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Debian wiki keyboard portal. This portal covers all aspects of configuring keyboards on Debian.

See "The keyboard input" in debian-reference, too.

Basic keyboard configuration (Kernel and X)

To configure the keyboard for Linux kernel and X, you have to install keyboard-configuration. The package console-setup is also needed.

The keyboard settings are stored in /etc/default/keyboard file provided by the keyboard-configuration package. Other packages use this to configure both the Linux kernel and the X Window system to realize consistent keyboard experiences under the Linux console and the X Window system.

You can change your keyboard settings using:

 # dpkg-reconfigure keyboard-configuration
 # service keyboard-setup restart
  1. Menu for Keyboard model (what the keyboard *is*) is presented. If not sure, choose:

    • "Generic 104-key PC" for US-type keyboard with "Windows-key"
    • "Generic 105-key PC" for ISO-type keyboard with "Windows-key" (and JIS-type keyboard with "Windows-key")
  2. Menu for Country of origin for the keyboard is presented. If not sure for this, choose:

    • "English (US)" for "QWERTY"-keyboard
    • "German" for "QWERTZ"-keyboard
    • "French" for "AZERTY"-keyboard
    • "Japanese" for "QWERTY"-keyboard with extra keys aimed for Japanese.
  3. Menu for Keyboard layout (what the keys should *do*) is presented. If not sure for this, choose:

    • "English (US)" for plain layout (English)
    • "English (intl., with ?AltGr dead keys)" to have access to accented characters etc.

    • "Default" for plain layout (German, French)
    • "Japanese" for plain layout (Japanese)
    • "Dvorak" etc. if you want.

To apply new settings, restarting the keyboard-setup service should suffice, otherwise you can try to restart kernel input system via udev:

 # udevadm trigger --subsystem-match=input --action=change

or reboot the whole OS.

The Linux kernel and the X Window System process keyboard inputs independently. The keyboard-configuration package take care their configuration.

For the X Window System, keyboard inputs are processed by the X Window System using X keyboard Extension (XKB). The resulting keyboard data are passed to the X applications through X connection with X Input method (XIM) protocol.

Modern keyboard configuration (IM)

The simple keyboard input mechanism realized by the above configuration can't support some languages, such as Chinese and Japanese, properly.

The installation of the input method (IM) framework package such as ibus (or fcitx5) together with associated packages enables to support all languages.

For the modern GUI system, keyboard inputs are processed by IM using IM engines. For GTK and QT applications, the resulting keyboard data are passed to them through D-Bus communication. For X applications, the resulting keyboard data are passed to them through X connection with X Input method (XIM) protocol. If the GUI system is Wayland, xwayland facilitates X connection for X applications.

(Please don't get confused by IM and XIM.)

For GNOME system (the default Debian Desktop environment), ibus package is automatically installed and activated. The keyboard input needs to be configured from its GUI Settings -> Keyboard for basic configurations. For more complicated configuration such as swapping CapsLock and Ctrl, you need to install gnome-tweak and use it.

For non-GNOME system, the stand alone GUI configuration command ibus-setup can set up IM framework for ibus. Under those desktop environments, menu entry of their keyboard configuration utility or pop-up menu entry offered by clicking the associated tray icon may start ibus-setup for you.

For KDE, configuration of ibus is System_settings -> Hardware -> Input_devices/keyboard. Tray icon is available as kimpanel in plasma-widgets-addons package.

See I18n/ibus and I18n/Fcitx5 for more.

Multi-language keyboard configuration strategy

There are 2 strategies for the multi-language keyboard configuration. Mixing these 2 strategies for keyboard input will create unmanageable system. So please don't do mix.

Old fashioned strategy

People who wish to set up a single keyboard input environment for multiple (European) languages in old fashioned way without the IM framework should consider following configuration strategy.

This is offered as backward compatibility.

Modern strategy

People who wish to set up multiple dynamically-switchable keyboard input environments in modern way for multiple languages should consider following configuration strategy.

Please note that the IM framework such as ibus provides its internal functionality equivalent of X keyboard Extension (XKB) to enter many Unicode characters for European languages without additional engine packages and its configuration is available in GNOME Tweaks program under Keyboard & Mouse -> Additional Layout Options. See below for the non-GUI method to set these.

This is offered as future direction.

See "IM and XIM" for cares required to use IM smoothly.

Keyboard configuration Tips

Manual configuration of keyboard

You can edit /etc/default/keyboard manually instead of running dpkg-reconfigure keyboard-configuration.

