Sunday, March 21, 2010


Using a infrared (IR) remote control for Linux consists of getting
several pieces to be configured correctly, and to talk to each other

STEP 1 -- install Lirc

apt-get install lirc

STEP 2 -- configure your remote

In this case, I have a Microsoft Media Center remote. Therein the problems start. It
has a Vista logo, but is marked "HP" on the bottom, and is recognized
as a "Philips" USB device:

$ lsusb
Bus 005 Device 002: ID 0471:060c Philips

To tell Lirc which remote you have, type:

$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure lirc

and follow the prompts.  This changes settings in /etc/lirc/lircd.conf
and probably other files.

To verify this worked, use the "show cooked codes" command and press
keys on your remote.  To quit, press control-C.

$ irw
000000037ff07bed 00 ChanUp mceusb
000000037ff07bed 01 ChanUp mceusb
000000037ff07bf2 00 Home mceusb
000000037ff07bf2 01 Home mceusb

At this point, your remote works, and your computer is correctly
translating the bitstream into keys.

STEP 3 -- translate keys into actions

Add this to your ~/.lircrc file:

        prog   = irexec
        button = Home
        config = echo "Hello world!"

To test this, run the "how does program X translate key Y" command,
ircat.  In this case, we're intercepting the irexec command:

$ ircat irexec

echo "Hello world!"

Once the translation step works correctly, run it for real:

$ irexec

Hello world!

STEP 4 -- translate keys into "smart" actions (VLC media player)

Change your ~/.lircrc file into this:

        prog   = irexec
        button = Home
        config = echo "Hello world!"
        prog   = vlc
        button = Home
        config = key-stop

Start irexec again, and also VLC on a video:

$ killall irexec
$ irexec &
$ vlc mymovie.avi

Pressing "Home" should stop the video, but it doesn't work -- VLC has
to know to subscribe to Lirc events:

$ vlc --control lirc sample.avi

When Home is pressed on the remote, Lirc sends the event to *all*
applications that are interested. In this case, pressing Home prints
"Hello world!" in the terminal, and the movie stops.

The Lirc service, lircd, grabs infrared data from the USB device and
translates it to button names. In this case, it knows I
have a Media Center remote "mce", so the IR squiggles it got when I
pushed the Home button, it understands as "the user pressed the Home

Each application subscribes to Lirc events. The lircd service
translates specific buttons for specific applications. In this case,
the "vlc" media player received the "key-stop" message, and it stopped
the video. The "irevent" application also received a message, in this
case the "echo hello world" string, so it printed a message to the

If something goes wrong, look at each part of the setup:

- IR signals to buttons with lircd

"irw" displays buttons

- buttons to actions

    "ircat vlc" shows actions for a specific program, in this
 case vlc

 "irexec" does things directly, like printing messages

Different applications understand different messages.  Many programs
don't understand remote buttons at all, so an intermediate programs is
used to do the translation.

STEP 5 -- translate buttons into "dumb" mouse/keyboard events (Google Chrome)

Add this to ~/.lircrc:

prog = irxevent
button = Home
config = Key CTRL-t CurrentWindow

Test the mapping:

$ ircat irxevent

Key CTRL-t CurrentWindow

Now run irxevent directly.  It intercepts the Home button, then sends
a keypress to the current window. In this case, Control-T on a Google
Chrome window opens up a new tab.

$ killall irxevent ; irxevent

Hope this helps!

- john


- lircd.conf, mapping buttons to actions:

- keys for Google Chrome:


- my setup:

1 comment:

  1. Hi, really good how-to but it sort of left me swinging in the breeze at the end. I got up to "vlc --control lirc sample.avi" which worked, great. Then what do I do to to get it working whenever I start VLC or Banshee or any other program.
    Again thanks for a really helpful "Howto" which certainly got me further than the others.