Using Notify-OSD for XMonad Notifications

In my continuing efforts to strip my computing experience of any non-essential parts, I’ve decided to ditch my statusbars. My desktop is now solely a grid of tiled terminals (and a browser). It’s quite nice. The only thing I slightly missed, however, was notifications when one of my windows set Urgency. This used to trigger a bright yellow color for that workspace in my dzen-based statusbar.

A Brief Tangent:

Windows have these properties called “hints” which they can set on themselves at will. These properties can be read by Window Managers in an effort to do the Right Thing. Hints are how a Window tells the Manager, “Hey, I should be full-screen” or, “I’m a dialog, float me on top of everything”. One such hint is WM_URGENT.

WM_URGENT is how windows get your attention. It’s what makes them flash in your task bar or bounce in your dock. If you’re using a sane terminal, it should set WM_URGENT on itself if the program running within it triggers a “bell”.

By telling applications like mutt or weechat to print a bell when I get new email or someone nick-highlights me, I can easily get notifications of these events even from applications that are running within screen, in an ssh session, on some server far, far away. Pretty neat.

Now that I’m without a status bar, I need to be notified some other way. Enter Notify-OSD.


Notify-OSD is part of the desktop notification system of GNOME, but it can be installed standalone and used to send notifications from the command-line very easily:

$ notify-send "A title" "A message"

So how do we get XMonad to send a useful notification via notify-send whenever a window sets the WM_URGENT hint? Enter the UrgencyHook.


Setting a custom urgency hook is very easy, but not exactly intuitive. What we’re actually doing is declaring a custom data type, then making it an instance of the UrgencyHook typeclass. The single required function to be a member of this typeclass is an action which will be run whenever a window sets urgency. Conveniently, it’s given the window with urgency as an argument. We can use this to format our notification.

First off, add the module imports we’ll need:

import XMonad.Hooks.UrgencyHook
import XMonad.Util.NamedWindows
import XMonad.Util.Run

import qualified XMonad.StackSet as W

Then make that custom datatype and instance:

data LibNotifyUrgencyHook = LibNotifyUrgencyHook deriving (Read, Show)

instance UrgencyHook LibNotifyUrgencyHook where
    urgencyHook LibNotifyUrgencyHook w = do
        name     <- getName w
        Just idx <- fmap (W.findTag w) $ gets windowset

        safeSpawn "notify-send" [show name, "workspace " ++ idx]

Finally, update main like so:

main :: IO ()
main = xmonad
     $ withUrgencyHook LibNotifyUrgencyHook
     $ defaultConfig
        { -- ...
        , -- ...

To test this, open a terminal in some workspace and type:

$ sleep 3 && printf "\a"

Then immediately focus away from that workspace. In a few seconds, you should see a nice pop-up like:


You can see the title of the notification is the window name and I use the message to tell me the workspace number. In this case, the name is the default “urxvt” for a terminal window, but I also use a few wrapper scripts to open urxvt with the -n option to set its name to something specific which will then come through in any notifications from that window.

If that doesn’t work, it’s likely your terminal doesn’t set Urgency on bells. For rxvt at least, the setting is:

URxvt*urgentOnBell: true
URxvt*visualBell:   false

In Xresources or Xdefaults, whichever you use.

15 Oct 2013, tagged with xmonad, haskell, notify-osd