I started migrating my graphical workstations to Wayland, specifically migrating from i3 to Sway. This is mostly to address serious graphics bugs in the latest Framwork laptop, but also something I felt was inevitable.

The current status is that I've been able to convert my i3 configuration to Sway, and adapt my systemd startup sequence to the new environment. Screen sharing only works with Pipewire, so I also did that migration, which basically requires an upgrade to Debian bookworm to get a nice enough Pipewire release.

I'm testing Wayland on my laptop and I'm using it as a daily driver.

Most irritants have been solved one way or the other. My main problem with Wayland right now is that I spent a frigging week doing the conversion: it's exciting and new, but it basically sucked the life out of all my other projects and it's distracting, and I want it to stop.

The rest of this page documents why I made the switch, how it happened, and what's left to do. Hopefully it will keep you from spending as much time as I did in fixing this.

TL;DR: Wayland is mostly ready. Main blockers you might find are that you need to do manual configurations, DisplayLink (multiple monitors on a single cable) doesn't work in Sway, HDR and color management are still in development.

I had to install the following packages:

apt install \
    brightnessctl \
    foot \
    gammastep \
    gdm3 \
    grim slurp \
    pipewire-pulse \
    sway \
    swayidle \
    swaylock \
    wdisplays \
    wev \
    wireplumber \
    wlr-randr \

And did some of tweaks in my $HOME, mostly dealing with my esoteric systemd startup sequence, which you won't have to deal with if you are not a fan.

Note that this page is bound to be out of date as I make minute changes to my environment. Typically, changes will be visible in my Puppet repository, somewhere like the desktop.pp file, but I do not make any promise that the content below is up to date.

  1. Why switch?
  2. Wayland equivalents
    1. Window manager: i3 → sway
    2. Status bar: py3status → waybar
    3. Web browser: Firefox
      1. How to enable it
      2. Screen sharing
      3. Side note: Chrome fails to share a full screen
    4. Email: notmuch
    5. File manager: thunar
    6. News: feed2exec, gnus
    7. Editor: Emacs okay-ish
    8. Backups: borg
    9. Color theme: srcery, redshift → gammastep
    10. Display manager: lightdm → gdm3
    11. Terminal: xterm → foot
    12. Launcher: rofi → fuzzel
      1. Fuzzel
    13. Image viewers: geeqie → geeqie
    14. Media player: mpv, gmpc / sublime
    15. Screensaver: xsecurelock → swaylock
    16. Screenshot: maim → grim, pubpaste
    17. Screen recorder: simplescreenrecorder → wf-recorder
    18. RSI: workrave → nothing?
    19. Other apps
    20. More X11 / Wayland equivalents
  3. Other issues
    1. systemd integration
    2. Environment propagation
    3. Pipewire
    4. Keypress drops
    5. Output mirroring
  4. Improvements over i3
    1. Tiling improvements
    2. Display latency tweaks
    3. Sound/brightness changes notifications
  5. Debugging tricks
  6. Other documentation
  7. Conclusion
    1. A word on the security model

Why switch?

I originally held back from migrating to Wayland: it seemed like a complicated endeavor hardly worth the cost. It also didn't seem actually ready.

But after reading this blurb on LWN, I decided to at least document the situation here. The actual quote that convinced me it might be worth it was:

It’s amazing. I have never experienced gaming on Linux that looked this smooth in my life.

... I'm not a gamer, but I do care about latency. The longer version is worth a read as well.

The point here is not to bash one side or the other, or even do a thorough comparison. I start with the premise that Xorg is likely going away in the future and that I will need to adapt some day. In fact, the last major Xorg release (21.1, October 2021) is rumored to be the last ("just like the previous release...", that said, minor releases are still coming out, e.g. 21.1.4). Indeed, it seems even core Xorg people have moved on to developing Wayland, or at least Xwayland, which was spun off it its own source tree.

X, or at least Xorg, is in maintenance mode and has been for years. Granted, the X Window System is getting close to forty years old at this point: it got us amazingly far for something that was designed around the time the first graphical interface. Since Mac and (especially?) Windows released theirs, they have rebuilt their graphical backends numerous times, but UNIX derivatives have stuck on Xorg this entire time, which is a testament to the design and reliability of X. (Or our incapacity at developing meaningful architectural change across the entire ecosystem, take your pick I guess.)

What pushed me over the edge is that I had some pretty bad driver crashes with Xorg while screen sharing under Firefox, in Debian bookworm (around November 2022). The symptom would be that the UI would completely crash, reverting to a text-only console, while Firefox would keep running, audio and everything still working. People could still see my screen, but I couldn't, of course, let alone interact with it. All processes still running, including Xorg.

(And no, sorry, I haven't reported that bug, maybe I should have, and it's actually possible it comes up again in Wayland, of course. But at first, screen sharing didn't work of course, so it's coming a much further way. After making screen sharing work, though, the bug didn't occur again, so I consider this a Xorg-specific problem until further notice.)

There were also frustrating glitches in the UI, in general. I actually had to setup a compositor alongside i3 to make things bearable at all. Video playback in a window was lagging, sluggish, and out of sync.

Wayland fixed all of this.

Wayland equivalents

This section documents each tool I have picked as an alternative to the current Xorg tool I am using for the task at hand. It also touches on other alternatives and how the tool was configured.

Note that this list is based on the series of tools I use in desktop. My old setup is kept in x11 for historical purposes (and people hanging on to X11).

Window manager: i3 → sway

This seems like kind of a no-brainer. Sway is around, it's feature-complete, and it's in Debian.

