Xmodmap

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Xmodmap is a utility for modifying keymaps and pointer button mappings in Xorg.

Introduction

The Linux kernel generates a code each time a key is pressed on a keyboard. That code is compared to a table of keycodes defining a figure that is then displayed.

This process is complicated by Xorg, which starts its own table of keycodes. Each keycode can belong to a keysym. A keysym is like a function, started by typing a key. Xmodmap allows you to edit these keycode-keysym relations.

Keymap table

Print the current keymap table formatted into expressions: Template:Command

Each keymap is followed by the keysyms it is mapped to. The above example indicates that the keycode Template:Codeline is mapped to the lowercase n keysym, while the uppercase N keysym is mapped to keycode 57 and shift.

Each keysym column in the table corresponds to a particular key combination:

  1. key
  2. shift + key
  3. mode_switch + key
  4. mode_switch + shift + key
  5. AltGr + key
  6. AltGr + shift + key

Not all keysyms have to be set, but if you want to assign a later keysym without assigning earlier ones set the earlier keysyms to Template:Codeline.

Editing

Extract your actual table of keycodes in a file (here: .xmod)

xmodmap -pke > ~/.xmod

Now you can edit .xmod. The new .xmod get loaded by

xmodmap ~/.xmod

This has be done after each start of X! So put it in your autostart...

You can get the keycode (and more information) of a key with xev (or xkeycaps). If you start xev within a shell, a window will be opened and if you type a key, there will be some informations about it in the shell. Among others you get the keycode.

Example

If I'ld to get an 'e' if I type 'l' and an 'E' if I type 'L', I'ld have to change

keycode  46 = l L l L lstroke Lstroke lstroke

to

keycode  46 = e E l L lstroke Lstroke lstroke

(Maybe my standard keycode differs from yours. This will be an result of using different keyboard layouts)

Keysym

It is also possible, to change the keysym. I.e:

keysym a = e E
  • a -> e
  • shift+a -> E

It has the same effect as editting the corresponding keycode.

xmodmap within a shell

Within a shell, you can type make changes for this session. It's useful for testing. Examples:

xmodmap -e "keycode  46 = l L l L lstroke Lstroke lstroke"
xmodmap -e "keysym a = e E"

Special keys/signals

You can also also edit the keys: shift, ctrl alt and super (there always exists a left and a right one (Alt_R=AltGr))

At first you have to delete/clear the signals that should be edited. Write at the beginning of your Xmodmap file (here: ~/.xmod) :

!clear Shift
!clear Lock
clear Control
!clear Mod1
!clear Mod2
!clear Mod3
clear Mod4
!clear Mod5
keycode   8 =
...

Remember: ! is a comment. So only Control and Mod4 (Standard: Super_L Super_R) get cleared.

Write the new signals at the end of ~/.xmod:

keycode 255 =
!add Shift   = Shift_L Shift_R
!add Lock    = Caps_Lock
add Control = Super_L Super_R
!add Mod1    = Alt_L Alt_R
!add Mod2    = Mode_switch
!add Mod3    =
add Mod4    = Control_L Control_R
!add Mod5    =

Here: We exchanged the Super-keys with the ctrl-keys. My lil' finger likes that really ;).

Additional resources