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How to enable the Compose key in X

Posted 06-12-2010 at 11:33 AM by MTK358
Updated 04-19-2011 at 08:23 AM by MTK358

Here I will show you how to enable the Compose key in X. It lets you type unusual characters like this:

ə k

by pressing the Compose key followed by a predefined sequence of keys. Here are some good references:

Anyway, first you need to choose which key you want to be the Compose key. Then, open a terminal and enter the command "xev" (without the quotes). A window called "Event Tester" will pop up. Make sure that it's focused by clicking on it and leaving the mouse cursor in it.

Now press and release the key that you want to become the Compose key. Remember or write down the number after the word "keycode" in the output (see below image):

Now open the file ".Xmodmap" (the name begins with a dot) in your home directory (create it if it isn't there already) with a text editor and type in the following line, replacing <keycode number> with the number you got in xev.

keycode <keycode number> = Multi_key
Now, open the file .xinitrc (it's in your home directory, and it's a hidden file) in a text editor. Insert this line in the beginning of the file:

xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap
And next time you log in the Compose key should work! To start using the Compose key right now, enter the command "xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap" in a terminal.

Here's some more information abotu the Compose key, including what characters you can type and how:

IMPORTANT: I can't guarantee that this will work for systems that use a GUI login manager, I don't know how those work. I can only guarantee that this will work with the "startx" command.
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  1. Old Comment
    Thanks MTK358.

    I used this in XFCE and it worked like a charm. Very useful post.
    Posted 04-30-2011 at 05:42 PM by lupusarcanus lupusarcanus is offline
  2. Old Comment
    I use a variation on this (I just set the key mapping directly with 'xmodmap -e "keycode 108 = Multi_key"'; no .Xmodmap file) with SLiM and Xfce and it works pərfectly.

    SLiM does use .xinitrc, though, so I'm not sure if this would work with gdm, kdm, xdm, etc., either.
    Posted 07-04-2011 at 09:04 AM by MrCode MrCode is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Thanks a lot MTK358. This information was a real time-saver!
    Posted 08-12-2011 at 04:19 PM by Diantre Diantre is offline


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