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Tip 166 Printable Monobook Previous Next

created 2001 · complexity basic · author Leif Wickland · version 6.0

This tip shows some methods for mapping keys within the operating system to make life easier in Vim. In particular, it can be convenient to use the CapsLock key for Escape (so you don't have to move your hand to reach the Esc key).

This tip is for Unix-based systems. For Windows, see Map caps lock to escape in Windows.

See Avoid the escape key for tips on using Vim to map keys to avoid the need to press Esc to exit from insert mode.


If you want to completely swap the Caps Lock and Escape keys, you have to replace the "Lock" on Caps Lock. Drop this file in your home directory:

! Swap caps lock and escape
remove Lock = Caps_Lock
keysym Escape = Caps_Lock
keysym Caps_Lock = Escape
add Lock = Caps_Lock

and call it ".speedswapper". Then open a terminal and type

$ xmodmap ~/.speedswapper

and you'll be twice as efficient in Vim. Who needs caps lock anyway? The swapping lasts for the duration of the X session, so you can put it in a .xinitrc or similar startup file.


Switching Esc and CapsLock keys in Ubuntu 10.10.


If you want to use the capslock as escape on the console as opposed to just in X, try:

loadkeys ~/keymap

where ~/keymap contains:

keycode 58 = Escape

Or, if you want to completely swap them:

keycode 1 = Caps_Lock
keycode 58 = Escape

See 'man 5 keymaps', and verify with 'dumpkeys' that keycode 1 is Escape and keycode 58 is Caps_Lock beforehand.

Be careful, because if you swap the keys, they will be swapped every time the script is called. It is safer to set them equal to the original keycodes, change the Caps Lock mapping, then switch the keycodes (in the following example, the keycode values are 8 higher):

keycode 66 = Caps_Lock
keycode 9 = Escape
remove Lock = Caps_Lock
add Lock = Escape
keycode 9 = Caps_Lock
keycode 66 = Escape

This can be put directly into the Xmodmap (for example in /etc/X11/Xmodmap), then called from the bashrc. Just to be sure, execute the bashrc twice and make sure the Escape key is working as Caps Lock, not the other way around.

I used the following code, and it works for me (none the others did)

xmodmap -e 'clear Lock' -e 'keycode 0x42 = Escape'

Must have for nerdy touch typists with german keyboards and us keyboard keymappings: the key between z/y and left shift (doesn't exist on us keyboards) is superfluous when using an american keymap. => the best place to put escape and you can leave control on capslock!

Comments from tip 1083 (now removed)[]

In Linux, you can change the keyboard-layout using a tool called xmodmap.

Write the following line into a file (e.g. ~/.xmodmap-esc)

clear Lock
keycode 0x42 = Escape

and load it by running

xmodmap ~/.xmodmap-esc

or you can just run

xmodmap -e 'clear Lock' -e 'keycode 0x42 = Escape'

in your X start up file.

I know how to turn caps off in Tiger (or turn it into a Ctrl key):

  • Open System Preferences
  • Goto Keyboard & Mouse
  • At the bottom of the panel there is a "Modifier Keys..." button, click it
  • Choose "No Action" or "^ ctrl" for caps-lock

For Panther one can look at uControl (

On any X windows implementation you can use:

xmodmap -e 'keycode 66 = Control_L'
xmodmap -e 'clear Lock'
xmodmap -e 'add Control = Control_L'

to make your caps lock work as control, like on Sun keyboards. Which is a little easier to use IMHO.

Instead of reaching for Esc, you can press Ctrl-[ (which is the equivalent).

Xfree86 users can make the CapsLock key another Control key by adding the following to the InputDevice section of your XF86Config file. Then you never have to leave the home row.

Option "XkbOptions" "grp:alt_shift_toggle,ctrl:nocaps,grp_led:scroll"

For Mac OS X, you can change this via the "Modifier Keys" button on the "Keyboard" section of the "Keyboard & Mouse" preference pane.

Comments from tip 75 (for Windows)[]

Here's how to map the caps lock key to a control under X windows, at least under xfree86-3.x and 4.x: Add a file named ".Xkbmap" in your home directory with this content:

-option ctrl:nocaps

Xmodmap comments from tip 285[]

I changed my CapsLock key to Escape under XFree86 with the following lines in my ~/.Xmodmap:

! Esc on caps lock
remove Lock = Caps_Lock
keysym Caps_Lock = Escape

In my ~/.xinitrc, xmodmap is called to set the mapping:

if [ -f ~/.Xmodmap ]; then
  xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap

Well, map! <S-space> <Esc> doesn't work for me either on xterm, eterm or whatever. For those with a 'normal' pc keyboard, you probably have the 'windows' key on the bottom row. Just use it. Type the following on the commandline or put it in your .bash_profile or .xinitrc:

xmodmap -e "keysym Super_L = Escape

How about remapping one of those irrelevant and annoying Windows-specific keys that are on every standard 104 key keyboard: the windows key and the context-menu key? They aren't used for anything on any of the Linux systems I've ever used.

