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xdo - do (keyboard or mouse) things in X

Update: xdotool is now a full project, see this page. It supports much more than just mouse and keyboard things.

Yesterday, I talked about macros. I spent some time coding today and I now have a tool that will let you execute raw keyboard and mouse input into X using the XTEST extension.

The primary example I used was focusing firefox's URL bar without the mouse. The sequence was this: Switch to Desktop 2 (I press Alt+2), focus firefox's URL bar (using control+l) and clear it.

The result is a simple tool I'm tentatively calling 'xdo'. You can download the source here. Compile instructions are at the top of the file.

The top of xdo.c details the implemented commands, so let's cut to an example:

% echo 'key alt+2; sleep 1; key ctrl+l; key BackSpace' | ./xdo
It does exactly what you think. The 'sleep' command has values in milliseconds, and is only necessary to slow down so that events can propgate fast enough (window focus changes, etc).

Another reasonable example would be to say "firefox, open a new tab and load the URL in my clipboard":

# My clipboard contains a valid url, say, ""
(echo "key alt+2; sleep 1; key ctrl+l; key BackSpace;"
 echo "move 55 55; sleep 1; click 2; key Return") | ./xdo
Seems complex, but look at what's really happening: Go to desktop 2, focus urlbar, hit backspace (clearing it), move the mouse cursor to 55,55 (a point inside the urlbar for me), hit middle mouse button to paste.

Change "ctrl+l" to ctrl+k (unix firefox) to focus the "Search" box instead, and change the 'move' command to cursor over the search box to paste instead, and suddenly you can bind a simple keystroke to search for whatever is in your X clipboard. Useful.

One of the neater features is that you can 'type' text:

% echo 'type echo hello there; key Return' | ./xdo
echo hello there
% echo hello there
hello there

Key macro navigation

Today was a learning day. A few months ago, I released keynav, a tool to make large-area mouse navigation very quick. However, I found myself using keynav to do the same things over and over again. Select certain windows, clicking on certain UI widgets, etc; things that are annoying to do repeatedly.

What if we had a way to describe input actions? What if you could say "Focus the firefox URL bar" with a simple keystroke, without having firefox focused? This premise is fairly simple - Focus firefox, then "click" on a certain part of the window. The URL bar's location is pretty reliable (a few pixels from the top).

If you're like me, firefox is on another virtual desktop. What if firefox isn't shown right now because you're on "Desktop 1" and firefox lives on "Desktop 2"? Well we can find out if it's hidden, then send the keystrokes (via XTEST) to switch to "Desktop 2" and then do whatever we would normally do to focus on Firefox's URL bar. The basic pseudocode of the script would look like:

if firefox is not shown:
  go to desktop 2 ("fake send alt+2")

focus firefox (via fake click?)
fake send "Control+L" (Firefox's shortcut for focusing the urlbar)
Seems pretty simple. "Fake" above refers to events sent using the XTest, an extension to X11 (Xorg/XFree86) that lets you send keystrokes and mouse events as if they had been typed.

So, tonight I started work on a project that would let you script actions. Generally, I'm aiming at scripting UI interaction to make common tasks such as "take me to firefox" simpler.

I revisited some man pages for Xlib I hadn't seen in many months, and now I can traverse the list of all open windows in X and show their status. Here's what this tool outputs; notice how I can tell if the window is visible ("shown" by the window manager):

+ 8388621 ([email protected],324) [Visible]
  "xterm" "XTerm" 
+ 44040205 ([email protected],324) [Hidden]
  snack(~) % @ snack
  "xterm" "XTerm" 
+ 29360192 ([email protected],1008) [Hidden]
  HMUG: man XWindowAttributes (3) - Mozilla Firefox
  "firefox-bin" "Firefox-bin"

The other piece of learning I did tonight was to learn GTK2. Enough fiddling around and I was able to get a input field that pops up over everything and is as wide as the screen to input your macros in. GTK's not that bad. Its API design is fairly intuitive and I didn't have much trouble getting things working. I even figured out how to ask GTK what it's X window ID is. Most of this knowledge comes from the GDK X Windows Interaction documentation.

#include <gtk/gtk.h>
#include <gdk/gdkx.h>

static void activate(GtkWidget *widget, gpointer data) {
  // widget->window is the GdkWindow containing this widget.
  g_print("Display handle: %x\n", GDK_WINDOW_XDISPLAY(widget->window));
  g_print("Window id: %d\n", GDK_WINDOW_XID(widget->window));

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
  GtkWidget *window;

  gtk_init (&argc, &argv);
  window = gtk_window_new (GTK_WINDOW_TOPLEVEL);

  g_signal_connect(G_OBJECT(window), "realize",
                   G_CALLBACK(activate), NULL);

  return 0;
Compiled with: gcc `pkg-config --cflags --libs x11` test.c

The little bit of GTK I wrote tonight can be found here. It's not much, but it does example how to use GTK and Xlib at the same time, on the same windows.

Oops... it's getting light outside. Naptime ;)

Reverse x2x invocation.

I have a machine that runs X but doesn't listen to inet connections (via -nolisten-tcp). What if I want to use x2x to this machine? Simple.
 ssh -tY thatmachine 'x2x -from $DISPLAY -to :0 -west' 
This will ssh to 'thatmachine' and forward X. This set's $DISPLAY on the remote machine, which you can then invoke x2x with specifying 'from' as $DISPLAY. This has the same effect as invoking:
 x2x -to thatmachine:0 -west 
Except you don't need to allow tcp X connections. :)