1. File manager integration

Have you ever thought about how we start a new work in i3? This is our typical workflow:

  • We launch an application with Alt+D or Alt+Shift+D [1], or
  • we open a file manager with Alt+T, choose a file and then launch the associated application.

1.1. File manager usage in scratchpad

In every day work we usually work with applications and file managers on the same project but never at the same time! This is why it is very handy to keep file manager windows in the background not mixing them with application windows.

This i3 configuration separates usual application windows from file manager windows. File manager windows are kept in the scratchpad of i3 allowing to make them appear and disappear without disturbing application windows.

Alt+T Opens a file manager instance,
Alt+- hides it, [2]
Alt+- unhides it one by one by pressing the same key again, [3]
Alt+< hides all file manager windows,
Alt+< unhides all filemanger windows at the same time by pressing the same key again. [4]
Alt+Shift+Q closes the file manager.

Table: File manager usage in i3

For “drag and drop” copy operations you need to see more then one file manager window at the same time. Use Alt+< to toggle view all file managers. As all file manager windows have the same default size and position you will see only the top window. Move the top window manually, then the underlaying window become visible. Press the Alt+< key again to make them disappear.

Another handy way to hide and show the file manager is the gtrayicon as shown in red below. It has the same function as Alt+<.

Hide/unhide filemanager windows with gtrayicon

Hide/unhide filemanager windows with gtrayicon

1.2. Source code of file manager integration

The following source code lines launch the Thunar file manager. To change replace the keyword “thunar” with your preferred file manager.

Install the gtrayicon package (Debian, Ubuntu)

sudo apt-get install gtrayicon

Append the following to /etc/i3/config:

/etc/i3/conf excerpt

bindsym Alt+t exec thunar
bindsym Alt+minus scratchpad show
for_window [class="Thunar"] move scratchpad; [class="Thunar"] scratchpad show;
bindsym Alt+less [class="Thunar"] scratchpad show
exec gtrayicon --tooltip="Hide/show file manager." --activate='i3-msg [class="Thunar"] scratchpad show;' --deactivate='i3-msg [class="Thunar"] scratchpad show;'

2. Exit mode

The standard configuration defines Alt+Shift+e to exit i3. It will send you back to the login screen.

2.1. Exit mode usage

The new exit mode defines the following shortcuts:

Alt+Shift+X, L Lock the screen.
Alt+Shift+X, E Exit i3 (same as Alt+Shift+E).
Alt+Shift+X, S Suspend.
Alt+Shift+X, H Hibernate.
Alt+Shift+X, R Reboot.
Alt+Shift+X, D Shutdown.

Table: Exit mode usage

2.2. Source code

Append the following to /etc/i3/config:

Debian 8/Debian 9 extract of /etc/i3/config

# New exit mode.
set $mode_system System (l) lock, (e) logout, (s) suspend, (h) hibernate, (r) reboot, (d) shutdown
mode "$mode_system" {
    bindsym l exec --no-startup-id i3lock, mode "default"
    bindsym e exec --no-startup-id "i3-nagbar -t warning -m 'You pressed the exit shortcut. All unsaved data will be lost.' -b 'Yes, exit i3' 'i3-msg exit'", mode "default"
    bindsym s exec --no-startup-id i3lock, mode default; exec --no-startup-id /bin/systemctl suspend, mode "default"
    bindsym h exec --no-startup-id i3lock, mode default; exec --no-startup-id /bin/systemctl hibernate, mode "default"
    bindsym r exec --no-startup-id "i3-nagbar -t warning -m 'You pressed the reboot shortcut. All unsaved data will be lost.' -b 'Yes, reboot' '/bin/systemctl reboot'", mode "default"
    bindsym d exec --no-startup-id "i3-nagbar -t warning -m 'You pressed the shutdown shortcut. All unsaved data will be lost.' -b 'Yes, shutdown' '/bin/systemctl poweroff'", mode "default"

    # back to normal: Enter or Escape
    bindsym Return mode "default"
    bindsym Escape mode "default"
bindsym $mod+Shift+x mode "$mode_system"


Your system policy might not allow users to suspend, power off, hibernate and restart. The rights to do so are defined in: /usr/share/polkit-1/actions/org.freedesktop.login1.policy. A step by step howto can be found here.

Create the following file:

Sample file: /etc/polkit-1/localauthority/50-local.d/org.freedesktop.consolekit.pkla

### Make shure that all users are part of the group `users`.
# gpasswd -a thomas users
# See https://wiki.debianforum.de/Xfce
[Local restart]

[Local shutdown]

[Local restart - multiple]

[Local shutdown - multiple]

# See also
# https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/NetworkManager
# See also group definitions here
# https://wiki.debian.org/SystemGroups
[Local shutdown - multiple]

3. Pass-through mode

What makes i3 so convenient is that most of the actions can be controlled with a simple keystroke. All i3 functions are bound to the a user defined modifier key which is usually the Alt or the Win key. Combinations with this modifier key like Alt+Return are interpreted by i3 and are not farwarded to the active window. But in some cases it is necessary to pass such an i3 key sequence to the active window.

Alt+Shift+Backspace disables temporarily all i3 key bindings forwarding all key strokes to the active window.
Alt+Shift+Backspace re-enables all i3 key bindings.

Table: Pass-through-mode usage in i3

Append the following to /etc/i3/config:

Source code of pass-through mode.

set $passthrough_keys Suspend all window manager keys exit: Mod+Shift+Backspace
mode "$passthrough_keys" {
        bindcode Alt+Shift+22 mode "default"
bindcode Alt+Shift+22 mode "$passthrough_keys"

4. Date stamper

The YYYYMMDD- prefix in filenames like for example in 20150225-minutes.doc is very useful to archive files chronologically. The Alt+Shift+N time stamper shortcut copies the current date into the clipboard from where it can be pasted with Ctrl+V or the middle mouse button.

Alt+Shift+N, Ctrl+V Copies and pastes the current date at the cursor position.
Alt+Shift+N, middle mouse button Copies and pastes the current date at the mouse pointer position.

Table: Date stamper usage

Append the following to /etc/i3/config:

Source code of date stamper

bindsym $mod+Shift+n exec "echo $(date +%Y%m%d)- |tr -d '\n'| xclip -selection c"; exec "echo $(date +%Y%m%d)- |tr -d '\n'| xclip"
[1]bindsym $mod+Shift+d exec xfce4-appfinder
[2]When another window is selected press the key twice to hide.
[3]It actually cycles through all windows in the scratchpad.
[4]The windows might by stacked and you see only the top one. Move them manually.