This article is relevant for Linux Mint 18.1 too. But here is the latest installation procedure for Linux Mint 18.1.

What is i3

i3 is an improved tiling windows manager and it is available for many distributions.

I give a quote from zdnet.

i3 is not a desktop environment in the sense of things like KDE and Gnome, or even the lightweight Xfce and LXDE. One of the simplest ways that I can think of to explain the difference is that while most desktop environments are concerned with eye candy, i3 is much more concerned with finger food.

Here’s another way to explain it. i3 is a text-oriented (and keyboard-oriented) window manager, where the other traditional desktops are graphic-oriented (and mouse-oriented) systems. … But in i3 what is important is that you can easily manipulate windows without the mouse, using only the keyboard.

Can I run it on Linux Mint

Sure you can. Many distributions are capable of running i3 and have the packages in their repositories.
Clicking on the image below will bring you to the home page of i3.

You see the logo of Ubuntu. So we can run it on Linux Mint 18 Cinnamon.



You have a Linux Mint 18 Cinnamon that is up-to-date.

For the tutorials I have an extra SSD on which I do my trial runs to test out my scripts. I suggest you do the same.

I install Linux Mint 18 Cinnamon on this empty ssd with an usb giving it all the space.

Upon reboot I update cinnamon.

Then I go over to my github Ultimate Linux Mint 18 Cinnamon.

I will install the software I want but surely I will run these as a minimum

Installing software and installing kernels is not part of i3 installation.

But since I did a clean install I use the opportunity to show you how easy and fast you can install all your linux software.

Tip: you can fork my github and have your own copy online and change the scripts the way you want them to be.


Rebooted after the new kernel installation. We will change the icon theme to see that everything was installed.

Tip: changing themes/icons in linux mint cinnamon will have NO effect in i3.

Variety will be configured. We will use this as well in i3.
Installing the shortcuts for variety as well.
We will be getting also the themes-icons-pack from github and install all the themes we can later select in i3.


You will end up with all the needed icons, themes and applications we will use in the i3 tutorials.

If you want to install proprietary drivers you can do so. Broadcom, Nvidia, Ati and the likes.

Upgrade your kernel if you want to. There are scripts ready on the github to do this. Only if you know if the kernel gives you no problem.

Get that out of the way.

Installation Procedure of i3

Get the code from github

Get the code from github. Install git first or just download the zip and extract.


This folder, your are downloading, is all you will need to get i3 working the easy way.

Inside the folder Installation is the sequence of the installation procedure you can follow till the last one or not.
Inside the installation/step_4 there is a folder i3. This folder contains your basic i3 settings.

Running the code from github in sequence

All the steps of the procedure will be shown in this film.

I have tested the script 6 times or more. These movies were made on a clean install with no kernel update.

After watching this film, you will get a good idea what to expect.

Step 1

Let us install i3 first.

Go inside the folder Installation/step_1.

Folder 1-i3-from-repo

First we will get i3 from the Linux Mint Repositories (version 4.11) by running the script

Folder 2-i3_with_gaps

Now we will upgrade i3 to a special version with gaps. This special version depends on an application xcb-util-xrm. This package is not yet included in the repositories at mid September 2016. So we compile it ourselves. In the future this can be done easier if it is in the repo’s.

First we install all the dependencies for both scripts

Then we run the script to install xcb-util-xrm.

Next we will run a script to get I3 and its dependencies (version 4.12) with the possibility to have gaps between the windows by running

The added advantage is that we will have the latest version of i3 as you can see on the website.

Step 2

We will install an extra menu to start applications. This menu is quite interesting as the menu is based on the .desktop files in your /usr/share/applications. Other menu’s tend to show ALL programs. In linux this can be quite a long series.

Run the script to get this extra j4-desktop-dmenu.

Step 3

Now we will install software that is needed specifically for the use in i3.

Run the script

You will install

– numlockx to enable the numeric key
– feh will help changing the wallpapers from variety
– lxappearance to change icons, themes and cursors
– scrot to take a quick screenshot of your desktop
– compton to enable some dimming of unfocused windows
– unclutter to get rid of the mouse icon if it is in the way
– volti to have a panel icon to adjust sound volume
– terminator – different terminal you can fine-tune in look

Step 4

When you install i3 it will make an hidden folder in this location, once you login.

You have to copy/paste the content of the i3 folder into ~/.config/i3.

You have to make this folder yourself. It is normal that you do not have it.

You never logged in with i3.

Beware the hidden files !! Copy/paste all files (CTRL + H)

At this point we have one hidden file with the name .i3status.conf but there might be more in the future.

Some explanations

+ config is the most important file – here all the settings of I3 that can be changed
+ .i3status.conf is the configuration file for you bottom panel that can be changed
+ is used to logoff, exit, reboot etc – no need to change this
+ compton.conf is telling the system to dim the windows that have no focus that can be changed
+ will start the two conky’s present
+ system-overview will show process and memory
+ system-shortcuts will help you with the shortcuts

Step 5

In regards to icons and themes I will download the following github : themes-icons-pack

And install the icons and themes I like.