Here's an example:

# KEYBOARD CONFIGURATION FILE
# Consult the keyboard(5) and xkeyboard-config(7) manual page.

XKBMODEL="pc105"
XKBLAYOUT="us,de,fr,ua,ru"
XKBVARIANT=""
XKBOPTIONS="grp:alt_shift_toggle"
BACKSPACE="guess"

Under the X environment, this keyboard layout setting in /etc/default/keyboard can be overridden by executing something like "setxkbmap us,ru -option grp:ctrl_shift_toggle" in the X startup configuration file ~/.xsessionrc . Please note that this is effective only for the X environment and the modern GUI environment may not be running under X environment.

See also:

How to set keyboard layout in initramfs

The appropriate section of /etc/initramfs-tools/initramfs.conf needs to be changed to have a localized keyboard layout at boot time:

#
# KEYMAP: [ y | n ]
#
# Load a keymap during the initramfs stage.
#

KEYMAP=y

Apply changes:

 # update-initramfs -u

How to enable USB keyboard in initramfs

The initramfs-tools must include the usbhid module and its dependencies for USB keyboard support at boot time. Either the configuration file /etc/initramfs-tools/conf.d/driver-policy must include most modules, or they will have to be specified in another file:

#
# MODULES: [ most | netboot | dep | list ]
#
# most - Add most filesystem and all harddrive drivers.
#
# dep - Try and guess which modules to load.
#
# netboot - Add the base modules, network modules, but skip block devices.
#
# list - Only include modules from the 'additional modules' list
#

MODULES=most

If the configuration above was not set to include most modules, then the necessary modules have to be specified in the file /etc/initramfs-tools/modules:

# USB keyboard at boot
usbcore
uhci_hcd
ehci_hcd
usbhid

Apply changes:

 # update-initramfs -u

How to dynamically activate Linux console settings

In order to activate changed settings in /etc/default/keyboard without reboot, run setupcon(1).

How to dynamically activate X Window settings (old fashioned strategy)

If the IM framework is not active, you can switch the keyboard layout of X Window system from the terminal, e. g.:

 $ setxkbmap de
 $ setxkbmap fr
 $ setxkbmap us

Of special interest for keyboard hardware with us layout might be the altgr-intl variant (this provides a simple AltGr mapping for many umlauts and special symbols):

 $ setxkbmap -rules evdev -model evdev -layout us -variant altgr-intl

or

 $ setxkbmap -model pc105 -layout us -variant altgr-intl

To configure a simple key for toggling between multiple configured keyboard layouts, see Option XkbOptions in Section InputClass somewhere within the xorg config file collection (see [SOLVED] Setxkbmap .xinitrc).

How to dynamically manage input source settings from the command line (modern strategy)

Input source settings can be dynamically managed using gsettings, dconf, or dconf-editor commands. Here, gsettings command is the platform independent wrapper of Linux specific dconf command and dconf-editor is a GUI program.

The current input source setting and the current XKB input source can be obtained from the command line. For example:

 $ gsettings get org.gnome.desktop.input-sources sources
[('xkb', 'us'), ('ibus', 'anthy'), ('ibus', 'mozc-jp')]
 $ gsettings get org.gnome.desktop.input-sources xkb-options
['lv3:ralt_switch', 'compose:rwin']

or

 $ dconf read /org/gnome/desktop/input-sources/sources
[('xkb', 'us'), ('ibus', 'anthy'), ('ibus', 'mozc-jp')]
 $ dconf read /org/gnome/desktop/input-sources/xkb-options
['lv3:ralt_switch', 'compose:rwin']

These can be updated to a certain values. For example:

 $ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.input-sources sources "[('xkb', 'us'), ('ibus', 'anthy'), ('ibus', 'mozc-jp')]"
 $ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.input-sources xkb-options "['lv3:ralt_switch', 'compose:rwin']"

or

 $ dconf write /org/gnome/desktop/input-sources/sources "[('xkb', 'us'), ('ibus', 'anthy'), ('ibus', 'mozc-jp')]"
 $ dconf write /org/gnome/desktop/input-sources/xkb-options "['lv3:ralt_switch', 'compose:rwin']"

These can be reset by using gsettings reset ... or dconf reset ....

How to create a custom keyboard shortcut to select a particular input source

For GNOME, you can create a custom keyboard shortcut to select a particular input source deterministically by assigning command to Settings -> Keyboard -> Keyboard Shortcuts (instead of using Super-SPACE toggle). E.g. As explained elsewhare, the following command will select the first input source:

gdbus call --session --dest org.gnome.Shell --object-path /org/gnome/Shell --method org.gnome.Shell.Eval  "imports.ui.status.keyboard.getInputSourceManager().inputSources[1].activate()"

Keyboard configuration for backspace/delete and terminal type

The good review of the complicated situation over the keyboard configuration for backspace/delete and terminal type is available in /usr/share/doc/xterm/README.Debian.

