(This is part of a larger series on finding your footing on Arch Linux.)
Last modified: 22 March 2023
Goal: Trigger common media player actions (e.g. play, pause, skip forward, etc.) using convenient keyboard shortcuts. Best served with this series’s volume control guide.
There are three main players in the game here:
The media player remote interfacing specification (MPRIS), a system-wide API for controlling media players managed by the freedesktop.org.
playerctl, a utility for sending commands to any program implementing the MPRIS specification.
Supported MPRIS client programs include:
See ArchWiki: MPRIS/Supported clients for a longer list of media players that support MPRIS.
xbindkeys, a utility for defining key bindings in X.
There are two independent tasks in this article: (1) learning the commands to control
playerctl and (2) binding these commands to keyboard keys using
First install the
sudo pacman -S playerctl
playerctl utility offers intuitively-named commands; we’ll use two:
playerctl play-pause(toggle play/pause for the current media player)
playerctl next|previous(skip to the next or previous track)
man playerctl for a clearly-described list of other commands.
Manual usage of
playerctl is straightforward.
playerctl play-pausefrom a command line. The media player should pause.
playerctl play-pauseagain. The media player should being playing again.
playerctl commands is analogous, e.g.
playerctl status, etc.
playerctl sends commands to the first-available media player.
If you have multiple media players open at once, you can distinguish between them with the
--player option, e.g.
# Pause media in VLC playerctl --player=vlc pause # Play media in Firefox playerctl --player=firefox play
playerctl --list-all lists all active media players that can be controlled with
Seriously, take 10 minutes and read
man playerctl—you’ll find more cool stuff, e.g. you can use the
playerctld daemon to make
playerctl send commands to the last-active player instead of the first-available player.
mpv media player requires the
mpv-mpris plugin to work with the MPRIS interface and
mpv-mpris package (
sudo pacman -S mpv-mpris) and you should be able to control
mpv like any other MPRIS-compatible media player e.g.
playerctl --player=mpv play-pause
We’ll do this using
You need two pieces of information to define a key binding:
The X11 key symbol (keysym) of the key you want to bind.
xbindkeys identifies keyboard keys by their X11 keysym, which is, loosely, just a short code name for the key.)
The program you want to run when the key is pressed (e.g.
playerctl play-pause for media control).
You can then use
xbindkeys to bind the keysym to the program.
You can identify X11 keysyms with the
xev (X events) utility:
open a shell and run
xev, type the key you wish to bind, and record the keysym.
Here is an example
xev output for the
F10 keys on my ThinkPad T460 (I’ve highlighted the keysyms for convenience):
# The keysym for the "A" key is "a" KeyPress event, serial 34, synthetic NO, window 0x2800001, root 0x7ad, subw 0x0, time 682173681, (-383,347), root:(909,369), state 0x0, keycode 38 (keysym 0x61, a), same_screen YES, XLookupString gives 1 bytes: (61) "a" XmbLookupString gives 1 bytes: (61) "a" XFilterEvent returns: False # The keysym for the “F10/Search” key is “XF86Search” KeyPress event, serial 35, synthetic NO, window 0x2200001, root 0x79b, subw 0x0, time 152154488, (-581,393), root:(103,415), state 0x0, keycode 225 (keysym 0x1008ff1b, XF86Search), same_screen YES, XLookupString gives 0 bytes: XmbLookupString gives 0 bytes: XFilterEvent returns: False
The keysyms are
You have to do a bit of digging through
xev’s verbose output here; alternatively you could run
xev | grep keysym to only print the keysym line.
It’s easy: first create the
~/.xbindkeysrc configuration file; you can do this manually or run:
# Generate a default xbindkeys config file with commented-out examples xbindkeys --defaults > ~/.xbindkeysrc
Then define key bindings in
xbindkeysrc file with the general syntax:
# Place shell command in quotes and keysym on a new line "SHELL-COMMAND" KEYSYM
Here is an example:
# Use XF86Search for play/pause "playerctl play-pause" XF86Search
This key binding will run the command
playerctl play-pause whenever the key with keysym
XF86Search (which happens to be
F10 on a ThinkPad T460; see
xev output above) is pressed.
You can probably take if from here and define key bindings for any
playerctl commands that strike your fancy; consult
man playerctl to see all available commands.
For more information and examples using
xbindkeys see ArchWiki: Xbindkeys.
xbindkeys in a shell to activate the just-defined key bindings.
Make changes permanent: place the line
xbindkeys above the line that starts your window manager or DE in your
~/.xinitrc file, which will load key bindings each time you start X.
Here is an example:
# Activate X key bindings xbindkeys # Start the i3 window manager (or whatever WM or DE you use) exec i3
See ArchWiki: Xbindkeys/Making changes permanent for more information.