I'm a bit worried about the "Drew DeVault community", to be honest. There's a certain aggressiveness in the community I don't like so much; at least an open hostility towards more modern UNIX tools like containers and systemd that make it hard to do my work while interacting with that community.

I'm also concern about the lack of unit tests and user manual for Sway. The i3 window manager has been designed by a fellow (ex-)Debian developer I have a lot of respect for (Michael Stapelberg), partly because of i3 itself, but also working with him on other projects. Beyond the characters, i3 has a user guide, a code of conduct, and lots more documentation. It has a test suite.

Sway has... manual pages, with the homepage just telling users to use man -k sway to find what they need. I don't think we need that kind of elitism in our communities, to put this bluntly.

But let's put that aside: Sway is still a no-brainer. It's the easiest thing to migrate to, because it's mostly compatible with i3. I had to immediately fix those resources to get a minimal session going:

i3 Sway note
set_from_resources set no support for X resources, naturally
new_window pixel 1 default_border pixel 1 actually supported in i3 as well

That's it. All of the other changes I had to do (and there were actually a lot) were all Wayland-specific changes, not Sway-specific changes. For example, use brightnessctl instead of xbacklight to change the backlight levels.

See a copy of my full config for details.

Other options include:

Status bar: py3status → waybar

I have invested quite a bit of effort in setting up my status bar with py3status. It supports Sway directly, and did not actually require any change when migrating to Wayland.

Unfortunately, I had trouble making nm-applet work. Based on this nm-applet.service, I found that you need to pass --indicator for it to show up at all.

In theory, tray icon support was merged in 1.5, but in practice there are still several limitations, like icons not clickable. Also, on startup, nm-applet --indicator triggers this error in the Sway logs:

nov 11 22:34:12 angela sway[298938]: 00:49:42.325 [INFO] [swaybar/tray/host.c:24] Registering Status Notifier Item ':1.47/org/ayatana/NotificationItem/nm_applet'
nov 11 22:34:12 angela sway[298938]: 00:49:42.327 [ERROR] [swaybar/tray/item.c:127] :1.47/org/ayatana/NotificationItem/nm_applet IconPixmap: No such property “IconPixmap”
nov 11 22:34:12 angela sway[298938]: 00:49:42.327 [ERROR] [swaybar/tray/item.c:127] :1.47/org/ayatana/NotificationItem/nm_applet AttentionIconPixmap: No such property “AttentionIconPixmap”
nov 11 22:34:12 angela sway[298938]: 00:49:42.327 [ERROR] [swaybar/tray/item.c:127] :1.47/org/ayatana/NotificationItem/nm_applet ItemIsMenu: No such property “ItemIsMenu”
nov 11 22:36:10 angela sway[313419]: info: fcft.c:838: /usr/share/fonts/truetype/dejavu/DejaVuSans.ttf: size=24.00pt/32px, dpi=96.00

... but that seems innocuous. The tray icon displays but is not clickable.

Note that there is currently (November 2022) a pull request to hook up a "Tray D-Bus Menu" which, according to Reddit might fix this, or at least be somewhat relevant.

If you don't see the icon, check the bar.tray_output property in the Sway config, try: tray_output *.

The non-working tray was the biggest irritant in my migration. I have used nmtui to connect to new Wifi hotspots or change connection settings, but that doesn't support actions like "turn off WiFi".

I eventually fixed this by switching from py3status to waybar, which was another yak horde shaving session, but ultimately, it worked.

Other alternatives include:

Web browser: Firefox

Firefox has had support for Wayland for a while now, with the team enabling it by default in nightlies around January 2022. It's actually not easy to figure out the state of the port, the meta bug report is still open and it's huge: it currently (Sept 2022) depends on 76 open bugs, it was opened twelve (2010) years ago, and it's still getting daily updates (mostly linking to other tickets).

Firefox 106 presumably shipped with "Better screen sharing for Windows and Linux Wayland users", but I couldn't quite figure out what those were.

TL;DR: echo MOZ_ENABLE_WAYLAND=1 >> ~/.config/environment.d/firefox.conf && apt install xdg-desktop-portal-wlr

How to enable it

Firefox depends on this silly variable to start correctly under Wayland (otherwise it starts inside Xwayland and looks fuzzy and fails to screen share):


To make the change permanent, many recipes recommend adding this to an environment startup script:

if [ "$XDG_SESSION_TYPE" == "wayland" ]; then

At least that's the theory. In practice, Sway doesn't actually run any startup shell script, so that can't possibly work. Furthermore, XDG_SESSION_TYPE is not actually set when starting Sway from gdm3 which I find really confusing, and I'm not the only one. So the above trick doesn't actually work, even if the environment (XDG_SESSION_TYPE) is set correctly, because we don't have conditionals in environment.d(5).

(Note that systemd.environment-generator(7) does support running arbitrary commands to generate environment, but for some reason does not support user-specific configuration files: it only looks at system directories... Even then it may be a solution to have a conditional MOZ_ENABLE_WAYLAND environment, but I'm not sure it would work because ordering between those two isn't clear: maybe the XDG_SESSION_TYPE wouldn't be set just yet...)

At first, I made this ridiculous script to workaround those issues. Really, it seems to me Firefox should just parse the XDG_SESSION_TYPE variable here... but then I realized that Firefox works fine in Xorg when the MOZ_ENABLE_WAYLAND is set.

