Software & AppsOperating SystemLinux

How To Switch to i3 in Ubuntu 18.04 Without Changing System Files

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In this article, we will guide you on how to switch to i3 on Ubuntu 18.04 without changing system files. i3 is a tiling window manager, completely written from scratch. The target platforms are GNU/Linux and BSD operating systems, our code is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) under the BSD license.


Before we begin, ensure that you have administrative access to your Ubuntu 18.04 system and have a working internet connection.

Step 1: Installing i3

Firstly, you need to install i3. Open Terminal and type the following command:

sudo apt install i3

This command uses the apt package manager to install the i3 window manager. The sudo command ensures that the command is run with root privileges.

Step 2: Logging Out or Restarting

After the installation process is complete, you need to log out or restart your computer. This is necessary for the system to recognize the newly installed i3 window manager.

Step 3: Selecting i3 Window Manager

On the login screen, look for a small gear icon next to the “Log In” or “Sign In” button. Click on this gear icon to access the window manager selection. Here, you should see the option for i3. Select it and then log in as usual.

Note: If you do not see the gear icon on the login screen, you may need to disable automatic login. To do this, go to Settings, then Details, and navigate to Users. From there, you can turn off automatic login.

Step 4: Switching from Wayland to X server (if necessary)

If you have recently upgraded from Ubuntu 17.10, which used Wayland as the default graphic server, you may need to change to the X server. However, if you performed a fresh install of Ubuntu 18.04, the X server should already be the default.

To switch to the X server, you would typically need to edit the GDM3 custom.conf file. However, as the title suggests, we want to avoid changing system files. Therefore, we will use the update-alternatives command.

Open Terminal and type the following command:

sudo update-alternatives --config x-session-manager

This command will display a list of all available x-session-managers. From the list, select the number corresponding to i3 and press Enter.


By following these steps, you should now be able to switch to the i3 window manager in Ubuntu 18.04 without changing any system files. i3 is a powerful window manager that offers a lot of flexibility and customization options. If you’re new to i3, take some time to familiarize yourself with its features and configuration options. You can find more information and resources on the i3 website.

Can I switch back to my previous window manager after installing i3?

Yes, you can switch back to your previous window manager by following the same steps mentioned in Step 3, but selecting your previous window manager instead of i3.

Can I customize the keybindings in i3?

Yes, i3 allows you to customize keybindings. You can modify the keybindings by editing the i3 configuration file located at ~/.config/i3/config. Refer to the i3 user guide for more information on customizing keybindings.

Can I use a different status bar with i3?

Yes, i3 is compatible with various status bars. You can use popular status bars like i3bar, polybar, or lemonbar with i3. To configure and use a different status bar, refer to the documentation of the specific status bar you want to use.

Will installing i3 affect my existing files and applications?

No, installing i3 will not affect your existing files and applications. i3 is a window manager, and it does not make any changes to your files or applications. It only controls the window management aspect of your desktop environment.

Can I use i3 with Ubuntu flavors other than Ubuntu 18.04?

Yes, i3 can be used with other Ubuntu flavors and versions as well. The installation process may vary slightly, but the basic steps should remain the same. You can refer to the official documentation or community guides for specific instructions on installing i3 on different Ubuntu versions.

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