Desktop Notifications for Irssi in Screen through SSH in Gnome Terminal

I’m usually on IRC, but I don’t often notice incoming pings until after the fact. I had to both write, and modify various scripts to get what I wanted, but now it’s all done, and you can benefit from my hacking by following along…

The Setup

Laptop -> Gnome-Terminal -> SSH -> Screen -> Irssi

This way, I’m connected to IRC, even when my laptop isn’t. I run irssi in a screen session on an SSH server that I manage, and I use gnome-terminal on my laptop. If you don’t understand this setup, then you’ll need to get more comfortable with these tools first.


The first trick is getting irssi to store notifications in a uniform way. To do this, I modified an irssi script called fnotify. My changed version is available here. Installation is easy:

# on your ssh server:
cd /tmp; wget
cp /tmp/ ~/.irssi/scripts/
# in irssi:
irssi> /load perl
irssi> /script load fnotify

When someone sends you a direct message, or highlights your nick on IRC, this script will append a line to the ~/.irssi/fnotify file on the SSH server.

Watching fnotify

On your local machine, we need a script to tail the fnotify file. This was surprisingly hard to get right. The fruit of my labour is available here. You’ll want to copy this script to your local ~/bin/ directory. I’ve named this script This script watches the remote fnotify file, and runs notify-send and paplay locally to notify you of any incoming messages, each time one comes in.

SSH Activation

We want the script to run automatically when we connect to our SSH server. To do this, add the following lines to your ~/.ssh/config file:

# home
Host home
    PermitLocalCommand yes
    LocalCommand ~/bin/ --start %r@%h

You might also want to have other directives listed here as well, but that is outside the scope of this article. Now each time you run:

ssh home

The command will automatically run.


I’ve left out some important details:

  • The LocalCommand that you use, must return before ssh will continue. As a result, it daemonizes itself into the background when you invoke it with –start.
  • My program watches the parent ssh $PID. When it exits, it will run a cleanup routine to purge old notifications from the fnotify file. This requires a brief SSH connection back to the server. This is a useful feature!
  • You may wish to modify to paplay a different alert sound, or to avoid making noise entirely. The choice is yours.
  • When runs, it will tail the fnotify file over ssh. If there are “unread” messages, tail will try to “download” up to ten. You can edit this behaviour in if you want a larger initial backlog.
  • The script doesn’t attempt to prevent flooding, nor does it filter weird characters from incoming messages. You may want to add this yourself, and or /kb users who cause you to need these features.

Here’s a little screenshot (with shameless plug) of the result in action: notification screenshot

Here’s an example of how this helps me to be more responsive in channel:

helping out in #gluster

helping out in #gluster

I hope you found this useful.

Happy Hacking,


10 thoughts on “Desktop Notifications for Irssi in Screen through SSH in Gnome Terminal

  1. Nice! Just what I searched for! I ran into a few dead-ends trying to detect a bell in a screen first.

    I put a checking script in my crontab so I get the irssi message as a short email.

  2. not sure if this is a KDE problem, but when I connect to the server, it popsups all the notifications stored in “~/.irssi/fnotify”. Is there a way to avoid this?

    • The idea is that you see all the notifications you’ve missed too, so yes, this makes sense. When you disconnect, it will clear them. Unfortunately if you don’t disconnect cleanly, then they don’t get cleared. There are two options:

      1) run a little clear script on your server or manually as needed
      ( echo > ~/.irssi/fnotify )

      2) patch my script to have a different erase policy: you could clear the messages as they are “downloaded”.
      I’ve been thinking about doing this second one, although it’s not patched yet.

      Let me know what you do!

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