XMODMAP(1) General Commands Manual XMODMAP(1)


xmodmap – utility for modifying keymaps and pointer button mappings in X


xmodmap [-options …] [filename]


The xmodmap program is used to edit and display the keyboard modifier map and keymap table that are used by

client applications to convert event keycodes into keysyms. It is usually run from the user’s session

startup script to configure the keyboard according to personal tastes.


The following options may be used with xmodmap:

-display display
This option specifies the host and display to use.

-help This option indicates that a brief description of the command line arguments should be printed on the
standard error channel. This will be done whenever an unhandled argument is given to xmodmap.

This option indicates that a help message describing the expression grammar used in files and with -e

expressions should be printed on the standard error.

This option indicates that xmodmap should print its version information and exit.

This option indicates that xmodmap should print logging information as it parses its input.

-quiet This option turns off the verbose logging. This is the default.

-n This option indicates that xmodmap should not change the mappings, but should display what it would
do, like make(1) does when given this option.

-e expression
This option specifies an expression to be executed. Any number of expressions may be specified from

the command line.

-pm This option indicates that the current modifier map should be printed on the standard output. This
is the default mode of operation if no other mode options are specified.

-pk This option indicates that the current keymap table should be printed on the standard output.

-pke This option indicates that the current keymap table should be printed on the standard output in the
form of expressions that can be fed back to xmodmap.

-pp This option indicates that the current pointer map should be printed on the standard output.

– A lone dash means that the standard input should be used as the input file.

The filename specifies a file containing xmodmap expressions to be executed. This file is usually kept in

the user’s home directory with a name like .xmodmaprc.


The xmodmap program reads a list of expressions and parses them all before attempting to execute any of them.

This makes it possible to refer to keysyms that are being redefined in a natural way without having to worry

as much about name conflicts.

The list of keysym names may be found in the header file <X11/keysymdef.h> (without the XK_ prefix), supple‐

mented by the keysym database /usr/share/X11/XKeysymDB. Keysyms matching Unicode characters may be speci‐

fied as “U0020” to “U007E” and “U00A0” to “U10FFFF” for all possible Unicode characters.

The list of keysyms is assigned to the indicated keycode (which may be specified in decimal, hex or

octal and can be determined by running the xev program). Up to eight keysyms may be attached to a

key, however the last four are not used in any major X server implementation. The first keysym is

used when no modifier key is pressed in conjunction with this key, the second with Shift, the third

when the Mode_switch key is used with this key and the fourth when both the Mode_switch and Shift

keys are used.

keycode any = KEYSYMNAME …
If no existing key has the specified list of keysyms assigned to it, a spare key on the keyboard is

selected and the keysyms are assigned to it. The list of keysyms may be specified in decimal, hex or


The KEYSYMNAME on the left hand side is translated into matching keycodes used to perform the corre‐

sponding set of keycode expressions. Note that if the same keysym is bound to multiple keys, the

expression is executed for each matching keycode.

This removes all entries in the modifier map for the given modifier, where valid name are: Shift,

Lock, Control, Mod1, Mod2, Mod3, Mod4, and Mod5 (case does not matter in modifier names, although it

does matter for all other names). For example, “clear Lock” will remove all any keys that were

bound to the shift lock modifier.

This adds all keys containing the given keysyms to the indicated modifier map. The keysym names are

evaluated after all input expressions are read to make it easy to write expressions to swap keys (see

the EXAMPLES section).

This removes all keys containing the given keysyms from the indicated modifier map. Unlike add, the

keysym names are evaluated as the line is read in. This allows you to remove keys from a modifier

without having to worry about whether or not they have been reassigned.

pointer = default
This sets the pointer map back to its default settings (button 1 generates a code of 1, button 2 gen‐

erates a 2, etc.).

pointer = NUMBER …
This sets the pointer map to contain the indicated button codes. The list always starts with the

first physical button. Setting a button code to 0 disables events from that button.