So now I just set that variable in environment.d and It Just Works™:


Screen sharing

Out of the box, screen sharing doesn't work until you install xdg-desktop-portal-wlr or similar (e.g. xdg-desktop-portal-gnome on GNOME). I had to reboot for the change to take effect.

Without those tools, it shows the usual permission prompt with "Use operating system settings" as the only choice, but when we accept... nothing happens. After installing the portals, it actually works, and works well!

This was tested in Debian bookworm/testing with Firefox ESR 102 and Firefox 106.

Major caveat: we can only share a full screen, we can't currently share just a window. The major upside to that is that, by default, it streams only one output which is actually what I want most of the time! See the screencast compatibility for more information on what is supposed to work.

This is actually a huge improvement over the situation in Xorg, where Firefox can only share a window or all monitors, which led me to use Chromium a lot for video-conferencing. With this change, in other words, I will not need Chromium for anything anymore, whoohoo!

If slurp, wofi, or bemenu are installed, one of them will be used to pick the monitor to share, which effectively acts as some minimal security measure. See xdg-desktop-portal-wlr(1) for how to configure that.

Side note: Chrome fails to share a full screen

I was still using Google Chrome (or, more accurately, Debian's Chromium package) for some videoconferencing. It's mainly because Chromium was the only browser which will allow me to share only one of my two monitors, which is extremely useful.

To start chrome with the Wayland backend, you need to use:

chromium  -enable-features=UseOzonePlatform -ozone-platform=wayland

If it shows an ugly gray border, check the Use system title bar and borders setting.

It can do some screen sharing. Sharing a window and a tab seems to work, but sharing a full screen doesn't: it's all black. Maybe not ready for prime time.

And since Firefox can do what I need under Wayland now, I will not need to fight with Chromium to work under Wayland:

apt purge chromium

Note that a similar fix was necessary for Signal Desktop, see this commit. Basically you need to figure out a way to pass those same flags to signal:

--enable-features=WaylandWindowDecorations --ozone-platform-hint=auto

Email: notmuch

See Emacs, below.

File manager: thunar


News: feed2exec, gnus

See Email, above, or Emacs in Editor, below.

Editor: Emacs okay-ish

Emacs is being actively ported to Wayland. According to this LWN article, the first (partial, to Cairo) port was done in 2014 and a working port (to GTK3) was completed in 2021, but wasn't merged until late 2021. That is: after Emacs 28 was released (April 2022).

So we'll probably need to wait for Emacs 29 to have native Wayland support in Emacs, which, in turn, is unlikely to arrive in time for the Debian bookworm freeze. There are, however, unofficial builds for both Emacs 28 and 29 provided by spwhitton which may provide native Wayland support.

I tested the snapshot packages and they do not quite work well enough. First off, they completely take over the builtin Emacs — they hijack the $PATH in /etc! — and certain things are simply not working in my setup. For example, this hook never gets ran on startup:

(add-hook 'after-init-hook 'server-start t) 

Still, like many X11 applications, Emacs mostly works fine under Xwayland. The clipboard works as expected, for example.

Scaling is a bit of an issue: fonts look fuzzy.

I have heard anecdotal evidence of hard lockups with Emacs running under Xwayland as well, but haven't experienced any problem so far. I did experience a Wayland crash with the snapshot version however.

TODO: look again at Wayland in Emacs 29.

Backups: borg

Mostly irrelevant, as I do not use a GUI.

Color theme: srcery, redshift → gammastep

I am keeping Srcery as a color theme, in general.

Redshift is another story: it has no support for Wayland out of the box, but it's apparently possible to apply a hack on the TTY before starting Wayland, with:

redshift -m drm -PO 3000

This tip is from the arch wiki which also has other suggestions for Wayland-based alternatives. Both KDE and GNOME have their own "red shifters", and for wlroots-based compositors, they (currently, Sept. 2022) list the following alternatives:

I configured gammastep with a simple gammastep.service file associated with the sway-session.target.

Display manager: lightdm → gdm3

Switched because lightdm failed to start sway:

nov 16 16:41:43 angela sway[843121]: 00:00:00.002 [ERROR] [wlr] [libseat] [common/terminal.c:162] Could not open target tty: Permission denied

Possible alternatives:

Terminal: xterm → foot

One of the biggest question mark in this transition was what to do about Xterm. After writing two articles about terminal emulators as a professional journalist, decades of working on the terminal, and probably using dozens of different terminal emulators, I'm still not happy with any of them.

This is such a big topic that I actually have an entire blog post specifically about this.

For starters, using xterm under Xwayland works well enough, although the font scaling makes things look a bit too fuzzy.

I have also tried foot: it ... just works!

Fonts are much crisper than Xterm and Emacs. URLs are not clickable but the URL selector (control-shift-u) is just plain awesome (think "vimperator" for the terminal).

There's cool hack to jump between prompts.

Copy-paste works. True colors work. The word-wrapping is excellent: it doesn't lose one byte. Emojis are nicely sized and colored. Font resize works. There's even scroll back search (control-shift-r).

Foot went from a question mark to being a reason to switch to Wayland, just for this little goodie, which says a lot about the quality of that software.

The selection clicks are a not quite what I would expect though. In rxvt and others, you have the following patterns:

I particularly find the "select quotes" bit useful. It seems like foot just supports double and triple clicks, with word and line selected. You can select a rectangle with control,. It correctly extends the selection word-wise with right click if double-click was first used.

One major problem with Foot is that it's a new terminal, with its own termcap entry. Support for foot was added to ncurses in the 20210731 release, which was shipped after the current Debian stable release (Debian bullseye, which ships 6.2+20201114-2). A workaround for this problem is to install the foot-terminfo package on the remote host, which is available in Debian stable.

