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i3bar input protocol
Michael Stapelberg <>
August 2012
This document explains the protocol in which i3bar expects its input. It
provides support for colors, urgency, shortening and easy manipulation.
== Rationale for choosing JSON
Before describing the protocol, let’s cover why JSON is a building block of
this protocol.
1. Other bar display programs such as dzen2 or xmobar are using in-band
signaling: they recognize certain sequences (like ^fg(#330000) in your input
text). We would like to avoid that and separate information from
meta-information. By information, we mean the actual output, like the IP
address of your ethernet adapter and by meta-information, we mean in which
color it should be displayed right now.
2. It is easy to write a simple script which manipulates part(s) of the input.
Each block of information (like a block for the disk space indicator, a block
for the current IP address, etc.) can be identified specifically and modified
in whichever way you like.
3. It remains easy to write a simple script which just suffixes (or prefixes) a
status line input, because tools like i3status will output their JSON in
such a way that each line array will be terminated by a newline. Therefore,
you are not required to use a streaming JSON parser, but you can use any
JSON parser and write your script in any programming language. In fact, you
can decide to not bother with the JSON parsing at all and just inject your
output at a specific position (beginning or end).
4. Relying on JSON does not introduce any new dependencies. In fact, the IPC
interface of i3 also uses JSON, therefore i3bar already depends on JSON.
The only point against using JSON is computational complexity. If that really
bothers you, just use the plain text input format (which i3bar will continue to
== The protocol
The first message of the protocol is a header block, which contains (at least)
the version of the protocol to be used. In case there are significant changes
(not only additions), the version will be incremented. i3bar will still
understand the old protocol version, but in order to use the new one, you need
to provide the correct version. The header block is terminated by a newline and
consists of a single JSON hash:
*Minimal example*:
{ "version": 1 }
*All features example*:
{ "version": 1, "stop_signal": 10, "cont_signal": 12, "click_events": true }
(Note that before i3 v4.3 the precise format had to be +{"version":1}+,
What follows is an infinite array (so it should be parsed by a streaming JSON
parser, but as described above you can go for a simpler solution), whose
elements are one array per status line. A status line is one unit of
information which should be displayed at a time. i3bar will not display any
input until the status line is complete. In each status line, every block will
be represented by a JSON hash:
"full_text": "E: (1000 Mbit/s)",
"color": "#00ff00"
"full_text": "2012-01-05 20:00:01"
"full_text": "E: (1000 Mbit/s)",
"color": "#00ff00"
"full_text": "2012-01-05 20:00:02"
Please note that this example was pretty printed for human consumption.
i3status and others will output single statuslines in one line, separated by
You can find an example of a shell script which can be used as your
+status_command+ in the bar configuration at
=== Header in detail
The version number (as an integer) of the i3bar protocol you will use.
Specify the signal (as an integer) that i3bar should send to request that you
pause your output. This is used to conserve battery power when the bar is
hidden by not unnecessarily computing bar updates. The default value is SIGSTOP,
which will unconditionally stop your process. If this is an issue, this feature
can be disabled by setting the value to 0.
Specify to i3bar the signal (as an integer) to send to continue your
The default value (if none is specified) is SIGCONT.
If specified and true i3bar will write an infinite array (same as above)
to your stdin.
=== Blocks in detail
The +full_text+ will be displayed by i3bar on the status line. This is the
only required key. If +full_text+ is an empty string, the block will be
Where appropriate, the +short_text+ (string) entry should also be
provided. It will be used in case the status line needs to be shortened
because it uses more space than your screen provides. For example, when
displaying an IPv6 address, the prefix is usually (!) more relevant
than the suffix, because the latter stays constant when using autoconf,
while the prefix changes. When displaying the date, the time is more
important than the date (it is more likely that you know which day it
is than what time it is).
To make the current state of the information easy to spot, colors can
be used. For example, the wireless block could be displayed in red
(using the +color+ (string) entry) if the card is not associated with
any network and in green or yellow (depending on the signal strength)
when it is associated.
