What do people mean when they point out that the "keys are not properly mapped" in a Linux installation when working on the command line?

Isn't the default installation OK? What extra/specific mappings are needed?

I also was told that for my Mac where my Home and End and Ctrl keys do not do what I expected.


scancodes & keycodes

In general when someone says this they mean that the function labeled on a key does not match what "code" that key is sending to the Linux kernel when it's pressed. You can think of it as the key is labeled Home but the kernel is being sent the "code" for the Ctrl key.

At a much lower level part of what's really going on is that each key is assigned a scancode.

excerpt from scancode wikipedia page

A scancode (or scan code) is the data that most computer keyboards send to a computer to report which keys have been pressed. A number, or sequence of numbers, is assigned to each key on the keyboard.

These scancodes get mapped into keycodes by the Linux kernel. It's these keycodes which are usually communicated to the applications. Here's another scancode resource if you'd like further details.

NOTE: this is an over simplification but I'm trying to just give you a general understanding of this layer. The key takeaway is that keys get pressed, scancodes are generated, Linux kernel sees these scancodes and emits keycodes.


You can change the scancode keycode mapping using a tool setkeycodes:

setkeycodes scancode keycode ...

The setkeycodes command reads its arguments two at a time, each pair of arguments consisting of a scancode (given in hexadecimal) and a keycode (given in decimal). For each such pair, it tells the kernel keyboard driver to map the specified scancode to the specified keycode.

The keycode mapping is kept in keymap files. On my Fedora system my U.S. keymap file was located here, /lib/kbd/keymaps/i386/qwerty/us.map.gz. I found it by sleuthing a bit with this command:

$ locate map.gz|grep us

Notice these files are compressed (.gz) so you have to either unzip them (don't bother) or use zcat or zless to look through them:

$ zless /lib/kbd/keymaps/i386/qwerty/us.map.gz
# us.map
keymaps 0-2,4-6,8-9,12
include "qwerty-layout"
include "linux-with-alt-and-altgr"
include "compose.latin1"
include "euro1.map"
strings as usual

keycode   1 = Escape
keycode   2 = one              exclam
keycode   3 = two              at               at               nul              nul
keycode   4 = three            numbersign
        control keycode   4 = Escape
keycode   5 = four             dollar           dollar           Control_backslash
keycode   6 = five             percent


keycode  97 = Control

So if you wanted to change the "Control" key (keycode 97) and set it to the scancode for the "Left Control" key, (scancode 0x1d 0x9d), you'd use the following:

$ setkeycodes 1d9d 97 &


You can also see what keycode a key is mapped to using the command showkey:

$ showkey -a

Press any keys - Ctrl-D will terminate this program

1    49 0061 0x31
2    50 0062 0x32
3    51 0063 0x33
a    97 0141 0x61
b    98 0142 0x62
c    99 0143 0x63
^[OH 27 0033 0x1b
     79 0117 0x4f
     72 0110 0x48
^D    4 0004 0x04

The "^[OH" is me pressing my HOME key.

NOTE1: When in ascii' dump mode (showkey -a`), showkey prints to the standard output the decimal, octal, and hexadecimal value(s) of the key pressed, according to he present keymap.

NOTE2: You may need to use sudo when running showkey.


I use a MacBook Pro and don't have any problems with key mappings when I log into UNIX systems so the default settings are almost certainly fine and no mappings are needed. I regularly use Debian, Ubuntu, RedHat and Solaris 11.

However, what people mean when they say that is in Terminal Preferences under Settings in the Keyboard tab. You can edit your key mappings there.

The only change I've made is to enable use option as meta.

With regard to Home and End, I use ctrl+A for Home and ctrl+E for End instead because I don't like where Home and End keys are on keyboards. I've also changed my caps lock key into another ctrl key (in System Preferences under Keyboard) because that's the traditional location for a ctrl key, it's more comfortable and seriously, who uses caps lock?

  • In vimrc I vmapped CTRL-c to y so that I can copy blocks of text and CTRL-p to P so that I can paste it. This works in linux but in my Mac Book it does not. Seems like I can not use CTRL properly. Any idea why is this and how can I fix it? – Jim Jun 30 '13 at 10:15
  • @Jim either edit your original question or ask a new question for that. – strugee Oct 28 '13 at 5:38

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