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Openbox -

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This article was taken partly or wholly, with or without modification from: ArchWiki

Openbox is a lightweight, powerful, and highly configurable stacking window manager with extensive standards support. It may be built upon and run independently as the basis of a unique desktop environment, or within other integrated desktop environments such as KDE and Xfce, as an alternative to the window managers they provide. The LXDE desktop environment is itself built around Openbox.


$ xbps-install openbox

Standalone Display managers will automatically detect Openbox, allowing for it to be run as a standalone session. To start openbox with Xinitrc, add the following line:

exec openbox-session

Note: Specifying openbox instead of openbox-session will prevent autostart in /etc/xdg/autostart.


Four key files form the basis of the openbox configuration, each serving a unique role. They are: rc.xml, menu.xml, autostart, and environment. Although these files are discussed in more detail below, to start configuring Openbox, it will first be necessary to create a local Openbox profile (i.e for your specific user account) based on them. This can be done by copying them from the global /etc/xdg/openbox profile (applicable to any and all users) as a template:

$ cp -R /etc/xdg/openbox ~/.config/


~/.config/openbox/rc.xml is the main configuration file, responsible for determining the behaviour and settings of the overall session, including:

Keyboard shortcuts (e.g. starting applications; controlling the volume) Theming Desktop and Virtual desktop settings, and Application Window settings This file is also pre-configured, meaning that it will only be necessary to amend existing content in order to customise behaviour to suit personal preference.


~/.config/openbox/menu.xml defines the type and behaviour of the desktop menu, accessable by right-clicking the background. Although the default provided is a static menu (meaning that it will not automatically update when new applications are installed), it is possible to employ the use of dynamic menus that will automatically update as well.

The available options are discussed extensively below in the Menus section.


The file ~/.config/openbox/autostart, if present, is executed by Openbox at startup. A basic example of this file consists of one command per line, like so:

xset -b
nm-applet &
conky &

Note that a single ampersand (&) causes the process in question to be run in the background, allowing the script to continue on to the next command. An ampersand is therefore needed after each command that launches a process of indefinite duration. Commands that are completed essentially instantly (e.g. xset -b) may be left alone.

Issues regarding commands in ~/.config/openbox/autostart being executed out of order (or skipped altogether) are often resolved by the addition of small delays. For instance:

xset -b
(sleep 3s && nm-applet) &
(sleep 3s && conky) &

Note: In addition to running ~/.config/openbox/autostart, Openbox will also launch programs with .desktop files present in /etc/xdg/autostart. This is the global autostart directory, which is automatically sourced by XDG-compliant desktop environments (e.g. GNOME, KDE). Openbox will source this directory as well, provided that the package python2-xdg is installed, and Openbox is launched as openbox-session (rather than simply openbox, as noted earlier). Duplication between ~/.config/openbox/autostart and /etc/xdg/autostart is a common cause of programs launching twice at startup (e.g. two network manager tray icons). The /usr/lib/openbox/openbox-xdg-autostart python2 script runs applications based on the XDG autostart specification.


~/.config/openbox/environment can be used to export and set relevant environmental variables such as to:

  • Define new pathways (e.g. execute commands that would otherwise require the entire pathway to be listed with them)
  • Change language settings, and
  • Define other variables to be used (e.g. the fix for GTK theming could be listed here)

GUI configuration

Several GUI applications are available to quickly and easily configure your Openbox desktop.

Programs and applications relating to the configuration of Openbox's desktop menu are discussed in the Menus section.

Openbox reconfiguration

Tip: where not already present, it would be worthwhile adding this command to a menu and/or as a keybind for convenience. Openbox will not always automatically reflect any changes made to its configuration files within a session. As a consequence, it will be necessary to manually reload those files after they have been edited. To do so, enter the following command:

$ openbox --reconfigure

Where intending to add this command as a keybind to ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml, it will only be necessary to list the command as reconfigure. An example has been provided below, using the Super+F11 keybind:

<keybind key="W-F11">
  <action name="Reconfigure"/>


All keybinds must be added to the ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml file, and below the <!-- Keybindings for running aplications --> heading. Although a brief overview has been provided here, a more in-depth explanation of keybindings can be found at openbox.org.

