When you spend any real length of time working on a computer, you learn that your preferences matter. Having your computer set up exactly as you like can make the difference between getting work done smoothly and dragging through something that’d otherwise be simple. Your keyboard and its layout are a major factor here, whether you’re writing, coding, or just relying on hotkeys.
Even though they all have their own ways of handling it, every Linux desktop environment makes it simple to customize your keyboard layout for your language, region, and personal preference.
The Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment (LXDE) is a simple environment for modern Linux-based operating systems. Because it has a minimal design, changing the keyboard layout for LXDE is straightforward.
- Click the LXDE icon on the lower-left corner of your screen to bring up the Menu section, then hover the mouse cursor to “Preferences.”
- To change the keyboard layout, click “IBus Preferences.” The IBus Preferences window controls the behavior of the internal keyboard driver in Linux.
- To change your keyboard layout, go to the “Input Method” tab.
- The preferences window will display all the keyboard layouts that you have in the machine. To add a new one, press “Add.”
- This will, in turn, bring up a smaller menu with a list of commonly-used languages. You can also click the vertical ellipsis (⋮) after the initial options to search for the other available languages.
- Close the preferences window to save your configuration. You can now switch between different keyboard layouts by pressing the IBus icon in your LXDE taskbar.
- Open your “Settings” application. Locate the “Keyboard” tab in the list on the left side of the window and click it.
- The window’s body will shift to display your current input settings, and you’ll see a section for “Input Sources” where you can change or add keyboard layouts.
- Click the plus sign (+) directly below your current language. A new window will open and suggest some common options related to your current language of choice.
- If you’re looking for something different, press the three dots at the bottom of the list. The choices will expand to display even more related options. If you still don’t see what you’re looking for, select “Other” at the bottom of the list.
- When you have your layout and language of choice, click to highlight it and press the “Add” button in the upper-right corner of the window.
- Open the Plasma settings. Scroll down in the menu to the left of the window. Under the “Hardware” heading, locate “Input Devices” and click it.
- The window will shift to display the items under the “Input Devices” section. Make sure that “Keyboard” is the selected tab on the left, and turn your attention to the main body of the window.
- Locate and select the “Layouts” tab toward the top of the window, then check the “Configure layouts” box and unlock your keyboard layout options.
- Press the “Add” button to configure a new keyboard layout. Plasma will open a new window that will let you choose your language, layout, and variant.
- You can give your new entry a name and even assign a hotkey to easily switch to it. When you’re done, press “OK” to add your new keyboard layout.
On XFCE you can find the keyboard layout settings under the keyboard settings application. You can either get there through the generic “Settings” app for XFCE or directly through “Keyboard” under the “Settings” section of your menu.
- When the window opens, select the “Layout” tab at the top. Everything will be grayed out, as XFCE will use your system language by default. Uncheck the “Use system defaults” box to open the controls.
- To change your keyboard layout, either select your existing layout and “Edit” it with that button or press the “Add” button for a new layout.
- A new smaller window will open, listing the available languages. If a language has available layout options, it’ll have a black arrow next to it. Click the arrow to display the options.
- Locate the language and layout you want and press “OK” at the bottom of the window to add it.
- You can find your keyboard settings under Cinnamon’s “Settings” application. Scroll to the bottom, and under the “Hardware” section, click “Keyboard” settings.
- The window will shift to display the available settings. Near the top of the window, locate the “Layouts” tab and select it.
- Your window will switch again to display your current keyboard layout in a box to the left with available options on the right. To add a new keyboard layout, press the plus sign (+) at the bottom of the box on the left.
- Cinnamon will open a new window that lists all the available languages and layouts alphabetically. Locate yours or use the provided search to speed things up. Select your layout and press “Add.”
- Find your keyboard settings under the “Preferences” section of the MATE menu and launch it.
- When the application opens, select the “Layouts” tab at the top of the window.
- The window will change to display your current keyboard layout and a few options, like keyboard model. Press the “Add” button to choose a new keyboard layout.
- MATE will open a new window that displays a large keyboard graphic. At the top you’ll see the option to switch between searching by language or by country. The results are the same, so use whichever you’re more comfortable with.
- Select either your language or country, then find the exact layout that you prefer.
- As you select layouts, you’ll see the keyboard graphic change to reflect them. When you’re set, press “Add.”
Enlightenment is a simple yet elegant desktop environment that you can install in modern Linux distributions. Knowing that, changing the keyboard layout for this environment is incredibly easy.
- Left-click on your desktop. This will bring up Enlightenment’s context menu where you can select the various functions of your system.
- Hover your mouse cursor to “Settings -> All -> Input.” This will bring you to Enlightenment’s Bindings menu where you can customize how the environment behaves on certain keyboard and mouse inputs.
- Press “Keyboard” to open Enlightenment’s Keyboard Map window, then click “Add.” This will tell Enlightenment that you want to install a new keyboard map for your system.
- Keyboard maps vary between models, layouts and variants, so you can install both language-agnostic variants, such as DVORAK and the French AZERTY layout, under the same menu. In my case, since I am studying German, I will select “Layout” and then scroll down to select “German (de).”
- Doing that will load the German keyboard layout for my keyboard. However, to fully enable it, you need to increase the priority of the second layout by selecting it and moving it up in the Keyboard Map window.
- Press “Ok” to save your changes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a difference between a keyboard model, layout and variant?
Yes! While these three options look similar, model, layout and variant all refer to three distinct parts of Linux’s internal keyboard driver. The keyboard model refers to the general type of keyboard that is being used with the machine.
For example, a standard desktop keyboard would be a 110-key keyboard, while a laptop might be slightly less. The keyboard model value tells the Linux kernel what keys and signals it should expect while the user is typing.
The keyboard layout and variant, on the other hand, are the internal mappings for the keys of a specific keyboard model. Changing the layout or variant in a machine does not change the signals that the kernel expects, so a 110-key model can both be used for a French AZERTY layout and a German QWERTZ layout.
Is it possible to use a different keyboard layout even if I have an American keyboard?
Yes! As described above, a keyboard layout does not depend on the type of keyboard that you are using, so it is possible for you to install a keyboard layout for a language that uses a different keyboard. For example, I was able to install the German keyboard layout even though I am using an English keyboard.
One issue with this approach, however, is that the symbols printed on your keyboard will not line up properly to the internal symbol table in Linux. For example, pressing the Y key on a US keyboard that uses a German layout will print Z.
I changed my keyboard layout, and now some keys are not working. Is my keyboard broken?
No! This is a direct result of a mismatch between the keyboard model and layout in your machine. Some keyboard layouts require a specific model for them to function.
Because of that, some keyboard layouts will look for specific keyboard signals from the models that it expects while disregarding other signals from unknown models. For example, the Japanese keyboard layout uses a different keyboard model to accommodate switching between different character sets.
One way to solve this is to use the type of keyboard that the layout expects from the machine, so if you intend on using a Japanese layout, you will need to also use a Japanese keyboard model.
Image credit: The figure of Crime Scene Investigation on keyboard by 123RF. All screenshots by Ramces Red
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