This FAQ/HOWTO is about the Linux keyboard and console, not about X, which substitutes its own handling. However, it seems useful to document some of the Linux keyboard and console related properties of X.
First of all, when X is started (say using
it opens the first unused console, unless the desired console has been
indicated explicitly, as in
xinit -- vt12.
Note that this will fail when there is no device file
but that it will not fail when the indicated console was in use already.
When X finishes, it will return to the original console.
While it is running one can use Ctrl-Alt-Fn to switch to VTn.
The XFree86 keymap mechanism is much poorer than the Linux mechanism.
For each keycode there are at most 4 symbols defined, namely for the
4 keymaps plain, shift, mod, mod+shift. What is the modifier mod?
It is the one designated by the symbol
For example, the command
xmodmap keys.dk, where the file
will make both Alt keys into mod keys, so that Alt+a gives Е (a-ring), etc. (Note the illogical naming of oslash and Ooblique.) Such an
keycode 64 = Mode_switch keycode 113 = Mode_switch keycode 38 = a A aring Aring keycode 26 = e E ae AE keycode 32 = o O oslash Ooblique
xmodmapcommand can be placed in the
.xinitrcshell script that is executed by default when X is started.
Since version 2.1, XFree86 will initialize its keymap from the Linux keymap, as far as possible. However, Linux had 16 entries per key (one for each combination of the Shift, AltGr, Ctrl, Alt modifiers) and presently has 256 entries per key, while X has 4 entries per key (one for each combination of Shift, Mod), so some information is necessarily lost.
X reads the
Xconfig file, where definitions of the LeftAlt, RightAlt,
RightCtl, ScrollLock keys as Meta, ModeShift, Compose, ModeLock or ScrollLock
might be found - see X386keybd(1), later XFree86kbd(1).
For Mod the LeftAlt key is taken, unless RightCtl was defined as ModeShift or
ModeLock, in which case RightCtl is taken, or RightAlt was so defined, in which
case RightAlt is taken.
This determines how the 4 XFree86 meanings of a key are selected from the 16
Note that Linux today does not distinguish by default between the two Ctrl keys
or between the two Shift keys.
X does distinguish.
Now the kernel keymap is read and the usually obvious corresponding X bindings are made. The bindings for the "action keys" Show_Memory, Show_State, Show_Registers, Last_Console, Console_n, Scroll_Backward, Scroll_Forward, Caps_On and Boot are ignored, as are the dead diacriticals, and the locks (except for ShiftLock), and the "ASCII-x" keys.
Next, the definitions in the
Xconfig file are used. (Thus, a definition
of Compose in
Xconfig will override its value as found in the Linux
What happens to the strings associated with the function keys? Nothing,
X does not have such a concept. (But it is possible to define strings
for function keys in
xterm - note however that the window manager gets the
I don't know how to convince
xterm that it should use the X keymap
when Alt is pressed; it seems just to look at its resource
and depending on whether that is true or false either set the high order bit
of the character, or generate an additional Escape character
(just like setmetamode(1) does for the console).
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Created 1996-2023 by Maxim Chirkov
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