raises the specified window. See the section on Window Ids on how to reference a certain window. Its result is only visible in floating mode.


The WINID also can specify an unmanaged window, although the completion for the raise command does not list the IDs of unmanaged windows.

jumpto WINID

Puts the focus to the specified window. See the section on Window Ids on how to reference a certain window.

bring WINID

Moves the specified window to the current frame and focuses it. See the section on Window Ids on how to reference a certain window.


Changes the next fraction in specified DIRECTION by FRACTIONDELTA. DIRECTION behaves as specified at the focus command. You should not omit the sign - or +, because in future versions, the behaviour may change if the sign is omitted. Example:

  • resize right +0.05
  • resize down -0.1
shift_edge [-i|-e] DIRECTION

Shifts the focused window to the the edge of a tag in the specified DIRECTION. The DIRECTIONS behave as specified at the focus command and -i and -e behave as specified at the focus_edge command.

shift [-i|-e] DIRECTION

Shifts the focused window to the next frame in the specified DIRECTION. The DIRECTIONS and -i|-e behave as specified at the focus command. If the focused client is floated instead of being tiled, then client is shifted to the next window or screen edge.

shift_to_monitor MONITOR

Moves the focused window to the tag on the specified MONITOR.


Removes focused frame and merges its windows to its neighbour frame.


Rotates the layout on the focused tag counterclockwise by 90 degrees. This only manipulates the alignment of frames, not the content of them.


Sets the specified setting NAME to VALUE. All Settings are listed in the section below.

get NAME

Prints the value of setting NAME. All Settings are listed in the section below.

toggle NAME

Toggles the setting NAME if it’s an integer setting: If its value is unequal to 0, it becomes 0; else its previous value (which was unequal to 0) is restored.

cycle_value NAME VALUES ...

Cycles value of the setting NAME through VALUES: I.e. it searches the first occurrence of the current value in VALUES and changes the value to the next in the list or to the first one if the end is reached or current value wasn’t found. Example:

  • cycle_value frame_gap 0 5 10 15
  • cycle_value frame_bg_normal_color red green blue
cycle_monitor [DELTA]

Cycles monitor focused by DELTA. DELTA defaults to 1.

focus_monitor MONITOR

Puts focus to the specified monitor.

add TAG

Creates a new empty tag named TAG.

use TAG

Switches the focused monitor to specified TAG.

use_index INDEX [--skip-visible]

Switches the focused monitor to the TAG with the specified INDEX. If INDEX starts with + or -, then INDEX is treated relative to the current TAG. If --skip-visible is passed and INDEX is relative, then tags that are already visible on a monitor are skipped. E.g. this cycles backwards through the tags:

  • use_index -1 --skip-visible

Switches the focused monitor to the previously viewed tag.

merge_tag TAG [TARGET]

Removes tag named TAG and moves all its windows to tag TARGET. If TARGET is omitted, the focused tag will be used.


Renames tag named OLDTAG to NEWTAG.

move TAG

Moves the focused window to the tag named TAG.

move_index INDEX [--skip-visible]

Moves the focused window to the tag specified by INDEX. Analogical to the argument for use_index: If INDEX starts with + or -, then it is treated relative. If --skip-visible is passed with a relative index, then already visible tags are skipped.

lock_tag [MONITOR]

Lock the tag switching on the specified monitor. If no argument is given, the currently focused monitor is used. When the tag switching is disabled for a monitor, the commands use and use_index have no effect when executed there. When swap_monitors_to_get_tag is enabled, switching to a tag which is located on a locked monitor, switches to that monitor instead of stealing it from there. The lock state of a monitor is indicated by "[LOCKED]" in the list_monitors output.

unlock_tag [MONITOR]

Re-enables the tag switching on the specified monitor. If no argument is given, the currently focused monitor is used. This is the reverse operation to lock_tag and has no further side effects but removing this lock.

disjoin_rects RECTS ...

Takes a list of rectangles and splits them into smaller pieces until all rectangles are disjoint, the result rectangles are printed line by line. This command does not modify the current list of monitors! So this can be useful in combination with the set_monitors command.

