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I was wondering how the window manager registers itself with the X server, and how it knows what process to kill when it goes about replacing the current window manager

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The source code of dwm would be useful to read -- the whole window manager is just over 2000 lines, although lacking replace. Metacity's src/core/screen.c:322 too. (I'm only suggesting as a practical example, not as documentation.) –  grawity Sep 8 '11 at 21:32
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X just keep waiting for the return of the process of wm/de. Suppose you have a line of exec awesome in your ~/.xinitrc. X will start and execute that line and monitor that process return. Try putting commands below of exec line, they'll never be parsed.

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