I used Gnome for a long time, but preferred vanilla X input method (xim) over the default GTK behaviour. I just set GTK_IM_MODULE and QT_IM_MODULE environment variables to xim, and didn't have any problem with multiple-layout config, Compose key, custom ~/.XCompose and misc:typo typography extensions.

Recent Gnome 3.6 completely screwed keyboard input by shipping a half-baked and buggy ibus and forcing it upon the users. I just couldn't get the keyboard working as well as before (even with ibus disabled), and had to abandon Gnome completely.

Now I use a simple window manager, and configure my keyboard with setxkbmap. While the keyboard works well again, I couldn't get the Compose key working everywhere. Compose works in plain X11 apps (xterm), but it doesn't work in neither GTK2, nor GTK3, nor Qt apps.

I use current Archlinux versions:

xorg-xinput 1.6.0
xorg-server 1.13.1
xf86-input-keyboard 1.6.2
gtk2 2.24.14
gtk3 3.6.4
qt 4.8.4

and enable Compose key like this:

setxkbmap ... -option 'compose:menu'

and export GTK_IM_MODULE, QT_IM_MODULE variables:

xim xim

Compose key is properly recognized by X11:

$ xev | grep -A2 --line-buffered '^KeyRelease' | sed -n '/keycode /s/^.*keycode \([0-9]*\).* (.*, \(.*\)).*$/\1 \2/p'
135 Multi_key

It works properly in xterm, sequences from my ~/.XCompose included. It doesn't work in either GTK or Qt apps. Let say, if I enter Compose ', then apps echo ' immediately, without waiting for the third key in the sequence.

Now I suppose something has changed in either Xorg (because Compose doesn't work in Qt apps either), or in GTK and Qt. *_IM_MODULE variables are not enough now. What else is required to make modern GTK and Qt recognise xim and its Compose sequences?

P.S. There is a similar (and unanswered) question about Compose key not working in GTK. Unlike the asker, I don't have ibus installed.

4 Answers 4


Found a solution which works for GTK apps (but not Qt). One needs to set


to let X11 handle dead keys. Thanks to @PabloSaratxaga for his answer.

  • A solution which makes it work for QT apps, for when it works in GTK apps, is given here. Mar 13, 2023 at 10:25

I had a similar problem in openSUSE. ~/.XCompose would be ignored by GTK+ applications, so my own Compose sequences did not work in Firefox, Gimp, and others.

I found out that gtk-query-immodules-2.0 listed a few input methods, but not xim; so, irrespective of the GTK_IM_MODULE variable, xim was unavailable. Installing the packages gtk2-immodule-xim (and friends) solved the problem.

Maybe this remark proves useful for people suffering from the same curse.


This is a way of persistent configuration. It is described for example here https://wiki.edubuntu.org/ComposeKey#line-66 . I configured compose keys with ~/.XCompose this way. I have checked this both on ubuntu and debian systems.

  • The problem is that even the one-off method has stopped working. Instructions for persistent change are Debian/Ubuntu specific.
    – sastanin
    Jan 15, 2013 at 11:03

For when it worked in GTK programmes, but not QT programmes, which is what I had, I found the solution here:

GTK+ apps use their own copy of the Compose file from Xorg. The vast majority of compose sequences should continue to work, with a few legacy exceptions. xterm and QT apps use the XOrg compose sequences which is the en_US.UTF-8 file in /usr/share/X11/locate and the ~/.XCompose file if it exists.

Which meant for me:

ln -s /usr/share/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose ~/.XCompose

and then it worked in QT programmes, too.

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