  • E.g. disjoin_rects 600x400+0+0 600x400+300+250 prints this:

  • In the above example two monitors are split into 5 monitors, which graphically means:

    11111111                 11111111
    1  222222222             333222224444
    1  2   1   2   disjoin   3 32   24  4
    11121111   2  -------->  333222224444
       2       2                555555555
       222222222                555555555
set_monitors RECTS ...

Sets the list of monitors exactly to the list of given rectangles:

  • The i’th existing monitor is moved to the i’th given RECT
  • New monitors are created if there are more RECTS then monitors
  • Existing monitors are deleted if there are more monitors then RECTS
detect_monitors -l|--list|--no-disjoin

Sets the list of monitors to the available Xinerama monitors. If the Xinerama extension is missing, it will fall back to one monitor across the entire screen. If the detected monitors overlap, the will be split into more monitors that are disjoint but cover the same area using disjoin_rects.

If -l or --list is passed, the list of rectangles of detected pyhsical monitors is printed. So hc detect_monitors is equivalent to the bash command hc set_monitors $(hc disjoin_rects $(hc detect_monitors -l)).

add_monitor RECT [TAG [NAME]]

Adds a monitor on the specified rectangle RECT and displays TAG on it. TAG currently must not be displayed on any other monitor. RECT is a string of the form WxH±X±Y. If no or an empty TAG is given, then any free tag will be chosen. If a NAME is given, you can reference to this monitor by its name instead of using an index. Example:

  • add_monitor 1024x768-20+0 mynewtag main
remove_monitor MONITOR

Removes the specified monitor.


Moves the specified monitor to rectangle RECT. RECT is defined as in add_monitor. If no or an empty pad is given, it is not changed.

raise_monitor [MONITOR]

Raises the specified monitor or the current one if MONITOR is omitted.

rename_monitor MONITOR NAME

(Re)names an already existing monitor. If NAME is empty, it removes the monitor’s name.


Prints the stack of monitors with the visible tags and their layers as a tree. The order of the printed stack is top to bottom. The style is configured by the tree_style setting.

monitor_rect [[-p] MONITOR]

Prints the rectangle of the specified monitor in the format: X Y W H If no MONITOR or cur is given, then the current monitor is used. If -p is supplied, then the remaining rect without the pad around this monitor is printed.


Sets the pad of specified monitor to the specified padding. If no or an empty padding is given, it is not changed.

list_padding [MONITOR]

Lists the padding of the specified monitor, or the currently focused monitor if no monitor is given.

layout [TAG [INDEX]]

Prints the layout of frame with INDEX on TAG, in a nice tree style. Its style is defined by the tree_style setting. If no TAG is given, the current tag is used. If no INDEX is given, the root frame is used. To specify INDEX without specifying TAG (i.e. use current tag), pass an empty string as TAG.

An example output is:

╾─┐ horizontal 50% selection=1
  ├─╼ vertical: 0xe00009
  └─┐ vertical 50% selection=0
    ├─╼ vertical: 0xa00009 [FOCUS]
    └─╼ vertical: 0x1000009
dump [TAG [INDEX]]

Prints the same information as the layout command but in a machine readable format. Its output can be read back with the load command.

An example output (formatted afterwards) is:

(split horizontal:0.500000:1
    (clients vertical:0 0xe00009)
    (split vertical:0.500000:1
        (clients vertical:0 0xa00009)
        (clients vertical:0 0x1000009)))

Loads a given LAYOUT description to specified TAG or current tag if no TAG is given.


LAYOUT is exactly one parameter. If you are calling it manually from your shell or from a script, quote it properly!


Prints the result of tab completion for the partial COMMAND with optional ARGS. You usually do not need this, because there is already tab completion for bash. Example:

  • complete 0 m

    prints all commands beginning with m

  • complete 1 toggle fra

    prints all settings beginning with fra that can be toggled

complete_shell POSITION [COMMAND ARGS ...]

Behaves like complete with the following extras, useful for completion on posix shells:

  • Escape sequences are removed in COMMAND and ARGS.
  • A space is appended to each full completion result.
  • Special characters will be escaped in the output.
emit_hook ARGS ...