Keybinds can be added to the configuration file using the following syntax:

<keybind key="my-key-combination">
  <action name="my-action">

The action name for running an external command is Execute. Use the following syntax to define an external command to execute:

<action name="Execute">

See the Openbox wiki for a list of all available actions.

Special keys

While the use of standard alpha-numeric keys for keybindings is self-explanatory, special names are assigned to other types of keys, such as modifiers, multimedia keys and navigation keys.


Modifier keys play an important role in keybindings (e.g. holding down the shift or CTRL / control key in combination with another key to undertake an action). Using modifiers helps to prevent conflicting keybinds, whereby two or more actions are linked to the same key or combination of keys. The syntax to use a modifier with another key is:


The modifier codes are as follows:

  • S: Shift
  • C: Control / CTRL
  • A: Alt
  • W: Super / Windows
  • M: Meta
  • H: Hyper (If it is bound to something)

Multimedia keys

Where available, it is possible to set the appropriate multimedia keys to perform their intended functions, such as to control the volume and/or the screen brightness. These will usually be integrated into the function keys, and are identified by their appropriate symbols. See Extra keyboard keys for details.

The volume and brightness multimedia codes are as follows (note that commands will still have to be assigned to them to actually function):

  • XF86AudioRaiseVolume: Increase volume
  • XF86AudioLowerVolume: Decrease volume
  • XF86AudioMute: Mute / unmute volume
  • XF86MonBrightnessUp: Increase screen brightness
  • XF86MonBrightnessDown: Decrease screen brightness

For a full list of XF86 multimedia keys, see the LinuxQuestions wiki.

Volume control

What commands should be used for controlling the volume will depend on whether ALSA, PulseAudio, or OSS is used for sound.

Navigation keys

These are the directional / arrow keys, usually used to move the cursor up, down, left, or right. The (self-explanatory) navigation codes are as follows:

  • Up: Up
  • Down: Down
  • Left: Left
  • Right: Right


It is possible to employ three types of menu in Openbox: static, pipes (dynamic), and generators (static or dynamic). They may also be used alone or in any combination.


As the name would suggest, this default type of menu does not change in any way, and may be manually edited and/or (re)generated automatically through the use on an appropriate software package.

Fast and efficient, while this type of menu can be used to select applications, it can also be useful to access specific functions and/or perform specific tasks (e.g. desktop configuration), leaving the access of applications to another process.

The ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml file will be the sole source of static desktop menu content.


menumaker automatically generates xml menus for several window managers, including Openbox, Fluxbox, IceWM and Xfce. It will search for all installed executable programs and consequently create a menu file for them. It is also possible to configure MenuMaker to exclude certain application types (e.g. relating to GNOME or KDE), if desired.

Once installed and executed, it will automatically generate a new ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml file. To avoid overwriting an existing file, enter:

$ mmaker -v OpenBox3

Otherwise, to overwrite an existing file, add the force argument (f):

$ mmaker -vf OpenBox3

Once a new ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml file has been generated it may then be manually edited, or configured using a GUI menu editor, such as obmenu.


obmenu is a "user-friendly" GUI application to edit ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml, without the need to code in xml.


Tip: It is entirely feasible for a static menu to contain one or more pipe sub-menus. The functionality of some pipe menus may also rely on the installation of relevant software packages.

This type of menu is in essence a script that provides dynamic, refreshed lists on-the-fly as and when run. These lists may be used for multiple purposes, including to list applications, to provide information, and to provide control functions. Pre-configured pipe menus can be installed. More experienced users can also modify and/or create their own custom scripts. Again, ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml may and commonly will contain several pipe menus.


This type of menu is akin to those provided by the taskbars of desktop environments such as Xfce or LXDE. Automatically updating on-the-fly, this type of menu can be powerful and very convenient. It may also be possible to add custom categories and menu entries; read the documentation for your intended dynamic menu to determine if and how this can be done.

