Chapter 23. Localization - i18n/L10n Usage and Setup
Table of Contents
FreeBSD is a distributed project with users and contributors located all over the world. As such, FreeBSD supports localization into many languages, allowing users to view, input, or process data in non-English languages. One can choose from most of the major languages, including, but not limited to: Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean, French, Russian, and Vietnamese.
The term internationalization has been shortened to i18n, which represents the number of letters between the first and the last letters of
L10n uses the same naming scheme, but from
The i18n/L10n methods, protocols, and applications allow users to use languages of their choice.
This chapter discusses the internationalization and localization features of FreeBSD. After reading this chapter, you will know:
How locale names are constructed.
How to set the locale for a login shell.
How to configure the console for non-English languages.
How to configure Xorg for different languages.
How to find i18n-compliant applications.
Where to find more information for configuring specific languages.
Before reading this chapter, you should:
Know how to install additional third-party applications.
Localization settings are based on three components: the language code, country code, and encoding. Locale names are constructed from these parts as follows:
The LanguageCode and CountryCode are used to determine the country and the specific language variation. Common Language and Country Codes provides some examples of LanguageCode_CountryCode:
English, United States
Traditional Chinese, Taiwan
A complete listing of available locales can be found by typing:
% locale -a | more
To determine the current locale setting:
Some languages, such as Chinese or Japanese, cannot be represented using ASCII characters and require an extended language encoding using either wide or multibyte characters. Examples of wide or multibyte encodings include EUC and Big5. Older applications may mistake these encodings for control characters while newer applications usually recognize these characters. Depending on the implementation, users may be required to compile an application with wide or multibyte character support, or to configure it correctly.
FreeBSD uses Xorg-compatible locale encodings.
The rest of this section describes the various methods for configuring the locale on a FreeBSD system. The next section will discuss the considerations for finding and compiling applications with i18n support.
Locale settings are configured either in a user’s ~/.login_conf or in the startup file of the user’s shell: ~/.profile, ~/.bashrc, or ~/.cshrc.
Two environment variables should be set:
LANG, which sets the locale
MM_CHARSET, which sets the MIME character set used by applications
In addition to the user’s shell configuration, these variables should also be set for specific application configuration and Xorg configuration.
Two methods are available for making the needed variable assignments: the login class method, which is the recommended method, and the startup file method. The next two sections demonstrate how to use both methods.
This first method is the recommended method as it assigns the required environment variables for locale name and MIME character sets for every possible shell. This setup can either be performed by each user or it can be configured for all users by the superuser.
This minimal example sets both variables for Latin-1 encoding in the .login_conf of an individual user’s home directory:
me:\ :charset=ISO-8859-1:\ :lang=de_DE.ISO8859-1:
Here is an example of a user’s ~/.login_conf that sets the variables for Traditional Chinese in BIG-5 encoding. More variables are needed because some applications do not correctly respect locale variables for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean:
#Users who do not wish to use monetary units or time formats #of Taiwan can manually change each variable me:\ :lang=zh_TW.Big5:\ :setenv=LC_ALL=zh_TW.Big5,LC_COLLATE=zh_TW.Big5,LC_CTYPE=zh_TW.Big5,LC_MESSAGES=zh_TW.Big5,LC_MONETARY=zh_TW.Big5,LC_NUMERIC=zh_TW.Big5,LC_TIME=zh_TW.Big5:\ :charset=big5:\ :xmodifiers="@im=gcin": #Set gcin as the XIM Input Server
Alternately, the superuser can configure all users of the system for localization. The following variables in /etc/login.conf are used to set the locale and MIME character set:
language_name|Account Type Description:\ :charset=MIME_charset:\ :lang=locale_name:\ :tc=default:
So, the previous Latin-1 example would look like this:
german|German Users Accounts:\ :charset=ISO-8859-1:\ :lang=de_DE.ISO8859-1:\ :tc=default:
See login.conf(5) for more details about these variables. Note that it already contains pre-defined russian class.
