Changing The System Keyboard Mapping on Ubuntu (Dvorak vs Qwerty)

By | 2008/01/31

Change System Keyboard Layout Ubuntu

Many of you know that I’m a dvorak user. Yeah, I use that funny keyboard layout that makes others want to pull their hair out (or punch my lights out!) anytime they sit down to use my machine. It has been just over a year now and I can’t imagine switching back to qwerty. For more information on this funny layout called dvorak, check out the website.

One question that I get all the time is “How do I switch they keyboard mapping?”, which I thought I would answer here.

Change per Session

To change the keyboard mapping on a per-session basis (it will revert once you logout), is by using the setxkbmap utility. To switch to dvorak using setxkbmap, you would type:

setxkbmap dvorak

To switch back to qwerty layout (try) type:

setxkbmap us

System Wide

To make these changes system wide, assuming you’re using Ubuntu, you can use the following:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure console-setup

This will re-install the console-tools package, which will remap your keyboard layout if you select something different. You’ll likely want to select all the default options, other than toggling between US and Dvorak.

Disclaimer: if you set your mapping to Dvorak and can’t switch back its not my fault ;). Visit the DVzine website for a key mapping for help.

46 thoughts on “Changing The System Keyboard Mapping on Ubuntu (Dvorak vs Qwerty)

  1. Aaron

    So a better question is: how hard is it to learn dvorak when the keyboard is qwerty. Let’s test it.

    Cy yr x. ecuucjgnyv
    (It seems to be very difficult.)

    Okay that was a dumb thing to do: I had to press all the keys to find the ‘u’ and the ‘s’ to switch it back from dvorak.

    It would be nice if there was somewhere you could buy “converter” keyboard keys for laptops that show both the dvorak and qwerty keys at the same time. I’ve seen stickers, but I don’t know if they would fit my laptop’s keys (or to a lesser extent look half-way decent.)

  2. ChamPro

    I’ve been forcing myself to learn Dvorak at work. I took all the keys off my Dell keyboard and put them back on in the Dvorak layout. I’ve been using it about 2 months (only at work) and I’m nowhere near the typing speed I am with QWERTY (70 WPM). In fact, I still have to look at my hands and finding some punctuation is a real pain. I’m sure most of that is me using QWERTY at home and whenever I’m doing tech support.

    (Un)fortunately, I use Windows at work. The upside is that I created a keyboard map where by default the keyboard is in Dvorak, but if your turn on the CAPS lock, it goes back to QWERTY. Useful for those touch typers that just have to use your keyboard. (Is there anything like that for Linux?). The downside is that every Remote Desktop / NX connection is in QWERTY. In addition, because this copy of Windows was installed with QWERTY, it remains in QWERTY until I login.

    The one thing I wish for keyboards would be the Enter and backspace keys to be more accessible by being placed in the center of the keyboard so moving your hands from the home keys isn’t needed.

    By the way, typing this took forever.

  3. adrian

    if you use spanish dvorak:
    setxkbmap -layout es -variant dvorak

  4. Carol

    I started using Dvorak about a year ago as well and I can no longer type on QWERTY. I am now exceeding the speed I had and I enjoy the looks that people give me when trying to use my computer. I switched at work and forced myself to learn it by never going back. I really, really enjoy it. Every time I have to use a QWERTY keyboard I can just feel how inefficient it is. Instead of the switching back and forth between hands, you have to type words with one hand, etc. So, yay for Dvorak!

  5. Colin Watson

    You need to reconfigure console-setup nowadays (post-Dapper), not console-tools. Furthermore, reconfiguring console-tools/console-setup only changes the console keymap, not the X keymap. You need to reconfigure xserver-xorg (or edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf) to do the latter.

  6. Andrew Conkling

    Aaron: Such keyboards exist, though I can’t recommend one offhand. (I’ve seen them, but never bought one.)

