Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why is it now called Sawfish?

    Because the old name (Sawmill) was already being used by another company, who were in the process of registering it as a trademark.

    The rename should be mostly painless, all old binaries still work for the time being, but will be phased out over time. Where before you would execute a program called sawmill*, replace it by sawfish*. E.g. sawmill becomes sawfish, and sawmill-client becomes sawfish-client.

    Your ~/.sawmill directory will automatically be renamed ~/.sawfish unless it would overwrite an existing file. Both ~/.sawfishrc and ~/.sawmillrc will be checked currently (though only one will be actually loaded).

    My apologies for any inconvenience caused.

  2. But why Sawfish, and not <insert your favourite alternative>?

    Well I had to choose something! And hopefully it satisfies the main requirements:

    • There are no other computer-related users of the name (as checked in April 2000,)
    • It's similar enough to the old name to hopefully carry some recognition across,
    • It has no tenuous relationship to window-managing.
  3. I installed Sawfish but it's not working! All I see when I start X is the default stipple background: no programs, no menus, no pager.

    This is exactly what it's supposed to do. Sawfish is a window manager and as such is not responsible for setting the background, starting programs or displaying a pager--these can all be done using separate applications (e.g. by using a desktop environment such as GNOME).

    The default menu binding is somewhat obscure; you must middle-click on the background to bring up the menus. (If you have a two-button mouse, try clicking both buttons simultaneously)

    If, after reading this, you still think that sawfish isn't working, please send mail describing the problem to the sawfish mailing list

  4. How do I add customizations?

    There are several files controlling this:

    Hand written lisp code, loaded at startup. This is where almost all explicit customization should be done.
    This lisp library is only loaded if there's no .sawfishrc file.
    This stores customizations created by the configuration tool; it shouldn't really be edited manually.

    This file is loaded after sawmill-defaults, but before .sawfishrc.

  5. I created .sawfishrc, now things have changed?

    If a ~/.sawfishrc file exists, it prevents sawmill-defaults from being loaded. But it's sawmill-defaults that loads some of the common window manager features, so add the line

    (require 'sawmill-defaults)

    to your .sawfishrc file if you want to start with all the standard features loaded.

  6. What's this sawfish-client program?

    This allows you to connect to a window manager process and evaluate arbitrary Lisp forms. Do sawfish-client -? for more details (sawfish-client - for a read-eval-print loop)

    By default you can only connect from the host running the wm (through a unix-domain socket). To enable the network based server, evaluate the lisp form (server-net-init).

    Note however that this connects through the X server, meaning that anyone who can open windows on your display can also execute any Lisp code on the host running the window manager (and by extension, execute any program).

    So don't run the net server with X access control disabled (unless you're not connected to a network)

  7. How do I bind a key to execute a shell command?

    Bind a key to the run-shell-command command; remember to enter the shell command you want to execute in the string entry in the Edit binding dialog window.

  8. How do I make clicking on a window raise the window?

    Bind the event Button1-Click1 in the window-keymap to the raise-window-and-pass-through-click command

  9. How do I redefine the Applications menu?

    See the Popup Menus node in the Info manual (see Popup Menus)

  10. How do I read the Info manual?

    Either execute the command info sawfish, or enter the Info mode within Emacs (C-h i) and type g (sawfish) RET.

    If you're using GNOME, then try executing gnome-help-browser info:sawfish.

  11. How do I create a new theme?

    See the Window Frames node of the Info manual (see Window Frames)

    Basically though, create a directory ~/.sawfish/themes/foo where foo is the name of your theme. Then copy any images into this directory and create a file theme.jl that will be loaded to initialise the theme

    The configuration tool will display the contents of a file called README in the directory (but make it 80-column text, and only a few lines)

    Recent versions of sawfish include a program sawfish-themer that allows simple themes to be created using a GTK+ interface. Ian McKellar has created GimpMill:

    GimpMill is a GIMP plugin written in Python using James Henstrige's really cool Python GIMP bindings. It allows the construction of Sawmill themes within The GIMP - extending the GIMP interface to allow theme creation like the GAP extends it to allow animation creation.

    GimpMill is available from <>

  12. How do I port an Enlightenment theme to sawfish?

    There's no automatic translation available. Get the images used in the window border, then write a theme.jl file telling the window manager how they are used to form a window frame

    See the themes/brushed-metal directory for an example, and the Info manual for the documentation

  13. Are there any other themes available?

    Thanks to those nice people at, there's now <> for your theming pleasure

  14. Why don't GTK themes work with sawfish?

    There was a problem with older versions of the gtk-engines package preventing engine based themes working with several interpreted languages. Get the latest gtk-engines from <>

  15. Why don't you use GUILE?

    Mainly because I'm lazy; I had already written rep, and therefore understood it completely, whereas I have never used GUILE. Also, rep has some features not available in GUILE (byte-code compilation, autoloading, built-in event-loop, ...)

    But before you flame me: yes I do think scheme is a more elegant language

  16. Will you add feature x?

    Possibly. But only if it can be written in Lisp, or doesn't conflict with the overall design aims.

    These aims are to build a lightweight, generally applicable, set of core window management functions, then write all high-level functionality as Lisp extensions

  17. Will you add background setting?

    No. This can easily be done by a separate application (e.g. with the GNOME hints, simply monitor property _WIN_WORKSPACE on the root window).

  18. Is there a sawfish mailing list?

    Yes, thanks to Erik Arneson who manages it.

    To subscribe, send a message to with subscribe sawmill in the body.

    The list is archived at <>.

  19. Is there a sawfish IRC channel?

    From Ryan Pavlik

    Sawmill has an irc channel too! It's on EFNet, and called (of all crazy things), #sawmill. So break out your irc clients, or hop on over if you're already addicted. Theme, lisp, general sawmill, and most other random discussion welcome.

    If you need an EFNet server, check for a listing.

  20. Why does sawfish look weird/crash on Solaris?

    Sawfish works stably on Solaris, but you may need to do two things:

    1. Disable use of MIT-SHM by Imlib (run the program imlib_config, the MIT-SHM option is on the Rendering page)
    2. Recompile GTK+ using the --disable-xim option to configure
  21. Why don't some windows ever get focused?

    If you don't have the option `give focus to windows even when they haven't asked for it' checked (group Focus/Advanced), then windows that don't ask for focus don't get it.

    Windows ask to receive focus by setting their WM_HINTS property appropriately; for example if I xprop a gnome-terminal:

                    Client accepts input or input focus: True
                    Initial state is Normal State.
                    window id # of group leader: 0x5c00001

  22. Why doesn't the GNOME desk-guide / tasklist show the true state of my desktop?

    It seems that there is a problem with these applets that only occurs after restarting sawfish-they seem to lose track of the current window states.

    The simplest way to correct this is to execute the following shell commands:

    $ save-session
    $ killall panel

    (assuming you have a session manager to restart the panel afterwards!)

  23. What do these bytecode-error messages mean?

    It means that you're trying to execute Lisp code that was compiled for an outdated version of the Lisp virtual machine. Recompile any Lisp files that you have installed locally.

  24. How do I compile Lisp files?

    Use the shell command:

    sawfish --batch -l compiler -f compile-batch files...

    where files... are the names of the files you want to compile. They will normally have .jl suffixes, the compiler will create associated files with .jlc suffixes containing the compiled Lisp code.