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Tray icons in i3

·396 words·2 mins
Hill in Derbyshire, UK

The i3 window manager delivers a lot of what I like: simplicity, speed, and configurability. Some things, like tray icons, magically appear in other window managers. These items require a bit more configuration within i3 to get them set up well.

In this post, I’ll explain how I handle tray icons in i3.

Basic configuration #

The tray icon configuration is within the bar configuration for i3. You control it via tray_output. Here’s an excerpt from my bar configuration in ~/.config/i3/config:

bar {
    status_command i3status
    position bottom
    tray_output DP-2
    font pango: Hack, Font Awesome 5 Free Regular 10
    separator_symbol "  "
    colors {
        background #000000
        statusline #ffffff
        separator #586e75


In this example, I told i3 that I only want tray icons to appear on my main display, called DP-2. You can get these output names with xrandr:

$ xrandr | grep " connected"
DP-2 connected 3840x2160+0+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 597mm x 336mm
DP-4 connected 3840x2160+3840+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 597mm x 336mm

My desktop has DP-2 as the primary (left) monitor and DP-4 is on the right. If you prefer to look at these graphically, install arandr (GUI frontend for xrandr).

You get some other options for tray_icons:

  • none: Don’t show the tray icons at all
  • primary: Let i3 determine your primary display based on xrandr settings
  • <output_name>: Choose a specific output from xrandr output

Filling the tray #

The next logical question is: how do I choose which icons and applets appear in the tray? I wrote a small bash script to take care of this for me:


pkill -f pasystray
pkill -f blueman-applet
pkill -f nm-applet

pasystray --notify=all &
blueman-applet &
nm-applet --indicator &

This script starts by stopping all of the applets and then starts them again. This may seem unnecessary, but it gets easier to understand once you add the script to your i3 configuration file in ~/.config/i3/config:

exec_always --no-startup-id "~/.config/i3/"

The exec_always ensures that the tray icons script runs each time i3 starts up and it also runs when I restart i3 to pick up new configuration changes with Mod+Shift+R. Each i3 restart causes the tray applets to stop and start again. This also helps when I do system updates and one of the applets can’t find its daemon after a restart.

Photo credit: Joseph Barrientos on Unsplash