i3bar input protocol

Michael Stapelberg
August 2012

This document explains the protocol in which i3bar expects its input. It provides support for colors, urgency, shortening and easy manipulation.

1. Rationale for choosing JSON

Before describing the protocol, let’s cover why JSON is a building block of this protocol.

  1. Other bar display programs such as dzen2 or xmobar are using in-band signaling: they recognize certain sequences (like ^fg(#330000) in your input text). We would like to avoid that and separate information from meta-information. By information, we mean the actual output, like the IP address of your ethernet adapter and by meta-information, we mean in which color it should be displayed right now.

  2. It is easy to write a simple script which manipulates part(s) of the input. Each block of information (like a block for the disk space indicator, a block for the current IP address, etc.) can be identified specifically and modified in whichever way you like.

  3. It remains easy to write a simple script which just suffixes (or prefixes) a status line input, because tools like i3status will output their JSON in such a way that each line array will be terminated by a newline. Therefore, you are not required to use a streaming JSON parser, but you can use any JSON parser and write your script in any programming language. In fact, you can decide to not bother with the JSON parsing at all and just inject your output at a specific position (beginning or end).

  4. Relying on JSON does not introduce any new dependencies. In fact, the IPC interface of i3 also uses JSON, therefore i3bar already depends on JSON.

The only point against using JSON is computational complexity. If that really bothers you, just use the plain text input format (which i3bar will continue to support).

2. The protocol

The first message of the protocol is a header block, which contains (at least) the version of the protocol to be used. In case there are significant changes (not only additions), the version will be incremented. i3bar will still understand the old protocol version, but in order to use the new one, you need to provide the correct version. The header block is terminated by a newline and consists of a single JSON hash:

Minimal example:

{ "version": 1 }

All features example:

{ "version": 1, "stop_signal": 10, "cont_signal": 12, "click_events": true }

(Note that before i3 v4.3 the precise format had to be {"version":1}, byte-for-byte.)

What follows is an infinite array (so it should be parsed by a streaming JSON parser, but as described above you can go for a simpler solution), whose elements are one array per status line. A status line is one unit of information which should be displayed at a time. i3bar will not display any input until the status line is complete. In each status line, every block will be represented by a JSON hash:



   "full_text": "E: (1000 Mbit/s)",
   "color": "#00ff00"
   "full_text": "2012-01-05 20:00:01"

   "full_text": "E: (1000 Mbit/s)",
   "color": "#00ff00"
   "full_text": "2012-01-05 20:00:02"

Please note that this example was pretty printed for human consumption. i3status and others will output single statuslines in one line, separated by \n.

You can find an example of a shell script which can be used as your status_command in the bar configuration at https://github.com/i3/i3/blob/next/contrib/trivial-bar-script.sh

2.1. Header in detail


The version number (as an integer) of the i3bar protocol you will use.


Specify the signal (as an integer) that i3bar should send to request that you pause your output. This is used to conserve battery power when the bar is hidden by not unnecessarily computing bar updates. The default value is SIGSTOP, which will unconditionally stop your process. If this is an issue, this feature can be disabled by setting the value to 0.


Specify to i3bar the signal (as an integer) to send to continue your processing. The default value (if none is specified) is SIGCONT.


If specified and true i3bar will write an infinite array (same as above) to your stdin.

2.2. Blocks in detail


The full_text will be displayed by i3bar on the status line. This is the only required key. If full_text is an empty string, the block will be skipped.


Where appropriate, the short_text (string) entry should also be provided. It will be used in case the status line needs to be shortened because it uses more space than your screen provides. For example, when displaying an IPv6 address, the prefix is usually (!) more relevant than the suffix, because the latter stays constant when using autoconf, while the prefix changes. When displaying the date, the time is more important than the date (it is more likely that you know which day it is than what time it is).