This should eventually resolve itself, as Debian bookworm has a newer version. Note that some corrections were also shipped in the 20211113 release, but that is also shipped in Debian bookworm.

That said, I am almost certain I will have to revert back to xterm under Xwayland at some point in the future. Back when I was using GNOME Terminal, it would mostly work for everything until I had to use the serial console on a (HP ProCurve) network switch, which have a fancy TUI that was basically unusable there. I fully expect such problems with foot, or any other terminal than xterm, for that matter.

The foot wiki has good troubleshooting instructions as well.

Update: I did find one tiny thing to improve with foot, and it's the default logging level which I found pretty verbose. After discussing it with the maintainer on IRC, I submitted this patch to tweak it, which I described like this on Mastodon:

today's reason why i will go to hell when i die (TRWIWGTHWID?): a 600-word, 63 lines commit log for a one line change: https://codeberg.org/dnkl/foot/pulls/1215

It's Friday.

Launcher: rofi → fuzzel

rofi does not support Wayland. There was a rather disgraceful battle in the pull request that led to the creation of a fork (lbonn/rofi), so it's unclear how that will turn out.

Given how relatively trivial problem space is, there is of course a profusion of options:

Tool In Debian Notes
alfred yes general launcher/assistant tool
bemenu yes, bookworm+ inspired by dmenu
cerebro no Javascript ... uh... thing
dmenu-wl no fork of dmenu, straight port to Wayland
Fuzzel ITP 982140 dmenu/drun replacement, app icon overlay
gmenu no drun replacement, with app icons
kickoff no dmenu/run replacement, fuzzy search, "snappy", history, copy-paste, Rust
krunner yes KDE's runner
mauncher no dmenu/drun replacement, math
nwg-launchers no dmenu/drun replacement, JSON config, app icons, nwg-shell project
Onagre no rofi/alfred inspired, multiple plugins, Rust
πmenu no dmenu/drun rewrite
Rofi (lbonn's fork) no see above
sirula no .desktop based app launcher
Ulauncher ITP 949358 generic launcher like Onagre/rofi/alfred, might be overkill
tofi yes, bookworm+ dmenu/drun replacement, C
wlr-which-key no key-driven, limited but simple launcher, inspired by which-key.nvim
wmenu no fork of dmenu-wl, but mostly a rewrite
Wofi yes dmenu/drun replacement, not actively maintained
yofi no dmenu/drun replacement, Rust

The above list comes partly from https://arewewaylandyet.com/ and awesome-wayland. It is likely incomplete.

I have read some good things about bemenu, fuzzel, and wofi.

A particularly tricky option is that my rofi password management depends on xdotool for some operations. At first, I thought this was just going to be (thankfully?) impossible, because we actually like the idea that one app cannot send keystrokes to another. But it seems there are actually alternatives to this, like wtype or ydotool, the latter which requires root access. wl-ime-type does that through the input-method-unstable-v2 protocol (sample emoji picker, but is not packaged in Debian.

As it turns out, wtype just works as expected, and fixing this was basically a two-line patch. Another alternative, not in Debian, is wofi-pass.

The other problem is that I actually heavily modified rofi. I use "modis" which are not actually implemented in wofi or tofi, so I'm left with reinventing those wheels from scratch or using the rofi + wayland fork... It's really too bad that fork isn't being reintegrated...

Note that wlogout could be a partial replacement (just for the "power menu").


I ended up completely switching to fuzzel after realizing it was the same friendly author as foot. I did have to severely hack around its limitations, by rewriting my rofi "modis" with plain shell scripts. I wrote the following:

With those, I can basically use fuzzel or any other dmenu-compatible program and not care, it will "just work".

Image viewers: geeqie → geeqie

I wasn't happy with geeqie because the UI is a little weird and it didn't support copy-pasting images (just their path). Thankfully, the latter was fixed!

At first, Geeqie seem to work so well under Wayland. The fonts were fuzzy and the thumbnail preview just didn't work anymore (filed as Debian bug 1024092). It seems it also has problems with scaling. All of those problems were solved and I'm now happily using Geeqie, although I still think the UI is weird.


See also this list, this X11 list and that list for other list of image viewers, not necessarily ported to Wayland.

Media player: mpv, gmpc / sublime

This is basically unchanged. mpv seems to work fine under Wayland, better than Xorg on my new laptop (as mentioned in the introduction), and that before the version which improves Wayland support significantly, by bringing native Pipewire support and DMA-BUF support.

gmpc is more of a problem, mainly because it is abandoned. See 2022-08-22-gmpc-alternatives for the full discussion, one of the alternatives there will likely support Wayland.

Finally, I might just switch to sublime-music instead... In any case, not many changes here, thankfully.

Screensaver: xsecurelock → swaylock

I was previously using xss-lock and xsecurelock as a screensaver, with xscreensaver "hacks" as a backend for xsecurelock.

The basic screensaver in Sway seems to be built with swayidle and swaylock. It's interesting because it's the same "split" design as xss-lock and xsecurelock.

That, unfortunately, does not include the fancy "hacks" provided by xscreensaver, and that is unlikely to be implemented upstream.

Other alternatives include gtklock (RFP) and waylock (zig), which do not solve that problem either.

It looks like swaylock-plugin, a swaylock fork, which at least attempts to solve this problem, although not directly using the real xscreensaver hacks. swaylock-effects is another attempt at this, but it only adds more effects, it doesn't delegate the image display.

