PaperWM Save

Tiled scrollable window management for Gnome Shell

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PaperWM is an experimental Gnome Shell extension providing scrollable tiling of windows and per monitor workspaces. It's inspired by paper notebooks and tiling window managers.

Supports Gnome Shell from 3.28 to 43 on X11 and wayland.

While technically an extension it's to a large extent built on top of the Gnome desktop rather than merely extending it.

We hang out on zulip.


Clone the repo and check out the branch supporting the Gnome Shell version you're running.

Then run the script from the repository. The installer will create a link to the repo in $XDG_DATA_HOME/gnome-shell/extensions/. It will then ask if you want to apply the recommended settings (see Recommended Settings) and lastly it will ask to enable PaperWM.

./ # install, load and enable paperwm

To uninstall simply run ./

Running the extension will automatically install a user config file as described in Development & user configuration.

Note for Ubuntu users

There's three different gnome-desktop variants in Ubuntu:

The default ubuntu-desktop ships with desktop-icons which doesn't work correctly with PaperWM (#145, #218). Turning the extension off in gnome-tweaks should work in 19.10, but there's reports of this not working in 19.04, so your milage my vary.

For the easiest out of the box experience we reccommend ubuntu-gnome-desktop. vanilla-gnome-desktop adds some keybindings which plays badly with PaperWM (#233), making it unsuitable at the moment.


Most functionality is available using a mouse, eg. activating a window at the edge of the monitor by clicking on it. In wayland its possible to navigate with 3-finger swipes on the trackpad. But the primary focus is making an environment which works well with a keyboard.

All keybindings start with the Super modifier. On most keyboards it's the Windows key, on mac keyboards it's the Command key. It's possible to modify the keyboard layout so that Super is switched with Alt making all the keybindings easier to reach. This can be done through Gnome Tweaks under Keybard & MouseAdditional Layout OptionsAlt/Win key behaviorLeft Alt is swapped with Left Win.

Most keybindings will grab the keyboard while Super is held down, only switching focus when Super is released. Escape will abort the navigation taking you back to the previously active window.

Adding Ctrl to a keybinding will take the current window with you when navigating.

Window management and navigation is based around the three following concepts.

Scrollable window tiling

The window tiling with the minimap shown

New windows are automatically tiled to the right of the active window, taking up as much height as possible. SuperReturn will open a new window of the same type as the active window.

Activating a window will ensure it's fully visible, scrolling the tiling if necessary. Pressing Super. activates the window to the right. Super, activates the window to the left. On a US keyboard these keys are intuitively marked by < and >, they are also ordered the same way on almost all keyboard layouts. A minimap will be shown when Super is continually being pressed, as can be seen in the above screenshot.

Pressing SuperI will move the window to the right below the active window, tiling them vertically in a column. SuperO will do the opposite, pushing the bottom window out of the current column.

Swiping the trackpad horizontally with three fingers will scroll the tiling (only available in Wayland).

AltTab is of course also available.

PaperWM doesn't handle attached modal dialogs very well, so it's best to turn it off in Gnome Tweaks (under Windows).

Super, or Super. Activate the next or previous window
SuperLeft or SuperRight Activate the window to the left or right
SuperUp or SuperDown Activate the window above or below
SuperHome or SuperEnd Activate the first or last window
SuperCtrl, or SuperCtrl. Move the current window to the left or right
SuperCtrlLeft or SuperCtrlRight Move the current window to the left or right
SuperCtrlUp or SuperCtrlDown Move the current window up or down
Supert Take the window, placing it when finished navigating
SuperTab or AltTab Cycle through the most recently used windows
SuperShiftTab or AltShiftTab Cycle backwards through the most recently used windows
SuperC Center the active window horizontally
SuperR Resize the window (cycles through useful widths)
SuperShiftR Resize the window (cycles through useful heights)
SuperF Maximize the width of a window
SuperShiftF Toggle fullscreen
SuperReturn or SuperN Create a new window from the active application
SuperBackspace Close the active window
SuperI Absorb the window to the right into the active column
SuperO Expel the bottom window out to the right

The workspace stack & monitors

Pressing SuperAbove_Tab will slide the active workspace down revealing the stack as shown in the above screenshot. You can then flip through the most recently used workspaces with repeated Above_Tab presses while holding Super down. Above_Tab is the key above Tab (` in a US qwerty layout). Like alt-tab Shift is added to move in reverse order:

The most recently used workspace stack

Pressing SuperPage_Down and SuperPage_Up will slide between workspaces sequentially:

Sequential workspace navigation

The workspace name is shown in the top left corner replacing the Activities button adding a few enhancements. Scrolling on the name will let you browse the workspace stack just like SuperAbove_Tab. Right clicking the name lets you access and change the workspace name and the background color:

The workspace menu

Swiping the trackpad vertically with three fingers lets you navigate the workspace stack (only available in Wayland).

There's a single scrollable tiling per workspace. Adding another monitor simply makes it possible to have another workspace visible. The workspace stack is shared among all the monitors, windows being resized vertically as necessary when workspace is displayed on another monitor.

PaperWM currently works best using the workspaces span monitors preference, this can be turned on with Gnome Tweaks under Workspaces. If you want to use workspaces only on primary you need to place the secondary monitor either below or above the primary (with the best result having it below).