Debian default keymap for xterm is DEC VT 220 like terminal behavior which is consistent with the Linux virtual console. This frees CTRL-H from backspace action and allows us to use CTRL-H for other purposes in programs such as Vim.

How to use kitty terminal with IM

GPU based terminal emulator kitty doesn't use X, GTK, nor QT library but uses Wayland library. In order to activate IM to enter some characters for Chinese or Japanese, you need to follow /usr/share/doc/kitty/README.Debian.

Overview of keyboard input

Here is an overview of the keyboard input situation on Debian.

In order to avoid confusion, both simpler historic situation and more complicated current situation are described below.

Historic situation over the keyboard input

Before the introduction of Wayland support to Debain, situation over the keyboard input can be summarized as follows:

Current situation over the keyboard input (as of 2022)

The introduction of the Wayland support to Debian changed situation over the keyboard input. (Other changes such as introduction of systemd and GTK4 happened, too.)

Since the Wayland support is the on-going activity, please refer to the wiki.debian.org page of Wayland for the latest situation and details.

Current (May 2022) situation of Debian 10 buster/stable and Debian 11/bookworm/testing over the keyboard input can be summarized as follows:

Troubleshooting

Changing IM configuration

In order to avoid problem caused by library caching etc., you should reboot system when you make changes to the input method (IM) framework configuration. (Restarting Desktop session may be sufficient for most cases but reboot is safer.)

IM and XIM

Here is a hints for input method (IM) framework and XIM protocol issue.

IM framework activated case

When IM framework such as ibus is installed and activated, pure X applications (X clients which was designed to get keyboard inputs from X server through X connection with XIM) protocol) such as xterm and rxvt-unicode don't talk to the X server directly for keyboard inputs. The IM framework such as ibus handles actual keyboard inputs and pass processed data to X clients using XIM protocol from its daemon such as ibus-daemon, instead.

Unfortunately, the combination of ibus and X clients is buggy for some (rare) keyboard sequences to input non-ASCII characters. There have been persistent bugs around this combination as discussed in Red Hat Bugzilla – Bug 2013610 and elesewhere.

Let's stay in a safe zone as much as possible.

Properly configured GTK and QT programs with im-config don't use XIM protocol to communicate with ibus-daemon and are immune to these annoying bugs of this combination.

For terminal emulators, please use any modern ones which use via GTK or QT:

For emacs, please consider to use emacs-nox in modern terminal emulators or emacs-gtk. (I.e., please avoid emacs-lucid if ibus is activated. emacs-gtk bugs seem to be resolved.)

For programs such as gitk, please consider to avoid typing problematic sequence for non-ASCII characters as much.

IM framework disabled case

If you don't need modern functionality of the IM framework such as ibus, you can make X clients talk directly to the X server configured with X keyboard Extension (XKB) by disabling ibus as:,

 $ im-config -n none

This workaround may not work on some desktop environments if they override im-config. Notably, GNOME may fall into this type.

Japanese 106/109 keyboard

If you have a Japanese keyboard (XKBMODEL="pc105" and XKBLAYOUT="ja") manufactured after 2000, you probably have newer OADG 109A type markings on keytops.

TODO: Update this section for bookworm in testing (2022).

It's odd not to see "Generic 106-key PC" for "JIS-type keyboard without "Windows-key" and "Generic 109-key PC" for "JIS-type keyboard with "Windows-key" in Keyboard model of  dpkg-reconfigure keyboard-configuration dialog.

Some old page (2013-05-12) suggests to edit /etc/default/keyboard stanzas to:

XKBMODEL="jp106"
XKBLAYOUT="jp"

Some newer page (2019-07-12) suggests to use setlocale command.

Very old GNOME (currently not an issue @2022)

The keyboard layout was changed on Settings -> Region & Languages -> Input Sources. For releases older than Stretch (initially released @2018), these layouts include minority languages and dialects, as well as very specific configurations, and were hidden by default in the GUI for Stretch (during its testng?).

One can set it via CLI using dconf/gsettings by adding keys to /org/gnome/desktop/input-sources/sources.

The only way to make them visible is to enable the corresponding setting in gconf:

 $ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.input-sources show-all-sources true

For more information on this issue see https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=682240.


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