I am currently setting up my default keyboard layout like this:

setxkbmap -layout us -variant dvorak -option ctrl:nocaps,[...]

It disables the caps lock key and makes it an additional ctrl key, along with a swarm of other options.

I would like to do the following to switch keyboard layouts:

setxkbmap -layout us -variant dvorak-l -option ctrl:swapcaps

However, it does not re-enable the caps lock key; both the left control key and the caps lock stay as control keys as far as I can see.

I know I can clear the whole options list, but in the interest of maintainability, I would rather not copypaste the options around. How do I re-enable caps lock?

Update: Looking at keypresses with xev(1), it appears ctrl:nocaps gives a Control_L for both keys, and ctrl:swapcaps "restores" the caps lock key (pressing the key gives Caps_Lock). However, the caps lock LED does not light up nor does it actually work.

Looking at the xkeyboard-config/symbols/ctrl file in X.org sources does hint at the problem:

xkb_symbols "nocaps" {
    replace key <CAPS>  {  [ Control_L, Control_L ] };
    modifier_map  Control { <CAPS>, <LCTL> };
xkb_symbols "swapcaps" {
    replace key <CAPS>  {  [ Control_L ] };
    replace key <LCTL>  {  [ Caps_Lock ] };

The latter option lacks a modifier_map line, whatever that does

  • I'm guessing everyone who tried to help me got their keyboards stuck to dvorak =(
    – hhaamu
    Oct 21, 2011 at 7:51
  • 4
    X is so old and complex now that not many people really understand the various internal mechanisms. There's even sections in the man page that says (and I quote): "Nobody wants to say how this works. Maybe nobody knows ...". I am interested in seeing an answer to this question as well but it may be the case that nobody knows ...
    – jw013
    Feb 13, 2012 at 6:15

3 Answers 3


The following commands should work:

xmodmap -e 'keycode 0x42 = Caps_Lock'


setxkbmap -option

The commands above work just fine to restore the default behaviour, which I hardly ever need, luckily.

I normally remap the capslock to Control (luckily VI/VIM supports CTRL-C instead of ESC) with the following command:

setxkbmap -option ctrl:nocaps -layout gb
  • The "setxkbmap -option" to clear the settings is exactly what I was looking for. I kept trying to change my behavior, but it kept appending conflicting items to the options list.
    – m0j0
    Jun 13, 2015 at 22:55

Try setxkbmap -option -layout us -variant dvorak-l -option ctrl:swapcaps

From the manpage:

[...] If you want to
replace all previously specified options, use the -option  flag
with an empty argument first.

Irony is that here -option ctrl:swapcaps actually overrides -option ctrl:nocaps — I guess the behavior changed.

Edit: As the OP stated, he wants to avoid clearing the options (as done in the way above).

/usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst shows the option ctrl:aa_ctrl (control at bottom left), which seems to reset caps lock after nocaps here.

I guess it's worth a try, and you can also look at the list (grep ctrl\:) and see if there's something else which may work, in case this one doesn't.

If there's no option for this, I guess the solution is to hack the current keymap, by associating Caps Lock with the Caps Lock key again (but I don't have experience with that, other than believing there's a tool that allows you to do that with a one-liner).

  • That indeed does clear the options list, but I wish to keep the non-caps-related options (as I stated in the question) such as compose keys.
    – hhaamu
    Feb 14, 2012 at 9:44
  • Oh, sorry, I misread the question. I can't be sure if this will work (as I stated, swapcaps actually re-enables caps lock here), but from /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst, I see there is the option ctrl:aa_ctrl (control at bottom left), which seems to reset caps lock after nocaps here.
    – njsg
    Feb 14, 2012 at 10:49
  • I think the magic program is xmodmap but I'm not quite sure how to use it
    – hhaamu
    Feb 19, 2012 at 20:14

there is an option "caps:capslock" (that maps to adding "+capslock(capslock)" to xkb_symbols) that enables the capslock.

However, that option (maybe all caps:xxxxx ?) is added before the existing ctrl:xxxxx ones; as ctrl:swapcaps redefine the capslock key, that option has no effect.

So, you absolutely need to remove all options and actually put the ones you want; the way options exist they are not supposed to undo the action of a previous one, and having conflicting options (eg, two (or more) that reefine a same key) you cannot define their ordering.

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