Linux HDMI hotplug

The point of this article is to document I workaround that I came up with to handle a HDMI KVM switch.

What happens is that if my Linux PC is turned on while the KVM switch is selecting the other PC, it fails to initialize the display, so when you switch back to the Linux PC, no display is shown.

The trick for this to work is to the use of udev and xrandr.

We use udev to detect the monitor being plugged in, and we use xrandr to tell X windows to update the display.

I don't think this happens very often, as the Linux defaults will handle things properly most of the time. In my case there were a number of configurations where this makes sense:

  • Using the old X display manager (XDM). Which doesn't seem to care for display change events.
    Personally, I like using XDM because is very minimalistic.
  • Using a 4K HDMI EDID editor but connecting a monitor that does not support 4K.

Figuring out udev

First in the agenda is to figure out what kind of event we should be looking at. For that, we use the command:

udevadm monitor


udevadm monitor --property

With that we can determine what kind of udev events to look for (if any).

Next we need to figure out what keys we need to match. Unfortunately there is some guess work required as you need to figure out the /dev device path, whereas udevadm monitor shows a /devices/ path.

However, you manage, you need to use the following command:

udevadm info --query=all --name=/dev/dri/card0 --attribute-walk

This will show possible attributes in the udev rules key format.

Once we know the keys to use, we can know create the rules files.

Rules are located in two locations:

  • /usr/lib/udev/rules.d/ : for system default rules
  • /etc/udev/rules.d/ : for local specific rules

Essentially, we are waiting for the monitor configuration to change and when that happens we will run a script. This is accomplish with the following rules file (99-xwin-hotplug.rules):

Running xrandr

The script that is kicked off by udev is called xwin-houtplug and does the following:

  1. Check if DISPLAY is set. (i.e. running from Xorg session)
  2. Check if Xorg is running.
  3. Determine the DISPLAY and a suitable XAUTHORITY file.
  4. Run xrandr to find connected monitors and relevant display modes.
  5. Check if the user has configured a preferred video mode.
  6. Use the preferred video mode or auto-detect:
    • Preferred: xrandr --output $monitor --mode $mode
    • auto-detect: xrandr --output $monitor --auto
  7. Run xrefresh for good measure.

See script:

To configure the preferred video mode, create a file /etc/X11/vmode.prefs with the format:




Refer to the output of xrandr for the connection names.

monitor warmplug

Run the xwin-hotplug script when Xorg starts. This will make sure that the selected preferred video mode is used when the X session starts.

Configuring Kernel video modes

You can select a linux console preferred video mode by adding the video option to the command line.

For example:


NOTE: The output specification here follows Linux kernel conventions which are different from xrandr.

To get the name and current status of connectors, you can use the following shell oneliner:

$ for p in /sys/class/drm/*/status; do con=${p%/status}; echo -n "${con#*/card?-}: "; cat $p; done

DVI-I-1: connected
HDMI-A-1: disconnected
VGA-1: disconnected

See Also