Zenity: Command line Dialogs

Zenity is command line GUI creator that has been around since 2012, and it is pre-installed on most versions of Linux, including Raspberry PI’s. Zenity is also available for MacOS and Windows.

I came across it on a recent project and I wanted to document some of my code. My examples include:

  • CPU stats on a dialog – 1 line of Bash script
  • Show a web page in a dialog – 1 line
  • Create a 4 button PI Rover control – ~ 25 lines
  • Dynamic bar of CPU core temperature – 7 lines
  • Show CSV or SQL data in a list dialog – 1 line
  • Form to insert user data in an SQL database – ~7 lines

What is Zenity?

Zenity is a command line dialog creator. I found it pretty quick to pick up and it works well for simple Bash scripts. Zenity supports:

  • Basic forms
  • Calendar dialogs
  • Color selection dialogs
  • File Selection Dialogs
  • List Dialog
  • Message and Notification Dialog
  • Progress bars and Scales
  • Text Entry and Text Information Dialogs

Message Dialogs

Message dialogs can be created for errors, info, questions or warnings. The difference is the icon that shows up (and Ok/Cancel for the question dialog).

The Bash code to get the instantaneous CPU idle time would be:

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ # Run top once and look for the line with %Cpu
pi@raspberrypi:~ $ top -n 1 | grep %Cpu
%Cpu(s):  0.0 us,  6.2 sy,  0.0 ni, 93.8 id,  0.0 wa,  0.0 hi,  0.0 si,  0.0 st
pi@raspberrypi:~ $ # Get the 8th item from the grep
pi@raspberrypi:~ $ top -n 1 | grep %Cpu | awk '{print $8}'

The bash code to show the CPU idle time in a info dialog is:

zenity --info --text=$(top -n 1 | grep %Cpu | awk '{print $8}') --title="CPU Idle Time"

Message Dialogs with Custom Font

Text font and size can be modified in message dialogs, using the Pango Markup Language syntax. Pongo is similar to HTML. The <span></span> set of tags is used to encode font and color definitions, For example:

zenity --warning --text='<span font="32" foreground="red">HIGH Temperature</span>' --title="HDD Check"

Unfortunately only Message Dialog texts can changed, so text in dialogs like list, scale, and progress can’t not have their fonts changed.

Web Pages in a Text-Info Dialog

Text or HTML files can be passed to a text-info dialog:

zenity --text-info --title="Background Reading" --html --url="https://developer.gnome.org"

A checkbox can be added, and the user feedback can be read by the bash script:

# show web page in a dialog with a next step action

zenity --text-info --title="Background Reading" --html --url=$theurl \
       --checkbox="I read it...and I'm good to go"
echo $rc
case $rc in
        echo "Start some next step"
	# next step
        echo "Stop installation!"
        echo "An unexpected error has occurred."

It is important to note that the text-info dialog should be used for simple web pages. There is no Javascript support and web links will launch the default web browser with requested page.

Refreshing Message Dialogs

Of all the Zenity dialogs, only the Progress dialog supports a method to update text on an open dialog. A workaround is to use the –timeout option to close the dialog and then redisplay it with the new data.

while [[ $rc -eq 5 ]];
  zenity --info --text=$(date +'%S' ) \
  --title="Seconds Timer Test" --timeout=5 --ok-label Quit $ zenity --info \
  --text=$(date +'%S' )   --title="Seconds Timer Test" 2>/dev/null

  echo $rc

This “timeout and redraw” method is ugly because the window always positions in the middle of the screen and this can be quite annoying. Unfortunately Zenity does not support any top/left positioning options.

The xdotool could be used find the zenity window id and then position it, but this would need to be done in another script. (It can’t be done in the same script because the zenity line doesn’t complete until either it times out or OK is pressed). The xdotool script would be:

pid=$(xdotool search -onlyvisible -name myzenitywindownname)
xdotool windowmove $pid 0 0

If you need dynamically updated text on a dialog I think that it would be best to use another tool, (Python, TAD etc.).

Info Dialog with Extra Buttons – Pi Rover Controls

It’s possible to add some extra button to an info dialog. Below is an example where a Raspberry Pi Rover is controlled with a zenity multi-button info dialog. Note: the pins will vary with your setupArduinoIt’s possible to add some extra button to an info dialog. Below is an example where a Raspberry Pi Rover is controlled with a zenity multi-button info dialog. Note: the pins will vary with your setup

# rover.sh - Rover Controls with Multiple Button Dialog
# Define GPIO pins for the motors motorL=7 motorR=11 rc=1 # OK button return code =0 , all others =1 while [ $rc -eq 1 ]; do ans=$(zenity --info --title 'Drive a Rover' \ --text 'Motor Action' \ --ok-label Quit \ --extra-button FORWARD \ --extra-button STOP \ --extra-button LEFT \ --extra-button RIGHT \ ) rc=$? echo "${rc}-${ans}" echo $ans if [[ $ans = "FORWARD" ]] then echo "Running the Rover" gpio -1 write $motorL 1 ; gpio -1 write $motorR 1; elif [[ $ans = "STOP" ]] then echo "Stopping the Rover" gpio -1 write $motorL 0 ; gpio -1 write $motorR 0; elif [[ $ans = "LEFT" ]] then echo "Rover turning Left" gpio -1 write $motorL 1 ; gpio -1 write $motorR 0; elif [[ $ans = "RIGHT" ]] then echo "Rover turning RIGHT" gpio -1 write $motorL 0 ; gpio -1 write $motorR 1; fi done

The script can be run by: bash rover.sh

Below is the dialog and the rover.