Other than that, maybe it's time to just let go of those funky animations and just let swaylock do it's thing, which is display a static image or just a black screen, which is fine by me.

In the end, I am just using swayidle with a configuration based on the systemd integration wiki page but with additional tweaks from this service, see the resulting swayidle.service file.

Interestingly, damjan also has a service for swaylock itself, although it's not clear to me what its purpose is...

Screenshot: maim → grim, pubpaste

I'm a heavy user of maim (and a package uploader in Debian). It looks like the direct replacement to maim (and slop) is grim (and slurp). There's also swappy which goes on top of grim and allows preview/edit of the resulting image, nice touch (not in Debian though).

See also awesome-wayland screenshots for other alternatives: there are many, including X11 tools like Flameshot that also support Wayland.

One key problem here was that I have my own screenshot / pastebin software which will needed an update for Wayland as well. That, thankfully, meant actually cleaning up a lot of horrible code that involved calling xterm and xmessage for user interaction. Now, pubpaste uses GTK for prompts and looks much better. (And before anyone freaks out, I already had to use GTK for proper clipboard support, so this isn't much of a stretch...)

Screen recorder: simplescreenrecorder → wf-recorder

In Xorg, I have used both peek or simplescreenrecorder for screen recordings. The former will work in Wayland, but has no sound support. The latter has a fork with Wayland support but it is limited and buggy ("doesn't support recording area selection and has issues with multiple screens").

It looks like wf-recorder will just do everything correctly out of the box, including audio support (with --audio, duh). It's also packaged in Debian.

One has to wonder how this works while keeping the "between app security" that Wayland promises, however... Would installing such a program make my system less secure?

Many other options are available, see the awesome Wayland screencasting list. In particular, see wl-screenrec which has hardware encoding and much better performance, not in Debian (see 1040786).

RSI: workrave → nothing?

Workrave has no support for Wayland. activity watch is a time tracker alternative, but is not a RSI watcher. KDE has rsiwatcher, but that's a bit too much on the heavy side for my taste.

SafeEyes looks like an alternative at first, but it has many issues under Wayland (escape doesn't work, idle doesn't work, it just doesn't work really). timekpr-next could be an alternative as well, and has support for Wayland.

I am also considering just abandoning workrave, even if I stick with Xorg, because it apparently introduces significant latency in the input pipeline.

And besides, I've developed a pretty unhealthy alert fatigue with Workrave. I have used the program for so long that my fingers know exactly where to click to dismiss those warnings very effectively. It makes my work just more irritating, and doesn't fix the fundamental problem I have with computers.

Other apps

This is a constantly changing list, of course. There's a bit of a "death by a thousand cuts" in migrating to Wayland because you realize how many things you were using are tightly bound to X.

See also this list of useful addons and this other list for other app alternatives.

More X11 / Wayland equivalents

For all the tools above, it's not exactly clear what options exist in Wayland, or when they do, which one should be used. But for some basic tools, it seems the options are actually quite clear. If that's the case, they should be listed here:

X11 Wayland In Debian
arandr wdisplays yes
autorandr kanshi yes
xclock wlclock no
xdotool wtype yes
xev wev, xkbcli interactive-wayland yes
xlsclients swaymsg -t get_tree yes
xprop wlprop or swaymsg -t get_tree no
xrandr wlr-randr yes

lswt is a more direct replacement for xlsclients but is not packaged in Debian.

xkbcli interactive-wayland is part of the libxkbcommon-tools package.

See also:

Note that arandr and autorandr are not directly part of X. arewewaylandyet.com refers to a few alternatives. We suggest wdisplays and kanshi above (see also this service file) but wallutils can also do the autorandr stuff, apparently, and nwg-displays can do the arandr part. shikane is a promising kanshi rewrite in Rust. None of those (but kanshi) are packaged in Debian yet.

So I have tried wdisplays and it Just Works, and well. The UI even looks better and more usable than arandr, so another clean win from Wayland here.

I'm currently kanshi as a autorandr replacement and it mostly works. It can be hard to figure out the right configuration to put, and auto-detection doesn't always work. A key feature missing for me is the save profile functionality that autorandr has and which makes it much easier to use.

Other issues

systemd integration

I've had trouble getting session startup to work. This is partly because I had a kind of funky system to start my session in the first place. I used to have my whole session started from .xsession like this:


. ~/.shenv

systemctl --user import-environment

exec systemctl --user start --wait xsession.target

But obviously, the xsession.target is not started by the Sway session. It seems to just start a default.target, which is really not what we want because we want to associate the services directly with the graphical-session.target, so that they don't start when logging in over (say) SSH.

damjan on #debian-systemd showed me his sway-setup which features systemd integration. It involves starting a different session in a completely new .desktop file. That work was submitted upstream but refused on the grounds that "I'd rather not give a preference to any particular init system." Another PR was abandoned because "restarting sway does not makes sense: that kills everything".

The work was therefore moved to the wiki.

So. Not a great situation. The upstream wiki systemd integration suggests starting the systemd target from within Sway, which has all sorts of problems:

I have done a lot of work trying to figure this out, but I remember that starting systemd from Sway didn't actually work for me: my previously configured systemd units didn't correctly start, and especially not with the right $PATH and environment.

So I went down that rabbit hole and managed to correctly configure Sway to be started from the systemd --user session. I have partly followed the wiki but also picked ideas from damjan's sway-setup and xdbob's sway-services. Another option is uwsm (not in Debian).

