Wily User Manual


Command-line Arguments

wily [-p9fn font] [-fn font] [-p9fixed fixedfont] [-a tabsize] [-c columns] [file name...]

-p9fn font
(or X resource p9font) set the default proportional font. This must be the name of a Plan 9 font file.
-fn font
(or X resource font) set the default proportional font. This must be the name of a X font. The default is "variable"
-p9fixed fixedfont
(or X resource p9fixed) set the monospace font. This must be the name of a Plan 9 font file. The default monospace font is "fixed"
-a tabsize
set the maximum width of tabs (as multiple of the width of the character '0') for the proportional font. Defaults to 4.
-c columns
set the initial number of columns. Defaults to 2.
-e command
Run 'command' on startup.
file name...
Start wily with the named files and directories open.

Environment variables

External commands are sent to the shell for evaluation. Defaults to /bin/sh
If $HISTORY or $history are set, commands are written to this file before execution.
Wily uses $WILYBAK or $HOME/.wilybak as the directory for backups.
If any of these are set, their value is appended to the default text to be added to the tag of the main window, a column, a file window or a directory window, respectively.
If $WILYTOOLS or $HOME/.wilytools exist, they are read and used as a tools patterns file. (See later section).
If set, this is used as a search path for include files.
For external processes, Wily sets $WILYLABEL and $w to the label of the window in whose context a command is executing.
Wily itself ignores $PATH, but when it calls the shell to run external programs the value of $PATH is important.
Wily communicates with some other programs using a fifo at a well-known location.

The name of the fifo will be $WILYFIFO if this variable is set, otherwise it will be /tmp/wilyUSER$DISPLAY, where USER is calculated from the password file. If $TMPDIR is defined, it is used instead of /tmp.

Wily also sets $WILYFIFO so any children it creates will know how to talk to it.


Column, window, tag, body, resize box

screen shot Wily appears as one or more vertical columns, divided into windows of scrolling text. Each column or window is headed by a one-line tag. The leftmost text of the tag (up until the first whitespace) is the name of the window. Usually this is the name of some file or directory. Wily also places other bits of text in the tag, which might be useful later as commands. There is a one-line tag above all the columns, which is called the wily tag.

The text in the body of the window may represent a directory, a file, the interface to some program like a news reader, or the output from a program.

The small square-ish box to the left of the tag is called the resize box. The resize box is used for moving and reshaping windows and columns.

If the resize box is filled in, this indicates that the window is dirty. A dirty window contains text which has been modified since it was last read from or written to disk.

Proportionally spaced, Unicode text

Text is displayed in a propotionally spaced font by default. There is a built in function to toggle with a monospace font when required.

Text is read and written as UTF8-encoded Unicode, providing some support for editing multi-lingual and scientific text, but remaining backwardly compatible with plain 7-bit ASCII text. See 9term for an example of another program with Unicode support, with some screen shots.


B1, B2 & B3 are left, middle, right mouse buttons, respectively. Used as a verb, they mean "click with that button". E.g. "B2 in the command word" means "click with the middle mouse button in the command word".

B1B2 means to select some text with B1 held down, then click and release on B2 while still holding B1 down.

Sweep with B1 means to hold down B1, drag it across some text to select it, and then release B1.

The last selected text is the text which was most recently selected, usually by being swept with B1.

The last selected window is the window containing the last selected text. This is indicated by that window having a slightly thicker border. If the last selected text was in a column tag or the wily tag, there is no last selected window.


All text in wily has a context. The context is the name of a directory associated with that text. This context is used when executing commands and opening files.

If the text is in a window, its context is the name of that window, up to and including the last /. So if three windows have the names /usr/gary/+Errors, /usr/gary/guide and /usr/gary/, the context for all the text in all of these windows is the same: /usr/gary/. Note that the context need not be a directory which actually exists.

If the text is in a tag which isn't part of a window (i.e. a column tag or the wily tag), the context is the name of the directory where wily was started.

Scrollbars and scrolling

Scrollbars are proportional, i.e. the size and position of the scrollbar's thumb indicates the size and position of the visible portion of the text.

Each of the three mouse buttons does something different when clicked in the scrollbar.