    ChamPro: Keep it up; it takes a while at first, but you’ll get used to it. Just set everything to Dvorak, including others’ computers. >:)

    Overall though, I can’t help but think that it’s easier just to use GNOME’s Keyboard tools to set the keymap. I’m sure a lot of people are the only users on their computers, in which case these steps makes sense. But I have a few accounts on my machine, so setting the default keymap to Dvorak isn’t practical.

    So I just set it up in System > Preferences > Keyboard to use Dvorak by default for my account (and then I can switch by pressing Alt+Shift, but that’s configurable). Then I add the Keyboard applet to my panel so I can see what I’m currently using (or click to change layouts). That’s straightforward enough for me. I still have to use Qwerty to type my password when I log in, but that’s alright by me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Kevin McGuinness

    Ha ha, this is fun, I might just learn this..

    I can imagine the scene now..

    “Hey kev, can I use your laptop for a sec”
    “Yeah sure, fire away”
    “Dude, where is your start menu”
    “It’s linux, there is none”
    “It’s what now?”
    “Linux, well actually this is the GNOME desktop on..”
    “La la la la!! How do I open a browser?”
    “Just click on the firefox icon there”
    “That wasn’t so bad was it?”
    “Nope ๐Ÿ™‚ … AHHH!!! – whats happened now?”
    “Oh, you went to the top right corner with the mouse, i’ve set that as a hotspot for the window chooser, look just click on the window you want, cool eh?”
    “Hrmm… yeah, sure… Ok, so ‘’ – ah, seriously man, wtf? your keyboard is broken”,
    “Na, it’s using the dvorak layout, you know, it’s actually more efficient than querty”
    “Kev, were you dropped on your head as a baby?”
    “Well, yes actually, but …”
    “Explains a lot”

  8. Adriano

    This is not very useful for strict console work (and your post is), but both Gnome and KDE have keyboard applets that let users add keyboard layouts on a per-user basis, and easily switch between them. I routinely add dvorak-es to my GNOME desktop, and it’s just a click of the mouse for other users if they want QUERTY.

  9. Dr Small

    Does anyone know of any place that sells dvorak keyboards?? I would like to learn it, but my keyboard wasn’t too suitable as dvorak (some of my keys wouldn’t go back on straight, daffy keyboard).

    So it really impaired by learning…

  10. Christer Edwards Post author

    I have always left my keyboard on the default qwerty layout. This way I am forced to be a touch typist, as looking at the keyboard benefits me nothing. The point is being efficient, so offering yourself the chance to peak doesn’t help.

    I know its hard getting started, but push through it and you’ll make it.

    Plus, on those times that I do need to switch back to qwerty its nice to be able to see where the keys are!

  11. Jake

    The thing that really bothers me about the Dvorak keyboard layout is that it would mess up my keyboard shortcuts. I happen to like Ctrl+X/C/V and so forth.

    1. cybertoast

      This ctrl-c/ctrl-v/ctrl-* issue seems to be related to the order you have of your keyboard layouts in the keyboard preferences. The way to fix it is to remove the US layout, make sure the only layout you have is the US with Dvorak variant, then add back the US with USA variant so that it's lower down in the list (you may need to close the keyboard preferences dialog for it to take effect). Once you have US/USA lower in the list (after removing it) all ctrl- sequences work in dvorak rather than qwerty.

  12. Christer Edwards Post author

    @Jake – Yeah, it moves where your keyboard shortcuts are but they still work of course. I still use ctrl-c, ctrl-v, ctrl-x and all the vim bindings, just in Dvorak.

    Again, takes some learning but I think its worth it.

  13. Niles Gibbs

    I’m very fond of the TypeMatrix keybaords:

    They have a dedicated hardware switch for qwerty/dvorak switch, so no need to configure anything.

    Plus you can get any combination labeling, using silicone “skins” over the keys (or blank to drive people crazy).

    I’m waiting for the USB version, as I had all manner of troubles with the PS2 version and PS2->USB adapters (no PS2 on my machine).

