When comparing dwm vs i3, the Slant community recommends i3 for most people. In the question“What are the best window managers for Linux?” i3 is ranked 1st while dwm is ranked 5th. The most important reason people chose i3 is:
Every feature is thoroughly documented (including examples), and documentation is kept up-to-date. For questions that are not answered by the i3 [user guide](http://i3wm.org/docs/userguide.html), because they concern tools outside of i3 for example, there is the community [question & answer site](https://faq.i3wm.org/).
Ranked in these QuestionsQuestion Ranking
Pro Encourages user modification
Dwm is part of the suckless suite of tools, and encourages users to extend and configure it by modifying the code itself. To this end, dwm is kept under 2000 SLOC, and is an exemplar of clean, readable code (C). This, while giving users all the flexibility they could ask for, also makes dwm as lightweight as possible, and means that users have a full understanding of how it works.
Pro Simple and small
Dwm is a low-resource window manager that is entirely simplistic in design.
Pro Easy to configure
Configuring dwm is straight-forward thanks to its config.h file (though it will have to be rebuilt for the effects to take place).
Pro Default keybindings and functionality are very useful and well thought-out
An example of this is the application of alt-tab to switch between two tags.
Pro Application grouping with tags
Dwm's design paradigm is to use tags to group clients (applications) that can then be pulled into a view (workspace); this allows you to view multiple clients at once and to assign or reassign those tags and their related views on the fly.
Contrary to most other window managers, when you view a tag you are not ‘visiting’ a workspace: you are pulling the tagged windows into a single workspace.
Combined with rules in the
config.h, this makes for a flexible and responsive means to manage your workflow.
Pro Useful and informative status bar
The dwm status bar can be set to display all kinds of useful information, such as volume level, wifi signal strength, and battery notification.
Pro XRandR/Xinerama support
Dwm has support for XRandR and Xinerama, allowing for multi-monitor support.
Pro Fully configurable (including tiling)
One of the biggest attractions of i3 is that it can be configured just about any way the user likes. Ranging from custom keyboard shortcuts to placement of opened apps, it is up to the user as to how they would like their window manager to behave.
Pro Easily switch to and manage floating windows
i3 can allow for the user to manage floating windows. Floating mode can be toggled by pressing $mod+Shift+Space. This way the user can take advantage of tiling as well as floating windows, all in the same session.
Pro Easily readable plain-text configuration
i3 has plain-text configuration, meaning that no lua or haskell is needed. This makes it rather easy to recommend i3 to other people without worrying whether or not they have the knowledge to configure it as it can be read by anyone without prior knowledge.
Pro Can tab windows
i3 permits tabbing through windows by turning on tab mode with $mod+w.
Pro Fast, especially on weaker hardware
Tiling means there are no fancy compositing or window effects to take up system resources.
Pro Can stack
i3 allows for stacking of windows in its environment.
Pro No window gap
Space is not wasted by separators, therefore making the most of the confined space on smaller monitors.
Pro RandR support
RandR provides more information about your outputs and connected screens than Xinerama does. To be specific, the code which handled on-the-fly screen reconfiguration (meaning without restarting the X server) was a very messy heuristic approach and most of the time did not work correctly — that is just not possible with the limited information that Xinerama offers (just a list of screen resolutions and no identifiers for the screens or any additional information). Xinerama simply was not designed for dynamic configuration.
Pro Can be reloaded quickly and configured without a client restart
Just two hot keys: Shift+Super+C to reload the config and Shift+Super+R to restart (which takes less than one second). Restarts pick up new versions of i3 or the updated config file, so you can upgrade to a newer version or quickly see the changes to i3 without quitting your X session.
Pro Sane development process
i3 uses test driven development with an extensive test suite to prevent bugs from ever happening again. All external contributions require a thorough code review to guarantee a certain level of quality.
Pro Terminal bell can be used to notify of completed actions
Terminal-bell gets passed through and marks the workspace visibly.
Pro Awesome multi-monitor support
User can assign specific workspaces to specific displays as well as apps to workspaces. This makes possible opening set of most used apps with 1 shortcut always on the same screens.
Pro Simple to use
Configuration is nearly automatic and simple, which can be really helpful to beginners.
Pro VIM Style key bindings
You can configure i3 so that your keys for moving windows is similar to vim, for example, M-j to move the window down.
Pro Great choice for keyboard users
The user keeps their hands in one spot (most of the time). One will find that the mouse is used less and less, making navigation quicker over time.
Con No runtime config file
There is no config file that can be edited after the window manager is compiled: all changes need to be made prior to compiling.
Con By developers, for developers
Basic knowledge of C language, general programming, and compilation are all required.
Con Missing "include" possibility in config
While pretty good and easy to use for common tasks, the configuration language is missing the
include directive common in other languages. You can use a workaround - a shell script to config parts on demand. It would be best if this were built-in however.
Con Poor floating window support
Sometimes this is necessary, even when the Dev rejects feature requests. Firefox child windows (option dialog) is an example.
Con No window gap option
You can do a lot with i3 but the official version lacks the option to have gaps between windows. However, there's a fork called i3-gaps that is almost the same as i3 except the fact that it lets you have gaps between windows.
Con Steep learning curve
Has a steep learning curve for beginners.
Con It has some issues with transparency
Using transparent windows can cause them to crash.
Con Not very configurable
Unlike XMonad or Awesome, i3 can't be configured in a turing complete language, so it is much harder to alter its core functionality to do exactly what the user wants.
Con Documentation is online
Can't access it offline unless you download the page.
Con The plain-text configuration may not be suitable for beginners
i3 is configured through a plaintext configuration file. While it's very powerful and easy to learn, it may not be entirely user-friendly for those who have never edited a text configuration.
Con Manual tiling
The layout isn't automatic. The user must move panels manually and may indeed end up spending time on that rather than on working with the application.