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linux system monitorLinux has a wealth of utilities to help you monitor what your system is up to. You can run commands, use the proc file system and get the exact state of your system. All this information is of little use if you cannot display it efficiently. You would need a system monitor right?

Well let’s take a look at one of my favorite Linux system monitor apps on my system, a system monitor unmatched and unsurpassed by any other when it comes to customization and features. It’s called Conky.

Conky can display the stats and information on your desktop or within another window, but trust me, you would want to display it on your desktop!

Here are some screenshots of Conky displaying information to give you an idea of what can be achieved with this app.

linux system monitoring

linux system monitor gui


Installing Conky

Look in your distributions package manager to install Conky. Most likely it is in there, if not head over to the Conky download page.

Once installed you can run Conky via the terminal and it will give you a default look containing a bunch of stats. While it is plenty of information, this is not what we are looking for. Let’s begin customizing the looks, shall we?

Customizing Conky

Customizing Conky comes down to the contents of a configuration file contained in your home directory – “.conkyrc”. Open it up in your preferred text editor. Things get a little geeky here, so you might want to read this part again if you fail to get a point. While I will try my best to explain what to include in conkyrc, it is not possible to list every option that Conky offers, just because there are a hell of a lot of them!

The .conkyrc has two major sections: The first would control what Conky looks like and the second tells it what to display.

Add the following text to the file to create a basic configuration:

update_interval 30

own_window yes
own_window_type desktop
own_window_transparent yes

use_xft yes
xftfont Sans:size=12

alignment bottom_right

${time %H:%M}

The part of the file before “TEXT” specifies the appearance of the monitor and any thing after “TEXT” is displayed on your monitor either as it is or interpreted as a command or a special conky name which expands to something useful.

The various options used so far are self explanatory. “own_window_type desktop” is what makes Conky draw on your desktop and “own_window_transparent yes” makes the background transparent. Try removing any of these and restart Conky to see what effect it has.

“time” is a built in Conky object that gives you the current system time. Refer to the manual for more of such objects. Running Conky at this point will display the time in the lower right corner of the screen (you might have to minimize all windows).

conky - linux system monitor tool

So far so good, but hardly the awesomeness factor we were looking for. If you are new to Conky I would suggest fetching some example configuration files, try them and see which ones are closest to what you are going for. Then you can begin editing it and customize it to death!

Conky supports many built in objects that you can add to your conkyrc file. These include the so-called variables, like time which we used above, built in graphs and some widgets. You can use these built in objects to display usage statistics such as text or graphs, display the current track and a variety of other things.

You also get full control over the font and colors used to display the text so you can match them with your wallpaper. If you find something missing, well you can run an external command and have its output displayed in the monitor. Coupled with the power of shell scripts, grep, awk and sort, you can pretty much get your system monitor to display anything you can imagine.

While this may seem a lot of work at first, trust me the amount of customization that you can achieve with Conky is well worth the effort. Moreover, there are plenty of examples out there on the Internet, and people generally wouldn’t mind and often freely encourage you to copy their conkyrc file. My conkyrc is a mixture of such examples with some custom settings here and there.

For the lazy geeks

Pick up some conkyrc’s or get inspired here:

Jealous Windows or Mac users?

No need to frown, have a look at Samurize, Rainmeter or Geektool to obtain similar results.

Just play around, and hack some conkyrc’s of your own. Then share them here with us and let’s see what you have been up to!

Do you know of anything similar that you have been using and think is better?  Share with us in the comments.

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  1. Christian Kid
    February 12, 2009 at 9:08 am

    i love conky so much. kinda a corny name but its great

  2. Jackie
    February 11, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    I love conky! Oldie but still a goodie ;)

  3. Mark
    February 11, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Isn't this just a re-invention of the wheel? gkrellm has had this stuff for quite awhile. What is different here?

    • dakira
      February 12, 2009 at 1:26 am

      Hi Mark,

      the difference is that conky doesn't use any toolkit (like GTK). It paints the info directly in the xwindow. That way it uses much less resources. gkrellm was kind of replaced by torsmo which was then forked by conky. Right now conky is the de facto standard for system monitoring and nothing new at all. It has been around for a couple of years.

  4. unkn0wn
    February 11, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    love this... it's on the new version of BackTrack!

  5. Dan
    February 11, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    haha i love trailer park boys

  6. alfred
    February 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    good stuff. I personally think even the more complicated programs (linux) etc could be explained discussed :P