My BSPWM now uses Lemonbar

A bespoke panel for my desktop session

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I am now using Lemonbar to draw a panel for my custom working environment. I was running Polybar before. The reasons for the switch are documented herein.

In practice, this means that the master branch of my dotfiles is considered unstable until further notice (see the README for demos with the new panel).

Stick with the Debian repos

To get Lemonbar execute:

sudo apt install lemonbar

Compare that to Polybar, which is not available in the official repositories. One has to compile it from source. A complication that can lead to inconveniences down the road. What if in the near future I would also have to hunt down some of its new dependencies? And what if Debian Stable, which I intend to switch to once Buster is out, does not have the version numbers needed to compile from source? What if conflicts arise?

I actively try to avoid making a FrankenDebian. The only package I have no hesitation compiling from source is my fork of Simple Terminal by the Suckless community.1 For all the rest, I try to rely only on packages provided by the official mirrors and make sure never to mix and match from the various Debian channels (stable, testing, unstable, …).

There are cases where building directly from upstream is necessary. Such as when a piece of software is an absolute requirement for a given task and where no adequate alternatives are present. This is not the case with Polybar. It is not an integral part of my workflow, while there are alternatives available, including the option to use something like xfce4-panel in tandem with bspwm.

Have fun scripting

Make no mistake: I like Polybar. It is a tool that covers most use cases and its modules work well with fairly little effort. Its configuration file is easy to understand. It uses a standard way for modifying the looks of the various pieces of information on display. Furthermore, it supports Xft fonts (proportional, outline font files like .ttf) and can display glyph icons with iconic typefaces such as FontAwesome.

With all this power comes the downside of skipping an important learning session on how to retrieve all the data Polybar can present. You want Polybar to display bspwm workspaces and the flags of the focused node? Just add the relevant module to the config file and you are good to go. Now try getting that yourself to realise how much more demanding the task becomes.

Seeing as I was looking for alternatives anyhow, I decided to opt for Lemonbar. What this tool does is draw an empty panel. There are no modules built in. No defined configuration file to add the stuff you need. Nothing. Lemonbar will just print the output of a command, same as what you would expect in the shell. Example:

echo "Hello world" | lemonbar -p

This pipes the output of echo to the panel. The -p flag makes the panel stay in place. This is where scripting comes in: get it to display information dynamically, place it in the appropriate position, format it as needed, and so on.

Not to bother you with the details, check out my Lemonbar script, called “melonpanel” for the implementation, as well as my bspwmrc and sxhkdrc to see how it fits in with the rest of the system.

Scripts are more portable than source code

I want to make my dotfiles easy to deploy on new systems. Having to compile software is the opposite of what I target. I prefer to run one apt install with all the packages I need and then use GNU Stow on my dotfiles. Everything will be in place within minutes. Eventually this process will be scripted so that ./ will streamline the work.

I attach great importance to portability: my custom desktop session should ultimately be reproducible. The dotfiles must work on any clean install of the next Debian stable release (codenamed “Buster”). This is an ambitious, complex, multi-faceted task. Removing bottlenecks will only be to its benefit. My plan is never to have to compile a piece of software from source and then expect the user to maintain the package. Debian is not meant for that kind of setup (well-justified exceptions notwithstanding).

Lemonbar it is then!

  1. My fork of the Simple Terminal by Suckless is distributed with my dotfiles. There is a precompiled binary inside the “bin” directory as well as the source code inside “st”. Additionally, my fork has its own repo[^]