May 12, 2018

Minimal Desktop Notifications

When I started my computer science1 studies in 2010, I used to get notifications for a lot of events. Even non-events like information on the song that was currently playing resulted in a pop-up notification. At some point I got really annoyed by all those pop-up notifications and replaced all of them with badges on the dock icon or in the status bar. This also had the advantage that I could leave my laptop for while, come back and did not miss anything important since all notifications persisted the whole time.

Since I switched from macOS to Linux as my main operating system, I used i3 as my window manager. By default, it doesn’t support notifications, but programs could set the urgency hint which resulted in a highlighted workspace and therefore was similar to what I was used to from my Mac. This was fine as long as I used programs that could set the urgent hint but there were more and more programs that did not have such an option. Sometimes, I had to choose older applications with less features or worse UI simply because they could set the urgency hint and newer ones couldn’t.

At some point this got very unsatisfying and I switched to the Gnome desktop, which allows to just show a little circle in the status bar when new notifications occurred. This very minimal option for showing notifications was supported by all my programs. While I was in heaven notification-wise, I struggled with the window manager. Finally, I decided that non-tiling window manager are to inconvenient to use and started again to find a solution for minimal notifications with i3 that did not restrict me too much in the choice of my programs. I started researching and asked on Reddit but I could not find a solution and no one could help me. My compromise (as recommended by someone on Reddit) was using Dunst which at least had the option to make notifications small, non-animated and persistent so I did not have to pay attention to them all the time. Of course this wasn’t a good solution and from time to time I would search for better solutions. The I found something very interesting today in the man page of Dunst:

Within rules you can specify a script to be run every time the rule is
matched by assigning the 'script' option to the name of the script to be
run.
When the script is called details of the notification that triggered it will
be passed via command line parameters in the following order: appname,
summary, body, icon, urgency.
[...]
If the notification is suppressed, the script will not be run unless
always_run_scripts is set to true.

So I figured I could filter all messages, suppress the notification and run a script instead, which gets passed the application name as the first parameter with this rule:

[urgent_hints]
        summary = "*"
        script = ~/dotfiles/scripts/set_urgent_hint.sh
        format = ""

The script takes the application name as it’s first argument and sets the urgency hint with wmctrl.

#!/bin/sh

wmctrl -r $1 -b add,demands_attention

You can find all the configuration and script files in my dotfiles repository.


  1. Actually, the programme is called Computer Science and Media. [return]