I've been running the Openbox window manager since 2005. That's longer then I've lived in any one apartment in my entire life!

However, over the years I've been bracing for a change.

It seems clear the Wayland is the future, although when that future is supposed to begin is much more hazy.

Really, I've felt a bit like a ping pong ball, from panicking over whether Xorg is abandoned (with a follow up from a X server maintainer) to anxiously wondering if literally everything will break the moment I switch to Wayland.

In fact, I started this blog post over a year ago when I first decided to switch from the Openbox to Sway.

This is my third major attempt to make the change and I think it will finally stick this time.

In retrospect, it would have been more sensible to first switch from openbox to i3 (which is a huge transition) and then from i3 to sway, but I decided to dive into the deep end with both changes. Note: thanks to a helpful comment on this blog, I learned that there is waybox, an openbox clone for wayland, which would have been another version of a less drastic change.

So... I'm on debian bullseye so I installed sway and friends (from sid).

Then I copied /etc/sway/config to ~/.config/sway/config.

I start openbox after logging in with exec startx so after rebooting, I ran exec sway and to my astonishment sway started. Hooray!

However, I found that ssh-agent wasn't running so I couldn't ssh into any servers. That's kinda a problem.

Launching ssh-agent under openbox was buried deep in /etc/X11/Xsession.d/90x11-common_ssh-agent and clearly was not going to happen via wayland.

Since programs using ssh-agent depend on the environment variables SSH_AUTH_SOCK and SSH_AGENT_PID being globally available I thought I could simply run $(eval ssh-agent) via my tty terminal before running exec sway.

And, that would have worked. Except... I like to add my keys via ssh-add -c so that everytime my key is being used I get a ssh-askpass prompt to confirm the use.

It seems that since ssh-add is started before a window manager is running, it can't run the prompt.

Ok, we can fix this. After searching the web, I came upon a solution of running ssh-agent via systemctl --user:

# This service myst be started manually after sway
# starts.

Description=OpenSSH private key agent

ExecStart=/usr/bin/ssh-agent -a $SSH_AUTH_SOCK

Then, in my ~/.bashrc file I have:

if [ -n WAYLAND_DISPLAY ]; then
  export SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/run/user/1000/ssh-agent.socket

I think $SSH_AGENT_PID is only used by ssh-agent to kill itself. Now that is running via systemd - killing it should be do-able without a global environment variable. Done? Hardly.

I've been using impass (nee assword) happily for years but alas it is tightly integrated with xdo and xclip.

So... I've switched to keepassxc which works out of the box with wayland.

My next challenge was the status bar. Farewell faithful tint2. One of the reasons I failed on my first two attempts to switch to Sway was the difficulty of getting the swaybar to work how I wanted, particularly with nm-applet. Two things allowed me to move forward:

  • waybar was added to Debian. Thank you Debian waybar maintainers!
  • I gave up on having nm-applet work the way I'm used to working and resigned myself to using nmtui. Sigh.

Next up: the waybar clock module doesn't work, but that is easy enough to work around.

Replacing my uses of xclip with wl-clipboard was a little tedious but really not that difficult.

Getting my screen shot and screen recorder functionality was a bit harder. I did a lot of searching before I finally found and compiled both swappy, screen shot and wf-recorder.

In the course of all my adventures, I came across the following helpful tips:


  1. I've installed libreoffice-gtk3 to ensure libre office runs under wayland
  2. I've installed the latest Gimp via flatpak to get proper wayland support
  3. I've exported MOZ_ENABLE_WAYLAND to ensure firefox works properly.
  4. I've found that passing -c to my ssh-add command to ensure I am prompted for each use of my key seems to cause sway to crash intermittently.
  5. I learned about a work around to get screen sharing to work in zoom. Somehow this actually works. Amazing. Unfortunately, though, sharing your screen in the context of a Zoom meeting pins your screen for all participants. So, sharing your desktop through your camera really doesn't cut it. I finally landed an an obvious work around: Install chromium (which runs under X11); Install the the chrome zoom redirector extension; Open zoom links in chromium; You can now share other chromium windows. Not the full desktop or any wayland window, but if you only need to share a web browser window, you are set; For the record, Zoom links normally are in the format: https://us04web.zoom.us/j/123456. If you want to force the use of the web client, just change the "j" to "wc": https://us04web.zoom.us/wc/123456.
  6. Speaking of screen sharing - when using Firefox, I can only share Xwayland screens. Firefox is running under wayland so I can't share it. Chromium is running under xwayland, so I have to use Chromium when screen sharing.
  7. Wait, scratch that about screen sharing in Firefox. I've installed xdg-desktop-portal-wlr, added export XDG_CURRENT_DESKTOP=sway and export XDG_SESSION_TYPE=wayland to my .bashrc, and after hours of frustration, realize that I needed to configured firejail to allow it so that I can share my entire screen in Firefox. It doesn't yet support sharing a specific window, so I still have to keep chromium around for that (and Chromium can only share xwayland windows). Sigh. Oh, one more thing about Firefox: the option to choose what to share doesn't have "Entire Screen" as an option, you are just supposed to know that you should choose "Use operating system settings".
  8. I still am getting weekly crashes. Some of them I've fixed by switching to wayland friendly versions (e.g. Libre Office and Gimp) but others I haven't yet tracked down.
  9. My keyboard does not have an altgr key, so even though I have selected the "English (US) - English (intl., with AltGr dead keys)" I can't get accent marks. I went down a rabbit hole of trying to re-map the Alt key to the right of my space bar but it all seemed too complicated. So - I found a way easier approach. In my ~/.config/sway/config file I have: bindsym Mod4+e exec wtype "é". I have repeated that line for the main accent marks I need.
  10. Due to a Firefox Bug, when I share my desktop or mic or camera, the sharing indicator expands like a normal tiling window instead of remaining a tiny little box on each desktop reminding me that I'm sharing something. I'd prefer to have it be a tiny little box, but since I can't figure that out, I've disabled it by typing about:config in the Firefox location window, searching for privacy.webrtc.legacyGlobalIndicator and setting it to False. The reddit thread also suggested finding privacy.webrtc.hideGlobalIndicator and setting it to True, but that setting doesn't seem to be available and setting the first one alone seems to do the trick.
  11. Oh, one more environment variable to set: GDK_BACKEND=wayland,x11. First I just set it to wayland to get gtk3 apps to use wayland (like gajim). But that broke electron apps (like signal) which notice that variable but don't have a way to display via wayland (at least not yet). Setting it to "wayland,x11" shows the priority. Thank you ubuntu community.
  12. I've also finally consolidated where my environment variables go. I've added them all to ~/.config/sway/env. That seems like an official sway place to put them, but sway doesn't pay any attention to them. So I start sway via my own bash script which sources that file via [ -f "$HOME/.config/sway/env" ] && . "$HOME/.config/sway/env" before exec'ing sway.