XMonad Module Showcase: X.A.Search

Posted on 2023-03-19  ·  6 min read  ·  ,

I’d like to highlight another xmonad module that has become quite essential to me: XMonad.Actions.Search. Its premise is simple: you enter some text into the xmonad prompt, and it queries a search engine of your choice with this input—straightforward, and yet very effective.

In fact, this sounds so simple that one might immediately ask: what’s the point? The problem with regular searching is that it’s slow; who has the time to open their browser, navigate to the relevant website, and only then enter their search? In today’s world, where many things now have their own dedicated search engines
Just to name a few, I regularly look things up on zbmath, Hoogle, ClojureDocs, Wikipedia, Open­Street­Map, searX, arXiv, noogle, forges like Git­Hub, … the list goes on.
, searching efficiently becomes increasingly important. Plus, the lower barrier to entry means that looking something up—always a good idea, with all of humanities collected knowledge at one’s fingertips—may well become instinctive, instead of feeling like a chore.


The basic workflow suggested by the module simply consists of picking a search engine, and binding it to a key via promptSearch—that’s it. Additionally, there is also selectSearch to look up the current (primary) selection. For example, suppose we had bound


This uses XMonad.Util.EZConfig syntax.
searchKeys :: [(String, X ())]
searchKeys =              -- def is an optional prompt config
  [ ("M-s"    , promptSearch def wikipedia)
  , ("M-u M-s", selectSearch     wikipedia)

This would enable us to search through Wikipedia normally by pressing M-s, and directly look up the currently selected text with M-u M-s.
As an aside, this is an ideal use case for XMonad.​Actions.​Prefix. With that module, one could define an equivalent keybinding along the lines of
searchKeys :: [(String, X ())]
searchKeys =
  [ ("M-s", withPrefixArgument $ \case
      Raw _ -> selectSearch     wikipedia
      _     -> promptSearch def wikipedia)

This is especially useful when multiple search engines are involved; see below or check out my configuration for a complete example.
The whole things looks like this:

Further, there is a third workflow that is quite convenient: by default, pressing C-y in the prompt inserts the current selection, ready for further editing.

Adding new engines§

There are quite a few search engines built-in: at the time of writing, X.A.Search sports about 40 different ones. Thankfully, adding new engines is easy, even in one’s own configuration; e.g., to look up something on Hoogle, one would simply define
hoogle :: SearchEngine
hoogle = searchEngine "hoogle" "https://hoogle.haskell.org/?hoogle="

This means that even if the module does not have a search engine you want, it’s trivial to define it yourself—and don’t forget to upstream it afterwards!

There also is the searchEngineF function, which instead of just a string takes a function to also modify that string.
For the following code examples, you may need to place extra pragmas along the lines of
{-# LANGUAGE BlockArguments #-}
{-# LANGUAGE LambdaCase     #-}
{-# LANGUAGE MultiWayIf     #-}

at the top of your xmonad configuration file.
With this, one can build more complicated search engines; for example, the following constitutes a very basic URL entry function, which may also work as a sort of lightweight bookmarking system:
url :: SearchEngine
url = searchEngineF "url" \s ->
  let url = "https://"
   in if url `isPrefixOf` s then s else url <> s

The whole api is quite flexible. In my personal configuration I have defined a git search engine to quickly jump to certain projects on several different forges:
git :: SearchEngine
git = searchEngineF "repo" \s -> if
  | s `elem` ["change-env", "irc-bot"]
    -> "https://gitlab.com/slotThe/" <> s
  | s `elem` ["kbd-mode", "kmonad"]
    -> "https://github.com/kmonad/" <> s
  | s `elem` [ "x11", "x11-xft", "xmonad", "xmonad-contrib"
             , "xmonad-docs", "xmonad-web" ]
    -> "https://github.com/xmonad/" <> s
  | s `elem` [ "vc-use-package", "arXiv-citation", "hmenu"
             , "slotThe.github.io", "query-replace-many" ]
    -> "https://github.com/slotThe/" <> s
  | s == "slotThe"    -> "https://github.com/slotThe/"
  | s == "void-linux" -> "https://github.com/void-linux/void-packages"
  | s == "xmobar"     -> "https://codeberg.org/xmobar/xmobar"
  | otherwise         -> ""

It works as expected—so much so that I can enable the prompt’s auto-complete feature, which automatically completes a query if there is only a single candidate left.
In this case here, that single candidate will be from the relevant prompt history.