Lines that begin with an exclamation point (!) are taken as comments.

If you want to change the binding of a modifier key, you must also remove it from the appropriate modifier



Many pointers are designed such that the first button is pressed using the index finger of the right hand.

People who are left-handed frequently find that it is more comfortable to reverse the button codes that get

generated so that the primary button is pressed using the index finger of the left hand. This could be done

on a 3 button pointer as follows:

% xmodmap -e “pointer = 3 2 1”

Many applications support the notion of Meta keys (similar to Control keys except that Meta is held down

instead of Control). However, some servers do not have a Meta keysym in the default keymap table, so one

needs to be added by hand. The following command will attach Meta to the Multi-language key (sometimes

labeled Compose Character). It also takes advantage of the fact that applications that need a Meta key sim‐

ply need to get the keycode and don’t require the keysym to be in the first column of the keymap table. This

means that applications that are looking for a Multi_key (including the default modifier map) won’t notice

any change.

% xmodmap -e “keysym Multi_key = Multi_key Meta_L”

Similarly, some keyboards have an Alt key but no Meta key. In that case the following may be useful:

% xmodmap -e “keysym Alt_L = Meta_L Alt_L”

One of the more simple, yet convenient, uses of xmodmap is to set the keyboard’s “rubout” key to generate an

alternate keysym. This frequently involves exchanging Backspace with Delete to be more comfortable to the

user. If the ttyModes resource in xterm is set as well, all terminal emulator windows will use the same key

for erasing characters:

% xmodmap -e “keysym BackSpace = Delete”

% echo “XTerm*ttyModes: erase ^?” | xrdb -merge

Some keyboards do not automatically generate less than and greater than characters when the comma and period

keys are shifted. This can be remedied with xmodmap by resetting the bindings for the comma and period with

the following scripts:


! make shift-, be < and shift-. be >


keysym comma = comma less

keysym period = period greater

One of the more irritating differences between keyboards is the location of the Control and CapsLock keys. A

common use of xmodmap is to swap these two keys as follows:


! Swap Caps_Lock and Control_L


remove Lock = Caps_Lock

remove Control = Control_L

keysym Control_L = Caps_Lock

keysym Caps_Lock = Control_L

add Lock = Caps_Lock

add Control = Control_L

This example can be run again to swap the keys back to their previous assignments.

The keycode command is useful for assigning the same keysym to multiple keycodes. Although unportable, it

also makes it possible to write scripts that can reset the keyboard to a known state. The following script

sets the backspace key to generate Delete (as shown above), flushes all existing caps lock bindings, makes

the CapsLock key be a control key, make F5 generate Escape, and makes Break/Reset be a shift lock.


! On the HP, the following keycodes have key caps as listed:


! 101 Backspace

! 55 Caps

! 14 Ctrl

! 15 Break/Reset

! 86 Stop

! 89 F5


keycode 101 = Delete

keycode 55 = Control_R

clear Lock

add Control = Control_R

keycode 89 = Escape

keycode 15 = Caps_Lock

add Lock = Caps_Lock


DISPLAY to get default host and display number.


X(7), xev(1), setxkbmap(1), XStringToKeysym(3), Xlib documentation on key and pointer events


Every time a keycode expression is evaluated, the server generates a MappingNotify event on every client.

This can cause some thrashing. All of the changes should be batched together and done at once. Clients that

receive keyboard input and ignore MappingNotify events will not notice any changes made to keyboard mappings.

Xmodmap should generate “add” and “remove” expressions automatically whenever a keycode that is already bound

to a modifier is changed.

There should be a way to have the remove expression accept keycodes as well as keysyms for those times when

you really mess up your mappings.


Jim Fulton, MIT X Consortium, rewritten from an earlier version by David Rosenthal of Sun Microsystems.

X Version 11 xmodmap 1.0.9 XMODMAP(1)


  • man 1 xmodmap, version xmodmap 1.0.9