unadulterated faff

Some useful keyboard shortcuts for Xfce

I’ve been using Xfce as my desktop environment since college, shortly after I switched to Linux for my daily driver. At the time, I really enjoyed distro-hopping and my operating system seemed to be reinstalled once every few weeks for a while. During that period, I played around with different flavors of Arch, Fedora, Debian and Ubuntu before realizing that ultimately the only things that really matter about a distro are its package manager and its desktop environment. I had tried out a few desktop environments and window managers and the one that stuck was Xfce. There are a pretty wide variety of desktop environments in Linuxland, ranging from extremely bare-bones to hyper-bloated memory hogs. Xfce manages to strike the right balance for me most of the time: fairly light-weight while still retaining all the ancillary software of a fully functional DE, meaning that you don’t need to separately install a file manager, a window manager, a desktop manager, a power manager, a settings panel, etc.

A big plus for me at the time was that Xfce isn’t really a keyboard-first environment (cf. i3 or awesome), which meant that I didn’t need to completely abandon a mouse-based workflow while I was getting used to Linux in general. Over the years, my workflow has gradually become more keyboard-centric (enough so that I’ve been considering a switch over to i3 or dwm, but that’s a topic for another post), so I decided to write this article to record the various Xfce-specific shortcuts I have used to enable that transition.

Xfce shortcuts

Some of the shortcuts that I’ll include below are Xfce defaults (i.e. they come baked-in with a new install of Xfce), but some are shortcuts that I’ve added. In order to begin adding our own shortcuts, we should first take a look at what shortcuts are and how Xfce manages them.

Shortcut types:

There are two distinct types of shortcuts:

Command shortcut creation example

xfwm4 shortcut creation example

My shortcuts

Note: There is a legend describing the modifier keys below.

Command Shortcuts:

Shortcut Command or Effect Default? Notes
<Alt> + - amixer -D pulse sset Master 5%- no Decrease volume by 5%
<Alt> + = amixer -D pulse sset Master 5%+ no Increase volume by 5%
<Super> + Z xdotool click 1 no Right-click
<Super> + X xdotool click 2 no Middle-click
<Super> + C xdotool click 3 no Left-click
<Ctrl> + <Alt> + T exo-open --launch TerminalEmulator no Launch the default terminal emulator
<Super> + T exo-open --launch TerminalEmulator no Launch the default terminal emulator
<Super> + F exo-open --launch FileManager no Launch the default GUI file manager
<Super> + M exo-open --launch MailReader yes Launch the default email client
<Super> + B exo-open --launch Browser yes Launch the default browser
<Super> + R xfce4-appfinder yes Search for any application, similar to Launchpad on macOS
<Alt> + <F2> xfrun4 yes Search for an application, similar to Spotlight search on macOS
<Ctrl> + <Alt> + L xflock4 yes Lock the screen (launching Xscreensaver if enabled)

xfwm4 Shortcuts – Window Management:

Shortcut Command or Effect Default? Notes
<Ctrl> + <Esc> Launch start menu yes  
<Super> + <Tab> Cycle focus between windows of the same application yes Allows you to quickly change which window is focused w/i a workspace, but only between windows belonging to the same application
<Alt> + <Space> Open popup menu for current window yes This opens the menu that’s usually available in the top left
<Alt> + <Tab> Cycle through windows within the current workspace yes  
<Alt> + <Shift> + <Tab> Cycle through windows within the current workspace, in reverse yes  
<Alt> + <Shift> + <Page Down> Lower current window yes Can be used to cycle through windows w/i a workspace
<Alt> + <Shift> + <Page Up> Raise current window yes Can be used to cycle through windows w/i a workspace
<Alt> + <F4> Close current window yes Closes the window that currently has focus
<Alt> + <F5> Horizontally maximize current window yes  
<Alt> + <F6> Vertically maximize current window yes  
<Alt> + <F7> Maximize current window yes  
<Alt> + <F8> Make current window sticky yes When a window is made sticky, it becomes visible in all workspaces
<Alt> + <F9> Hide current window yes  
<Alt> + <F11> Toggle fullscreen mode yes This will toggle fullscreen mode on the focused window
<Ctrl> + <Alt> + D Minimize all windows/show the desktop yes  

xfwm4 Shortcuts – Desktop Management:

Shortcut Command or Effect Default? Notes
<Alt> + <Insert> Create new workspace yes  
<Alt> + <Del> Delete the last workspace yes Note: this does NOT delete the current workspace
<Ctrl> + <Alt> + Cycle forwards through workspaces yes  
<Ctrl> + <Alt> + Cycle backwards through workspace yes  
<Ctrl> + <Alt> + <End> Move currently focused window to the next workspace yes  
<Ctrl> + <Alt> + <Home> Move currently focused window to the previous workspace yes  
<Ctrl> + <F[1 - 12]> Jump to a numbered workspace yes Ex: to go to the 6th workspace, use <F6>
<Ctrl> + <Alt> + [0-9] Move the currently focused window to a numbered workspace yes Ex: to go to the 3rd workspace, use 3

Key Symbol Legend

If a key isn’t in the legend, then it should just match the name described on most keyboards (eg <Alt> is just the Alt key).

Key Symbol Key Description
<Del> Delete key
<Ctrl> Ctrl or Control key
<F[1-12]> The function keys, F1 through F12
<Space> Spacebar
<Super> The “Windows” key, though it may be another symbol on some keyboards
Up arrow key
Right arrow key
Left arrow key
Down arrow key

Using Xfce

If Xfce sounds like your kind of thing, you can download it here or try out a Linux distro that comes with it like Xubuntu (based on Ubuntu) or Manjaro (based on Arch). It is available on some non-Linux Unix-like OSes: basically any Unix-like OS that can support X11 should have it, including the BSDs and macOS.