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Man Pages

Manual Reference Pages  -  XPENGUINS (1)


xpenguins - cute little penguins that walk along the tops of your windows




xpenguins [-option ...]


XPenguins is a program for animating cute cartoons/animals in your root window. By default it will be penguins - they drop in from the top of the screen, walk along the tops of your windows, up the side of your windows, levitate, skateboard, and do other similarly exciting things. Be careful when you move windows as the little guys squash easily. If you send the program an interupt signal (such as by hitting Ctrl-C) they will burst. XPenguins is now themeable, so it is easy to select something else to animate instead of penguins, or even (with a little artistic talent) define your own; see the THEMES section below.


In all the following cases a double dash can be replaced by a single dash.
-a, --no-angels
  Do not show any cherubim flying up to heaven when a toon gets squashed.
-b, --no-blood
  Do not show any gory death sequences.
-c dir, --config-dir dir
  Look for config files and themes in this directory. The default is usually /usr/share/xpenguins.
-d display, --display display
  Send the toons to the specified X display. In the absence of this option, the display specified by the DISPLAY environment variable is used.
-h, --help Print out a message describing the available options.
-i, --theme-info
  Print out the auxiliary information about a theme and exit. Use the -t option to select the theme to describe.
-l, --list-themes
  List the available themes, one on each line, and exit.
-m delay, --delay delay
  Set the delay between each frame in milliseconds. The default is defined by the theme.
-n number, --penguins number
  The number of toons to start, up to a maximum of 256. The default is defined by the theme.
-p, --ignorepopups
  Toons fall through ‘popup’ windows (those with the save-under attribute set), such as tooltips. Note that this also includes the KDE panel.
-r, --rectwin
  Toons regard all windows as rectangular. This option results in faster calculation of window positions, but if you use one of those fancy new window managers with shaped windows then your toons might sometimes look like they’re walking on thin air.
-s, --squish
  Enable the penguins to be squished using any of the mouse buttons. Note that this disables any existing function of the mouse buttons on the root window.
-t theme, --theme theme
  Use the named theme. The default is Penguins. If the theme has spaces in its name then you can use underscores instead, or alternatively just put the name in double quotes. This option can be called multiple times to run several themes simultaneously.
-q, --quiet
  Suppress the exit message when an interupt is received.
-v, --version
  Print out the current version number and quit.
--all Load all available themes and run them simultaneously.
--id window
  Send toons to the window with this ID, instead of the root window or whichever window is appropriate for the current desktop environment. Note that the ID of X clients reported by xwininfo is rarely that of the foremost visible window that should be used here.
--nice loadaverage1 loadaverage2
  Start killing toons when the 1-min averaged system load exceeds loadaverage1; when it exceeds loadaverage2 kill them all. The toons will reappear when the load average comes down. The load is checked every 5 seconds by looking in /proc/loadavg, so this option only works under unices that implement this particular pseudo file (probably just Linux). When there are no toons on the screen, XPenguins uses only a miniscule amount of CPU time - it just wakes up every 5 seconds to recheck the load.


The system themes are usually kept in /usr/share/xpenguins/themes, and these can be augmented or overridden by the user’s themes in $HOME/.xpenguins/themes. Each theme has its own subdirectory which to be valid must contain a file called config. The name of the theme is taken from the directory name, although because many install scripts choke on directory names containing spaces, all spaces in a theme name are represented in the directory name by underscores. Any directory name containing spaces is inaccessible by xpenguins.

In addition to the config file, the theme directory contains the toon images that make up the theme in the form of xpm image files. Additionally, there should be an about file which gives information on the creator of the theme, the license under which it is distributed and various other things. This file is principally for use by xpenguins_applet, an applet for GNOME that allows different themes to be selected at the click of a button.

The config file has a reasonably straightforward format. You can either read this rather terse description of it or you can have a look at the config file for the default Penguins theme, which is usually installed at /usr/share/xpenguins/themes/Penguins/config, and is reasonably well commented. We’ll first establish some simple terminology. Say you have a Farmyard theme with cows and sheep. The cows and sheep are types of toon, while the various things they get up to (walking, mooing and so on) are termed activities. Each activity has its own xpm image file, in which the frames of the animation are laid out horizontally. Some activities (notably walking) use different images depending on the direction the toon is moving in. In this case the frames for the two directions are laid out one above the other in the image.