Emits a custom hook to all idling herbstclients.

tag_status [MONITOR]

Print a tab separated list of all tags for the specified MONITOR index. If no MONITOR index is given, the focused monitor is used. Each tag name is prefixed with one char, which indicates its state:

  • . the tag is empty
  • : the tag is not empty
  • + the tag is viewed on the specified MONITOR, but this monitor is not focused.
  • # the tag is viewed on the specified MONITOR and it is focused.
  • - the tag is viewed on a different MONITOR, but this monitor is not focused.
  • % the tag is viewed on a different MONITOR and it is focused.
  • ! the tag contains an urgent window


If you use a tab in one of the tag names, then tag_status is probably quite useless for you.

floating [[TAG] on|off|toggle|status]

Changes the current tag to floating/tiling mode on specified TAG or prints it current status. If no TAG is given, the current tag is used. If no argument is given, floating mode is toggled. If status is given, then on or off is printed, depending of the floating state of TAG.

rule [[--]FLAG|[--]LABEL|[--]CONDITION|[--]CONSEQUENCE ...]

Defines a rule which will be applied to all new clients. Its behaviour is described in the Rules section.

unrule LABEL|--all|-F

Removes all rules named LABEL. If --all or -F is passed, then all rules are removed.

fullscreen [on|off|toggle]

Sets or toggles the fullscreen state of the focused client. If no argument is given, fullscreen mode is toggled.

pseudotile [on|off|toggle]

Sets or toggles the pseudotile state of the focused client. If a client is pseudotiled, then in tiling mode the client is only moved but not resized - the client size will stay the floating size. The only reason to resize the client is to ensure that it fits into its tile. If no argument is given, pseudotile mode is toggled.

object_tree [PATH]

Prints the tree of objects. If the object path PATH is given, only the subtree starting at PATH is printed. See the Objects section for more details.


Prints the children and attributes of the given object addressed by PATH. If PATH is an attribute, then print the attribute value. If NEWVALUE is given, assign NEWVALUE to the attribute given by PATH. See the Objects section for more details.

get_attr ATTRIBUTE

Print the value of the specified ATTRIBUTE as described in the Objects section.


Assign NEWVALUE to the specified ATTRIBUTE as described in the Objects section.

new_attr [bool|color|int|string|uint] PATH

Creates a new attribute with the name and in the object specified by PATH. Its type is specified by the first argument. The attribute name has to begin with my_.

remove_attr PATH

Removes the user defined attribute PATH.


Replaces all exact occurrences of IDENTIFIER in COMMAND and its ARGS by the value of the ATTRIBUTE. Note that the COMMAND also is replaced by the attribute value if it equals IDENTIFIER. The replaced command with its arguments then is executed. Example:

  • substitute MYTITLE clients.focus.title echo MYTITLE Prints the title of the currently focused window.

Replaces all exact occurrences of IDENTIFIER in COMMAND and its ARGS by the string specified by FORMAT. Each %s in FORMAT stands for the value of the next attribute in ATTRIBUTES, similar to the printf(1) command. The replaced command with its arguments then is executed. Examples:

  • sprintf STR title=%s clients.focus.title echo STR Prints the title of the currently focused window prepended by title=.
  • sprintf X tag=%s tags.focus.name rule once X Moves the next client that appears to the tag that is currently focused.
  • sprintf X %s/%s tags.focus.index tags.count echo X Tells which tag is focused and how many tags there are
  • sprintf l somelongstring echo l l l Prints somelongstring three times, separated by spaces.
mktemp [bool|int|string|uint] IDENTIFIER COMMAND [ARGS ...]

Creates a temporary attribute with the given type and replaces all occurrences of IDENTIFIER in COMMAND and ARGS by by the path of the temporary attribute. The replaced command with its arguments is executed then. The exit status of COMMAND is returned.


