Linux, musical road-dogging, and daily life by Paul W. Frields
You can ring my bell.

You can ring my bell.

I’ve been using xchat-gnome on Fedora for quite a while. It’s been my default chat client because the way it notifies about private or channel messages fits well with my workflow. However, recently I’ve wanted more often to encapsulate my chat in a screen session along with my other work. Of course, the obvious answer to this is Irssi, a popular text-based client.

I still tend to also have a web browser open often in a GNOME session, though, so notifications are very useful to me. For a while I used Irssi with a simple plugin script that calls notify-send to create popup notifications. However, I hadn’t used it since the GNOME 2.30-2.32 days, and I found this script had developed drawbacks as it aged against the new GNOME 3 environment.

For example, the notifications would fill up the notification tray over the course of the day. Clearing them required an action for each individual notification, which was tedious to say the least. Also, the --timeout argument to notify-send seemed to no longer work for me to make the notification leave the notice area after a specific length of time.

What I really wanted was a solution that would act more like many of the other native GNOME applications. Appointment notifications or email in Evolution, for instance, “stack” in the notification area into a single icon, with a number that tells you how many notices have been received. Thankfully a few GNOME folks — Marina, Matthias, and Ray — kindly gave me some advice on solutions.

First, there’s a hint called transient for notifications that lets them evaporate from the notification area after a specific time. (You can find the full notification spec here if you want to dig a little deeper; I found it really educational.) This was a step forward because it kept the notices from piling up in the notification area ad infinitum. For instance:

notify-send --hint transient:1 'subject' 'message'

Unfortunately, just using transient meant I’d likely miss some notices if I was away when they came in. I wouldn’t know someone was looking for me unless I switched to my Irssi window to look — which is precisely the thing that notifications should prevent. Nevertheless, it’s a really useful hint, so file that away for later reference.

Never fear though, because again the GNOME folks passed on some good advice. The stacking effect is handled automatically by GNOME Shell if the notifications are issued from the same PID. Aye, there’s the rub! The Irssi plugin I was using made this impossible, because it called the notify-send executable for each message, meaning a new process for each instance. What I really needed was a single process listening on the session D-Bus that could kick off a notification.

So what I came up with can be found here. If you want to just test the listener, maybe because you don’t use Irssi, try this command with the listener running:

dbus-send --session /org/irssi/Irssi org.irssi.Irssi.IrssiNotify string:'subject' string:'message'

The listener is just a dead-simple (or maybe I should say brain-dead, given the quality of code) Python script. I put it in ~/bin with the executable bit set on, added it to my list of applications that launch with my GNOME session using gnome-session-properties, and added the new notify Perl plugin for Irssi to my ~/.irssi/scripts/ folder, with a symlink from ~/.irssi/scripts/autorun/ so it starts whenever I run Irssi. The stacking of notifications makes them very easy to clear with one user action — aaah, much better!

Future thoughts:

  • One flaw with this method (I’m sure there are many!) is you’ll get notifications even if you’re actively looking at or talking in the IRC channel where a message comes in. It’s easy to add logic to alter the behavior based on that, but what complicates matters considerably would be trying to make this script understand when Irssi was in the active screen window — or when the screen was the foreground window in GNOME.
  • It might not be kosher for me to have used org.irssi.Irssi as a service name in D-Bus. After all, this isn’t official or part of the Irssi project at all. But as I understand it, you could use whatever name you liked, as long as you weren’t trying to claim a service name already in use.
  • You could make this work system-wide by packaging a real .service file for D-Bus along with the Irssi script.
  • When we were discussing the technical issues above, Ray told me he was actually looking for something similar. With any luck, he’ll find something annoying in my stupid solution he can’t live with, and he’ll add some magic GNOME-ishness to make it awesome. See what I did there? ?


  1. Greg DeKoenigsberg

    Of course, I ssh to a remote system and run irssi on screen, so this doesn’t work for me. I need to figure out a script that emails or texts me when I’m pinged, but I haven’t bothered to find it yet. :/

    1. @Greg: I have a solution for that, although it too is a bit hacky. I’m usually in the same situation, SSH from my desktop workstation (bigger monitor and real keyboard) to my laptop which is actually connected over VPN to all the things I need during the day. I’ll post more about this later, although I’m not sure my solution is strictly trustworthy (in the security sense).

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