The way i3 looks can be changed later with a program called lxappearance. Use lxappearance to change icons, themes and cursors.

Remember to log off and on to see the effect in i3.

I provide you with two files so you know where the settings can be found. If you have issues changing the icons, you can check out my settings of these files.

You CAN copy these files to the proper places but it is not necessary.

This file should be in your home directory as a hidden file. Compare or copy/paste.

The other file is a bit deeper in the folder structure.

Compare your settings or copy/paste to this location.

Step 6

If you want the conky’s to work you will have to run the installation script for the software.

Step 7

Nothing yet to share in the folder step 7.

I3 is MADE for DUAL (and more) SCREENS

The program xrandr will show you how your monitors are named.
In the ~/.config/i3/config file you will need to change the code.

Uncomment the ones you need. This is my setup.

Use this code in your config or terminal (only once) to tell the system which monitor goes on the left.

Step 8

You will be working a lot in the terminal. I have the application terminator as terminal. In all distro’s it is available and it provides transparency of the background so we can look at the wallpaper provided by variety.
The folder, where the settings are,  will only be present if you go to preferences and change something. You can also make the folder yourself.
These are my settings. Put them in this folder. Compare or copy/paste.

Step 9

These are all my config files or settings of a wide variety of applications.

Not necessary to do.


Shortcuts to remember

In i3 it is mandatory to know the keyboard shortcuts. We will get a minimal desktop environment.

The best thing to do is :

read the config file in the folder ~/.config/i3

In the articles to follow I will just do that. Explain you parts of the config file.

If in a hurry, you can always check the conky or this website.

Mod key

You can set your mod key. I have set mine to the Windows Key

This line in your config file will set the windows key or super key as mod key.

Some commands working with the Mod Key (or windows key)

Mod + SHIFT + E  = to exit i3 and log back on with Cinnamon

Mod + D  = dmenu

Mod + SHIFT + D = j4_dmenu

Mod + Enter = terminal

Mod + SHIFT + Enter = nemo (file manager) on workspace 8

Mod + SHIFT + Q = end current program (move mouse over it)

Assign section

Remember the 10 possible screens in the bottom-left corner.
I have positioned some programs on specific workspaces.

assign [class=”Firefox”]          → 1

assign [class=”sublime-text”]     → 2

assign [class=”sublime_text”]     → 2

assign [class=”Sublime_text”]     → 2

assign [class=”vlc”]              → 7

assign [class=”Nemo”]             → 8

assign [class=”Geary”]            → 9

assign [class=”Evolution”]        → 9

assign [class=”Spotify”]          → 10

Tip : if you use sublime-text. It gives us ‘nag screens’ to buy it. They will pop up in workspace 2 because of my setting.

Reload the config

Mod + SHIFT + R = reload i3 if you change some code in the config file

Start applications with CTRL + ALT + …

ALT = Mod1 for i3

So CTRL + ALT + f will start firefox.
Put a hashtag (#) in front of the line if you do not want this shortcut or the change the application.

bindsym control+Mod1+f exec firefox

bindsym control+Mod1+g exec geary

bindsym control+Mod1+e exec evolution

bindsym control+Mod1+s exec spotify

bindsym control+Mod1+t exec subl

bindsym control+Mod1+b exec nemo

bindsym control+Mod1+n exec cinnamon-settings

bindsym control+mod1+m exec gnome-system-monitor

How to login into i3

Log out and log back in by clicking the symbol in the top right of the login screen and choose i3.
I am set to autologin. It will remember your previous session and log you back in next time.


What will happen when you login

ONLY if you installed these applications.

Firefox will start on workspace 1.
Sublime Text will start on workspace 2.
Nemo will start on workspace 8.

Spotify will start on any workspace…
There is a bug/issue we have to live with. Put your mouse on top of spotify and press
mod ( or super) and SHIFT and 0 (zero) to move it to window 10 for example


What should you know before you login in i3

Watch this movie first before logging in to know your way around. This is a tiling windows manager!

Content of the movie

  • what is a tiling manager
  • location of the config file
  • workspaces
  • assign firefox to workspace 1
  • i3status bar with conf file
  • assign nemo to workspace 8
  • mailing clients like geary and evolution go to workspace 9 (by the way)
  • how to move an application to another workspace
  • quiting an application
  • shortcut to run applications
  • open menu with WIN + D
  • open alternative menu with WIN + SHIFT + D
  • how to quit i3
  • alternative way to quit i3, lock or logout
  • showing how a tiling manager works
  • opening a terminal
  • opening nemo
  • conky’s to give information and offer help with the shortcuts


Pictures what to expect


Conky to help you with the basic information and the basic keyboard shortcuts

Lxappearance to change icons, themes, …


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