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Since rebooting my system this morning, every window manager seems to have lost its capacity to recognize combinations of keys. I'd started noticing it in xfce4 when I tried to launch the quicklauncher by using AltF2. It didn't open, but my keystroke did insert ;3Q in a terminal window that was active. How strange!

I started in investigating and no window manager keyboard shortcut that began with Alt worked. These were the results of trying them whilst in a terminal:

  • AltF1 resulted in ;3P
  • AltF2 resulted in ;3Q
  • AltF3 resulted in ;3R
  • AltF4 resulted in ;3S
  • AltF5 through AltF12 resulted in ;3~
  • resulted in A
  • resulted in B
  • > resulted in C
  • < resulted in D

This happens in every window manager that I have installed on my Debian system (xfce4, herbstluftwm, i3), so I suspect it probably has something to do with some global keyboard setting. Other key combinations do work, though. I tried searching for solutions to the same problem, but all I could find was a question on Ask Ubuntu (link), but the problem (and solution) of that question is really just about finding a way to copy-paste without this weird thing happening.

I also tried playing around with XKBOPTIONS and XKBVARIANT in /etc/default/keyboard, but that didn't seem change anything. Nor did plugging in an external USB keyboard or selecting a different key map in the keyboard settings.

Gilles suggested I'd try xev. This is the output of pressing AltF2:

KeyPress event, serial 37, synthetic NO, window 0x3a00001,
    root 0xc6, subw 0x0, time 1118145, (543,224), root:(2914,1086),
    state 0x0, keycode 64 (keysym 0xffe9, Alt_L), same_screen YES,
    XLookupString gives 0 bytes: 
    XmbLookupString gives 0 bytes: 
    XFilterEvent returns: False

KeyPress event, serial 37, synthetic NO, window 0x3a00001,
    root 0xc6, subw 0x0, time 1118305, (543,224), root:(2914,1086),
    state 0x8, keycode 68 (keysym 0xffbf, F2), same_screen YES,
    XLookupString gives 0 bytes: 
    XmbLookupString gives 0 bytes: 
    XFilterEvent returns: False

What is preventing my window managers to recognize these key combinations?

  • Run xev from a terminal. When you press a key in xev, you'll see lines like KeyPress event, serial … Copy the whole paragraph (the most useful line is the state … one) for a press of Up and of F1 with Alt down. Did you upgrade anything or change anything in your configuration recently (since the previous reboot)? Does pressing CapsLock, NumLock or ScrollLock make any difference? – Gilles Apr 19 '16 at 23:29
  • I've copied the output to into my question (Although with Alt+F2). Pressing the lock keys like you suggested didn't appear to do anything. – Bas Peeters Apr 20 '16 at 7:23
  • The terminal is receiving the right keys — you're seeing the escape sequences (minus the initial escape-bracket) sent by the keychords. And the output of xev, confirms the keyboard is sending exactly what it should (and in particular no spurious modifiers). So this doesn't seem to be a problem on the keyboard configuration side, but on the window manager side, even if it affects several window managers. – Gilles Apr 20 '16 at 10:38
  • Can you purge & re-install one of the window-managers ? Just to see if it is related to the window-manager configuration. – Alex Apr 26 '16 at 20:14

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