B1 and B3 are used for relative movements. B3 moves the text next to the mouse pointer up to the top of the window. B1 moves the text at the top of the window down so it is next to the pointer. Both of these rules have the effect that clicking near the top of the scrollbar causes small movements, (either up or down) and clicking near the bottom causes large movements.

B2 is used for absolute positioning. B2 moves the visible part of the text to a point in the text proportional to how far down the scrollbar the pointer is. That is, clicking at the bottom of the scrollbar with B2 jumps to the end of the text, clicking at the top of the scrollbar with B2 jumps to the beginning of the text.

All of these movements repeat if the mouse button is held down in the scroll bar.

The PageUp and PageDown keys scroll up or down by about half a page. The Home and End keys scroll to the top or bottom of the file.

Selecting and editing text (B1)

Type normally anywhere on the screen to enter text. The keyboard focus follows the pointer in a "point to type" fashion. That is, the characters you type will appear in the tag or body which currently contains the pointer. Position the cursor within text either with cursor keys, or clicking once with B1. Select text by sweeping it with B1. Sweeping text and then typing replaces the selected text with the typed text.

Control Keys

delete line
delete word
if the selection is null, select all the most recently typed text, otherwise delete the selection


Double-clicking with B1 can select a word, a line, or the text delimited by quotation marks, braces, brackets or parentheses, depending on where you double-click.

Executing commands (B2)

Selecting the command

Sweep text with B2 to execute it as a command.

If you start sweeping some text with B2, then decide you don't want to execute it, click B3 before you release B2 (i.e. a B3B2 chord) to abort.

The command window is the window containing the text which was swept with B2. The context of the command is the context of the text swept with B2.

If the text starts with the name of one of the builtin commands, that builtin is executed.

Otherwise, the command is executed by forking a subprocess, establishing an environment and execing $SHELL -c command.

Environment for external commands

  • The current directory is set to the context of the command.
  • $WILYLABEL and $w are set to the name of the command window and added to the environment.
  • Standard input is set to /dev/null
  • Standard output and standard error are set such that output to them ends up being sent to a window in Wily called context/+Errors
  • The first word of the command will be added to the wily tag to indicate which programs are currently running.
  • $WILYFIFO will be set to the name of the fifo this instance of Wily is listening to for messages. See the main wily page for programmers manuals on how to use this messaging interface.

One exception is that if the name of the command starts with "|", "<" or ">", standard input and output of the command are set up such that the last selection is piped through the command, fed into the command or replaced by the output of the command, respectively.

For example if a paragraph is currently the last selection, executing "|fmt" will format the paragraph, executing ">lp" will print it, and executing "<cat file" will replace it with "file"

Builtin Functions

By convention all of the builtin functions start with a capital letter. Some of them operate differently if called with an argument.
Put, Get, Putall
Put and Get write the window to disk, or fetch from disk, respectively. If called with an argument, they will use the argument as the filename, instead of the name of the window.

Putall writes all dirty files to disk.

New, Del
Create a new window, or delete a window, respectively. If New is called with an argument, it will use the argument as the name of a file to create, otherwise the new window is called context/New, where the context is taken from the last selection.
Searches in the command window for literal text. The text it searches for is either the argument to Look, or the current selection in the body of the command window.
Undo, Redo
Move backward or forwards through the (infinite) Undo log. If called with an argument, these commands repeat until they reach an end of the log, or the text is in the same state as it was the last time the file was read from or written to disk.
Newcol, Delcol
Create or delete a column
Cut, Paste, Snarf
Cut the currently selected text to the X selection buffer, replace the currently selected text with the X selection buffer, or copy the currently selected text to the X selection buffer, respectively.
Exit wily.
Kill some process which was started from wily. If called with an argument, Kill that process. Without an argument, Kill writes a list of possible Kill commands to window $wilydir/+Errors
Toggle between fixed and proportional fonts. Depending on where Font is clicked, changes the font for a window, a column, or for all the windows on the screen.
Toggles whether or not dot files are displayed in directories. Directories will not be re-read automatically, though.
Adds an address to the tag of the last selected window. If called with an argument, the address is a line address, otherwise the address is a character address. The address is of the form ":currentaddress,."

