Screensaver and Screenlocker without a Desktop Environment

NOTICE: This post is over 5 years old and the information is likely outdated.

Screensavers and Screenlockers

Without the bells and whistles of a desktop environment, the simplicity of a program that turns your screen off and locks your session becomes an irritating manual task.


My personal ideas of how a screensaver should work are:

  1. Activate when the user is idle for a period of time
  2. Notify the user before activation for cancellation
  3. Lock the session after a short period of the screensaver being active



Created back in 1992, XScreenSaver is a desktop independent screensaver program. Still maintained, it is used by default in many lightweight environments and distributions because of its installation simplicity.

Configuration is simple:

timeout:     0:09:00
lockTimeout: 0:00:30
fadeSeconds: 0:00:03
fadeTicks:   20
dpmsOff:     0:10:00

If you prefer a GUI setup tool use xscreensaver-demo to configure your ~/.xscreensaver config file.

The screensaver will run after 9 minutes, and 30 seconds after that the locker will run. After 10 minutes the screen will shut off.


  • XScreenSaver cannot notify the user that the locker is about to activate in a dimming/fading manner. Screen fading cannot be cancelled by the user.

xautolock and an external locker

Not a screensaver in itself, xautolock can run a command after a period of user inactivity. Pairing it with an external locker like i3lock may be able to get you to where you want to be.

xautolock \
    -notify 30 -notifier "~/.scripts/" \
    -time 9 -locker "~/.scripts/; i3lock" \
    -killtime 10 -killer "xset dpms force off" \

The locker will run after 9 minutes, but 30 seconds before that the notifier will dim the screen. After 10 minutes, the screen will be turned off.


  • If your script only dims and you shake your cursor to break out of the notifier, the screen will remain dimmed. You may be able to use a trap to rectify this.

xidlehook and an external locker

“Because xautolock is annoying to work with." - jD91mZM2

xidlehook is a replacement for xautolock. It has more features, which includes: notify canceller, fullscreen detection, and audio detection. Just like xautolock, when paired with an external locker like i3lock, it should provide a better experience than xautolock.

xidlehook \
    --notify 30 --notifier "~/.scripts/" \
    --canceller "~/.scripts/" \
    --time 9 --timer "~/.scripts/; i3lock" \
    --not-when-fullscreen --not-when-audio

The locker will run after 9 minutes, but 30 seconds before that the notifier will dim the screen. If the notifier is cancelled the undim script will run.


xss-lock and an external locker

xss-lock is a program runs a command to lock the screen on X signals. It also listens to systemd’s login manager and even activates the lockscreen before suspending/hibernating.

xset s 600 30
xss-lock -n /usr/share/doc/xss-lock/ -- i3lock

Set X screensaver properties to 600 and 30, being 10 minutes and 30 seconds. xss-lock will run the script after 10 minutes and then lock the session 30 seconds later. On suspending/hibernation the session will be locked.

xss-lock’s script utilizes a trap to undim the screen after xss-lock kills it.



lightson+ is a screensaver inhibitor to prevent the screensaver from activating while watching a fullscreen video.