Fluxbox In-Depth: Mad Customization And Other Tips

Other Stuff


I don’t think it would be fair to any discussion on Fluxbox to fail to mention Tabs. Everybody loves tabs. Tabbed browsing has taken web browsers by storm. Tabbed file managers are becoming the next big thing. It should be no surprise that Fluxbox has had tabbed windowing for years.

Fluxbox allows you to merge several applications’ windows together into one… for lack of a better term: unit. The unit then has tabs for each application that you can flip between. You can move the unit around on the workspace, move it to other workspaces, etc., and thus, all the apps move around together. The unit then has a single icon in the Iconbar, and all the apps then share other states as well. Some people call this the best feature of Fluxbox.

Personally, I don’t use this feature much, but I can think of the advantages. For example, say I hated multiple workspaces, and thus, needed to have all my apps on one. My Iconbar would be packed full, and I wouldn’t be able to see any information in them. With tabs I could lump my three or four Firefox windows into one, and all my Open Office docs onto another, then my two Bluefish projects into one, all the Gimp windows into one. Suddenly I’d have reduced the number of icons down to four, a far more manageable number.


There are many third party apps developed to work with Fluxbox to extend its functionality. For example, if you absolutely adore those pretty little icons on your desktop, you can use Fbdesk or Idesk to get them back. Try Google and the Fluxbox Wiki for more.


Fluxbox comes with a great number of “System Styles” or “Themes” which allow you to change the basic appearance of the Toolbar, Root Menu, window appearance, etc. Fluxbox also allows you to have other “User Styles” which are simply placed in the ~/.fluxbox/styles/ directory. There are hundreds of User Styles available for download off the net, but one can also go about creating one’s own. Personally, I tend to find a style close to what I want, then make changes to please my overly critical eye. This is remarkably easy as styles are defined in a single text file that is not too complicated. This guy has some more information. Styles, both System and User, are easily changed via the Root Menu.

I think I should note here that the Fluxbox style will likely not do everything you want. To get the complete look you’re after, you also have to change your GkrellM theme – if you use it – of which 191 themes are available in a single tarball here (untar into ~/.gkrellm2/themes/).

More importantly, many applications use what is called a GUI toolkit for designing their windows. There are several toolkits in use on *nix systems, predominantly GTK (most Gnome apps) and QT (most KDE apps). Some GTK themes are available here. It doesn’t matter where they are placed as long as in your home directory you link .gtkrc and .gtkrc-2.0 to the appropriate files in the theme’s directory (should be obvious). QT can be changed in several ways: if KDE is installed you can use the kcontrol app, and on some systems you can use qt3-qtconfig. There are also various third-party apps that allow you to use one theme for both GTK and QT toolkits.


Between your Fluxbox style and your GTK/QT style, with perhaps a little editing by hand, you should be able to get the look you’re after. Add in a similar GkrellM (or other applet) theme, a really cool background image, customize some aterms, and you’ve got that badass Linux system that makes your geek friends drool and your *doze friends start asking how hard it is to learn Linux.

But while you can really impress with the appearance of Fluxbox, that won’t be why you stay with it. Much of what you can visually do with it can be accomplished with other window managers, although the task might be a tad more difficult. Beyond the superficial lies the truly brilliant design that ties all the functionality for highly efficient day-to-day operation into a mere handful of easy-to-edit text files. And once you really start using that functionality, when you try to flip back to other window managers you’ll find yourself increasingly frustrated by their failings and limitations, and asking the bewildering question, “Why don’t they just implement something simple to fix this – like Fluxbox?”

16 thoughts on “Fluxbox In-Depth: Mad Customization And Other Tips

  1. Great writeup, Pat. I’m actually going to have to play around with the Fluxbox Apps file… there’s a lot of cool functionality in that particular file that I’m just still not using, and I could get used to some of those things really quick.

    You’ve already spoiled me with the stuff I’ve lifted from your Keys file (particularly the window sizing and movement key bindings… those are really handy, and I’ve only been using them for a few weeks).

  2. Pingback: Links 04/08/2009: GNOME Dropping Icon Clutter, KDE 4.3 Finally Liked by SJVN | Boycott Novell
  3. “So when I restart my computer or even just a program, I absolutely detest having to resize and relocate windows to the way I had them before the restart”

    Have you ever tried devilspie/gdevilspie(gui)? it let’s me do that and a lot more in xfce. I’m sure you’ll like it…

    check them out:



  4. Good post. You’ve inspired me to tweak my own FluxBox configuration a bit more. I’m going to have to play with the startup and apps files, and of course the keys file. 🙂

  5. Thanks. Glad I could help. My keys file really isn’t that complicated, but you can google and find all sorts of amazing example files. Have fun!

  6. Pingback: Fluxbox and dockapps « The Linux Critic
  7. nice guide to Fluxbox, really.. I definitely share your enthusiasm about Flux’s speed, lightweight-ness, and ease of configuration/customization!

  8. Pingback: Mint Enlightenment « The Linux Critic
  9. Hi! Just want to say thank you. I’m trying out fluxbox and thanks to what you wrote and generously shared, I was able to make out what to do with it! Now I’m loving it! Keep up the good work. Take care and God bless.

  10. Quick suggestion: If you like Firefox, try Swiftfox, a speed-optimized Firefox for Linux only! While it hasn’t been updated to version 4 yet, it runs much faster than FF and goes well with Fluxbox, plus it has access to all of the extensions and add-ons as FF! Also, if you’re wanting to use a minimalistic file manager (which most Fluxboxians are), try PCManFM. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it gets the job done well.

  11. Hello Patrick,

    Tnaks for this great tutorial !

    I never found the answer to my question on the launch of programs on several desktops at fluxbox startup :
    Is it possible to launch, for example, appli#1 on desktop#2, appli#2 on #desktop#4, appli#3 on desktop #3 and so on ?

    (desktop#n = virtual desktop in fluxbox)

    If it was possible, could you tell us how to do in the startup file, to obtain this result ?

    Thanks in advance !

  12. You all are welcome. Glad to see this is still helpful even if some of the links are broken. =D But I knew that would happen eventually.

  13. @Guillaume
    I know it’s been months and you’ve probably found your answer already, but I’ll respond anyway. What you’re asking is really two different questions.

    First, to launch apps on startup, see here:

    Second, to get them to open on the different desktops (fluxbox calls them “workspaces”) you can edit the Apps file to include “[Workspace] {4}” under that app (change the number). You don’t have to edit it by hand though. If you run the app you want on the workspace you want, right-click the app’s titlebar, go down to Remember, and check the box next to Workspace. This will add the line to the Apps file for you.

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