This command turns the left Windows key into another Esc key. Just add it to your ~/.bashrc to make the change permanent.

xmodmap -e 'keysym Super_L = Escape'

The following .Xmodmap swaps the CapsLock and Esc Keys:

remove Lock = Caps_Lock
add Lock = Escape
keysym Caps_Lock = Escape
keysym Escape = Caps_Lock

Yet another way to remap the Caps Lock key to be Escape (i.e. helpful if you don't have root priv).

% xmodmap -pk | grep -i caps
 66 0xffe5 (Caps_Lock)
% xmodmap -e 'keycode 66 = Escape'

The answer is

--contents of file .Xmodmap
remove Lock = Caps_Lock
remove Mod1 = Alt_R
remove Mod5 = Scroll_Lock

keycode 43 = h H Left
keycode 44 = j J Down
keycode 45 = k K Up
keycode 46 = l L Right
keycode 56 = b B BackSpace
keycode 64 = Alt_L
keycode 66 = Mode_switch
keycode 113 = Caps_Lock

add Lock = Caps_Lock
add Mod1 = 0x007D 0x009C Alt_L Alt_L
add Mod4 = 0x007F 0x0080
add Mod5 = Mode_switch ISO_Level3_Shift
xmodmap .Xmodmap

Now in insert mode I use CAPS-{hjkl} to move around and CAPS-b to do a delete (BTW it works for all the X apps ALSO while writting this message) If someone would make a key below the spacebar to map to ESC I wouldn't have to move my fingers anymore.

to do the same thing in console mode use this map

--contents of file map
keycode 58 = Alt
keycode 125 = Caps_Lock
alt keycode 35 = Left
alt keycode 36 = Down
alt keycode 37 = Up
alt keycode 38 = Right
alt keycode 48 = Delete
loadkey map

The problem as usual is in RTFM from xmodmap documention

The list of keysyms is assigned to the indicated keycode (which may be specified in decimal, hex or octal and can be determined by running the xev program). Up to eight keysyms may be attached to a key, however the last four are not used in any major X server implementation. The first keysym is used when no modifier key is pressed in conjunction with this key, the second with Shift, HERE--> the third when the Mode_switch key is used with this key and the fourth when both the Mode_switch and Shift keys are used <---

I didn't read all the comments, but in my enviro I have caps lock remapped to escape. This is a bit faster than caps-lock being a Ctrl key.

My home directory contains a .xmodmaprc file which contains the two lines:

clear lock
keycode 66 = Escape

And after that you can run xmodmap ~/.xmodmaprc I'm unsure how to do this in text mode however.

Very useful for me was [1].

In brief: type


in the terminal, then press the button you want to remap for "Escape". I pressed left WinKey and the program displayed "keycode 115". After it I executed the command:

xmodmap -e "keycode 115 = Escape"

Now it WORKS! I've put the above command to my .bushrc to do it automatically.

Comment from tip 327 (now removed)[]

To avoid moving your hand to find the Ctrl key, remap the Ctrl key. On any modern Unix using X do:

setxkbmap -option ctrl:swapcaps

and your CapsLock key will become Ctrl, while Ctrl will become CapsLock. That position is right next to the pinky finger, and feels really naturally.

On older Unix systems store this in a file:

! Swap Caps_Lock and Control_L
remove Lock = Caps_Lock
remove Control = Control_L
keysym Control_L = Caps_Lock
keysym Caps_Lock = Control_L
add Lock = Caps_Lock
add Control = Control_L

and execute that file with

xmodmap filename

Probably the best thing is to put one of these commands in .xsession or equivalent file. Red Hat Linux and Fedora will execute by default .Xkbmap and .Xmodmap. In such a case it is enough to put xmodmap commands in .Xmodmap file, and only -option ctrl:swapcaps in .Xkbmap. Of course you need only one of these two files.

From tip 342 (now removed)[]

Tired of hunting down <Esc> at upper-left of your keyboard, while using a keyboard with useless Windows keys?

Well, remap them -- use xmodmap. I'm using Debian and my xmodmap config file is in /etc/X11/xinit/xmodmap. You may have to use xmodmap directly (from ~/.xinitrc in *BSD or whatever).

Here's part of my xmodmap:

keycode 115 = braceleft
keycode 116 = Escape
keycode 117 = braceright

The keys are:

  • 115 - Windows key, between the left-hand Ctrl and Alt keys
  • 116 - Windows key, to the right of the AltGr key
  • 117 - Menu key, to the left of the right-hand Ctrl key

Valid for all environments with X, on *BSD as well as on Linux.

You get the same mappings under ordinary console by modifying the console keymap file (pretty self-explanatory), in my case it's /usr/share/keymaps/i386/qwerty/et.kmap.gz.

I'm using mapping braces to winkeys because of my Estonian keyboard.

I think users with german, slavic (and probably some other) keyboards will have better things to do with the windows key - because we need additional keys for umlauts etc, or other language-specific letters, some of the important signs, namely {[]}\ are the "third-function" of number keys 7 and above. You have to type those with the right hand, while simultaneously pressing "Alt Ctr" located right of the spacebar which at least I never learned to do properly, you can't do that without changing the position of the hand, and I keep hitting the wrong key. I've been raging about this stupid mapping for a long time without it ever occurring to me that there's a free key you could map to Alt Ctr and use it with your left hand.