Progress Bars – Show Dynamic Values

A Zenity progress dialog can show dynamic updates with scripts that define steps using sleep statements. When the step outputs a value the process bar is updated. The text on the progress dialog is changed by outputting a text string starting with a # character.

A 3-step example would be:

echo "33"; echo "# 1/3 done" ; sleep 5; \
echo "66"; echo "# 2/3 done" ; sleep 5; \
echo "100";echo "# Finished"  \
) | zenity --progress --title="3 step test"

The progress dialog can use a bash for or while statement. The progress dialog can be passed both new text and the value. A text string starting with # is interpreted as the new text. A number string is interpreted as the progress bar value.

Below is an example where a value is counted from 1 to 100:

( for i in `seq 1 100`; do echo $i; echo "# $i";  sleep 1; done ) | zenity --progress

The next thing I tested is a dialog that runs indefinitely (or until you hit “Control-C”). It’s import to note that the progress bar is from 0-100, so scaling your value may be required. An example of scaling a time from 0-60 would be:

echo "$(date +'%S')*100/60" | bc

An example to show seconds in a dialog would be:

# show_sec.sh - progress dialog to show seconds
echo "Press [CTRL+C] to stop..." ( while : do echo "# $(date +'%S')" # Scale 0-60 to 0-100 echo "$(date +'%S')*100/60" | bc sleep 1 done ) | zenity \ --progress \ --title="Show Time in Seconds" \

To run this script: bash show_sec.sh

A more useful dialog would be to show the CPU temperature:

# Progress Dialog to show CPU temperature
echo "Press [CTRL+C] to stop..."
: do echo "# $(sensors | grep CPU)" sensors | grep CPU | awk '{print substr($2,2,4) }' sleep 5 done ) | zenity --progress --title="CPU Temperature"

List Dialog – Show CSV/SQL Data

@L:If you are working with a simple known data set then the List Dialog might be a good fit.

The List Dialog expects the data to be a sequential list, so a 2 column example of static data would be:

zenity --list \
  --title="2 Column Example" \ 
  --column="Month" --column="Sales" \
   Jan 100 Feb 95 Mar 77 Apr 110 May 111
$ cat lang.txt

$ cat lang.txt | tr ',' '\n'

Now the sequential data can be passed into a Zenity list:

cat lang.txt | tr ',' '\n' | zenity --list \
  --title="Country Info" \
  --column="Country" --column="Capital" --column="Language"

Once you have some Zenity and Bash basics down you can some fairly advanced operations. Below is a 1-line example that uses awk to parse out specific fields (1 and 3) and then the user selected output is echo-ed.

awk -F "\"*,\"*" '{print $1 "\n" $3}' pidata.csv  | echo $(zenity --list --column="field1" --column="field3" --print-column=ALL)

Similarly to data from an SQL query can be show.

(sqlite3 someuser.db "select fname,lname,age,job from users" ) | tr '|' '\n' | zenity --list \
  --title="My Database" \
  --column="first name" --column="last name" --column=age --column=job

Similarly to data from an SQL query can be show.

Form Dialog – Insert SQL Data

The Forms Dialog allows for date, text and password inputs, and the result are passed as string (| is the default separator). A form example with output would be:

$ row=$(zenity --forms --title="Create user" --text="Add new user" \
   --add-entry="First Name" \    
   --add-entry="Last Name" \    
   --add-entry="Age" \    
   --add-entry="Job") ; echo $row


The next step is to format the form data into an SQL statement. The SQL INSERT syntax is:

INSERT INTO table (field1,field2…) VALUE (value1,value2…)

For the example above, field1|field2|field3|field4 needs to formatted to the values. This manipulation can be done by the bash sed command with search and replace (s) option:

$ row="field1|field2|field3|field4"
$ echo "'$row'" | sed "s/|/','/g"

The bash script to present the zenity form and input the data is below. The if statement is used to ensure that the cancel button wasn’t pressed. More if statement would probably be required for some data validation.

# zen_sqlin.sh - create a form to add a new user into a SQLite3 database
row=$(zenity --forms --title="Create user" --text="Add new user" \ --add-entry="First Name" \ --add-entry="Last Name" \ --add-entry="Age" \ --add-entry="Job") if [[ -n $row ]] # Some data found then indata=$(echo "'$row'" | sed "s/|/','/g") cmd="sqlite3 someuser.db \"INSERT INTO users (Fname,Lname,Age,Job) VALUES ($indata)\"" eval $cmd echo "Added data: $indata" fi

The script is run by: bash zen_sqlin.sh

Zenity (GTk) Warning Messages

Depending on your system you might see some Zenity warning messages such as:

Gtk-Message: 15:30:52.461: GtkDialog mapped without a transient parent. This is discouraged.

I never saw this on my Raspberry Pi but I did see it on my lubuntu system. To make things cleaner the warning can be piped to the null device:

$ zenity --info --text=$(date +'%S' )   --title="Seconds Timer Test" 2>/dev/null

Some Final Comments

I really just touched the surface on what zenity can do. For more info see some of the tutorials.

For simple stuff zenity works fine. If you’re looking for a more complete command line GUI tool try YAD, for myself I’ll stick to Python.

As a side note, there is a Python library for zenity. If you’re feeling comfortable with the bash version of zenity and you only need to do simple dialogs then this might be a good fit.

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