I use my function keys for specific applications (F1 chrome, F2 terminal, etc). I have a script bound to a shortcut key to activate the right application, and that works, but it doesn't activate the most-recently-focused window. The script lists windows with wmctrl -lx which seems to list windows by reverse-creation order. Is there any way to ask for or keep track of the order specific windows are activated so I can script "activate the most recent terminal window"?

Alternately, it seems if I was able to get the window stack order maintained by xfwm4 (which it uses when you cycle through windows), that seems like it would solve my problem as well but I don't see a command line interface to get at that window stack order.

1 Answer 1


In a script, you could use wmctrl, xprop and awk to use the activation time that is maintained by the window manager. (See e.g. wm-spec 1.5). E.g., use a (multi-line) command line like the following:

W=$(wmctrl -l | \
    awk '$ ~ "Terminal" {print $1;}' | while read x ; do \
      echo "$x $(xprop -id $(xprop -id $x \
                             | awk '$1 ~ /_NET_WM_USER_TIME/ {print $NF}' \
                             ) \
                 | awk '{print $NF}' \
                 )" ; \
      done | awk '$2>t {i=$1; t=$2} END {print i}' \

In words:

  1. pass the wmctrl list through a filtering to select the window ids of the named application ("Terminal" in the example above); then
  2. pass this through (innermost) xprop to get a (pretend) window id for the last usage time, and
  3. using another (outer) xprop to get that timestamp , which is the (single) property of the "pretend window" of the _NET_WM_USER_TIME_WINDOW of the original window; then
  4. pass all the resulting id and timestamp lines through an awk filter that reports the id with the greatest timestamp.
  • This almost works but it seems some of my windows report _NET_WM_USER_TIME: not found.. Any idea why some windows have this but others don't? Apr 21, 2018 at 2:44
  • No idea, really. Maybe "compositing"? Particular application(s) that evade(s) (some) window management? Apr 21, 2018 at 2:57
  • Maybe some windows hold the timestamp directly, without having the _NET_WM_USER_TIME_WINDOW property? The step 2-3 filtering doesn't handle that well. Apr 21, 2018 at 3:00

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