Switching window scaling in GNOME

01.05.2018 13:22

A while back I got a new work laptop: a 13" Dell XPS 9360. I was pleasantly surprised that installing the latest Debian Stretch with GNOME went smoothly and no special tweaks were needed to get everything up and running. The laptop works great and the battery life in Linux is a significant step up from my old HP EliteBook. The only real problem I noticed after a few months of use is weird behavior of the headphone jack, which often doesn't work for some unknown reason.

In any case, this is my first computer with a high-DPI screen. The 13-inch LCD panel has a resolution of 3200x1800, which means that text on a normal X window screen is almost unreadable without some kind of scaling. Thankfully, GNOME that ships with Stretch has a relatively good support for window scaling. You can set a scaling factor in the GNOME Tweak Tool and all windows will have their content scaled by an integer factor, making text and icons intelligible again.

Window scaling setting in GNOME Tweak Tool.

This setting works fine for me, at least for terminal windows and Firefox, which is what I mostly use on this computer. I've only noticed some minor cosmetic issues when I change this at run-time. Some icons and buttons in GNOME Shell (like the bar on the top of the screen or the settings menu on the upper-right) will sometimes look weird until the next reboot.

A bigger annoyance was the fact that I often use this computer with a normal (non-high-DPI) external monitor. I had to open up the Tweak Tool each time I connected or disconnected the monitor. Navigating huge scaled UI on the low-DPI external monitor or tiny UI on the high-DPI laptop panel got old really quick. It was soon obvious that changing that setting should be a matter of a single key press.

Finding a way to set window scaling programmatically was surprisingly difficult (not unlike my older effort in switching audio output device) I tried a few different approaches, like setting some dconf keys, but none worked reliably. I ended up digging into the Tweak Tool source. This revealed that the Tweak Tool is built around a nice Python library that exposes the necessary settings as functions you can call from your own scripts. The rest was simple.

I ended up with the following Python script:


from gtweak.utils import XSettingsOverrides

def main():
        xsettings = XSettingsOverrides()

        sf = xsettings.get_window_scaling_factor()

	if sf == 1:
		sf = 2
		sf = 1


if __name__ == "__main__":

I have this script saved as toggle_hidpi and then a shortcut set in GNOME Keyboard Settings so that Super-F11 runs it. Note that using the laptop's built-in keyboard this means pressing the Windows logo, Fn, and F11 keys due to the weird modern practice of hiding normal function keys behind the Fn modifier. On an external USB keyboard, only Windows logo and F11 need to be pressed.

High DPI toggle shortcut in GNOME keyboard settings.

Posted by Tomaž | Categories: Code

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