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I don't imagine this is built into the system, but is it possible to do it without too much hassle?

Say I open a specific program with a hotkey, and when I press that hotkey again, the program window is brought to the front.

I want to do this on Ubuntu 9.04.

Maybe with D-Bus? Any experts?

Update: Here's what I ended up with in case it's of help to somebody:

if [ -f "/tmp/" ]; then
  WID=`cat /tmp/`
  xdotool windowactivate $WID
  if [ "$?" != "0" ]; then
  WID=`xdotool search --title "UNIQUE TITLE" | head -1`

if [ "$WID" == "" ]; then
  /usr/bin/gnome-terminal --window-with-profile=MYPROFILE "$@"
  WID=`xdotool search --title "UNIQUE TITLE" | head -1`
  echo $WID > /tmp/
  xdotool windowactivate $WID

Surely it can be simplified, but I'm no bash wiz. Also, for my example to work, I created a custom profile in Terminal that applies a unique title to the window so it can be found later. The possibilities are endless!

share|improve this question
For this simple task, jtb's method works better, because xdotools sometimes throws X errors, and wmctrl is faster. – Ivan Aug 1 '09 at 0:33
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The wmctrl program is just what you're looking for (sudo apt-get install wmctrl). You can use the wmctrl -a "AppTitle" command to bring the app to the front. wmctrl -l will list all available windows, so it should be easy to write a shell script that checks if your program is running and either launches it or brings it to the front. Then you can just bind that to a keyboard shortcut.

First save the following script somewhere, I'll use /home/jtb/code/bringToFront. It takes two arguments, the first is what you would type at the terminal to launch the program, the second is a substring of the program window's title. If there is no constant unique string in the title then you'll need to do a bit more work to find the program's window.

if [ `wmctrl -l | grep -c "$2"` != 0 ]  
    wmctrl -a "$2"
    $1 &
  1. With the script in your current directory, run chmod +x bringToFront to make the script executable. Then make sure it works; to launch/focus firefox you could run ./bringToFront firefox "Mozilla Firefox".

  2. Now we need to bind a shortcut key. Run gconf-editor and navigate the folder structure to the left to /apps/metacity/keybinding_commands.

  3. Double click on the first command with a blank value, probably command_1. Type the full path to the script and provide the two parameters, e.g. /home/jtb/code/bringToFront firefox Firefox.

  4. From the panel on the left, select global_keybindings, the next folder up. Find the run entry matching the command you just defined, probably run_command_1. Double click it and type the keyboard shortcut you want to use. Put the modifiers in angle brackets, e.g. <Ctrl><Alt>F.

Now Control + Alt + F will bring your firefox window to the front, or launch it if it's not already running.

share|improve this answer
Yeah, I found out about that a couple of minutes ago, but I went with xdotool. Thanks! – Ivan Jul 31 '09 at 23:41
I forgot to mention I also used the global shortcuts and commands in gconf to fully accomplish the effect (a poor man's Quake console!). – Ivan Jul 31 '09 at 23:45
Ah, yeah I haven't used xdotool myself but it looks like it would give you some more flexibility. Good point about gconf. Since that's pretty non-obvious I might as well edit the answer to include more details for anybody else looking to do this. – jtb Jul 31 '09 at 23:57
Poort Man's Quake console? You mean like Tilda? – prestomation Aug 3 '09 at 18:47
Yes, I use Tilda too, but I work on several projects through the week, and for each one I always open three or four tabs, so quickly switching to the project's console ("workspace") without cluttering Tilda is very useful for me. – Ivan Aug 13 '09 at 19:32

Here's another way to do it with xdotools. The process to pop-up is recognized by the command line issued to run it (no pid file or unique window title needed).


# command line to be run. Note that the resulting
# process will hold this in /proc/PID/cmdline 

pid=`pgrep -nf "^$cmd$"`
# most recent process having "$cmd" in /proc/PID/cmdline

if [ -z "$pid" ]; then # no pid
    exec $cmd
    # run command
    winid=`xdotool search --all --pid $pid --onlyvisible | head -1`
    # first visible window owned by pid
    xdotool windowactivate $winid
    # give window focus
share|improve this answer

thanks for that. I use a modified version of it to create a window shortcut script which also supports cycling through multiple instances. If you are interested:

cheers :)

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