Indradhanush Gupta
2 min read

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πŸš€ I started using picom, a compositor a few days ago as I wanted my inactive windows to be transparent. This goes a long way into identifying the active window when you’re working with multiple split windows on the same workspace. This has not been a problem for me previously as I was running i3wm as my window manager and i3status-rust for my status bar. That meant that each window had a title bar. But I moved to i3-gaps and polybar to make my desktop prettier. And with i3-gaps you need to disable the title bar that i3 adds on each window. Thus picom as a visual indicator to quickly spot the active window among a bunch of small windows within a workspace felt like a good solution. Also it makes your windows prettier! 🀩

⚠️ Heads up: If you decide to go down this route, it will consume a lot of your time. A lot more than you would have originally planned. You have been warned.

πŸ› Setting picom up was very straightforward, but I ran into an issue very soon: system notifications stopped showing up completely. And the moment I killed the picom process, all the notifications collected by the notification daemon up to that point would pop right on screen. This had an unintended effect of becoming a DND mode. πŸ˜›

πŸ”” The notification daemon I use is dunst and it has an easy way of turning on / off notifications on demand. So I didn’t necessarily need this side effect from running picom. It definitely came across to me as a bug and not a feature. Jokes apart. This bugged me for the last five days. I searched the web but was unable to find anything related to this.

βš™οΈ In picom, the user can set different opacity levels (opposite of transparency) for different windows. So an opacity level of 0.9 makes a window only slightly transparent, while an opacity level of 0.1 would make it almost transparent and barely visible.

πŸ€” I tried configuring this for dunst windows but to no effect. Finally I tried to install and run another compositor, xcompmgr to see if I was able to reproduce the issue. And unsurprisingly I had the same problem with xcompmgr as well. This helped me with my direction of debugging the issue immediately. I started feeling that the issue had to be coming out of dunst itself and not picom. So I looked up my dunstrc (the config file for dunst) and started reading through it. And soon enough I found this setting there:

transparency = 100

πŸ‘€ At first glance I thought it was the right setting. Remember in picom above, a higher number means more opaque. But then I read the man pages for dunst where it was clear that a higher number means more transparency (quite expected by the word itself). I’ve been using dunst for a few years already so there is a good chance I made that edit at some point as the default value for this setting is 0. That is, this was a bug of my own making (like most bugs anyway!).

So I immediately updated my dunstrc file:

transparency = 0

πŸŽ‰ Restarted dunst and voila! The notifications started showing up when picom was running. And that too without any additional configurations on picom! I can now go back to using DND in dunst the way the authors intended. πŸ˜…