Compares the value of ATTRIBUTE with VALUE using the comparation method OPERATOR. If the comparation succeeds, it returns 0, else 1. The operators are:

  • =: ATTRIBUTE's value equals VALUE
  • !=: ATTRIBUTE's value does not equal VALUE
  • le: ATTRIBUTE's value <= VALUE
  • lt: ATTRIBUTE's value < VALUE
  • ge: ATTRIBUTE's value >= VALUE
  • gt: ATTRIBUTE's value > VALUE

The OPERATORsle,lt,ge,gt can only be used if ATTRIBUTE is of the type integer or unsigned integer. Note that the first parameter must always be an attribute and the second a constant value. If you want to compare two attributes, use the substitute command:

substitute FC tags.focus.frame_count \
    compare tags.focus.client_count gt FC

It returns success if there are more clients on the focused tag than frames.

getenv NAME

Gets the value of the environment variable NAME.


Set the value of the environment variable NAME to VALUE.

unsetenv NAME

Unsets the environment variable NAME.


Settings configure the behaviour of herbstluftwm and can be controlled via the set, get and toggle commands. There are two types of settings: Strings and integer values. An integer value is set, if its value is 1 or another value unequal to 0. An integer value is unset, if its value is 0.

frame_gap (Integer)

The gap between frames in the tiling mode.

frame_padding (Integer)

The padding within a frame in the tiling mode, i.e. the space between the border of a frame and the windows within it.

window_gap (Integer)

The gap between windows within one frame in the tiling mode.

snap_distance (Integer)

If a client is dragged in floating mode, then it snaps to neighbour clients if the distance between them is smaller then snap_distance.

snap_gap (Integer)

Specifies the remaining gap if a dragged client snaps to an edge in floating mode. If snap_gap is set to 0, no gap will remain.

mouse_recenter_gap (Integer)

Specifies the gap around a monitor. If the monitor is selected and the mouse position would be restored into this gap, it is set to the center of the monitor. This is useful, when the monitor was left via mouse movement, but is reselected by keyboard. If the gap is 0 (default), the mouse is never recentered.

frame_border_active_color (String/Color)

The border color of a focused frame.

frame_border_normal_color (String/Color)

The border color of an unfocused frame.

frame_border_inner_color (String/Color)

The color of the inner border of a frame.

frame_bg_active_color (String/Color)

The fill color of a focused frame.

frame_bg_normal_color (String/Color)

The fill color of an unfocused frame (It is only visible if always_show_frame is set).

frame_bg_transparent (Integer)

If set, the background of frames are transparent. That means a rectangle is cut out frome the inner such that only the frame border and a stripe of width frame_transparent_width can be seen. Use frame_active_opacity and frame_normal_opacity for real transparency.

frame_transparent_width (Integer)

Specifies the width of the remaining frame colored with frame_bg_active_color if frame_bg_transparent is set.

frame_border_width (Integer)

Border width of a frame.

frame_border_inner_width (Integer)

The width of the inner border of a frame. Must be less than frame_border_width, since it does not add to the frame border width but is a part of it.

focus_crosses_monitor_boundaries (Integer)

If set, the focus command crosses monitor boundaries. If there is no client in the direction given to focus, then the monitor in the specified direction is focused.

raise_on_focus (Integer)

If set, a window is raised if it is focused. The value of this setting is only used in floating mode.

raise_on_focus_temporarily (Integer)

If set, a window is raised temporarily if it is focused on its tag. Temporarily in this case means that the window will return to its previous stacking position if another window is focused.

raise_on_click (Integer)

If set, a window is raised if it is clicked. The value of this setting is only noticed in floating mode.

window_border_width (Integer)

Border width of a window.

window_border_inner_width (Integer)

The width of the inner border of a window. Must be less than window_border_width, since it does not add to the window border width but is a part of it.

window_border_active_color (String/Color)

Border color of a focused window.

window_border_normal_color (String/Color)

Border color of an unfocused window.

window_border_urgent_color (String/Color)

Border color of an unfocused but urgent window.

window_border_inner_color (String/Color)

Color of the inner border of a window.

always_show_frame (Integer)

If set, all frames are displayed. If unset, only frames with focus or with windows in it are displayed.

frame_active_opacity (Integer)

Focused frame opacity in percent. Requires a running compositing manager to take actual effect.

