1 Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why is it now called _Sawfish_?
Because the old name (`Sawmill') was already being used by another
company, who were in the process of registering it as a trademark.
The rename should be mostly painless, all old binaries still work
for the time being, but will be phased out over time. Where before
you would execute a program called `sawmill*', replace it by
`sawfish*'. E.g. `sawmill' becomes `sawfish', and `sawmill-client'
Your `~/.sawmill' directory will automatically be renamed
`~/.sawfish' unless it would overwrite an existing file. Both
`~/.sawfishrc' and `~/.sawmillrc' will be checked currently
(though only one will be actually loaded).
My apologies for any inconvenience caused.
2. But why _Sawfish_, and not <insert your favourite alternative>?
Well I had to choose something! And hopefully it satisfies the main
* There are no other computer-related users of the name (as
checked in April 2000,)
* It's similar enough to the old name to hopefully carry some
* It has no tenuous relationship to window-managing.
3. I installed Sawfish but it's not working! All I see when I start
X is the default stipple background: no programs, no menus, no
This is exactly what it's supposed to do. Sawfish is a _window
manager_ and as such is not responsible for setting the background,
starting programs or displaying a pager--these can all be done
using separate applications (e.g. by using a desktop environment
such as Gnome).
The default menu binding is somewhat obscure; you must
middle-click on the background to bring up the menus (If you have
a two-button mouse, try clicking both buttons simultaneously)
If, after reading this, you still think that Sawfish isn't working,
please send mail describing the problem to the Sawfish mailing list
4. How do I add customizations?
There are several files controlling this:
Hand written lisp code, loaded at startup. This is where
almost all explicit customization should be done.
This lisp library is only loaded if there's no `.sawfishrc'
This stores customizations created by the configuration tool;
it shouldn't really be edited manually.
This file is loaded _after_ `sawmill-defaults', but _before_
5. I created `.sawfishrc', now things have changed?
If a `~/.sawfishrc' file exists, it prevents `sawmill-defaults'
from being loaded. But it's `sawmill-defaults' that loads some of
the common window manager features, so add the line
to your `.sawfishrc' file if you want to start with all the
standard features loaded.
6. What's this `sawfish-client' program?
This allows you to connect to a window manager process and evaluate
arbitrary Lisp forms. Do `sawfish-client -?' for more details
(`sawfish-client -' for a read-eval-print loop)
By default you can only connect from the host running the wm
(through a unix-domain socket). To enable the network based
server, evaluate the lisp form `(server-net-init)'.
Note however that this connects through the X server, meaning that
anyone who can open windows on your display can also execute any
Lisp code on the host running the window manager (and by extension,
_execute any program_).
So _don't_ run the net server with X access control disabled
(unless you're not connected to a network)
7. How do I bind a key to execute a shell command?
Bind a key to the `run-shell-command' command; remember to enter
the shell command you want to execute in the string entry in the
`Edit binding' dialog window.
8. How do I make clicking on a window raise the window?
Bind the event `Button1-Click1' in the `window-keymap' to the
9. How do I redefine the `Applications' menu?
See the `Popup Menus' node in the Info manual (*note Popup Menus::)
10. How do I restart Sawfish?
From a shell lauch the following command: `sawfish-client -q -f
11. How do I read the Info manual?
Either execute the command `info sawfish', or enter the Info mode
within Emacs (`C-h i') and type `g (sawfish) RET'.
If you're using Gnome, then try executing `gnome-help-browser
12. How do I create a new theme?
See the `Window Frames' node of the Info manual (*note Window
Basically though, create a directory `~/.sawfish/themes/FOO' where
FOO is the name of your theme. Then copy any images into this
directory and create a file `theme.jl' that will be loaded to
initialize the theme
13. How do I port an Enlightenment theme to Sawfish?
There's no automatic translation available. Get the images used in
the window border, then write a `theme.jl' file telling the window
manager how they are used to form a window frame
See the `themes/brushed-metal' directory for an example, and the
Info manual for the documentation
14. Are there any other themes available?
Yes, there are plenty actually. Most of them reside over at
freshmeat: `http://themes.freshmeat.net/browse/926/'. You can
also take a look at the Themes section on the Sawfish website:
15. Why don't GTK themes work with Sawfish?
There was a problem with older versions of the `gtk-engines'
package preventing engine based themes working with several
interpreted languages. Get the latest `gtk-engines' from
16. Why don't you use GUILE?
Mainly because I'm lazy; I had already written rep, and therefore
understood it completely, whereas I have never used GUILE. Also,
rep has some features not available in GUILE (byte-code
compilation, autoloading, built-in event-loop, ...)
But before you flame me: yes I do think scheme is a more elegant
17. Will you add feature X?
Possibly. But only if it can be written in Lisp, or doesn't
conflict with the overall design aims.
These aims are to build a lightweight, generally applicable, set of
core window management functions, then write _all_ high-level
functionality as Lisp extensions
18. Will you add background setting?
No. This can easily be done by a separate application (e.g. with
the Gnome hints, simply monitor property `_WIN_WORKSPACE' on the
19. Is there a Sawfish mailing list?
Yes. Please subscribe at
`http://mail.gnome.org/mailman/listinfo/sawfish-list'. You can
browse the archives at
20. Is there a Sawfish IRC channel?
Yes, there is. Join `#sawfish' on `irc.freenode.net'.
21. Why does Sawfish look weird/crash on Solaris?
Sawfish works stably on Solaris, but you may need to do two things:
1. Disable use of MIT-SHM by Imlib (run the program
`imlib_config', the MIT-SHM option is on the `Rendering' page)
2. Recompile GTK+ using the `--disable-xim' option to configure
22. Why don't some windows ever get focused?
If you don't have the option `give focus to windows even when they
haven't asked for it' set to nil (define-special-variable
ignore-window-input-hint nil), then windows that don't ask for
focus don't get it.
Windows ask to receive focus by setting their WM_HINTS property
appropriately; for example if I xprop a gnome-terminal:
Client accepts input or input focus: True
Initial state is Normal State.
window id # of group leader: 0x5c00001
23. Why doesn't the Gnome desk-guide / tasklist show the true state of
It seems that there is a problem with these applets that only
occurs after restarting Sawfish - they seem to lose track of the
current window states.
The simplest way to correct this is to execute the following shell
$ killall panel
(assuming you have a session manager to restart the panel
24. What do these `bytecode-error' messages mean?
It means that you're trying to execute Lisp code that was compiled
for an outdated version of the Lisp virtual machine. Recompile any
Lisp files that you have installed locally.
25. How do I compile Lisp files?
Use the shell command:
sawfish --batch -l compiler -f compile-batch FILES...
where FILES... are the names of the files you want to compile.
They will normally have `.jl' suffixes, the compiler will create
associated files with `.jlc' suffixes containing the compiled Lisp