Further tweaks§

As I said, the module is pretty flexible with how exactly one can use it, and so here are a few more personal tweaks that I figure might also be of interest to others. First, my setup is integrated with XMonad.​Actions.​Prefix—I use the prefix argument to decide whether I want “normal” searches, or ones using the primary selection.
-- | Search commands; integration with X.A.Prefix.
searchKeys :: Keybindings
searchKeys =
  [ ("M-s", withPrefixArgument $ submap . searchEngineMap . \case
      Raw _ -> -- normal searches
      _     -> -- use the primary selection
        \br se -> promptSearchBrowser' (decidePrompt se) br se)

This is nice because searchKeys is now the only two place where this distinction has to be made; others functions, like search​Engine​Map, do not need to differentiate between a select search and a prompt search. What I do separately match on is (i) the type of browser that I want to open the searches in, and (ii) the type of prompt I would like to use. This is very dependent on the engine itself; some, like git as defined above, greatly benefit from keeping a history, while in others this is more of a hinderance than anything else. The browser situation is similar. An except of the totality of searchKeys looks like the following.
Just for completeness, an in order to improve copy-pasteability, the definition of basicSubmapFromList used a lot in this piece of code is:
  :: Ord key
  => [(key, action)]
  -> Map (KeyMask, key) action
basicSubmapFromList =
  fromList . map \(k, a) -> ((0, k), a)

This is just creates a basic (i.e. there is no additional ‘KeyMask’ to consider) submap from a list of (key, action) pairs.
searchKeys :: Keybindings
searchKeys =
  [ ("M-s", withPrefixArgument $ submap . searchEngineMap . \case
      Raw _ -> selectSearchBrowser
      _     -> \br se -> promptSearchBrowser' (decidePrompt se) br se)
  -- | Match on the prompt type; this needs an orphan 'Eq' instance
  -- for 'SearchEngine'.  @prompt@ is my prompt config.
  decidePrompt :: SearchEngine -> XPConfig
  decidePrompt se
    | se `elem` [arXiv, wikipedia, github] = promptNoHist-- no history
    | se `elem` [git] = prompt{ autoComplete = (5 `ms`) }
    | otherwise = prompt

  -- | Open searches, possibly in a new window.
  searchEngineMap :: (Browser -> SearchEngine -> X ())
                  -> Map (KeyMask, KeySym) (X ())
  searchEngineMap searchIn = basicSubmapFromList
    [ (xK_a, sw arXiv    )
    , (xK_w, nw wikipedia)
    , (xK_g, submap $ basicSubmapFromList  -- submaps in submaps
              [ (xK_g, sw' git)
              , (xK_h, sw' github)
    -- | Same window, new window.
    sw, sw', nw :: SearchEngine -> X ()
    sw  = searchIn browser
    nw  = searchIn "browser-new-window.sh"
    sw' = searchIn altBrowser

instance Eq {- ORPHAN -} SearchEngine where
  (==) :: SearchEngine -> SearchEngine -> Bool
  (SearchEngine n _) == (SearchEngine n' _) = n == n'

For my full configuration, see here.


As always, even the simplest topic—that of a search—leaves a lot more room for personalisation than one would initially think. Also as always, xmonad delivers on the “there is already a module for that” front.

For me personally, X.A.Search has really alleviated this perceived slowness in searching, especially when using many different engines simultaneously. So much so, in fact, that I no longer have a problem looking up information from multiple sources mid (text) conversation. This not only helps me, but I reckon a few users of the #xmonad IRC Channel are quite glad about this as well!