Why don't you map

  • left winkey -> {
  • shift+left winkey -> [
  • right winkey -> <Esc>
  • right winmenu -> }
  • shift+right winmenu ]

> Is there a way to remap capslock for the console, too?

Yes, if you are using KDE3. Just go into the control panel under keyboard and choose to make the CapsLock another control key. Then you can use capslock-[ the way it was originally intended to be used in Vim.

From tip 775 (now removed)[]

I don't like mapping Caps_Lock to Escape as is done in this tip. I don't want an easier way to hit Escape, I want to prevent unexpected things from happening when I accidentally hit Caps_Lock when I was trying to hit Shift. With Caps_Lock mapped to escape i still got unexpected results. So here is how your bind Caps lock to the Shift key under Xwindows:

Just put this in a file in your home directory called .Xmodmap

remove lock = Caps_Lock
keycode 66 = Shift_R
remove shift = Shift_R
add shift = Shift_R

Shift and Shift at the same place isn't very useful. One thing that is though is to remap Caps-Lock to Ctrl. Its safe to hit accidentally and it provides a very good place to do Ctrl-W or Ctrl-X Ctrl-L etc.

That's basically how the Happy Hacking keyboard is implemented too, and it's a joy on a normal keyboard.

From tip 377 (now removed)[]

I have collected most of the special key scancodes on the Microsoft Natural Multimedia Keyboard. This might be helpful for those of you that do lots of key-bindings.


To actually 'use' the multimedia keys, its useful to be able to map them with nmap or something. The easiest/best way to do this is to find the key's scancode via runing xev and pressing the key, looking at the scancode output, then doing a

xmodmap -e "keycode 139 = F13"

for example, replacing the 139 with whatever your special multimedia key's scancode was, and the F13 with whatever key you want, i used the F keys > 13 since my keyboard doesnt have anything above 12, and you can define upto i think 35 F keys (so i just mapped all my 'multimedia' keys to F13-F29 and then maped those F keys in vim to things i wanted to do, or to my windowmanager to do other stuff)

So thats a method that should work on any keyboard, and doesnt rely on special propriatary(sp) key layout stuff, but it does take a couple steps to get your scancodes n such. Here is what my .xinitrc looks like so i make sure and get all my keys mapped whenever i load X (i just put in the last lines that do anything, your X file may have some funny startup stuff it does)

Note the first two lines are me mapping my Caps Lock to the Escape key, so i dont have to make that horrible reach to the escape key to get outa whatever mode i am in. If you don want that, just dont have the top two lines (i just thought a few people might find that of interest)

xmodmap -e "remove Lock = Caps_Lock"
xmodmap -e "keysym Caps_Lock = Escape"
xmodmap -e "keycode 158 = F13"
xmodmap -e "keycode 165 = F14"
xmodmap -e "keycode 159 = F15"
xmodmap -e "keycode 151 = F16"
xmodmap -e "keycode 164 = F17"
xmodmap -e "keycode 162 = F18"
xmodmap -e "keycode 166 = F19"
xmodmap -e "keycode 233 = F20"
xmodmap -e "keycode 232 = F21"
xmodmap -e "keycode 229 = F22"
xmodmap -e "keycode 121 = F23"
xmodmap -e "keycode 230 = F24"
xmodmap -e "keycode 130 = F25"
xmodmap -e "keycode 236 = F26"
xmodmap -e "keycode 129 = F27"
xmodmap -e "keycode 166 = F28"
xmodmap -e "keycode 164 = F29"
exec /usr/bin/wmaker

Hope that does someone some good. Again, to find out your scancode key, run the program


then start hitting keys, and watch as stuff scrolls by, look for the keypress event as you hit a key, then look for the 'keycode' and thats the number you want!

With regards to xmodmap, you might find it tidier to put all your mappings into (e.g.) ~/.xmodmap and then call "xmodmap ~/.xmodmap" from ~/.xinitrc. Also, for those of you using xdm/kdm/gdm instead of startx/xinit, use ~/.xsession instead of ~/.xinitrc.


Another helpful thought may be mapping <AltGr-HJKL> to arrow keys globally. In order to do that one should edit Xmodmap file:

keysym h = h H agrave Agrave Left
keysym j = j J aring Aring Down
keysym k = k K ampersand ampersand Up
keysym l = l L ccedilla Ccedilla Right

For those whose AltGr is on the right hand side (HJKL is at right too) it is way better to swap AltGr with Alt_Left for easier applicability (Note that my hate to Num_Lock and Caps_Lock is visible!):

remove mod2 = Num_Lock
remove mod1 = Alt_L
remove mod5 = ISO_Level3_Shift
keysym Alt_L = ISO_Level3_Shift
keysym ISO_Level3_Shift = Alt_L
add mod1 = Alt_L
add mod5 = ISO_Level3_Shift
clear Lock
keysym Caps_Lock = Escape