To select large chunks of text, B1 click at the beginning position, execute Anchor, B1 click at the end position, then click with B3 in the address in the tag. The anchor may also be used as a bookmark, or just to find the character or line position in a window.

Split the most recently selected window into two. Editing actions in one window will be visible in the other.
Toggles autoindent for a window or all windows, depending on the command window.
Deletes all the text in the command window.

The system tries to ensure that the names of some builtin commands are added to or removed from window tags as appropriate. For instance, when a window becomes "dirty", the word "Put" is added to its tag, and removed again when the file becomes clean. Similarly, the words "Undo" and "Redo" should appear in the tag of a window when and only when they can be executed.

Open/Search (B3)

Sweep text with B3 to make Wily try to goto (open or search for) the swept text.

The text may be interpreted as:

Open filename and search in it for address
Search for address in the window containing the swept text, or in the last selected window, if the swept text was not in a window.
Open file or directory filename if it exists.
Open includefilename if it can be "massaged" (see below) into the name of an include file (e.g. stdio.h)
If the swept text is contained in a window, do a literal search in the body of the window for literal.

When trying to open a file or directory, the swept file name will be interpreted relative to its context. For example, the text foo.c:14 in a window with context /usr/gary/src/ will be interpreted to mean the address /usr/gary/src/foo.c:14


Wily uses the address and regular expression code from Sam. Please refer to the Sam manual for a better explanation.
The empty string after character n; #0 is the beginning of the file.
Line n; 1 is the beginning of the file.
/regexp/ ?regexp?
The substring that matches the regular expression, found by looking toward the end (/) or beginning (?) of the file, and if necessary continuing the search from the other end to the starting point of the search. The matched substring may straddle the starting point. When entering a pattern containing a literal question mark for a backward search, the question mark should be specified as a member of a class.

Regexps are as defined in regexp(6) in the Plan 9 manual.

The null string at the end of the file.
Dot. The current selection in a window.
The range from the start of address1 (defaulting to the start of the file) to the end of address2 (defaulting to the end of the file). E.g. :., selects from the current selection to the end of file.

Include Files

When searching for a filename, if the filename doesn't exist in the context of the search text, Wily also tries to expand the file name using a few simple heuristics.

If we are searching for name and name appears between double-quotes or angle brackets, Wily also searches for name in the directories in the search path $INCLUDES (or /usr/include, if $INCLUDES isn't set).

For example, sweeping stdio.h between angle brackets will open /usr/include/stdio.h on the author's system.

Mouse short cuts

Cut (B1B2), Paste (B1B3)

To cut some text into the clipboard, select the text with B1, and while holding it down, click B2. The selected text will be cut from the window and copied to the clipboard.

Similarly, select some text with B1, and while holding it down also click B2, and the selected text will be replaced by the contents of the clipboard. The clipboard will be unaltered.

Note that so long as you hold down B1, you can alternately Cut and Paste the selected text with B2 and B3. A Cut immediately followed by a Paste in this way leaves the file unmodified, and has the effect of copying the current selection to the clipboard.

Execute with argument (B2B1)

A command can be called with an argument using another mouse chord. Sweep the command with B2, and while holding it down, click B1. The last selection will be appended to the command. The context of the command and the command window will be set to the context of the last selection (unless the command is a builtin).

For example, say I have a script called "sg" (short for source grep) that greps through all the source files in the current directory for a symbol given as an argument. I can then sweep with B1 to select "printf" in a source file, then B2B1 on the word sg (anywhere). The command "sg printf" will then run in the same directory as the source file.

Selection expansion

A null selection (single click) with B2 or B3 will be expanded to some of the surrounding text.

A click inside an existing selection will be expanded to that selection.

This means you can select (with B1) some complicated command once, and B2 inside this selection many times to execute the command repeatedly.

This rule is also helpful when searching through multiple occurrences of a piece of text, as clicking with B3 in the most recently found instance searches for the next instance.

A click that is not inside an existing selection will be expanded depending on which mouse button was used.

A single B2 click automatically selects a sensible "word" as the command. Commands can be built-in (Capital first letters, by convention) or passed to the shell for invocation.

Clicks with B2 are expanded to select commands, i.e. strings of alphanumeric characters, |, > or <. Clicks with B3 are expanded to select addresses, i.e. strings of alphanumeric characters, :, ",".