To make the current state of the information easy to spot, colors can be used. For example, the wireless block could be displayed in red (using the color (string) entry) if the card is not associated with any network and in green or yellow (depending on the signal strength) when it is associated. Colors are specified in hex (like in HTML), starting with a leading hash sign. For example, #ff0000 means red.


Overrides the background color for this particular block.


Overrides the border color for this particular block.


Defines the width (in pixels) of the top border of this block. Defaults to 1.


Defines the width (in pixels) of the right border of this block. Defaults to 1.


Defines the width (in pixels) of the bottom border of this block. Defaults to 1.


Defines the width (in pixels) of the left border of this block. Defaults to 1.


The minimum width (in pixels) of the block. If the content of the full_text key take less space than the specified min_width, the block will be padded to the left and/or the right side, according to the align key. This is useful when you want to prevent the whole status line to shift when value take more or less space between each iteration. The value can also be a string. In this case, the width of the text given by min_width determines the minimum width of the block. This is useful when you want to set a sensible minimum width regardless of which font you are using, and at what particular size.


Align text on the center, right or left (default) of the block, when the minimum width of the latter, specified by the min_width key, is not reached.

name and instance

Every block should have a unique name (string) entry so that it can be easily identified in scripts which process the output. i3bar completely ignores the name and instance fields. Make sure to also specify an instance (string) entry where appropriate. For example, the user can have multiple disk space blocks for multiple mount points.


A boolean which specifies whether the current value is urgent. Examples are battery charge values below 1 percent or no more available disk space (for non-root users). The presentation of urgency is up to i3bar.


A boolean which specifies whether a separator line should be drawn after this block. The default is true, meaning the separator line will be drawn. Note that if you disable the separator line, there will still be a gap after the block, unless you also use separator_block_width.


The amount of pixels to leave blank after the block. In the middle of this gap, a separator line will be drawn unless separator is disabled. Normally, you want to set this to an odd value (the default is 9 pixels), since the separator line is drawn in the middle.


A string that indicates how the text of the block should be parsed. Set to "pango" to use Pango markup. Set to "none" to not use any markup (default). Pango markup only works if you use a pango font.

If you want to put in your own entries into a block, prefix the key with an underscore (_). i3bar will ignore all keys it doesn’t understand, and prefixing them with an underscore makes it clear in every script that they are not part of the i3bar protocol.


 "full_text": "E: (1000 Mbit/s)",
 "_ethernet_vendor": "Intel"

In the following example, the longest (widest) possible value of the block is used to set the minimum width:

 "full_text": "CPU 4%",
 "min_width": "CPU 100%",
 "align": "left"

An example of a block which uses all possible entries follows:


 "full_text": "E: (1000 Mbit/s)",
 "short_text": "",
 "color": "#00ff00",
 "background": "#1c1c1c",
 "border": "#ee0000",
 "border_top": 1,
 "border_right": 0,
 "border_bottom": 3,
 "border_left": 1,
 "min_width": 300,
 "align": "right",
 "urgent": false,
 "name": "ethernet",
 "instance": "eth0",
 "separator": true,
 "separator_block_width": 9,
 "markup": "none"

2.3. Click events

If enabled i3bar will send you notifications if the user clicks on a block and looks like this:


Name of the block, if set


Instance of the block, if set

x, y

X11 root window coordinates where the click occurred


X11 button ID (for example 1 to 3 for left/middle/right mouse button)

relative_x, relative_y

Coordinates where the click occurred, with respect to the top left corner of the block

output_x, output_y

Coordinates relative to the current output where the click occurred

width, height

Width and height (in px) of the block


An array of the modifiers active when the click occurred. The order in which modifiers are listed is not guaranteed.


 "name": "ethernet",
 "instance": "eth0",
 "button": 1,
 "modifiers": ["Shift", "Mod1"],
 "x": 1925,
 "y": 1400,
 "relative_x": 12,
 "relative_y": 8,
 "output_x": 5,
 "output_y": 1400,
 "width": 50,
 "height": 22