This is the config I have in .config/systemd/user/:

I have also configured those services, but that's somewhat optional:

You will also need at least part of my sway config, which sends the systemd notification (because, no, Sway doesn't support any sort of readiness notification, that would be too easy). And you might like to see my swayidle config while you're there.

Finally, you need to hook this up somehow to the login manager. This is typically done with a desktop file, so drop sway-session.desktop in /usr/share/wayland-sessions and sway-user-service somewhere in your $PATH (typically /usr/bin/sway-user-service).

The session then looks something like this:

$ systemd-cgls | head -101
Control group /:
├─user.slice (#472)
│ → user.invocation_id: bc405c6341de4e93a545bde6d7abbeec
│ → trusted.invocation_id: bc405c6341de4e93a545bde6d7abbeec
│ └─user-1000.slice (#10072)
│   → user.invocation_id: 08f40f5c4bcd4fd6adfd27bec24e4827
│   → trusted.invocation_id: 08f40f5c4bcd4fd6adfd27bec24e4827
│   ├─user@1000.service … (#10156)
│   │ → user.delegate: 1
│   │ → trusted.delegate: 1
│   │ → user.invocation_id: 76bed72a1ffb41dca9bfda7bb174ef6b
│   │ → trusted.invocation_id: 76bed72a1ffb41dca9bfda7bb174ef6b
│   │ ├─session.slice (#10282)
│   │ │ ├─xdg-document-portal.service (#12248)
│   │ │ │ ├─9533 /usr/libexec/xdg-document-portal
│   │ │ │ └─9542 fusermount3 -o rw,nosuid,nodev,fsname=portal,auto_unmount,subt…
│   │ │ ├─xdg-desktop-portal.service (#12211)
│   │ │ │ └─9529 /usr/libexec/xdg-desktop-portal
│   │ │ ├─pipewire-pulse.service (#10778)
│   │ │ │ └─6002 /usr/bin/pipewire-pulse
│   │ │ ├─wireplumber.service (#10519)
│   │ │ │ └─5944 /usr/bin/wireplumber
│   │ │ ├─gvfs-daemon.service (#10667)
│   │ │ │ └─5960 /usr/libexec/gvfsd
│   │ │ ├─gvfs-udisks2-volume-monitor.service (#10852)
│   │ │ │ └─6021 /usr/libexec/gvfs-udisks2-volume-monitor
│   │ │ ├─at-spi-dbus-bus.service (#11481)
│   │ │ │ ├─6210 /usr/libexec/at-spi-bus-launcher
│   │ │ │ ├─6216 /usr/bin/dbus-daemon --config-file=/usr/share/defaults/at-spi2…
│   │ │ │ └─6450 /usr/libexec/at-spi2-registryd --use-gnome-session
│   │ │ ├─pipewire.service (#10403)
│   │ │ │ └─5940 /usr/bin/pipewire
│   │ │ └─dbus.service (#10593)
│   │ │   └─5946 /usr/bin/dbus-daemon --session --address=systemd: --nofork --n…
│   │ ├─background.slice (#10324)
│   │ │ └─tracker-miner-fs-3.service (#10741)
│   │ │   └─6001 /usr/libexec/tracker-miner-fs-3
│   │ ├─app.slice (#10240)
│   │ │ ├─xdg-permission-store.service (#12285)
│   │ │ │ └─9536 /usr/libexec/xdg-permission-store
│   │ │ ├─gammastep.service (#11370)
│   │ │ │ └─6197 gammastep
│   │ │ ├─dunst.service (#11958)
│   │ │ │ └─7460 /usr/bin/dunst
│   │ │ ├─wterminal.service (#13980)
│   │ │ │ ├─69100 foot --title pop-up
│   │ │ │ ├─69101 /bin/bash
│   │ │ │ ├─77660 sudo systemd-cgls
│   │ │ │ ├─77661 head -101
│   │ │ │ ├─77662 wl-copy
│   │ │ │ ├─77663 sudo systemd-cgls
│   │ │ │ └─77664 systemd-cgls
│   │ │ ├─syncthing.service (#11995)
│   │ │ │ ├─7529 /usr/bin/syncthing -no-browser -no-restart -logflags=0 --verbo…
│   │ │ │ └─7537 /usr/bin/syncthing -no-browser -no-restart -logflags=0 --verbo…
│   │ │ ├─dconf.service (#10704)
│   │ │ │ └─5967 /usr/libexec/dconf-service
│   │ │ ├─gnome-keyring-daemon.service (#10630)
│   │ │ │ └─5951 /usr/bin/gnome-keyring-daemon --foreground --components=pkcs11…
│   │ │ ├─gcr-ssh-agent.service (#10963)
│   │ │ │ └─6035 /usr/libexec/gcr-ssh-agent /run/user/1000/gcr
│   │ │ ├─swayidle.service (#11444)
│   │ │ │ └─6199 /usr/bin/swayidle -w
│   │ │ ├─nm-applet.service (#11407)
│   │ │ │ └─6198 /usr/bin/nm-applet --indicator
│   │ │ ├─wcolortaillog.service (#11518)
│   │ │ │ ├─6226 foot colortaillog
│   │ │ │ ├─6228 /bin/sh /home/anarcat/bin/colortaillog
│   │ │ │ ├─6230 sudo journalctl -f
│   │ │ │ ├─6233 ccze -m ansi
│   │ │ │ ├─6235 sudo journalctl -f
│   │ │ │ └─6236 journalctl -f
│   │ │ ├─afuse.service (#10889)
│   │ │ │ └─6051 /usr/bin/afuse -o mount_template=sshfs -o transform_symlinks -…
│   │ │ ├─gpg-agent.service (#13547)
│   │ │ │ ├─51662 /usr/bin/gpg-agent --supervised
│   │ │ │ └─51719 scdaemon --multi-server
│   │ │ ├─emacs.service (#10926)
│   │ │ │ ├─ 6034 /usr/bin/emacs --fg-daemon
│   │ │ │ └─33203 /usr/bin/aspell -a -m -d en --encoding=utf-8
│   │ │ ├─xdg-desktop-portal-gtk.service (#12322)
│   │ │ │ └─9546 /usr/libexec/xdg-desktop-portal-gtk
│   │ │ ├─xdg-desktop-portal-wlr.service (#12359)
│   │ │ │ └─9555 /usr/libexec/xdg-desktop-portal-wlr
│   │ │ └─sway.service (#11037)
│   │ │   ├─6037 /usr/bin/sway
│   │ │   ├─6181 swaybar -b bar-0
│   │ │   ├─6209 py3status
│   │ │   ├─6309 /usr/bin/i3status -c /tmp/py3status_oy4ntfnq
│   │ │   └─6969 Xwayland :0 -rootless -terminate -core -listen 29 -listen 30 -…
│   │ └─init.scope (#10198)
│   │   ├─5909 /lib/systemd/systemd --user
│   │   └─5911 (sd-pam)
│   └─session-7.scope (#10440)
│     ├─5895 gdm-session-worker [pam/gdm-password]
│     ├─6028 /usr/libexec/gdm-wayland-session --register-session sway-user-serv…