As in shell scripts, comments are initiated with the # character and hide the remainder of the line. The format is entirely free except that there is an arbitrary limit on the length of a line of 512 characters. Spaces, tabs and newlines all count equally as white space. Data is entered as a sequence of key value pairs, all separated by white space. Neither the keys nor the values are case sensitive, except where the value is a filename. The following keys are understood:
delay delay
  Set the recommended delay between frames in milliseconds.
toon toon
  Begin defining a new toon called toon. If only one type of toon is present in the theme then this key may be omitted.
number number
  Set the default number of toons of the current type to start.
define activity
  Begin defining an activity for the current toon. The currently understood activities are walker, faller, tumbler, climber, floater, runner, explosion, squashed, zapped, splatted, angel, exit and action?, where ? is a number between 0 and 6. Once you’ve seen the program in action you should be able to guess which is which. A valid theme must contain at least walkers and fallers. Additionally, you may define a default activity (with define default); any properties (such as width and speed) set here are then adopted by the activities defined from then on, if they do not themselves explicitly define those properties. After an activity has been declared with define, the following properties may be assigned:
pixmap xpmfile
  The file containing the image data for the activity. Note that you may not set a default pixmap.
width width
  The width of each frame of the animation in pixels.
height height
  The height of each frame of the animation in pixels.
frames frames
  The number of frames in the animation.
directions directions
  The number of directions for the activity (can be 1 or 2).
speed speed
  The initial speed of the toon when engaged in this activity, in pixels per frame.
acceleration acceleration
  The rate at which the speed increases, in pixels per frame squared. This property is not utilised by all activities.
terminal_velocity terminal_velocity
  The maximum speed in pixels per frame, again not utilised by all activities.
loop loop
  Only understood by the actions; indicates how many times to repeat the action. If negative, then the probility of stopping the action every time the action is complete is -1/loop.
Some notes regarding the various activities. If you design a new theme, feel free to make the splatted, squashed, zapped and exit animations as gory and bloody as you like, but please keep the explosion activity nice and tame; that way those of a nervous disposition can employ the --no-blood option which replaces all these violent deaths with a tasteful explosion that wouldn’t offend your grandmother. Xpm images files are a factor of two smaller if you can limit the number of colours in the image such that only one character need be used to represent each colour; this also makes XPenguins start up much more rapidly. Rarely are more than 64 colours required.

So that’s about it for the config file, now for the about file. This is very simple. Again comments are initialised by a #. An entry consists of a key at the start of a line, followed by the corresponding value which is read up to the next newline. The following keys are understood, although none are compulsory.

artist Used to list the artist(s) who created the original images.
  The person who compiled the images into an XPenguins theme. It is useful if an email address can also be provided.
date The date when the theme was last modified. My preferred format is day of the month, name of the month in english, full year. For example: 24 April 2001.
icon The name of an image file that can be used as an icon for the theme; XPM and PNG are suitable formats.
license The name of the license under which the theme is distributed (e.g. GPL).
  The year and holder of the copyright.
comment Any other essential information, such as the theme’s web site, as brief as possible.

Please test any about files you create by looking at how the information is displayed by the xpenguins_applet program.


Robin Hogan <>.


Inspiration provided by Rick Jansen <> in the form of the classic xsnow. Most penguin images were taken from Pingus, a free lemmings clone that can be found at <>; these images were designed by Joel Fauche <> and Craig Timpany <>. Additional images in version 2 by Rob Gietema <> and Robin Hogan.


XPenguins can load an X server and/or network (although the CPU time used is small), and if a large number of penguins are spawned then they may begin to flicker, depending on the speed of the X server.

The xpenguins homepage is located at:


A new feature since version 2.1 is the ability to draw to windows other than the root window in situations where the window manager or desktop environment places a large window over the root window that would otherwise obscure the toons. Currently XPenguins can draw to the KDE Desktop (KDE 2.0 and 2.1), Enlightenment desktops greater than 0 (E16), the Nautilus desktop and the virtual root window of certain window managers like amiwm. Of course, simpler window managers that don’t mess around like this will still work (sawfish, blackbox and countless others). It cannot work with CDE and probably never will. Future versions of KDE, Enlightenment and Nautilus may not work; the classic symptom of this is that XPenguins sits there as if it’s doing something, but no toons are visible. If this happens, try running the program with one of the simpler window manager listed above, or visit the XPenguins web site and download the latest version. If there are icons drawn on the root window then the toons will erase them when they walk over them, although an expose event will be sent to the window every 100 frames to redraw them.




xsnow(1), xroach(1), xwininfo(1) pingus(6)
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XPenguins 2.2 XPENGUINS (1) 1 October 2001

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