  14. paul4tA

    I stumbled upon this blog with a search for how the /tmp works in Ubuntu and just kept exploring… Dvorak really interests me, but I just have the hardest time making the switch.

    I feel as if I’m quitting smoking or something — QWERTY is quite an addiction. It’s posts and comments like these that make me kick myself every time I wind up slowly backsliding into the horribly inefficient layout that everyone knows and… uh, loves. At the same time, there’s hope, and it’s encouraging to see that others have successfully made the switch.

    Did you adjust gradually or just dive right in? Also, do you try to keep a balance between the two layouts, or have you abandoned QWERTY altogether? If it’s the latter, how does that work out for you when you’re on someone else’s computer? Part of my frustration is that, at times (like on a coworker’s computer), I don’t want to impose my self-inflicted frustration on others. We’re a Windoze office, so changing layouts can be a real pain every time I go to use another computer.

    Anyway, thanks for the encouragement and tips. I tried to encourage my mother (a professional transcriptionist who can type 100+ WPM on QWERTY) to learn Dvorak (imagine how fast she could type!), but she freaks out when a new version of Word comes out… I’m hoping that if I can make the switch, I can help her do it, too.

  15. Paul

    If you want some decent stickers, check out a scrapbooking store. They don’t look too bad, and you will even get your choice of fonts! That is how I started on Dvorak, and I was touch-typing long before the stickers started to fade.

  16. Dr Small

    I have been a Dvorak typist for several months now. I still am making mistakes with “w” and “m”, but I quickly correct myself.

    I absolutely hate qwerty, and it is horrid to use.

    Dr Small

  17. Josef

    Hey, just stumpled upon this website and thought I’d share my experience.

    I changed to Svorak (Swedish Dvorak) about 4 years ago. Those days I was alot on IRC, so i just took all the keys out and switched to svorak one day and started typing, this was pain for about two weeks, took ages to type a single sentence. But I learned! After a year it was my second nature layout, I must say I do still type as fast on qwerty still, but dvorak is much more pleasent to write on.

    Sometime over the years I switched to Svorak A5 ( at and a typematrix ( keyboard. This was awesome, the layout has hidden all the special keys under AltGr, which on the old 2030 typematrix is misplaced but easily moved to a more centered position, the new one got this right where it should be! this is great, in 95% of the cases I use the homerow, it’s magic ๐Ÿ™‚ the enter and backspace in the middle make it sooo much better.

    In Windows it’s just to install the file from and use the keyboard mapper from typematrix homepage to make PgDn be AltGr.
    In Ubuntu it’s just a matter of adding a new section to /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/se which also is on the webpage.
    Then you just change /etc/default/console-setup


    and /etc/X11/xorg.conf.

    Option “XkbRules” “xorg”
    Option “XkbModel” “pc105”
    Option “XkbLayout” “se”
    Option “XkbVariant” “svorak”
    Option “XkbOptions” “lv3:ralt_switch”

    changed fontface in console-setup while your at it, I use VGA-8 ๐Ÿ™‚
    and of course if you like dvorak, or any other, just replace se and svorak with something else ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m looking at doing a new geometry file under /usr/share/X11/xkb/geometry
    for the Typematrix keyboard.. that’s why I’m googling. It will be up on site or maybe typematrix if I’m lucky.

    Hope this is to any use for you guys ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Josef

    oh and, people either say, “F***KIN STUPID KEYBOARD”, or the say, “hey, this is nice man, maybe I’ll switch!”
    It feels like it’s more of the latter tbh.

  19. JEIhrig

    Hmm… Didn’t work for me…. Could it be because I chose to install Ubuntu 8.04 inside windows?

    Man, this was hard for me to type in qwerty… Maybe I need to switch back for awhile to remain proficient in both!

  20. BPJ

    I’ve been using my own slightly altered svorak (switched Y and P to get all the vowels together! ๐Ÿ™‚ and wouldn’t switch back for any money (almost).

    I used the Ubuntu (or is it GNOME?) keyboard settings interface, but I use Inkscape a lot and it still thinks I’m using qwerty no matter what I do. Will changing the layo systemwide help?