I think that's pretty neat.

Environment propagation

At first, my terminals and rofi didn't have the right $PATH, which broke a lot of my workflow. It's hard to tell exactly how Wayland gets started or where to inject environment. This discussion suggests a few alternatives and this Debian bug report discusses this issue as well.

I eventually picked environment.d(5) since I already manage my user session with systemd, and it fixes a bunch of other problems. I used to have a .shenv that I had to manually source everywhere. The only problem with that approach is that it doesn't support conditionals, but that's something that's rarely needed.


This is a whole topic onto itself, but migrating to Wayland also involves using Pipewire if you want screen sharing to work. You can actually keep using Pulseaudio for audio, that said, but that migration is actually something I've wanted to do anyways: Pipewire's design seems much better than Pulseaudio, as it folds in JACK features which allows for pretty neat tricks. (Which I should probably show in a separate post, because this one is getting rather long.)

I first tried this migration in Debian bullseye, and it didn't work very well. Ardour would fail to export tracks and I would get into weird situations where streams would just drop mid-way.

A particularly funny incident is when I was in a meeting and I couldn't hear my colleagues speak anymore (but they could) and I went on blabbering on my own for a solid 5 minutes until I realized what was going on. By then, people had tried numerous ways of letting me know that something was off, including (apparently) coughing, saying "hello?", chat messages, IRC, and so on, until they just gave up and left.

I suspect that was also a Pipewire bug, but it could also have been that I muted the tab by error, as I recently learned that clicking on the little tiny speaker icon on a tab mutes that tab. Since the tab itself can get pretty small when you have lots of them, it's actually quite frequently that I mistakenly mute tabs.

Anyways. Point is: I already knew how to make the migration, and I had already documented how to make the change in Puppet. It's basically:

apt install pipewire pipewire-audio-client-libraries pipewire-pulse wireplumber 

Then, as a regular user:

systemctl --user daemon-reload
systemctl --user --now disable pulseaudio.service pulseaudio.socket
systemctl --user --now enable pipewire pipewire-pulse
systemctl --user mask pulseaudio

An optional (but key, IMHO) configuration you should also make is to "switch on connect", which will make your Bluetooth or USB headset automatically be the default route for audio, when connected. In ~/.config/pipewire/pipewire-pulse.conf.d/autoconnect.conf:

context.exec = [
    { path = "pactl"        args = "load-module module-always-sink" }
    { path = "pactl"        args = "load-module module-switch-on-connect" }
    #{ path = "/usr/bin/sh"  args = "~/.config/pipewire/default.pw" }

See the excellent — as usual — Arch wiki page about Pipewire for that trick and more information about Pipewire. Note that you must not put the file in ~/.config/pipewire/pipewire.conf (or pipewire-pulse.conf, maybe) directly, as that will break your setup. If you want to add to that file, first copy the template from /usr/share/pipewire/pipewire-pulse.conf first.

So far I'm happy with Pipewire in bookworm, but I've heard mixed reports from it. I have high hopes it will become the standard media server for Linux in the coming months or years, which is great because I've been (rather boldly, I admit) on the record saying I don't like PulseAudio.

Rereading this now, I feel it might have been a little unfair, as "over-engineered and tries to do too many things at once" applies probably even more to Pipewire than PulseAudio (since it also handles video dispatching).

That said, I think Pipewire took the right approach by implementing existing interfaces like Pulseaudio and JACK. That way we're not adding a third (or fourth?) way of doing audio in Linux; we're just making the server better.

Keypress drops

Sometimes I lose keyboard presses. This correlates with the following warning from Sway:

déc 06 10:36:31 curie sway[343384]: 23:32:14.034 [ERROR] [wlr] [libinput] event5  - SONiX USB Keyboard: client bug: event processing lagging behind by 37ms, your system is too slow 

... and corresponds to an open bug report in Sway. It seems the "system is too slow" should really be "your compositor is too slow" which seems to be the case here on this older system (curie). It doesn't happen often, but it does happen, particularly when a bunch of busy processes start in parallel (in my case: a linter running inside a container and notmuch new).

