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dwl - dwm for Wayland

Join us on our Discord server or at #dwl on

dwl is a compact, hackable compositor for Wayland based on wlroots. It is intended to fill the same space in the Wayland world that dwm does in X11, primarily in terms of philosophy, and secondarily in terms of functionality. Like dwm, dwl is:

  • Easy to understand, hack on, and extend with patches
  • One C source file (or a very small number) configurable via config.h
  • Limited to 2200 SLOC to promote hackability
  • Tied to as few external dependencies as possible

dwl is not meant to provide every feature under the sun. Instead, like dwm, it sticks to features which are necessary, simple, and straightforward to implement given the base on which it is built. Implemented default features are:

  • Any features provided by dwm/Xlib: simple window borders, tags, keybindings, client rules, mouse move/resize. Providing a built-in status bar is an exception to this goal, to avoid dependencies on font rendering and/or drawing libraries when an external bar could work well.
  • Configurable multi-monitor layout support, including position and rotation
  • Configurable HiDPI/multi-DPI support
  • Idle-inhibit protocol which lets applications such as mpv disable idle monitoring
  • Provide information to external status bars via stdout/stdin
  • Urgency hints via xdg-activate protocol
  • Support screen lockers via input-inhibitor protocol
  • Various Wayland protocols
  • XWayland support as provided by wlroots (can be enabled in
  • Zero flickering - Wayland users naturally expect that "every frame is perfect"
  • Layer shell popups (used by Waybar)
  • Damage tracking provided by scenegraph API

Features under consideration (possibly as patches) are:

Feature non-goals for the main codebase include:

  • Client-side decoration (any more than is necessary to tell the clients not to)
  • Client-initiated window management, such as move, resize, and close, which can be done through the compositor
  • Animations and visual effects

Building dwl

dwl has only two dependencies: wlroots and wayland-protocols.

Simply install these (and their -devel versions if your distro has separate development packages) and run make. If you wish to build against a Git version of wlroots, check out the wlroots-next branch.

To enable XWayland, you should also install xorg-xwayland and uncomment its flag in


All configuration is done by editing config.h and recompiling, in the same manner as dwm. There is no way to separately restart the window manager in Wayland without restarting the entire display server, so any changes will take effect the next time dwl is executed.

As in the dwm community, we encourage users to share patches they have created. Check out the patches page on our wiki!

Running dwl

dwl can be run on any of the backends supported by wlroots. This means you can run it as a separate window inside either an X11 or Wayland session, as well as directly from a VT console. Depending on your distro's setup, you may need to add your user to the video and input groups before you can run dwl on a VT. If you are using elogind or systemd-logind you need to install polkit; otherwise you need to add yourself in the seat group and enable/start the seatd daemon.

When dwl is run with no arguments, it will launch the server and begin handling any shortcuts configured in config.h. There is no status bar or other decoration initially; these are instead clients that can be run within the Wayland session.

If you would like to run a script or command automatically at startup, you can specify the command using the -s option. This command will be executed as a shell command using /bin/sh -c. It serves a similar function to .xinitrc, but differs in that the display server will not shut down when this process terminates. Instead, dwl will send this process a SIGTERM at shutdown and wait for it to terminate (if it hasn't already). This makes it ideal for execing into a user service manager like s6, anopa, runit, or systemd --user.

Note: The -s command is run as a child process of dwl, which means that it does not have the ability to affect the environment of dwl or of any processes that it spawns. If you need to set environment variables that affect the entire dwl session, these must be set prior to running dwl. For example, Wayland requires a valid XDG_RUNTIME_DIR, which is usually set up by a session manager such as elogind or systemd-logind. If your system doesn't do this automatically, you will need to configure it prior to launching dwl, e.g.:

export XDG_RUNTIME_DIR=/tmp/xdg-runtime-$(id -u)

Status information

Information about selected layouts, current window title, and selected/occupied/urgent tags is written to the stdin of the -s command (see the printstatus() function for details). This information can be used to populate an external status bar with a script that parses the information. Failing to read this information will cause dwl to block, so if you do want to run a startup command that does not consume the status information, you can close standard input with the <&- shell redirection, for example:

dwl -s 'foot --server <&-'

If your startup command is a shell script, you can achieve the same inside the script with the line

exec <&-

To get a list of status bars that work with dwl consult our wiki.

Replacements for X applications

You can find a list of useful resources on our wiki.


dwl began by extending the TinyWL example provided (CC0) by the sway/wlroots developers. This was made possible in many cases by looking at how sway accomplished something, then trying to do the same in as suckless a way as possible.

Many thanks to and the dwm developers and community for the inspiration, and to the various contributors to the project, including:

  • Alexander Courtis for the XWayland implementation
  • Guido Cella for the layer-shell protocol implementation, patch maintenance, and for helping to keep the project running
  • Stivvo for output management and fullscreen support, and patch maintenance
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