Window management

Wily windows are placed automatically using heuristics. Hopefully most of the time the window will be placed somewhere useful. However, windows and columns can be moved and reshaped. The resize box (the little box on the far left of the tag) of a pane or a column may be manipulated to move or reshape a window.

Dragging the resize box (with any mouse button) moves the column or window to the desired location.

Clicking in a pane's button with different mouse buttons has these different effects:

the window grows a bit, first taking up any blank space in the column
Every window except the desired one is shrunk so that only their tags are visible, leaving more space for the desired window.
The window expands to take up the whole column, obscuring all the other windows in that column. Clicking with any mouse button in the window's resize box will undo this effect.

Cursor Warping

After a successful search, the text that was found is highlighted, and the cursor is warped there, so that to search for the next instance of the search text, no cursor movement is required, it is only necessary to click the rightmost mouse button again. Window re-arranging operations warp the cursor to the resize box of the window that moved, so the move can be easily refined.

Back-up files

Whenever a dirty window is to be deleted, a backup is made. This is an alternative to the familiar (and often-annoying) "are you sure you want to close this window?" dialog. A warning message is printed when this happens.

Backup files are kept in directory $WILYBAK if it exists, or $HOME/.wilybak. In this directory the file TOC is a table of contents showing what real file each backup file maps to.


Wily attempts to read either $WILYTOOLS or $HOME/.wilytools. Each line in this file should be either empty, a comment (starts with '#') or a pattern, a tab, and some arbitrary text. The pattern is a regular expression. Every time Wily creates a new window, if the window's name matches one of the patterns, the text after the tab on that line will be appended to the tag for that window. Wily stops searching after the first match.

Below is the author's .wilytools :

Mace.*Errors$	Clear mace subject 
Errors$		Clear
Mace/in/$	mace subject
Mace/in		reply wrm wmov
Mace.*/$	subject 
Mace/out	deliver 
Mace		reply	wrm 
/src/.*/$	def sg 
News		followup 
Makefile	make 
print/$		gv bpr 
\.py$		ptest
bin/rc/		775
The mace, reply, deliver and subject scripts and Mace directory are to do with reading mail. def and sg are useful scripts for searching through source files, so they are added to the tag of any directory with src in its pathname. make is a logical command to execute when viewing a Makefile.


Wily uses two fonts: a variable-width default font, and an alternative fixed-width font. These may be set with command-line arguments or X resources.

Wily first tries to open a Plan 9 font file, given as either a -p9fn command-line option or *p9font X resource. Failing that, it uses the -fn command-line option or *font X resource. Failing that, it uses the font "variable".

Plan 9 font files are useful for supporting the full Unicode range without requiring massive fonts. The font file sets up a font by joining together different subfonts. See the 9term page for information about obtaining Unicode fonts and utilities to convert other character sets to Unicode.

The format of of a font file is described below: (Taken from font(4) from the Plan 9 Manual)

External fonts are described by a plain text file that can be read using rdfontfile. The format of the file is a header followed by any number of subfont range specifications. The header contains two numbers: the height and the ascent. The height is the inter-line spacing and the ascent is the distance from the top of the line to the baseline. These numbers are chosen to display consistently all the subfonts of the font. A subfont range specification contains two numbers and a font name. The numbers are the inclusive range of characters covered by the subfont, and name specifies the name of an X font suitable for getsubfont. The minimum number of a covered range is mapped to the first defined character of the corresponding subfont. Each field must be followed by some white space. Each numeric field may be C-format decimal, octal, or hexadecimal.

Here is the start of the font file the author uses for a monospace font:

17	14
0x0000	0x00FF	lucm.latin1.9
0x0100	0x017E	lucm.latineur.9
0x0180	0x01F0	matty.latinext.9
0x0250	0x02E9	lucm.ipa.9
0x0300	0x0308	matty.gendiacritics.9
0x0370	0x0372	matty.greekpunc.9
0x0386	0x03F5	lucm.greek.9
0x0400	0x0475	misc.cyrillic.9

Entering non-ASCII characters

Refer to the Plan 9 keyboard(6) manual page, which is mostly how it works in wily.


UTF8-encoded Unicode,