A menu generator will have to be executed from the ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml file.


obmenu-generator is highly recommended. With the ability to be used as a static or dynamic menu, it is highly configurable, powerful, and versatile. Menu categories and individual entries may also be easily hidden, customised, and/or added with ease. The official homepage provides further information and screenshots.

Below is an example of how obmenu-generator would be dynamically executed without icons in ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
    <menu id="root-menu" label="OpenBox 3" execute="/usr/bin/obmenu-generator">

To automatically iconify entries, the -i option would be added:

<menu id="root-menu" label="OpenBox 3" execute="/usr/bin/obmenu-generator -i">


Tip: If this menu produces an error, it may be solved by enabling icons in ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml.

openbox-menu uses the LXDE menu-cache to create dynamic menus. The official homepage provides further information and screenshots.

Menu icons

To show icons next to menu entries, it will be necessary to ensure they are enabled in the <menu> section of the ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml file:


Where using a static menu, it will then be necessary to edit the ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml file to provide both the icon = command, along with the full path and icon name for each entry. An example of the syntax used to provide an icon for a category is:

<menu id="apps-menu" label="[label name]" icon="[pathway to icon]/[icon name]">

Desktop menu as a panel menu

Tip: XDoTool can simulate any keybind for any action, and as such, it may therefore be used for many other purposes...

xdotool is a package that can issue commands to simulate key presses / keybinds, meaning that it is possible to use it to invoke keybind-related actions without having to actually press their assigned keys. As this includes the ability to invoke an assigned keybind for the Openbox desktop menu, it is therefore possible to use XDoTool to turn the Openbox desktop menu into a panel menu. Especially where the desktop menu is heavily customised and feature-rich, this may prove very useful to:

  • Replace an existing panel menu
  • Implement a panel menu where otherwise not provided or possible (e.g. for Tint2)
  • Compensate where losing access to the desktop menu due to the use of an application like xfdesktop to manage the desktop.

Once XDoTool has been installed - if not already present - it will be necessary to create a keybind to access the root menu in ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml, and again below the <!-- Keybindings for running aplications --> heading. For example, the following code will bring up the menu by pressing CTRL + m:

<keybind key="C-m">
    <action name="ShowMenu">

Openbox must then be re-configured. In this instance, XDoTool will be used to simulate the CTRL + m keypress to access the desktop menu with the following command (note the use of + in place of -):

xdotool key control+m

How this command may be used as a panel launcher / icon is largely dependent on the features of panel used. While some panels will allow the above command to be executed directly in the process of creating a new launcher, others may require the use of an executable script. As an example, a custom executable script called obpanelmenu.sh will be created in the ~/.config folder:

$ text editor ~/.config/obpanelmenu.sh

Once the empty file has been opened, the appropriate XDoTool command must be added to the empty file (i.e. to simulate the CTRL + m keypress for this example):

xdotool key control+m

After the file has been saved and closed, it may then be made into an executable script with the following command:

$ chmod +x ~/.config/obpanelmenu.sh

Executing it will bring up the Openbox desktop menu. Consequently, where using a panel that supports drag-and-drop functionality to add new launchers, simply drag the executable script onto it before changing the icon to suit personal taste.

XDG compliant menu

A xdg compliant menu is based on the freedesktop.org standard. The menu is defined in menu-files which reside in /etc/xdg/menus. New applications will occur automatically in the menu.


  • californium: xdg menu based on the LXQt main menu and easily themable

Desktop theming

{{Tip|It is strongly advised to install obconf and lxappearance-obconf GUI applications to configure visual settings and theming. The latter is particularly important as it is responsible for generating the ~/.gtkrc-2.0 file

It is important to note that a substantial range of both Openbox-specific and generalised, Openbox-compatible GTK themes are available to change the look of window decorations and the desktop menu. Generalised themes are designed to be simultaneously compatible with a range of popular desktop environments and/or window managers, commonly including Openbox.


obconf and/or lxappearance-obconf should be used to select and configure available GTK themes.

Installation: other sources

box-look.org is an excellent and well-established source of themes. deviantART.com is another excellent resource. Many more can be found through the utilisation of a search engine.


There are two particular problems that may be encountered on rare occasions, especially where downloading themes from unsupported websites. These have been addressed below.

