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Updated: 2022-12-07

Useful Tips for the Sway Window Manager

For the past several months I've been using Sway window manager, after getting tired of how much GNOME was changing1. The switch has been a very pleasant experience. If I find a behavior I don't like then a quick search of the manual will usually have an option to change it. If there is a missing feature then it's a quick web search to find the right tool for the job. Most are already packaged in Debian stable. Overall whole sway ecosystem has gotten quite mature.

In this post I will summarize some useful settings and tools I've used to get sway working the way I like. Nothing groundbreaking, but hopefully it will be useful.

Set Caps Lock to be Control

As an Emacs user on a laptop I like to have the Caps Lock key rebound to Ctrl. In sway this can be done as follows:

input "1:1:AT_Translated_Set_2_keyboard" xkb_options ctrl:nocaps

Adjust Screen Brightness

I use brightnessctl to control this.

# Brightness
bindsym XF86MonBrightnessDown exec "brightnessctl -n set 5%-"
bindsym XF86MonBrightnessUp   exec "brightnessctl set +5%"

Years ago I contributed the -n flag or --min-value. This flag will prevent your brightness from falling to zero and turning off your display.

Taking Screenshots

Very simple command line screenshot tool.
A small shell script around grim that provides easy commands to capture a specific windows/regions using your mouse.
# Screenshot
bindsym Print       exec "grimshot save screen"
bindsym Mod1+Print  exec "grimshot save window"
bindsym Shift+Print exec "grimshot save area"
bindsym Mod4+Print  exec "grimshot copy area"

I based these shortcuts off the ones used in GNOME.

By default grim/grimshot will place files in the $XDG_SCREENSHOTS_DIR (default ~/Pictures). This can be overridden by setting $XDG_SCREENSHOTS_DIR if needed.

Reduce Blue Light

There is some research that shows blue light in the evening is not good for you. Regardless though it's nice to have the screen a bit warmer when viewing in a dark room.

Gammastep handles this in an extremely easy way. Just set your location (latitude:longitude) and add it to your config. The color temperature can be tweaked if needed.

exec gammastep -l 45.000:-80.000

Hide Borders when Window is 'Maximized'

When there is only one window on the screen the borders are unnecessary. This is normally how "maximized" windows are handled in most floating window desktops. Smart border hiding does exactly that.

hide_edge_borders smart

Keep Renamed Workspaces in Order

If you rename your workspaces to something other than numbers they may not be ordered correctly in the sway bar. This can be corrected by adding a "number:" before the name. The numbers can be removed by adding the following to your sway bar settings:

strip_workspace_numbers yes

Example using Japanese Kanji:

# switch to workspace
bindsym $mod+1 workspace 1:一
bindsym $mod+2 workspace 2:二
bindsym $mod+3 workspace 3:三
bindsym $mod+4 workspace 4:四
bindsym $mod+5 workspace 5:五
bindsym $mod+6 workspace 6:六
bindsym $mod+7 workspace 7:七
bindsym $mod+8 workspace 8:八
bindsym $mod+9 workspace 9:九
bindsym $mod+0 workspace 10:十
# move focused container to workspace
bindsym $mod+Shift+1 move container to workspace 1:一
bindsym $mod+Shift+2 move container to workspace 2:二
bindsym $mod+Shift+3 move container to workspace 3:三
bindsym $mod+Shift+4 move container to workspace 4:四
bindsym $mod+Shift+5 move container to workspace 5:五
bindsym $mod+Shift+6 move container to workspace 6:六
bindsym $mod+Shift+7 move container to workspace 7:七
bindsym $mod+Shift+8 move container to workspace 8:八
bindsym $mod+Shift+9 move container to workspace 9:九
bindsym $mod+Shift+0 move container to workspace 10:十


I'm pretty happy with sway and I think I'll stick with it for a while. I love how every rough edge I smooth feels like a step towards creating my perfect computer experience.

Still there are a few edges I still would like to address further. Below are a just a few:

  • Launching Applications — I don't like how dmenu by default shows all commands as many I will never need to run.
  • Audio Controls — I currently use amixer because that was already included on Debian. I've had some situations where it has behaved inconsistently.
  • Customizing Swaybar — I currently use a pretty basic i3status config. It would be interesting to experiment with something different.
  • Color Schemes — I currently use the default i3 colors, and it would be nice to come up with something more me.



The GNOME developers mean well and most decisions they make are good for the average computer consumer. However, as a pretty adept user having your workflow change gets old.


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