Workspace Keybindings
SuperAbove_Tab Cycle through the most recently used workspaces
SuperShiftAbove_Tab Cycle backwards through the most recently used workspaces
SuperCtrlAbove_Tab Cycle through the most recently used, taking the active window with you
SuperCtrlShiftAbove_Tab Cycle backwards through the most recently used, taking the active window with you
SuperPage_Down/Page_Up Cycle sequentially through workspaces
SuperCtrlPage_Down/Page_Up Cycle sequentially through workspaces, taking the active window with you
Monitor Keybindings
SuperShiftArrow_key Select neighbouring monitor
SuperShiftCtrlArrow_key Move active window to neighbouring monitor

Scratch layer

The floating scratch layer, with the alt tab menu open

The scratch layer is an escape hatch to a familiar floating layout. This layer is intended to store windows that are globally useful like chat applications and in general serve as the kitchen sink. When the scratch layer is active it will float above the tiled windows, when hidden the windows will be minimized.

Opening a window when the scratch layer is active will make it float automatically.

Pressing SuperEscape toggles between showing and hiding the windows in the scratch layer. Activating windows in the scratch layer is done using SuperTab, the floating windows having priority in the list while active. When the tiling is active SuperShiftTab selects the most recently used scratch window.

SuperCtrlEscape will move a tiled window into the scratch layer or alternatively tile an already floating window. This functionality can also be accessed through the window context menu (AltSpace).

SuperEscape Toggle between showing and hiding the most recent scratch window
SuperShiftEscape Toggle between showing and hiding the scratch windows
SuperCtrlEscape Toggle between floating and tiling the current window
SuperTab Cycle through the most recently used scratch windows
SuperH Minimize the current window

Development & user configuration

A default user configuration, user.js, is created in ~/.config/paperwm/ with three functions init, enable and disable. init will run only once on startup, enable and disable will be run whenever extensions are being told to disable and enable themselves. Eg. when locking the screen with SuperL.

You can also supply a custom user.css in ~/.config/paperwm/, and paperwm will override its own default stylesheet located at the extension installation location, e.g., ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions/[email protected] or /usr/share/gnome-shell/extensions/[email protected]`.

We also made an emacs package, gnome-shell-mode, to make hacking on the config and writing extensions a more pleasant experience. To support this out of the box we also install a metadata.json so gnome-shell-mode will pick up the correct file context, giving you completion and interactive evaluation ala. looking glass straight in emacs.

Pressing SuperInsert will assign the active window to a global variable metaWindow, its window actor to actor, its workspace to workspace and its PaperWM style workspace to space. This makes it easy to inspect state and test things out.

Using dconf-editor to modify settings

GSETTINGS_SCHEMA_DIR=$HOME/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions/[email protected] dconf-editor /org/gnome/shell/extensions/paperwm/


It's possible to create simple rules for placing new windows. Currently most useful when a window should be placed in the scratch layer automatically. An example, best placed in the init part of user.js:

        wm_class: "Spotify",
        title: "Window Title",
        scratch_layer: true,

The wm_class or title of a window can be found by using looking glass: AltF2 lg Return Go to the "Windows" section at the top right and find the window. X11 users can also use the xprop command line tool (title is referred as WM_NAME in xprop). The match of wm_class and title are with an OR condition; and in addition to a plain string matching, a constructed RegExp() can be used to utilise regex matching.

New Window Handlers

If opening a new application window with SuperReturn isn't doing exactly what you want you can create custom functions to fit your needs. Say you want new emacs windows to open the current buffer by default, or have new terminals inherit the current directory:

    let App =;
    App.customHandlers['emacs.desktop'] =
        () => imports.misc.util.spawn(['emacsclient', '--eval', '(make-frame)']);
    App.customHandlers['org.gnome.Terminal.desktop'] =
        (metaWindow, app) => app.action_group.activate_action(
          new"(ss)", ["window", "current"]));

The app id of a window can be looked up like this:

var Shell =;
var Tracker = Shell.WindowTracker.get_default();
var app = Tracker.get_window_app(metaWindow);

Available application actions can be listed like this:



Due to limitations in the mutter keybinding API we need to steal some built in Gnome Shell actions by default. Eg. the builtin action switch-group with the default SuperAbove_Tab keybinding is overridden to cycle through recently used workspaces. If an overridden action has several keybindings they will unfortunately all activate the override, so for instance because AltAbove_Tab is also bound to switch-group it will be overridden by default. If you want to avoid this, eg. you want AltTab and AltAbove_Tab to use the builtin behavior simply remove the conflicts (ie. SuperTab and SuperAbove_Tab and their Shift variants) from /org/gnome/desktop/wm/keybindings/switch-group (no restarts required).

User defined keybindings

Extension.imports.keybindings.bindkey(keystr, name, handler, options)

Option Values Meaning
activeInNavigator true, false The keybinding is active when the minimap/navigator is open
opensMinimap true, false The minimap will open when the keybinding is invoked
let Keybindings = Extension.imports.keybindings;
Keybindings.bindkey("<Super>j", "my-favorite-width",
                    (metaWindow) => {
                        let f = metaWindow.get_frame_rect();
                        metaWindow.move_resize_frame(true, f.x, f.y, 500, f.h);
                    { activeInNavigator: true });

See examples/keybindings.js for more examples.

Fixed Window Size

Currently it is not possible to have a default fixed window size. Please check the following issues for progress / info:

There's a few Gnome Shell settings which works poorly with PaperWM. Namely

  • workspaces-only-on-primary: Multi monitor support require workspaces spanning all monitors
  • edge-tiling: We don't support the native half tiled windows
  • attach-modal-dialogs: Attached modal dialogs can cause visual glitching

To use the recommended settings run A "restore previous settings" script is generated so the original settings is not lost.

These extensions are good complements to PaperWM:

Prior work

A similar idea was apparently tried out a while back: 10/GUI

Open Source Agenda is not affiliated with "PaperWM" Project. README Source: paperwm/PaperWM
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