Theme cannot be used

If for any reason the newly extracted theme cannot be selected, open the theme directory to first ensure that it is indeed compatible with Openbox by determining that an openbox-3 directory is present, and that within this directory a themerc file is also present. An .obt (OpenBox Theme) file may also be present in some instances, which can then be manually loaded in obconf.

Where expected files and directories are present and correct, then on occasion it is possible that the theme author has not correctly set permission to access the file (e.g. permission may still be for the account of the author, rather than for root). To eliminate this possibility, ensure the folder and file permissions are for root:

# chown -R root /user/share/themes

Compositing effects

Openbox does not provide native support for compositing, and thus requires an external compositor for this purpose.

Although compositing is not a necessary component, it may specifically avoid issues such as screen distortion with oblogout, and visual glitches with terminal window transparency.

Desktop icons and wallpapers

Openbox does not natively support the use of desktop icons or wallpapers. As a consequence, it will be necessary to install additional applications for this purpose, where desired.

Desktop management using file managers

Some file managers have the capacity to fully manage the desktop, meaning that they may be used to provide wallpapers and enable the use of icons on the desktop. The LXDE desktop environment itself uses PCManFM for this purpose.

Icon programs

While there are programs dedicated to enabling desktop icons alone, it would seem that they have greater drawbacks than the utilisation of file managers for the task. These programs are discussed briefly, below.


idesk is a simple program that can enable icons in addition to managing wallpaper. It will be necessary to create an ~/.idesktop directory, and desktop icons must also be manually created. To use idesk to provide icons, add the following command to the ~/.config/openbox/autostart file:

idesk &

conky reconfiguration

Particularly where using a file manager to manage the desktop, it will be necessary to edit ~/.conkyrc to change the own_window_type command in order for conky to continue to be displayed (where used). The revised command that should be used is:

own_window_type normal

Openbox for multihead users

While Openbox provides better than average multihead support on its own, openbox-multihead-git provides a development branch called Openbox Multihead that gives multihead users per-monitor desktops. This model is not commonly found in floating window managers, but exists mainly in tiling window managers. It is explained well on the Xmonad web site. Also, please see README.MULTIHEAD for a more comprehensive description of the new features and configuration options found in Openbox Multihead.

Openbox Multihead will function like normal Openbox when only a single head is available.

A downside to using Openbox Multihead is that it breaks the EWMH assumption that one and only one desktop is visible at any time. Thus, existing pagers will not work well with it. To remedy this, you can install pager-multihead-git alongside Openbox Multihead. It will work without Openbox Multihead if only one monitor is active.

Tips and tricks

Launch a complex command with hotkey

If you need to execute a complex command, use shell functionality.

Special character replacement are as follows:

  • &: &amp;
  • <: &lt;
  • >: &gt;

This example will turn off display immediately and lock screen with slock. It was taken from this thread.

 <keybind key="W-l">
   <action name="Execute">
     <command>sh -c 'slock &amp; (sleep .5 &amp;&amp; xset dpms force off)'</command>

Sometimes one need to specify environment variable for application:

 <keybind key="A-F7">
   <action name="Execute">
     <command>sh -c "LC_ALL=C obconf"</command>

Another example will launch application preserving all stdout and stderr output to file:

 <keybind key="A-f">
   <action name="Execute">
     <command>sh -c sh -c "exec gimp &gt;/tmp/gimp.out 2&gt;&amp;1"</command>

Switch desktops using the mouse

It is possible to switch desktop by moving the mouse cursor to the edges of the screen. First install xdotool and add the following two lines to your ~/.xinitrc:

xdotool behave_screen_edge --delay 500 left set_desktop --relative -- -1 &
xdotool behave_screen_edge --delay 500 right set_desktop --relative -- +1 &

Stop continous mouse wheel desktop switching

By default Openbox switches from the last desktop back to the first desktop on mouse wheel scroll. Use <wrap>no</wrap> in the mousebind section to disable this behaviour.

   <context name="Desktop">
     <mousebind button="Up" action="Click">
       <action name="GoToDesktop">
     <mousebind button="Down" action="Click">
       <action name="GoToDesktop">

Ad-hoc window transparency

Warning: This may not work where other actions are defined within the action group.