    What’s with the disclaimer about not being able to switch back? My wife wouldn’t like not being able to switch to qwerty (on a per user basis of course).

  21. Bob K

    So I am a US person, native speaker of English but also with some German knowledge. I want to be able to slide in and out of Umlautenberg with ease, not having to do anything annoying like setxkbmap and then have to look at a chart of keycaps until I figure it out (but as long as I am going to Umlautenberg I might as well take the express and use Dvorak while there).

    There’s those skins you can put over your keyboard, but that’s just annoying and I am sure the characters wear off after a while. Also, I have tended towards using generic, often salvaged keyboards so I’d have to invest in something actually compatible with said skin.

    Has anyone in the world come up with an LCD or LED keycap keyboard? One where I could just hit a switch and go from my favorite keyboard layouts but also select any of the hundreds out there, just in case I want to learn Farsi or something? That would be useful, I’d pay for such a keyboard, but not hundreds. I’d pay $80, if it had a warrantee and did everything right.

    Think what you could also do, for custom keymaps for games and so forth, even programming.

    Logitech should do this. That’s their niche.

  22. deraffe

    Thanks for the tips!
    I’m not using GNOME anymore and was searching for an easy way to change the layout – and this just does the job – Thank you.

    @Bob: There is a keyboard which would almost match your specifications. It’s the “Optimus Maximus” – A 113 keys board with an OLED-screen on every key.
    Read more here
    Unfortunately it’s _very_ expensive.

  23. Charlie

    I highly recommend learning using a free typing tutor program that starts from your forefingers and adds 2 or 4 letters at a time. Do this until you’re just good enough to keep up with instant messaging, and that will get you over the hump.

    I DON’T recommend relabeling your keyboard, let alone buying a ‘dvorak’ one. As several people have mentioned, you’re taking a step in the wrong direction if you look at the keys at all.

    Finally, switch back to qwerty at least once a week while you’re learning.

  24. Rudiger Wolf


    The QWERTY layout was designed in the 19th century to allow typewriter salesmen to easily type the word "typewriter" and to prevent typebars from sticking. We've been stuck with QWERTY ever since.
    Colemak is a modern alternative to the QWERTY and Dvorak layouts. It is designed for efficient and ergonomic touch typing in English.
    Learning Colemak is a one-time investment that will allow you to enjoy faster and pain-free typing for the rest of your life. Colemak is now the 3rd most popular keyboard layout for touch typing in English, after QWERTY and Dvorak.

  25. John

    Nearly 40 years ago I saw Barbara Blackburn typing 160+ wpm on the DSK. I later bought both a Smith-Corona manual and electric with their version, American Simplified Keyboard. The key to learning is to begin with an illustration of Dvorak in front of you (so you’re not looking down at the keys) and remembering that there are raised bumps on QWERTY’s ‘F’ and ‘J’ keys (Dvorak’s U and H) that guide your fingers to their correct placement. Practice, practice, practice.
    I’ve used DSK on the Kaypro, Model 100, Apples, PCs, Macs, and now with Ubuntu. Remember, ‘It’s all in your head, man.’ ๐Ÿ˜‰

  26. Raphael

    Great, I read all you said, but I’ve one ask: why would I change to DVORAK from QWERTY?
    Is there something better or usable in it? Against, I’m happy with mine, that’s the one I get wont.

    1. Christer Edwards Post author

      @Raphael – I have not had any wrist pain since I’ve switched. Even if it came down to being just as fast on either layout, the dvorak layout reduces strain on your hands and wrist and that is a big selling point for me considering the amount of time I spend typing.

  27. Nicolas Perrault


    I use dvorak, and when I did make the switch from QWERTY, I wanted to pull my hair out too. But a cool thing to use and to get used to the DVORAK keyboard layout, is the on-screen keyboard. It may be slow, but it’s certainly faster than trying out every key.

