Setup xinitrc (startx) and connect to DBUS (set DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS) on Debian 11

Published 2021-10-11 on Anjan's Homepage

I recently installed Debian 11 on a workstation and the .xinitrc I usually use on Gentoo (with openrc) and Alpine (also openrc) did not properly setup dbus ($DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS env variable was empty). I tried putting export $(dbus-launch) in my .xinitrc as stackexchange recommended but this did not fix the dbus environmental variables being unset. $DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS not being set is problematic as pinentry-gnome3 will not launch.

The fix comes from examining the example xinitrc with cat /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc on Debian:


# /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc
# global xinitrc file, used by all X sessions started by xinit (startx)

# invoke global X session script
. /etc/X11/Xsession

The global X session script runs a number of scripts located in /etc/X11/Xsession.d/. Notably, to set the dbus environmental variables, /etc/X11/Xsession runs /etc/X11/Xsession.d/20dbus_xdg-runtime:

# vim:set ft=sh sw=2 sts=2 et:

if [ -z "$DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS" ] && [ -n "$XDG_RUNTIME_DIR" ] && \
    [ "$XDG_RUNTIME_DIR" = "/run/user/`id -u`" ] && \
    [ -S "$XDG_RUNTIME_DIR/bus" ]; then
  # We are under systemd-logind or something remarkably similar, and
  # a user-session socket has already been set up.
  # Be nice to non-libdbus, non-sd-bus implementations by using
  # that as the session bus address in the environment. The check for
  # XDG_RUNTIME_DIR = "/run/user/`id -u`" is because we know that
  # form of the address, from systemd-logind, doesn't need escaping,
  # whereas arbitrary addresses might.

if [ -x "/usr/bin/dbus-update-activation-environment" ]; then
  # tell dbus-daemon --session (and systemd --user, if running)
  # to put a minimal subset of the Xsession's environment in activated
  # services' environments
  dbus-update-activation-environment --verbose --systemd \

dbus-update-activation-environment uses systemd to set the environmental variables:

–systemd Set environment variables for systemd user services as well as for traditional D-Bus session services.

Source: dbus-update-activation-environment manpage

To recap, if you dont have a display manager and want to use startx, you should use the example xinitrc (/etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc) that will setup a lot of stuff that you probably need in a Xorg session. But, you likely have some custom programs that you need to launch before your window manager. The default Xsession script allows for user defined script to ran (grep XSESSION /etc/X11/Xsession):


Summary of Fix

As such, we can move our old xinitrc that launches programs (dwm, sxhkd, redshift, mpd, etc) to $HOME/.xsession and startx will run /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc It is recommended to use .xsession over .xsessionrc 1 , 2.

mv $HOME/.xinitrc $HOME/.xsession

Note: the file $HOME/.xinitrc should not exist so that /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc is ran.

Finally! We have dwm working with dbus. More importantly, as the distro maintainers determine other boilerplate commands that need to be run in xinitrc, your setup will automatically load those commands.



.xsessionrc is read before debian’s default Xsession and .xsession will be read after. If you have conflicting settings, yours could get overridden.

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