JWM Part 4 Desktop Background

Published on September 28, 2021 at 7:05 am by LEW


In this post we will configure and style the JWM desktop background. This is fairly simple, as there are only a limited number of options available. Remember that JWM is a small window manager, and not a full desktop environment.

Like most Linux Window Managers, JWM has also supports virtual desktops (a feature not found in non Linux/Unix operating systems until very recently). In addition the JWM desktop can use a variety of background options.

What the JWM desktop does not support is icons, a feature shared with most light window managers. There are third party programs, idesk for example,  that can add this support if you really need it.

Number of Virtual Desktops

The <Desktops> and <Desktop> (note the difference in tag endings) tags are used to configure screen background and number of virtual desktops.


In our example we have two virtual desktops laid out in a 2 x 1 grid where we specify width and height in the <Desktops> tag. This mainly affects the appearance of the desktop pager in the JWM tray (we will talk about the tray in the next post in this series) and moving from desktop to desktop. You could have a width of three and a height of two, giving you six virtual desktops. In the default configuration file, JWM is setup with four virtual desktops in a 4 x1 grid.

JWM Desktop Tag Example

Default Desktop Style

Between the <Desktops> tags our first entry is a <Background> tag. This represents the default desktop background.

In our example the desktop has a solid color background of a really dark gray, using the three hex digit color specification. Any non specified desktop will have the default background.

Individual Desktop Background

To add a specific background to a desktop we use the <Desktop> (no “s”) tag. This tag will apply to the desktops in order. That is the first virtual desktop gets the first specific style. The second virtual desktop gets the second style, and so on.

We use the same <Background> tag within specific Desktop tag as we used for the default background. The Desktop tag can have a “name” style that gives a name to the virtual desktop. If not used, the desktops will be named numerically by default, 1, 2, 3 …

The Background tag

The <Background> tag can have six different “type” styles.

All image options will require the path to the image file. Command can be used with a program like feh, which can be configured to set random background images every time it is run.


Changing the desktop background is one of the configuration options that can give the most visual improvement to your GUI. While it may seem JWM has limited configuration options, allowing commands can really expand what you can do with your desktop backgrounds.

We also briefly touched on Virtual Desktops. Not everyone uses them, but they are available.

Next time we will discuss the JWM Tray.

JWM Part 1 Taking Control
JWM Part 2 The Menu
JWM Part 3 Window Color
JWM Part 4 Desktop Background
JWM Part 5 The Tray
JWM Part 6 Exiting JWM
JWM Part 7 Bindings and Groups

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