Getting Multimedia Keys on keyboards
working in Linux
Have you looked on with envy as your Windows using friends have pressed
one of those multimedia buttons on their keyboard to launch their email
client or Messenger? Got one of those keyboards yourself - but the
driver only supports Windows?
Well, now its time to show the Windows users that we too can play with
multimedia buttons - and without installing drivers.
Ok - this may not look particularly easy - but I promise it is! Just
take your time - the hardest bit is writing down all the numbers you
First thing we need to do is to discover the keycodes of all those
multimedia buttons. This will involve a command line - sorry! But its
So, open your Konsole up (the command line terminal), and type in -
xev <press enter>
That should bring up a little white box with a smaller box inside.
Notice that if you place your mouse cursor into the box, it will start
putting readings into your terminal - not of use here, but interesting
Right, now get hold of a pencil and paper.
Press one of your multimedia keys - for instance, the email one (I will
use this as an example).
When you press the key, it should give you some information in the
terminal like this -
KeyRelease event, serial 26, synthetic NO, window 0x2a00001,
root 0x91, subw 0x0, time 2147964, (310,723), root:(314,745),
state 0x0, keycode 36 (keysym 0xff0d, Return), same_screen YES,
" XLookupString gives 1 bytes: (0d) "
A right load of gobblydegook - but the important part is in there - the
bit mentioning keycode (in this case 36).
So, note down the keycode number on your paper next to email or
Follow the same procedure for the other multimedia keys, noting down
the keycode each time next to the name of the key. Don't do this for
the normal keys - they are already set up
Ok, you should now have a list of numbers corresponding to the keys on
your multimedia board. You can exit the xev program now by clicking the
x in the small white window. This will stop xev, but leave the termial
open for the next part.
Now its time to get these keycodes into a useable form. Again, this
will involve the terminal. From your home directory in the terminal (if
not sure - simply type cd and press enter to get to your home
directory), type -
cd .kde < press enter> (this takes you to the hidden kde
directory in your home)
cd Autostart <press enter >
You are now in the Autostart directory - where KDE will automatically
run whatever is in there - which will be useful for the keys!
Now, still in the terminal at Autostart, lets open up our favourite
editor. I use nano - its a lot easier than vi!
so type in -
nano keycodes < press enter > (this will create a new text file
Now its time to dig out the paper with those numbers on it!
We want the keycodes assigned to none-existant keys now. You could in
theory use anything, but the most common way to do this is to assign
them to F keys. As you will already have some of these on your
keyboard, try assigning to F keys above F20.
Seems a bit confusing, but hopefully the example below will explain-
Type into the editor-
xmodmap -e "keycode 36=F21"
xmodmap -e "keycode 171=F22"
and so on.
Enter your own keycodes from your paper, and simply set them to an F
key. It doesn't really matter what you set them to - as long as the key
doesn't exist! Using F20 and up is probably the simplest.
The hashed out comments (#email client etc) are purely for helping you
remember which key is which - but it isn't actually necessary.
Save the file as keycodes and exit the editor (in nano, that is ctrl+x,
press y to save as keycodes).
Now we need to make the file executable, so still in the Autostart
directory, type -
chmod +x keycodes <press enter>
./keycodes <press enter>
That will make the file executable and start it up (note that you won't
see anything happen).
From now on, each time KDE starts, the keycodes script will run -
because we put it into the KDE Autostart directory and made it
I am sure you will be pleased to hear that we can now close the
Not quite finished yet with the key mapping - but its all working from
your desktop now
This is the easy bit - open the KDE control panel (from either the
taskbar shortcut or the control centre entry in your "start" menu).
Open the Regional and Accessability option. Then select keyboard
At the top of the keyboard shortcuts, you will see a tab entitled
This bit is really rather cool - using my example of email, look
through the available options (rather like your start menu) - so for
instance, mail is going to be in the Internet section - so click the
plus sign next to Internet.
Simply select the Kmail ( or whatever you prefer ), then click the
Custom radio button at the bottom - this will launch a window called
Configure Shortcut. This is the best bit - no need to type anything
technical here, simply press the key you have already set up ( i.e the
multimedia Email key) and the program should fill in F21 (or whatever
you selected)for you and close. Thats it - one key assigned and fully
Feel free to try it - press the email button on your keyboard and watch
kmail come up!
Once you have seen it work - its simply a case of finding the program
you wish to associate with each key and repeating this small process.