Whenever /etc/login.conf is edited, remember to execute the following command to update the capability database:
# cap_mkdb /etc/login.conf
For an end user, the
In addition to manually editing /etc/login.conf, several utilities are available for setting the locale for newly created users.
vipw to add new users, specify the language to set the locale:
adduser to add new users, the default language can be pre-configured for all new users or specified for an individual user.
If all new users use the same language, set
defaultclass=language in /etc/adduser.conf.
To override this setting when creating a user, either input the required locale at this prompt:
Enter login class: default :
or specify the locale to set when invoking
# adduser -class language
pw is used to add new users, specify the locale as follows:
# pw useradd user_name -L language
To change the login class of an existing user,
chpass can be used.
Invoke it as superuser and provide the username to edit as the argument.
# chpass user_name
This second method is not recommended as each shell that is used requires manual configuration, where each shell has a different configuration file and differing syntax.
As an example, to set the German language for the
sh shell, these lines could be added to ~/.profile to set the shell for that user only.
These lines could also be added to /etc/profile or /usr/share/skel/dot.profile to set that shell for all users:
LANG=de_DE.ISO8859-1; export LANG MM_CHARSET=ISO-8859-1; export MM_CHARSET
However, the name of the configuration file and the syntax used differs for the
These are the equivalent settings for ~/.login, /etc/csh.login, or /usr/share/skel/dot.login:
setenv LANG de_DE.ISO8859-1 setenv MM_CHARSET ISO-8859-1
To complicate matters, the syntax needed to configure Xorg in ~/.xinitrc also depends upon the shell.
The first example is for the
sh shell and the second is for the
LANG=de_DE.ISO8859-1; export LANG
setenv LANG de_DE.ISO8859-1
Several localized fonts are available for the console.
To see a listing of available fonts, type
To configure the console font, specify the font_name, without the .fnt suffix, in /etc/rc.conf:
font8x16=font_name font8x14=font_name font8x8=font_name
The keymap and screenmap can be set by adding the following to /etc/rc.conf:
scrnmap=screenmap_name keymap=keymap_name keychange="fkey_number sequence"
To see the list of available screenmaps, type
Do not include the .scm suffix when specifying screenmap_name.
A screenmap with a corresponding mapped font is usually needed as a workaround for expanding bit 8 to bit 9 on a VGA adapter’s font character matrix so that letters are moved out of the pseudographics area if the screen font uses a bit 8 column.
To see the list of available keymaps, type
When specifying the keymap_name, do not include the .kbd suffix.
To test keymaps without rebooting, use kbdmap(1).
keychange entry is usually needed to program function keys to match the selected terminal type because function key sequences cannot be defined in the keymap.
Next, set the correct console terminal type in /etc/ttys for all virtual terminal entries. Defined Terminal Types for Character Sets summarizes the available terminal types.:
|Character Set||Terminal Type|
ISO8859-1 or ISO8859-15
CP437 (VGA default)
For languages with wide or multibyte characters, install a console for that language from the FreeBSD Ports Collection. The available ports are summarized in Available Console from Ports Collection. Once installed, refer to the port’s pkg-message or man pages for configuration and usage instructions.
Traditional Chinese (BIG-5)
If moused is enabled in /etc/rc.conf, additional configuration may be required.
By default, the mouse cursor of the syscons(4) driver occupies the
0xd3 range in the character set.
If the language uses this range, move the cursor’s range by adding the following line to /etc/rc.conf:
The X Window System describes how to install and configure Xorg. When configuring Xorg for localization, additional fonts and input methods are available from the FreeBSD Ports Collection. Application specific i18n settings such as fonts and menus can be tuned in ~/.Xresources and should allow users to view their selected language in graphical application menus.
