I use elementary OS Freya on a macbook pro 5,3. Can keyboard backlight be turned off after some time of inactivity ?

2 Answers 2


You could script something using xprintidle. It will tell you how long it has been since some interaction has been done. Put it in a while loop with a sleep command so it only checks every 5 seconds or so.

You can set the backlight to 0 using this line:

echo "0" > /sys/class/leds/smc::kbd_backlight/brightness

So the script would look like:


while true
sleep 6
if [[ $((5 * 60 * 1000)) -lt $(xprintidle) ]]; then 
echo "0" > /sys/class/leds/smc::kbd_backlight/brightness

xprintidle returns the time in milliseconds so you need to do 5 minutes times 60 seconds times 1000 milliseconds. Change the 5 to something else if you want it to run after a different number of minutes. Run this script on startup and it will check every 6 seconds if it should turn off the backlight. It will use hardly any resources. Make sure to chmod +x the script to make it executable.

  • Good one! But of course it won't restore keyboard brightness. I need a more solid solution here (before start hacking around), but thank you anyway.
    – ounos
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 21:16
  • @ounos The brightness file stores the current value. Cat it into a variable before you change it. When the value goes back to being less than 100000 (10 seconds) echo the old value back into the file.
    – kagronick
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 22:57
  • Sure, I can extend script's functionality. But as I said, I 'll wait first for a more 'official' way if any. ;)
    – ounos
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 13:11

It may be different on the MacBook Pro, but on my Dell Inspirion 17, the directory /sys/class/leds/dell::kbd_backlight has several files of interest, particulary the one named stop_timeout. The current contents of this file are

$ cat /sys/class/leds/dell\:\:kbd_backlight/stop_timeout 

I just tried modifying the value from 10s to 60s. I then ran xprintidle just to see if it reported any different values than it was reporting when I first looked at what the above script would be doing. The values were similar. I waited 10 seconds, and the keyboard backlight stayed on! (However the cursor in my shell stopped blinking; I'm guessing there's another file that defines that.)

I realize this isn't something official, but if it is as easy as changing a setting in a file, it's good enough for me.

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