What is the difference between a windowing system (for example X11, Wayland) and a window manager (Awesome, Compiz, OpenBox)?


1 Answer 1


What you refer to as a windowing system is more commonly referred to as a display server.

The differences between display servers are well documented. But, the difference between a display server and a window manager is in the job that they perform. A display server handles displaying graphical applications and relaying input and output from graphical applications to the rest of the system and vice versa.

On the other hand, a window manager's job is to manage how (or more often, where) the display server displays its client windows.

As a result, almost no one uses a display server without using a window manager of some kind (though it is possible). You can more simply think of this relationship like so: The display server displays everything graphpical, and the window manager organizes the client windows for display by the display server.

  • According to wikipedia, a windowing system and a display server are to different things. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Window_manager, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windowing_system
    – ekner
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 20:16
  • 1
    No, those articles show that a window manager and a windowing system are different; but a windowing system is synonymous with a display server (with, perhaps, one technicality being that a window system is the whole framework, and the display server is what actually displays things).
    – HalosGhost
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 20:20
  • Sorry, I meant en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windowing_system, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Display_server
    – ekner
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 20:30
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    No worries. But that article still supports what I said. The Window System (which includes the display server) manages graphical displays. The window manager organizes graphical clients for display by the display server.
    – HalosGhost
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 20:41

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