    I’ve been using DVORAK since October 2009, and I now (March 2010) type at 60 wpm (the average for DVORAK users, but 20 wpm faster than the average for QWERTY users).

    Never would think of switching back to QWERTY. It was definetly worth it.
    It’s frustrating that so many people use that crappy QWERTY layout that was designed to suck. The change: Just do it.

  28. Nicolas Perrault

    @Dr Small

    I learned DVORAK without changing my QWERTY keys. Believe me, you don’t need to do that (I wanted that too at first, but now it’s totally useless).

    If you aren’t on a laptop however, you can manually rip off every key and rearrange them.

  29. SomeGuy

    The idea that QWERTY was “designed to be slow” is an incredibly persistent urban myth. It’s simply not true.

    Likewise, there is basically no evidence that a DVORAK keyboard is any faster than a QWERTY…in fact most evidence would suggest that the trouble in switching makes it a far worse option.

    There are many here who claim to be faster on a DVORAK but,

    1)This is entirely subjective

    2)They’re all quite smug and self congratulatory about it…it’s clear they relish in being “different” (nothing wrong with that!), which I think is clouding their judgement

    3)They may very well be typing faster, but theres no reason to believe that the increase is specifically from the DVORAK layout itself….it may be that learning ANY new layout forces you to become much more aware of your typing and therefore, a better typist or something like that.

    Use whatever layout you please, but please don’t keep spreading this misinformation.

  30. escanive

    Dr Small :
    I have been a Dvorak typist for several months now. I still am making mistakes with โ€œwโ€ and โ€œmโ€, but I quickly correct myself.
    I absolutely hate qwerty, and it is horrid to use.
    Dr Small

    This is exactly my situation as well; After a couple of months with dvorak, “m” and “w” are the two I most often mix up, usually when I try to access webmail – to which firefox replies “Firefox can’t find the server at”.


  31. Jordan

    I linked a picture of a dvorak keyboard onto the home page of my browser, and stared at it when I couldn’t find the key I needed. It slowed me down and kept my fingers on the home keys.

    After a couple months, my typing is much smoother and faster. It is possible that I would have gotten the same benefit from erasing the letters on my keyboard, but I like the new layout and won’t be switching back.

  32. Matt

    I thought it was pointless to use Dvorak until I started getting RSI/CT. Now I’m faster, pain free, and realize how inefficient Qwerty is. I think to successfully switch, you should:

    1) go cold turkey, don’t use Qwerty for anything once you start Dvorak
    2) set your background as the layout, grab an image from Wikipedia
    3) find a site to practice typing where you start with a few keys and gradually learn everything. Spend at least 45 minutes a day
    4) realize you will be extremely slow for about 2 weeks and won’t be up to Qwerty speed for about 4, so make the switch over a time with less work demands (but don’t try to reduce computer use or use the mouse more)
    5) don’t change the location of the keys on the keyboard so
    A) you learn to touch type and
    B) you can use any keyboard after changing the layout
    6) it’s easier than you think and much easier than Qwerty

  33. Igor

    Could somebody suggest how to switch the key values within the same layout?
    I’m using Russian Phonetic layout with my Ubuntu 10.10, but some of the the keys are different from what Phonetic layout for Windows used to be. So I would like to manually reassign some of the key values.
    Any suggestion is appreciated.

  34. Nicolas M. Perrault

    Igor :Could somebody suggest how to switch the key values within the same layout? Iโ€™m using Russian Phonetic layout with my Ubuntu 10.10, but some of the the keys are different from what Phonetic layout for Windows used to be. So I would like to manually reassign some of the key values. Any suggestion is appreciated.

    Hey Igor,

    I don’t know if this helps, but I found this page

    (it’s in french) that’s supposed to let you change your keyboard keys manually. Basically if I understand what they mean (french is my first langage, but I’m still not used to all this linux high-tech talk!), you should be able to manually redefine keys by adding lines of references to a particular file on your system (strangely this file isn’t on my computer). I’m not a pro at this kind of thing, but I just wanted to let you know.

