Article posted on: 2021-01-16 22:26
Last edited on: 2021-01-17 12:24
Written by: Sylvain Gauthier
I have been using dwm as my only window manager for
quite a while now, and it happens to ship with a very convenient utility called
dmenu. The purpose of this utility might seem trivial and useless to people
not familiar with the UNIX philosophy, but as with most UNIX things, it’s
precisely its simplicity that makes its strength.
dwm takes a bunch of lines in
stdin, display them separately on a menu bar
(by default on top of your screen) and will filter them as the user type
characters into the bar. Once the user press enter, the selected entry gets
Nothing fancy, you might think, but here are a few of its applications that I either use (or even made) personally or are worth mentioning.
That’s the most obvious one and the default use of it on
dwm. You simply print
all possible commands into
stdin and you execute the output. You’ve
got yourself a task launcher that’s infinitely lighter and faster that all the
nonsense usually found in graphical user interfaces, all the shiny search bars
and start menus.
If, like me, you like using a simple browser without tab support and you just want to load one web page per instance (at least most of the time), you’ll love this one.
Just put all of your favorite URLs into a text file, one per line, optionally
with a description or title separated by a space. You feed that file to dmenu,
cut -d' ' -f1 the output to keep only the URL and you open the browser on
Code snippet to do that assuming you are using
surf, plus activate tor if the
line in your bookmarks starts with
#!/bin/bash SEL="$(dmenu < "$HOME/.bookmarks")" OPT="$(printf "$SEL" | grep -o '^[A-Z] ' | cut -d ' ' -f1)" URL="$(printf "$SEL" | grep -o '[^ ]*$')" case "$OPT" in T) PROXY="socks://127.0.0.1:9050" ;; *) ;; esac test -z "$URL" && exit http_proxy="$PROXY" surf "$URL" shred ~/.surf/cookies.txt rm ~/.surf/cookies.txt rm -r ~/.surf/cache
Not only is this ridiculously light and simple but with that system, any script or program can easily add bookmarks to your file, by just appending the new one at the end. Endless possibilities.
If you use pass to store securely your
passwords, you may have heard of
passmenu, which will just feed all passwords
paths into dmenu, let you select the one you want, will decipher it and store it
in the clipboard so that you can paste it wherever you want.
The great thing with this solution, compared to most integrated password managers in mainstream web browser, is that it’s completely universal. Whether you need a password in a terminal, in a clicky-click GUI, in a website or pipe to a raw device file (don’t do that), it will work.
“B-but the clipboard is not secure, what about malicious software that might snatch your password from it?” You might ask.
Well, if you think running malicious code on your CPU is an acceptable threat model that just need to be dealt with, congratulation, you can be a web browser developer. Feel free to impose your shitty standards and horrendous designs on everybody and hey, make sure that NO ONE can live a decent life without having to use a 10M+ SLOC bloated software whose only purpose is to download code from untrusted sources to run it on your CPU.
I digress, I’ll save my kind words on the modern web for another post.
This one I kinda stole from a Luke Smith video, where he did roughly the same for emojis.
The way it works is ridiculously simple. It’s pretty much the same as the bookmark system described above, except instead of an URL you have an emoji, with a description. So you just filter emojis by typing the description and it will insert the selected emoji in the clipboard. You can then paste it anywhere you want. A simple trick that makes all emoji selection menu developers for all individual apps seethe with anger as they see their work deprecated by a 5 line script.
My modest improvement consists in using this for simplified Chinese input. Instead of an emoji file, I built a dictionary from wiktionary with thousands of Chinese characters with their pronunciation and translation. So the same technique as above lets you filter and select the character you want, not only by pronunciation but also by the English meaning. Makes learning mandarin even easier than it already is.
The only difference with the emoji system is that here, the script loops on the
character selection and will append the next one to the previous one until the
Ctrl+C, to make it more efficient to write full words and small
Here is the code to do that:
#!/bin/sh DICT="$HOME/.local/share/dict/mandarin" char="" sent="" while true ; do char="$(dmenu -l 30 < "$DICT" | cut -d' ' -f1 | tr -d $'\n')" test -n "$char" || exit 0 sent="$sent$char" echo "$sent" | xclip -r -selection c done
And here is the Chinese dictionary to save you the trouble of formatting it.
Those are just a few, humble uses I found to dmenu but the possibilities are endless. I will edit this article with more uses as they arise.
Next post on minimal tips series will be our homemade
choice CLI menu