frame_normal_opacity (Integer)

Unfocused frame opacity in percent. Requires a running compositing manager to take actual effect.

default_frame_layout (Integer)

Index of the frame layout, which is used if a new frame is created (by split or on a new tag). For a list of valid indices and their meanings, check the list of layout algorithms above.

default_direction_external_only (Integer)

This setting controls the behaviour of focus and shift if no -e or -i argument is given. if set, then focus and shift changes the focused frame even if there are other clients in this frame in the specified DIRECTION. Else, a client within current frame is selected if it is in the specified DIRECTION.

gapless_grid (Integer)

This setting affects the size of the last client in a frame that is arranged by grid layout. If set, then the last client always fills the gap within this frame. If unset, then the last client has the same size as all other clients in this frame.

smart_frame_surroundings (Integer)

If set, frame borders and gaps will be removed when there’s no ambiguity regarding the focused frame.

smart_window_surroundings (Integer)

If set, window borders and gaps will be removed and minimal when there’s no ambiguity regarding the focused window. This minimal window decoration can be configured by the theme.minimal object.

focus_follows_mouse (Integer)

If set and a window is focused by mouse cursor, this window is focused (this feature is also known as sloppy focus). If unset, you need to click to change the window focus by mouse.

If another window is hidden by the focus change (e.g. when having pseudotiled windows in the max layout) then an extra click is required to change the focus.

focus_stealing_prevention (Integer)

If set, only pagers and taskbars are allowed to change the focus. If unset, all applications can request a focus change.

monitors_locked (Integer)

If greater than 0, then the clients on all monitors aren’t moved or resized anymore. If it is set to 0, then the arranging of monitors is enabled again, and all monitors are rearranged if their content has changed in the meantime. You should not change this setting manually due to concurrency issues; use the commands lock and unlock instead.

swap_monitors_to_get_tag (Integer)

If set: If you want to view a tag, that already is viewed on another monitor, then the monitor contents will be swapped and you see the wanted tag on the focused monitor. If not set, the other monitor is focused if it shows the desired tag.

auto_detect_monitors (Integer)

If set, detect_monitors is automatically executed every time a monitor is connected, disconnected or resized.

tree_style (String)

It contains the chars that are used to print a nice ascii tree. It must contain at least 8 characters. e.g. X|:#+*-. produces a tree like:

  #-. child 0
  | #-* child 01
  | +-* child 02
  +-. child 1
  : #-* child 10
  : +-* child 01

Useful values for tree_style are: ╾│ ├└╼─┐ or -| |'--. or ╾│ ├╰╼─╮.

wmname (String)

It controls the value of the _NET_WM_NAME property on the root window, which specifies the name of the running window manager. The value of this setting is not updated if the actual _NET_WM_NAME property on the root window is changed externally. Example usage:

  • cycle_value wmname herbstluftwm LG3D
pseudotile_center_threshold (Int)

If greater than 0, it specifies the least distance between a centered pseudotile window and the border of the frame or tile it is assigned to. If this distance is lower than pseudotile_center_threshold, it is aligned to the top left of the client’s tile.

update_dragged_clients (Int)

If set, a client’s window content is resized immediately during resizing it with the mouse. If unset, the client’s content is resized after the mouse button are released.


Rules are used to change default properties for certain clients when they appear. Each rule matches against a certain subset of all clients and defines a set of properties for them (called CONSEQUENCEs). A rule can be defined with this command:

rule [[--]FLAG|[--]LABEL|[--]CONDITION|[--]CONSEQUENCE ...]

Each rule consists of a list of FLAGs, CONDITIONs, CONSEQUENCEs and, optionally, a LABEL. (each of them can be optionally prefixed with two dashes (--) to provide a more iptables(8)-like feeling).

Each rule can be given a custom label by specifying the LABEL property:

· [--]label=VALUE

If multiple labels are specified, the last one in the list will be applied. If no label is given, then the rule will be given an integer name that represents the index of the rule since the last unrule -F command (which is triggered in the default autostart).


Rule labels default to an incremental index. These default labels are unique, unless you assign a different rule a custom integer LABEL. Default labels can be captured with the printlabel flag.

