Window Focus Procedures


Adam Fedor (

Version: $Revision: 1.32 $

Date: $Date: 2015/08/31 02:16:03 $

Copyright: (C) 2005 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Window Focus

This document describes how various events and user actions affect window focus of GNUstep applications. This document for the most part describes focus changes that occur outside of application control, since application window focus changes are well described in the class documentation.

Application Focus

The application can get focus in several ways:

The first case does not directly affect window focus (because there are no windows at startup). However, as the application begins to create and order front windows (including the main menu) there will likely be a cascade of focus events generated by the window manager for each window ordered in.

In the second and third case, the window manager will likely try to give focus to the window that previously had it or perhaps to some random window based on some internal window manager code. GNUstep may ignore this request and try to give focus to another window, typically the application's idea of the current key window.

The last case is handled in the GUI front-end.


The Key window is the window that has keyboard focus and has keyboard events sent to it. When an application receives focus, the window manager will typically ask one window to take keyboard focus (see above, Application Focus).

When an application is launched, in many cases, only the application icon and main menu may be displayed. In the OpenStep interface, neither of these is really supposed to be a key window, and in fact, many window managers control the application icon so this cannot be made key anyway. In X-Windows, however, there is no other way for an application to receive keyboard events unless a visible window has been made key. This leaves the main menu.

When an application receives focus, or if all the windows in an application are closed (see the private method [NSWindow-_lossOfKeyOrMainWindow]), then the main menu will request keyboard focus (see below).

The GUI front-end may function differently to accomadate different window manager behavior. Below is a list of the changes the front-end makes for different managers and windowing systems:


WindowMaker controls the application icon so it cannot receive keyboard events. The main menu is made key if there is no other window capable of becoming key.

Requesting Keyboard Focus

A window may request to get keyboard focus in serveral instances. The window requests keyboard focus through the server method -setinputfocus::

Window Focus In/Out

The GUI front-end receives two types of focus events from the back-end (through an NSEvent object). Both of these are subsets of the NSAppKitDefined event: GSAppKitWindowFocusIn and GSAppKitWindowFocusOut. A FocusIn event can be received for several reasons:

The back-end should keep track of the last window that requested to become key. This can be important in determining whether the back-end should send a FocusIn event to a window when it receives a signal from the window manager or windowing system. Sending a FocusIn event to a window that already requested it, may cause focus confusion in the GUI.

The front-end does nothing for FocusOut messages.

X-Windows messages

This section describes messages that X-Windows servers and the WM generally send to the application. Other window servers may send similar messages.

Take Focus

A message from the WM telling a window it should take keyboard focus. If the app is not active, the back-end should send a FocusIn event. Otherwise, the back-end should only send a FocusIn event to the front end if the message is due to a user action, such as a click on the title bar (i.e. the target window is not the current key window or the last window that requested key status). The back-end may also send an event if the window has just been mapped, although this is not typically necessary, unless it's due to a screen change.

In other cases, the back-end should do what is necessary to make sure that the last window to request key status receives it instead of the one the WM thinks should receive it.

Focus In

A message from the server telling the application that keyboard focus has been set for a window. The back-end should not send an event to the front-end in this case. However, the back-end should use this information to determine when to send a message in other cases (e.g. from a Take Focus message).

Focus Out

A message from the server telling the application that focus has left a window. If the focus has gone to a window that is not part of the application, the back-end should tell the NSApp to deactivate. Otherwise it should do nothing.