Dvorak configuration, Debian Linux.

I’ve been using Dvorak on my home laptop for a little while now, and I’ve gotten to be reasonably decent at it. Not spectacular, but good enough that I can type for long periods of time without getting too annoyed at being needlessly slow. I’m not up to my old Qwerty speeds yet, but that’ll just take time.

Interestingly, I’m now pretty much bilingual. I can still use Qwerty keyboards as fast as I could before … so long as I don’t have to look at the keyboard to reposition; that screws me over, because I’m used to hunting for Dvorak keys now. I guess that might balance out over time.

That said, I was only using Dvorak within X on my laptop; my console was still configured as Qwerty. A weird bug in Gnome prompted me to just fix things so the laptop was 100% Dvorak.

The bug in question concerns another bit of keyboard snobbery on my part: I’ve preferred to switch around Caps Lock and Control for a good while now, because I use emacs a lot. It’s easier if I’m using a Control key that my pinkie is essentially always sitting next to, rather than the default Control key isolated way down on the bottom-left hand corner of the keyboard. (Interesting to note here that Dvorak is excellent for all those weird emacs key bindings. Excellent.) Anyways, something in Gnome broke, and my Control key toggled the Caps Lock light while still acting as a Control key – this became infuriating within moments, and so I went on the hunt for a better solution.

Thus, I present to you, dear reader, my solution, to completely Dvorakify my laptop from within X and on the console too.

Within X

Enabling Dvorak for X, if you don’t mind all users being affected, is actually rather easy. It’s all done in a couple of lines in my xorg.conf:

Section "InputDevice"
    Identifier     "Generic Keyboard"
    Driver         "kbd"
    Option         "CoreKeyboard"
    Option         "XkbRules" "xorg"
    Option         "XkbModel" "pc105"
    Option         "XkbLayout" "gb"
    Option         "XkbVariant" "dvorak"
    Option         "XkbOptions" "grp:shift_toggle,ctrl:swapcaps,ctrl:nocaps"

It’s the last two lines here that make the difference: The XkbVariant tells X to use the UK Dvorak layout rather than the UK Qwerty layout. The XkbOptions are:

And that’s it for X. A dedicated UK Dvorak layout for all users with two additional lines of config.

On the Console

The console was a bit trickier to pull off, with the UK/US Dvorak issue rearing its ugly head again. Luckily, easily fixed, after a little investigative work.

The Dvorak layouts for the console on Debian are stored under /usr/share/keymaps/i386/dvorak/; I copied the standard dvorak.kmap.gz to dvorak-gb.kmap.gz, and gunzipped it. It’s actually a fairly easy to understand file, so I modified it slightly from its initial state to this:

keymaps 0-2,4,6,8,12
include "linux-with-alt-and-altgr.inc"
strings as usual
keycode   1 = Escape           Escape
keycode   2 = one              exclam
keycode   3 = two              quotedbl         quotedbl
    control keycode   3 = nul
keycode   4 = three            pound
    control keycode   4 = Escape
keycode   5 = four             dollar           dollar
    control keycode   5 = Control_backslash
keycode   6 = five             percent
    control keycode   6 = Control_bracketright
keycode   7 = six              asciicircum
    control keycode   7 = Control_asciicircum
keycode   8 = seven            ampersand        braceleft
    control keycode   8 = Control_underscore
keycode   9 = eight            asterisk         bracketleft
    control keycode   9 = Delete
keycode  10 = nine             parenleft        bracketright
keycode  11 = zero             parenright       braceright
keycode  12 = bracketleft      braceleft
    control keycode  12 = Escape
keycode  13 = bracketright     braceright       asciitilde
    control keycode  13 = Control_bracketright
keycode  14 = Delete           Delete
keycode  15 = Tab              Tab
keycode  16 = apostrophe       at               at
    control keycode  16 = Control_g
keycode  17 = comma            less
keycode  18 = period           greater
keycode  19 = p
keycode  20 = y
keycode  21 = f
keycode  22 = g
keycode  23 = c
keycode  24 = r
keycode  25 = l
keycode  26 = slash            question
    control keycode  26 = Delete
keycode  27 = equal            plus
keycode  28 = Return
        alt     keycode  28 = Meta_Control_m
keycode  29 = Control
keycode  30 = a
keycode  31 = o
keycode  32 = e
keycode  33 = u
keycode  34 = i
keycode  35 = d
keycode  36 = h
keycode  37 = t
keycode  38 = n
keycode  39 = s
keycode  40 = minus            underscore       backslash
    control keycode  40 = Control_underscore
keycode  41 = grave            asciitilde
    control keycode  41 = nul
keycode  42 = Shift
keycode  43 = numbersign        tilde
    control keycode  43 = Control_backslash
keycode  44 = semicolon        colon
keycode  45 = q
keycode  46 = j
keycode  47 = k
keycode  48 = x
keycode  49 = b
keycode  50 = m
keycode  51 = w
keycode  52 = v
keycode  53 = z
keycode  54 = Shift
keycode  56 = Alt
keycode  57 = space            space
    control keycode  57 = nul
keycode  58 = Control
keycode  86 = semicolon            colon          bar
    alt     keycode  86 = Meta_less
keycode  97 = Control

The 6 highlighted lines are all I’ve changed from the US Dvorak layout. I reckon there are a few strange keys I’ve not caught there, but it certainly does the main job. Notice also that there’s no Caps Lock here: I’ve simply bound the Caps Lock key (keycode 58) to Control, thus giving me the same Control/Caps Lock behaviour as I now have in X.

To load the new config, assuming you saved as /usr/share/keymaps/i386/dvorak/dvorak-gb.kmap as I did, run “loadkeys dvorak-gb”; to have it loaded automatically, stick the same line in your /etc/rc.local before the exit line, and you’ll be one happy chappy.


Posted by Stephen Strowes on Tuesday, May 13th, 2008. You can follow me on twitter.

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