The proposed fix for this in Sway is to gain real time privileges and add the CAP_SYS_NICE capability to the binary. We'll see how that goes in Debian once 1.8 gets released and shipped.

Output mirroring

Sway does not support output mirroring, a strange limitation considering the flexibility that software like wdisplays seem to offer.

(In practice, if you layout two monitors on top of each other in that configuration, they do not actually mirror. Instead, sway assigns a workspace to each monitor, as if they were next to each other but, confusingly, the cursor appears in both monitors. It's extremely disorienting.)

The bug report has been open since 2018 and has seen a long discussion, but basically no progress. Part of the problem is the ticket tries to tackle "more complex configurations" as well, not just output mirroring, so it's a long and winding road.

Note that other Wayland compositors (e.g. Hyprland, GNOME's Mutter) do support mirroring, so it's not a fundamental limitation of Wayland.

One workaround is to use a tool like wl-mirror to make a window that mirrors a specific output and place that in a different workspace. That way you place the output you want to mirror to next to the output you want to mirror from, and use wl-mirror to copy between the two outputs. The problem is that wl-mirror is not packaged in Debian yet.

Another workaround mentioned in the thread is to use a presentation tool which supports mirroring on its own, or presenter notes. So far I have generally found workarounds for the problem, but it might be a big limitation for others.

Improvements over i3

Tiling improvements

There's a lot of improvements Sway could bring over using plain i3. There are pretty neat auto-tilers that could replicate the configurations I used to have in Xmonad or Awesome, see:

Display latency tweaks

TODO: You can tweak the display latency in wlroots compositors with the max_render_time parameter, possibly getting lower latency than X11 in the end.

Sound/brightness changes notifications

The goal here is to display a pop-up to give feedback on volume or brightness changes, or other state changes.

For now, I am testing poweralertd which monitors power sends standard notifications on state changes and sway-nc (shipped with bookworm) that replaces dunst and also provides sliders for backlight. Default config is almost useless, good stuff in the discussion forum. Still very GUI-y and mouse driven, not enough text... e.g. we don't see the actual volume or brightness in percentage.

Other alternatives:

Debugging tricks

The xeyes (in the x11-apps package) will run in Wayland, and can actually be used to easily see if a given window is also in Wayland. If the "eyes" follow the cursor, the app is actually running in xwayland, so not natively in Wayland.

Another way to see what is using Wayland in Sway is with the command:

swaymsg -t get_tree

Other documentation


In general, this took me a long time, but it mostly works. The tray icon situation is pretty frustrating, but there's a workaround and I have high hopes it will eventually fix itself. I'm also actually worried about the DisplayLink support because I eventually want to be using this, but hopefully that's another thing that will hopefully fix itself before I need it.

A word on the security model

I'm kind of worried about all the hacks that have been added to Wayland just to make things work. Pretty much everywhere we need to, we punched a hole in the security model:

Wikipedia describes the security properties of Wayland as it "isolates the input and output of every window, achieving confidentiality, integrity and availability for both." I'm not sure those are actually realized in the actual implementation, because of all those holes punched in the design, at least in Sway. For example, apparently the GNOME compositor doesn't have the virtual-keyboard protocol, but they do have (another?!) text input protocol.

Wayland does offer a better basis to implement such a system, however. It feels like the Linux applications security model lacks critical decision points in the UI, like the user approving "yes, this application can share my screen now". Applications themselves might have some of those prompts, but it's not mandatory, and that is worrisome.

comment 1

Nice read. I am worried about the watered down security model as well. The "wob" package in Debian can be used to for Brightness/Volume "status". It is a bit slow though. I use "greetd" for display manager (it is also in Debian) but currently "wlgreet" is not packaged. There is a "Go" TUI greeter that is pretty neat (it has read-to-use built binaries on Github for easy access). I am not too happy about xdg-desktop-portal-wlr depending on xdg-desktop-portal as last time I tried the latter it was very intrusive (3 long running daemon in you session to worry about and only one actually matters for xdg-desktop-portal-wlr AFAIK).

Thanks for the write-up

Comment by kcinimod

Wofi yes dmenu/drun replacement, not actively maintained

I am using wofi and was not aware that it's not actively maintained in Debian. :( Yesterday I pulled the repo from salsa und updated wofi to 1.3 and was able to build it (with adding a workaround for a ccache problem to d/rules). I sent an email to the maintainers asking whether they are OK with me pushing the update to salsa and uploading it to mentors.debian.org. Let's see what they say. If I don't hear a veto within one week I might just go ahead.

Comment by Martin
For pass I use the shell script wofi-pass (unfortunately not packaged for Debian).
Comment by Martin

Whoa, lots of comments, thanks everyone! A few responses:

Check out sway osd and sway-nc by Erik Reider.

Neither of those are in Debian, but I added those to the article.

For pass I use the shell script wofi-pass (unfortunately not packaged for Debian).

Same, added to the article. Note that with my hack, I can generally use rofi for passwords right now...

I am using wofi and was not aware that it's not actively maintained in Debian. :(

The problem is actually not in Debian. Maybe I'm mistaken, but the wofi home page currently says:

This project is not being actively maintained. I currently do not have the time nor energy to continue working on it

So I'm not sure it's a good idea to keep pushing it in Debian?

Time will tell, I guess...

Comment by anarcat
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