The X Input Method (XIM) protocol is an Xorg standard for inputting non-English characters. Available Input Methods summarizes the input method applications which are available in the FreeBSD Ports Collection. Additional Fcitx and Uim applications are also available.
i18n applications are programmed using i18n kits under libraries. These allow developers to write a simple file and translate displayed menus and texts to each language.
The FreeBSD Ports Collection contains many applications with built-in support for wide or multibyte characters for several languages.
Such applications include
i18n in their names for easy identification.
However, they do not always support the language needed.
Some applications can be compiled with the specific charset. This is usually done in the port’s Makefile or by passing a value to configure. Refer to the i18n documentation in the respective FreeBSD port’s source for more information on how to determine the needed configure value or the port’s Makefile to determine which compile options to use when building the port.
This section provides configuration examples for localizing a FreeBSD system for the Russian language. It then provides some additional resources for localizing other languages.
This section shows the specific settings needed to localize a FreeBSD system for the Russian language. Refer to Using Localization for a more complete description of each type of setting.
To set this locale for the login shell, add the following lines to each user’s ~/.login_conf:
me:My Account:\ :charset=KOI8-R:\ :lang=ru_RU.KOI8-R:
To configure the console, add the following lines to /etc/rc.conf:
keymap="ru.utf-8" scrnmap="utf-82cp866" font8x16="cp866b-8x16" font8x14="cp866-8x14" font8x8="cp866-8x8" mousechar_start=3
ttyv entry in /etc/ttys, use
cons25r as the terminal type.
To configure printing, a special output filter is needed to convert from KOI8-R to CP866 since most printers with Russian characters come with hardware code page CP866. FreeBSD includes a default filter for this purpose, /usr/libexec/lpr/ru/koi2alt. To use this filter, add this entry to /etc/printcap:
lp|Russian local line printer:\ :sh:of=/usr/libexec/lpr/ru/koi2alt:\ :lp=/dev/lpt0:sd=/var/spool/output/lpd:lf=/var/log/lpd-errs:
Refer to printcap(5) for a more detailed explanation.
To configure support for Russian filenames in mounted MS-DOS® file systems, include
-L and the locale name when adding an entry to /etc/fstab:
/dev/ad0s2 /dos/c msdos rw,-Lru_RU.KOI8-R 0 0
Refer to mount_msdosfs(8) for more details.
To configure Russian fonts for Xorg, install the x11-fonts/xorg-fonts-cyrillic package.
Then, check the
"Files" section in /etc/X11/xorg.conf. The following line must be added before any other
Additional Cyrillic fonts are available in the Ports Collection.
To activate a Russian keyboard, add the following to the
"Keyboard" section of /etc/xorg.conf:
Option "XkbLayout" "us,ru" Option "XkbOptions" "grp:toggle"
Make sure that
XkbDisable is commented out in that file.
grp:toggle use Right Alt, for
grp:ctrl_shift_toggle use Ctrl+Shift.
grp:caps_toggle use CapsLock. The old CapsLock function is still available in LAT mode only using Shift+CapsLock.
grp:caps_toggle does not work in Xorg for some unknown reason.
If the keyboard has "Windows®" keys, and some non-alphabetical keys are mapped incorrectly, add the following line to /etc/xorg.conf:
Option "XkbVariant" ",winkeys"
The Russian XKB keyboard may not work with non-localized applications.
Minimally localized applications should call a
This section lists some additional resources for configuring other locales.
- Traditional Chinese for Taiwan
The FreeBSD-Taiwan Project has a Chinese HOWTO for FreeBSD at http://netlab.cse.yzu.edu.tw/~statue/freebsd/zh-tut/.
- Greek Language Localization
A complete article on Greek support in FreeBSD is available here, in Greek only, as part of the official FreeBSD Greek documentation.
- Japanese and Korean Language Localization
- Non-English FreeBSD Documentation
Some FreeBSD contributors have translated parts of the FreeBSD documentation to other languages. They are available through links on the FreeBSD web site or in /usr/share/doc.
Last modified on: October 1, 2022 by Danilo G. Baio