The program transset-df can enable window transparency on-the-fly.

For example, using the following code in the <mouse> section of the ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml file will enable control of application window transparency by hovering the mouse-pointer over the title bar and scrolling with the middle button:

<context name="Titlebar">
    <mousebind button="Up" action="Click">
        <action name= "Execute" >
        <execute>transset-df -p .2 --inc  </execute>
    <mousebind button="Down" action="Click">
        <action name= "Execute" >
        <execute>transset-df -p .2 --dec </execute>

Using obxprop for faster configuration

The openbox package provides a obxprop binary that can parse relevant values for applications settings in rc.xml. Officially obxprop | grep "^_OB_APP" is recommended for this task. Start the process by running the command shown, then click a window to see its properties in the terminal.

Xprop values for applications

xorg-xprop can be used to relay property values for selected applications. Where frequently using per-application settings, the following Bash Alias may be useful: dy:

alias xp='xprop | grep "WM_WINDOW_ROLE\|WM_CLASS" && echo "WM_CLASS(STRING) = \"NAME\", \"CLASS\""'

To use Xorg-XProp, run using the alias given xp, and click on the active program desired to define with per-application settins. The results displayed will only be the information that Openbox itself requires, namely the WM_WINDOW_ROLE and WM_CLASS (name and class) values:

WM_CLASS(STRING) = "gajim.py", "Gajim.py"


For whatever reason, Firefox and like-minded equivalents ignore application rules (e.g. <desktop>) unless class="Firefox*" is used. This applies irrespective of whatever values xprop may report for the program's WM_CLASS.

Switching between keyboard layouts

See the article section switching between keyboard layouts for instructions.

Set grid layout for virtual desktops

Install obsetlayout. To set a 2x2 grid for example:

obsetlayout 0 2 2 0

Run it without arguments to know what the arguments mean.

Enable Hot Corners

lead provides hot corners for openbox and other lightweight window managers. Start the application with a entry in the autostart-file:

mlde.lead &

Commands can be edited in the configuration file ~/.config/mlde/lead.conf:

topLeft=mlde.californium toggle

Window snapping

Many desktop environments and window managers support window snapping (e.g. Windows 7 Aero snap), whereby they will automatically snap into place when moved to the edge of the screen. This effect can also be simulated in Openbox through the use of keybinds on focused windows.

As illustrated in the example below, percentages must be used to determine window sizes (see openbox.org for further information). In this instance, The super key is used in conjunction with the navigation keys:

<keybind key="W-Left">
    <action name="UnmaximizeFull"/>
    <action name="MaximizeVert"/>
    <action name="MoveResizeTo">
    <action name="MoveToEdge"><direction>west</direction></action>
<keybind key="W-Right">
    <action name="UnmaximizeFull"/>
    <action name="MaximizeVert"/>
    <action name="MoveResizeTo">
    <action name="MoveToEdge"><direction>east</direction></action>

However, it should be noted that once a window has been 'snapped' to an edge, it will remain vertically maximised unless subsequently maximised and then restored. The solution is to implement additional keybinds - in this instance using the down and up keys - to do so. This will also make pulling 'snapped' windows from screen edges faster as well:

<keybind key="W-Down">
   <action name="Unmaximize"/>
<keybind key="W-Up">
   <action name="Maximize"/>

This Ubuntu forum thread provides more information. Applications such as opensnap are also available to automatically simulate window snapping behaviour without the use of keybinds.

Smooth display manager transition

Note: This has been confirmed to work with LightDM.

Users of display managers might experience a flickering during the transition between the display manager and the Openbox desktop. The flickering comes from Openbox setting the root window's color during startup. Therefore there's a brief moment when the display flashes in a grey color, between the display manager's background and the desktop's wallpaper.

Setting the root window's background color can be disabled by editing the Openbox startup script found in /usr/lib/openbox/openbox-autostart. Simply comment out (or delete) the block starting with # Set a background color.

Note: Users who don't specifically set their wallpaper will "inherit" the display manager's background automatically if they disable the root window color adjustment.