I have a new android phone that has a number of apps for communicating though an ssh connection. I would like to know if I can use ssh commands if I can simulate key pressed, specifically the media keys (play pause volume). I would prefer not to install additional software.

Note: I know there are apps that do this out of the box, this is simply for a better understanding.

1 Answer 1


The answer is xdotool, and it might already be installed on your Ubuntu system. It can simulate keypresses. See also [1].

Some commands:

  • play/pause

    xdotool key XF86AudioPlay
  • previous/next

    xdotool key XF86AudioPrev 
    xdotool key XF86AudioNext
  • volume down/up

    xdotool key XF86AudioLowerVolume 
    xdotool key XF86AudioRaiseVolume
  • mute

    xdotool key XF86AudioMute

For more XF86 commands see [2].

Instead of doing the volume step by step you can also set it using alsamixer or pulseaudio (recommended). Assuming you use device 0 (you can check this with alsamixer or pacmd list-sinks) you can set the volume to for instance 80% with

  • alsamixer (-c 0 specifies the sound device id)

    amixer -c 0 sset Master,0 80%
  • pulseaudio (the 0 in front of the 80% is the sound device id)

    pactl set-sink-volume 0 80%

For more information about these commands see their manpages.

EDIT: If you're trying to do the xdotool commands over ssh and get the following error message

Error: Can't open display: (null)
Segmentation fault

you need to set the DISPLAY variable:

export DISPLAY=':0.0'

After that it should work without problems

[1] http://www.semicomplete.com/projects/xdotool/xdotool.xhtml
[2] http://wiki.linuxquestions.org/wiki/XF86_keyboard_symbols

  • What is required for this to work over SSH? Using these commands in a remote shell results in simulation on local machine vs remote machine.
    – earthmeLon
    Jan 5, 2013 at 3:14
  • 3
    @earthmeLon Are you sure you are running the command on the remote machine? Because for me it works fine over ssh. I needed to set the DISPLAY variable though, see my edit. Jan 5, 2013 at 10:29
  • Setting the display as you suggested as resolved the problem. Thanks :D
    – earthmeLon
    Jan 6, 2013 at 0:51
  • 2
    Note that when you are binding these to some keys in xfce4, you'll need to use the --clearmodifiers flag, something like this: xdotool key --clearmodifiers XF86AudioPlay
    – cab404
    Dec 19, 2016 at 19:52
  • What @cab4040 mentioned also applies to GNOME. If one wishes to add custom media keys on a keyboard that lacks them, one could go to the Keyboard Shortcuts section in settings and add a binding between a keyboard shortcut and an xdotool key command with --clearmodifiers, see above. Mar 28, 2019 at 12:58

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