If a new client appears, herbstluftwm tries to apply each rule to this new client as follows: If each CONDITION of this rule matches against this client, then every CONSEQUENCE is executed. (If there are no conditions given, then this rule is executed for each client)

Each CONDITION consists of a property name, an operator and a value. Valid operators are:

Valid properties are:


the first entry in client’s WM_CLASS.


the second entry in client’s WM_CLASS.


client’s window title.


the client’s process id (Warning: the pid is not available for every client. This only matches if the client sets _NET_WM_PID to the pid itself).


matches if the age of the rule measured in seconds does not exceed value. This condition only can be used with the = operator. If maxage already is exceeded (and never will match again), then this rule is removed. (With this you can build rules that only live for a certain time.)


matches the _NET_WM_WINDOW_TYPE property of a window.


matches the WM_WINDOW_ROLE property of a window if it is set by the window.

Each CONSEQUENCE consists of a NAME=VALUE pair. Valid NAMES are:


moves the client to tag VALUE.


moves the client to the tag on monitor VALUE. If the tag consequence was also specified, and switchtag is set for the client, move the client to that tag, then display that tag on monitor VALUE. If the tag consequence was specified, but switchtag was not, ignore this consequence.


decides whether the client gets the input focus on his tag. The default is off. VALUE can be on, off or toggle.


if focus is activated and the client is put to a not focused tag, then switchtag tells whether the client’s tag will be shown or not. If the tag is shown on any monitor but is not focused, the client’s tag only is brought to the current monitor if swap_monitors_to_get_tag is activated. VALUE can be on, off or toggle.


decides whether the client will be managed or not. The default is on. VALUE can be on, off or toggle.


moves the window to a specified index in the tree. VALUE is a frame index.


sets the pseudotile state of the client. VALUE can be on, off or toggle.


sets whether the window state (the fullscreen state and the demands attention flag) can be changed by the application via ewmh itself. This does not affect the initial fullscreen state requested by the window. VALUE can be on, off or toggle, it defaults to on.


sets whether hlwm should let the client know about EMWH changes (currently only the fullscreen state). If this is set, applications do not change to their fullscreen-mode while still being fullscreen. VALUE can be on, off or toggle, it defaults to on.


sets the fullscreen flag of the client. VALUE can be on, off or toggle.


emits the custom hook ruleVALUEWINID when this rule is triggered by a new window with the id WINID. This consequence can be used multiple times, which will cause a hook to be emitted for each occurrence of a hook consequence.


Sets the keymask for an client. A keymask is an regular expression that is matched against the string represenation (see list_keybinds). If it matches the keybinding is active when this client is focused, otherwise it is disabled. The default keymask is an empty string (""), which does not disable any keybinding.

A rule’s behaviour can be configured by some special FLAGS:


Window Ids

Several commands accept a window as reference, e.g. close. The syntax is as follows:



The object tree is not stable yet, i.e. its interface may change until the next stable release. So check this documentation again after upgrading the next time.

The object tree is a collection of objects with attributes similar to /sys known from the Linux kernel. Many entities (like tags, monitors, clients, ...) have objects to access their attributes directly. The tree is printed by the object_tree command and looks more or less as follows:

$ herbstclient object_tree
  ├─┐ tags
  │ ├─┐ by-name
  │ │ ├─╼ 1
  │ │ ...
  │ │ └─╼ 9
  │ └─╼ focus
  ├─┐ clients
  │ ├─╼ 0x1400022
  │ └─╼ focus
  └─┐ monitors
    ├─╼ by-name
    └─╼ focus

To print a subtree starting at a certain object, pass the PATH of the object to object_tree. The object PATH is the path using the separator . (dot), e.g. tags.by-name:

$ herbstclient object_tree tags.by-name.
╾─┐ tags.by-name.
  ├─╼ 1
  ├─╼ 2
  └─╼ 9

To query all attributes and children of a object, pass its PATH to attr:

$ herbstclient attr tags.
2 children:

1 attributes:
 .---- type
 | .-- writeable
 V V
 u - count                = 9

$ herbstclient attr tags.focus.
0 children.
6 attributes:
 .---- type
 | .-- writeable
 V V
 s w name                 = "1"
 b w floating             = false
 i - frame_count          = 2
 i - client_count         = 1
 i - curframe_windex      = 0
 i - curframe_wcount      = 1

This already gives an intuition of the output: attr first lists the names of the child objects and then all attributes, telling for each attribute:

To get the unquoted value of a certain attribute, address the attribute using the same syntax as for object paths and pass it to attr or get_attr:

$ herbstclient attr clients.focus.title
herbstluftwm.txt = (~/dev/c/herbstluftwm/doc) - VIM
$ herbstclient get_attr  clients.focus.title
herbstluftwm.txt = (~/dev/c/herbstluftwm/doc) - VIM

To change a writeable attribute value pass the new value to attr or to set_attr:

$ herbstclient attr tags.focus.floating
$ herbstclient attr tags.focus.floating true
$ herbstclient attr tags.focus.floating
$ herbstclient set_attr tags.focus.floating false
$ herbstclient attr tags.focus.floating

Just look around to get a feeling what is there. The detailed tree content is listed as follows:

Autostart File

There is no configuration file but an autostart file, which is executed on startup. It is also executed on command reload. If not specified by the --autostart argument, autostart file is located at $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/herbstluftwm/autostart or at ~/.config/herbstluftwm/autostart. Normally it consists of a few herbstclient calls. If executing the autostart file in a user’s home fails the global autostart file (mostly placed at /etc/xdg/herbstluftwm/autostart) is executed as a fallback.

For a quick install, copy the default autostart file to ~/.config/herbstluftwm/.


On special events, herbstluftwm emits some hooks (with parameters). You can receive or wait for them with herbstclient(1). Also custom hooks can be emitted with the emit_hook command. The following hooks are emitted by herbstluftwm itself:

fullscreen [on|off] WINID STATE

The fullscreen state of window WINID was changed to [on|off].

tag_changed TAG MONITOR

The tag TAG was selected on MONITOR.

focus_changed WINID TITLE

The window WINID was focused. Its window title is TITLE.

window_title_changed WINID TITLE

The title of the focused window was changed. Its window id is WINID and its new title is TITLE.


The flags (i.e. urgent or filled state) have been changed.

tag_added TAG

A tag named TAG was added.

tag_removed TAG

The tag named TAG was removed.

urgent [on|off] WINID

The urgent state of client with given WINID has been changed to [on|off].


A window with the id WINID appeared which triggerd a rule with the consequence hook=NAME.

There are also other useful hooks, which never will be emitted by herbstluftwm itself, but which can be emitted with the emit_hook command:


Tells a panel to quit. The default panel.sh quits on this hook. Many scripts are using this hook.


Tells all daemons that the autostart file is reloaded — and tells them to quit. This hook should be emitted in the first line of every autostart file.


Every tag has its own stack of clients that are on this tag. Similar to the EWMH specification each tag stack contains several layers, which are from top to bottom:

All monitors are managed in one large stack which only consists of the stacks of the visible tags put above each other. The stacking order of these monitors is independent from their indices and can be modified using the raise_monitor command. The current stack is illustrated by the stack command.

Environment Variables


Specifies the DISPLAY to use.

Exit Status

Returns 0 on success. Returns EXIT_FAILURE if it cannot startup or if wmexec fails.


See the herbstluftwm distribution Bugs file.


Feel free to join the IRC channel #herbstluftwm on irc.freenode.net.


herbstluftwm was written by Thorsten Wißmann. All contributors are listed in the herbstluftwm distribution AUTHORS file.


Homepage: http://herbstluftwm.org

Gitweb: http://git.cs.fau.de/?p=re06huxa/herbstluftwm

Patch submission and bug reporting:



Copyright 2011-2014 Thorsten Wißmann. All rights reserved.

This software is licensed under the "Simplified BSD License". See LICENSE for details.

Referenced By

herbstclient(1), herbstluftwm-tutorial(7).

2014-03-27   herbstluftwm 0.6.2\