Today in this article , I will be telling you the step by step procedure for setting up i3 windows manager. For, those who don’t know what it is, let me tell you about i3 in brief.

i3 is primarily targeted at advanced users and developers. i3 is not a desktop environment in the sense of things like KDE and Gnome, or even the lightweight Xfce and LXDE. Unlike traditional desktop environments, window managers are flat, terminal-like environments that work in terms of workspaces and tiles. Window managers are independent from a GUI. As it is extremely lightweight,it doesn’t require high-end hardwares, also it is highly customizable.

Installing i3

To begin with, open terminal and run the following command.

sudo apt-get install i3 i3status i3lock feh
  • i3 is the main window manager package.
  • i3status is an utility to generate a string with information to be displayed in the i3bar.
  • i3lock is an utilitu to lock the screen.
  • feh is an X11 image viewer aimed mostly at console users.We will use this utility to set the wallpaper.

Now you can logout and login with i3.

For a complete list of i3 commands you can visit refcard page

Customizing i3

  • During the first startup, i3 will ask you to set your default $Mod key and copy the configutation file to ~/.config/i3 . You can set it anything you want but I would suggest you to keep it default.

Now lets start with the configutation.

i3 by default keeps the configuration file in ~/.config/i3/config. Some of the applications needs to be run at startup, feh and nm-applets which set the wallpaper and shows network manager at i3bar respectively.

#Startup programs
exec --no-startup-id nm-applet
exec --no-startup-id feh --bg-fill ~/Pictures/wallpaper.png

Next, to set a keybinding for taking screenshots, you need to install scrot, a command-line tool for taking screenshot.

sudo apt-get install scrot

Setting the keybindings

#Take a screenshot upon pressing $mod+ ptrscs

bindsym Print exec scrot $HOME/Pictures/ScreenShoots/`date +%Y-%m-%d_%H:%M:%S`.png

Screen Locking

For screen locking, i3lock can be used. to set a keybinding,

bindsym Mod1+l i3lock -c 000000 -n

you can use any rgb colour you want. Just replace 000000 with the color’s hex code. or you can set an image for the lock screen. For that just replace i3lock -c 000000 -n with i3lock -i your-image-path -p default -n

Edit: I got a better method for the screen-locking. I use gnome-screensaver to lock my screen with gnome-screensaver-command -l command. For autolocking , I use xautolock

exec xautolock -time 1 -locker screenlock

The above line in the config file execute the screenlock command after every 1 minute of inactivity. Also to bind the Mod+Ctrl+l keys to lock the screen, I added below script to my config file.

bindsym Control+Mod1+l exec gnome-screensaver-command -l

Setting named namespace

# Name the workspaces
set $tag1 "1: www"

# switch to workspace
bindsym $mod+1 workspace $tag1

# move focused container to workspace
bindsym $mod+Shift+1 move container to workspace $tag1

You can do like this for how many namespace you want.

let us change some settings for i3bar in config. Colors can be set here along with some position settings. Check for bar in config file as there are some defaults present. Help on these settings is available here.

# Start i3bar to display a workspace bar (plus the system information)
bar {
	colors {
		# Whole color settings
		background #000000
		statusline #ffffff
		separator  #666666

		# Type             border  background font
		focused_workspace  #008fff #007fff #ffffff
		active_workspace   #333333 #5f676a #ffffff
		inactive_workspace #333333 #222222 #888888
		urgent_workspace   #aa0000 #990000 #ffffff
	# i3bar position
	position top
	# Using custom i3status.conf
	status_command i3status -c ~/.i3/i3status.conf

Do not forget to copy the i3status.conf to ~/.i3/i3status.conf

cp /etc/i3status.conf ~/.i3/i3status.conf

To Enable multimedia keyboard keys

# Pulse Audio controls
bindsym XF86AudioRaiseVolume exec --no-startup-id pactl set-sink-volume 1 +5% #increase sound volume
bindsym XF86AudioLowerVolume exec --no-startup-id pactl set-sink-volume 1 -5% #decrease sound volume
bindsym XF86AudioMute exec --no-startup-id pactl set-sink-mute 1 toggle # mute sound

# Sreen brightness controls
bindsym XF86MonBrightnessUp exec xbacklight -inc 20 # increase screen brightness
bindsym XF86MonBrightnessDown exec xbacklight -dec 20 # decrease screen brightness

where 1 in Pulse audio controls is the sink number found with

$ pactl list sinks

Battery Low Warning

By default, if the battery level fall below a threshold, the color of battery status text in the i3 bar turns red which I usually don’t notice.For this, I have used a script I found on archlinux forum’s i3 thread. This script needs acpi installed and root permissions to run, so add a no-password entry for it in the sudoers file. You will also need pm-utils for power management. Then add it in the config file.You need to use exec_always sudo /path/to/, to run at restart also.

#! /bin/bash

SLEEP_TIME=5   # Default time between checks.
SAFE_PERCENT=30  # Still safe at this level.
DANGER_PERCENT=15  # Warn when battery at this level.
CRITICAL_PERCENT=5  # Hibernate when battery at this level.

export DISPLAY=:0.0

function launchNagBar
    i3-nagbar -m 'Battery low!' -b 'Hibernate!' 'pm-hibernate' >/dev/null 2>&1 &

function killNagBar
    if [[ $NAGBAR_PID -ne 0 ]]; then
        ps -p $NAGBAR_PID | grep "i3-nagbar"
        if [[ $? -eq 0 ]]; then
            kill $NAGBAR_PID

while [ true ]; do


    if [[ -n $(acpi -b | grep -i discharging) ]]; then
        pm-powersave true
        rem_bat=$(acpi -b | grep -Eo "[0-9]+%" | grep -Eo "[0-9]+")

        if [[ $rem_bat -gt $SAFE_PERCENT ]]; then
            if [[ $rem_bat -le $DANGER_PERCENT ]]; then
            if [[ $rem_bat -le $CRITICAL_PERCENT ]]; then
        pm-powersave false

    sleep ${SLEEP_TIME}m



Changing the fonts

font pango:Open Sans 8

gnome-look is a great resource for gtk themes. I chosed arc-theme but you can find one that strikes your fancy and extract it’s archive to either $HOME/.themes (local install) or /usr/share/themes (global install). Then open up lxappearance and apply the new theme.

Some themes require newer versions of gtk installed. To find version of gtk we’re using, run in a terminal

dpkg -l libgtk* | grep -e '^i' | grep -e 'libgtk-*[0-9]'.

To add the ArcGTK repo run

sudo sh -c "echo 'deb /' >> /etc/apt/sources.list.d/arc-theme.list"

Then, refresh your software sources and install the theme: sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install arc-theme

sudo apt-key add - < Release.key

A precompiled .deb installer for Ubuntu 16.04 LTS is also available to download from the theme website: Arc GTK Theme Installer for Ubuntu 16.04 LTS

Or you can head on to their github repo

Extra applications you can try out

  1. compton

    A pretty sweet composite manager. I like some shadows and fading effects on my windows and menus. Install it with sudo apt install compton.

  2. parcellite

    A simple, lightweight clipboard manager. Install it with sudo apt install parcellite.

  3. pnmixer

    Volume control tray icon. Install it with sudo apt install pnmixer.


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