  35. ak

    To Switch to Dvorak use this
    setxkbmap dvorak

    to swtitch it back to quetry
    setxkbmap us

  36. Matteus M

    @ Carol

    It took me about 2 weeks to get to exceed the speed of qwerty. The trick is not to change the keys and have specific fingers for specific keys. And DON’T look at the keyboard (even though the mapping isn’t correct).

    Try finding some text and just type it, like random page from wikipedia and type for about half an hour a day. Then you should be able to learn dvorak quickly.

  37. Lee

    Yeah, Dvorak is awesome. It’s really hard and frustrating and slow for the first month or two or three, but hang in there–eventually, you’ll be able to type faster than before, with less discomfort, and you’ll never want to go back. Forget about getting a different keyboard or changing the keys…it doesn’t matter what’s printed on the keys–you shouldn’t be looking ta them anyway. One of my laptops has Korean on the keyboard, along with the Latin alphabet in that arrangement that I don’t use anymore. After a bit of trial and error, I can now type Korean without looking at those keys either. Just get a picture of the layout and keep it handy for reference until you don’t need it anymore.

    I stumbled into this trying to find out how to set my system keyboard layout in Linux…some distros let you pick Dvorak during initial install, but some don’t have it as an option. You can easily change it after installing, but that leaves the other layout at the “system layout”, which means you have to use it to type in your login password, etc, which is annoying. I did it before, but I can’t remember at the moment.

  38. mikel syn


    nah it’s fine, actually it’s better if you go to system settings, hardware and add the keyboard layout from there.

  39. pat toche

    Thanks for the post. I concur with much of what’s been said: Dvorak is the way to go. I’ve been using it for about 15 years, it’s very comfortable. I personally don’t care much about speed (I have become a lot faster, but that’s an unintended by-product) but the big gain for me is : no more wrist pain.

    The main issue is I frequently write in European languages, like French and Spanish. So I designed my own layout, having a dead key that you press and will add an accent after you press another letter, e.g. ยด+a = รก, or (if you’re a programmer and like to have the slashes handy) you might prefer: /+a=รก. So I amended a Dvorak layout with the dead key feature. A few extra bits like placing ยฟ where it’s more logical.

    For this I have used Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator version 1.4, you can create an executable that you can carry on a USB stick and have it running on a Windows machine in less than one minute. I don’t often recommend Microsoft products, but here I do wholeheartedly.

    If anyone knows how to convert a Microsoft layout to Ubuntu without having to re-code, please let us know. I’ve had to recode mine, a bit of a pain to have to do things twice.

  40. Matthew

    I bought transparent stickers so I can see both DVORAK and QWERTY for learning DVORAK, and so far I think it’s great! Check, they’re only a couple bucks!

  41. Jerry

    I switched to Dvorak way back in 1999. I have never really looked back, although once in a while I wish I could still type on a conventional typewriter.

    My speed increase was modest. On Qwerty, I’d average about 53, and on Dvorak, I usually get around 60. That may seem low to many of you, but you must know that I have historically had very poor hand-to-eye coordination.

    One thing I can attest to is that Dvorak is infinitely more comfortable to the finger. The typist has much fewer jumps on Dvorak than QWERTY, and leaps are very rare on Dvorak. (A jump is what the finger does on QWERTY when it types ‘ju’; a leap is what the finger does on QWERTY when it types ‘nu’) It was worth switching to Dvorak for the comfort alone.

    BTW, I learned Dvorak by using the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor, which at the time (1999) allowed the student to learn either QWERTY or DVORAK. I don’t know if they still offer this option but it’s worth a look. Of course, you’ll need a MAC or a PC to learn this way. It took me about a month to get back (and surpass) my former QWERTY speed.

    Thank you for the Linux setxkbmap utility trick. On Lubuntu, it’s the only way I can get a Dvorak keyboard.

  42. Robertino Cucaracho

    You can simply remove and reorder the keys. I’ve just done that…

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