Colors are specified in hex (like in HTML), starting with a leading
hash sign. For example, +#ff0000+ means red.
Overrides the background color for this particular block.
Overrides the border color for this particular block.
Defines the width (in pixels) of the top border of this block. Defaults
to 1.
Defines the width (in pixels) of the right border of this block. Defaults
to 1.
Defines the width (in pixels) of the bottom border of this block. Defaults
to 1.
Defines the width (in pixels) of the left border of this block. Defaults
to 1.
The minimum width (in pixels) of the block. If the content of the
+full_text+ key take less space than the specified min_width, the block
will be padded to the left and/or the right side, according to the +align+
key. This is useful when you want to prevent the whole status line to shift
when value take more or less space between each iteration.
The value can also be a string. In this case, the width of the text given
by +min_width+ determines the minimum width of the block. This is useful
when you want to set a sensible minimum width regardless of which font you
are using, and at what particular size.
Align text on the +center+, +right+ or +left+ (default) of the block, when
the minimum width of the latter, specified by the +min_width+ key, is not
name and instance::
Every block should have a unique +name+ (string) entry so that it can
be easily identified in scripts which process the output. i3bar
completely ignores the name and instance fields. Make sure to also
specify an +instance+ (string) entry where appropriate. For example,
the user can have multiple disk space blocks for multiple mount points.
A boolean which specifies whether the current value is urgent. Examples
are battery charge values below 1 percent or no more available disk
space (for non-root users). The presentation of urgency is up to i3bar.
A boolean which specifies whether a separator line should be drawn
after this block. The default is true, meaning the separator line will
be drawn. Note that if you disable the separator line, there will still
be a gap after the block, unless you also use +separator_block_width+.
The amount of pixels to leave blank after the block. In the middle of
this gap, a separator line will be drawn unless +separator+ is
disabled. Normally, you want to set this to an odd value (the default
is 9 pixels), since the separator line is drawn in the middle.
A string that indicates how the text of the block should be parsed. Set to
+"pango"+ to use[Pango markup].
Set to +"none"+ to not use any markup (default). Pango markup only works
if you use a pango font.
If you want to put in your own entries into a block, prefix the key with an
underscore (_). i3bar will ignore all keys it doesn’t understand, and prefixing
them with an underscore makes it clear in every script that they are not part
of the i3bar protocol.
"full_text": "E: (1000 Mbit/s)",
"_ethernet_vendor": "Intel"
In the following example, the longest (widest) possible value of the block is
used to set the minimum width:
"full_text": "CPU 4%",
"min_width": "CPU 100%",
"align": "left"
An example of a block which uses all possible entries follows:
"full_text": "E: (1000 Mbit/s)",
"short_text": "",
"color": "#00ff00",
"background": "#1c1c1c",
"border": "#ee0000",
"border_top": 1,
"border_right": 0,
"border_bottom": 3,
"border_left": 1,
"min_width": 300,
"align": "right",
"urgent": false,
"name": "ethernet",
"instance": "eth0",
"separator": true,
"separator_block_width": 9,
"markup": "none"
=== Click events
If enabled i3bar will send you notifications if the user clicks on a block and
looks like this:
Name of the block, if set
Instance of the block, if set
x, y::
X11 root window coordinates where the click occurred
X11 button ID (for example 1 to 3 for left/middle/right mouse button)
relative_x, relative_y::
Coordinates where the click occurred, with respect to the top left corner
of the block
output_x, output_y::
Coordinates relative to the current output where the click occurred
width, height::
Width and height (in px) of the block
An array of the modifiers active when the click occurred. The order in which
modifiers are listed is not guaranteed.
"name": "ethernet",
"instance": "eth0",
"button": 1,
"modifiers": ["Shift", "Mod1"],
"x": 1925,
"y": 1400,
"relative_x": 12,
"relative_y": 8,
"output_x": 5,
"output_y": 1400,
"width": 50,
"height": 22