24.3 Using Localization

In all its splendor, I18N is not FreeBSD-specific and is a convention. We encourage you to help FreeBSD in following this convention.

Localization settings are based on three main terms: Language Code, Country Code, and Encoding. Locale names are constructed from these parts as follows:


24.3.1 Language and Country Codes

In order to localize a FreeBSD system to a specific language (or any other I18N-supporting UNIX® like systems), the user needs to find out the codes for the specific country and language (country codes tell applications what variation of given language to use). In addition, web browsers, SMTP/POP servers, web servers, etc. make decisions based on them. The following are examples of language/country codes:

Language/Country Code Description
en_US English - United States
ru_RU Russian for Russia
zh_TW Traditional Chinese for Taiwan

A complete listing of available locales can be found by typing:

% locale -a

24.3.2 Encodings

Some languages use non-ASCII encodings that are 8-bit, wide or multibyte characters, see multibyte(3) for more details. Older applications do not recognize them and mistake them for control characters. Newer applications usually do recognize 8-bit characters. Depending on the implementation, users may be required to compile an application with wide or multibyte characters support, or configure it correctly. To be able to input and process wide or multibyte characters, the FreeBSD Ports Collection has provided each language with different programs. Refer to the I18N documentation in the respective FreeBSD Port.

Specifically, the user needs to look at the application documentation to decide on how to configure it correctly or to pass correct values into the configure/Makefile/compiler.

Some things to keep in mind are:

You can check the active list of character sets at the IANA Registry.

Note: FreeBSD uses X11-compatible locale encodings instead.

24.3.3 I18N Applications

In the FreeBSD Ports and Package system, I18N applications have been named with I18N in their names for easy identification. However, they do not always support the language needed.

24.3.4 Setting Locale

Usually it is sufficient to export the value of the locale name as LANG in the login shell. This could be done in the user's ~/.login_conf file or in the startup file of the user's shell (~/.profile, ~/.bashrc, ~/.cshrc). There is no need to set the locale subsets such as LC_CTYPE, LC_CTIME. Please refer to language-specific FreeBSD documentation for more information.

You should set the following two environment variables in your configuration files:

This includes the user shell configuration, the specific application configuration, and the X11 configuration. Setting Locale Methods

There are two methods for setting locale, and both are described below. The first (recommended one) is by assigning the environment variables in login class, and the second is by adding the environment variable assignments to the system's shell startup file. Login Classes Method

This method allows environment variables needed for locale name and MIME character sets to be assigned once for every possible shell instead of adding specific shell assignments to each shell's startup file. User Level Setup can be done by an user himself and Administrator Level Setup require superuser privileges. User Level Setup

Here is a minimal example of a .login_conf file in user's home directory which has both variables set for Latin-1 encoding:


Here is an example of a .login_conf that sets the variables for Traditional Chinese in BIG-5 encoding. Notice the many more variables set because some software does not respect locale variables correctly for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

#Users who do not wish to use monetary units or time formats
#of Taiwan can manually change each variable
	:xmodifiers="@im=gcin": #Set gcin as the XIM Input Server

See Administrator Level Setup and login.conf(5) for more details. Administrator Level Setup

Verify that the user's login class in /etc/login.conf sets the correct language. Make sure these settings appear in /etc/login.conf:

language_name|Account Type Description:\

So sticking with our previous example using Latin-1, it would look like this:

german|German Users Accounts:\

Before changing users Login Classes execute the following command:

# cap_mkdb /etc/login.conf

to make new configuration in /etc/login.conf visible to the system.

Changing Login Classes with vipw(8)

Use vipw to add new users, and make the entry look like this:

user:password:1111:11:language:0:0:User Name:/home/user:/bin/sh

Changing Login Classes with adduser(8)

Use adduser to add new users, and do the following:

  • Set defaultclass = language in /etc/adduser.conf. Keep in mind you must enter a default class for all users of other languages in this case.

  • An alternative variant is answering the specified language each time that

    Enter login class: default []:
    appears from adduser(8).

  • Another alternative is to use the following for each user of a different language that you wish to add:

    # adduser -class language

Changing Login Classes with pw(8)

If you use pw(8) for adding new users, call it in this form:

# pw useradd user_name -L language Shell Startup File Method

Note: This method is not recommended because it requires a different setup for each possible shell program chosen. Use the Login Class Method instead.

To add the locale name and MIME character set, just set the two environment variables shown below in the /etc/profile and/or /etc/csh.login shell startup files. We will use the German language as an example below:

In /etc/profile:

LANG=de_DE.ISO8859-1; export LANG

Or in /etc/csh.login:

setenv LANG de_DE.ISO8859-1
setenv MM_CHARSET ISO-8859-1

Alternatively, you can add the above instructions to /usr/share/skel/dot.profile (similar to what was used in /etc/profile above), or /usr/share/skel/dot.login (similar to what was used in /etc/csh.login above).

For X11:

In $HOME/.xinitrc:

LANG=de_DE.ISO8859-1; export LANG


setenv LANG de_DE.ISO8859-1

Depending on your shell (see above).

24.3.5 Console Setup

For all single C chars character sets, set the correct console fonts in /etc/rc.conf for the language in question with:


The font_name here is taken from the /usr/share/syscons/fonts directory, without the .fnt suffix.

If required, set the keymap and screenmap for your single C chars character set through sysinstall. Once inside sysinstall, choose Configure, then Console. Alternatively, you can add the following to /etc/rc.conf:

keychange="fkey_number sequence"

The screenmap_name here is taken from the /usr/share/syscons/scrnmaps directory, without the .scm suffix. 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 in pseudographics area, i.e., to move letters out of that area if screen font uses a bit 8 column.

If you have the moused daemon enabled by setting the following in your /etc/rc.conf:


then examine the mouse cursor information in the next paragraph.

By default the mouse cursor of the syscons(4) driver occupies the 0xd0-0xd3 range in the character set. If your language uses this range, you need to move the cursor's range outside of it. To enable the workaround for FreeBSD, add the following line to /etc/rc.conf:


The keymap_name here is taken from the /usr/share/syscons/keymaps directory, without the .kbd suffix. If you are uncertain which keymap to use, you use can kbdmap(1) to test keymaps without rebooting.

The keychange is usually needed to program function keys to match the selected terminal type because function key sequences cannot be defined in the key map.

Also be sure to set the correct console terminal type in /etc/ttys for all ttyv* entries. Current pre-defined correspondences are:

Character Set Terminal Type
ISO8859-1 or ISO8859-15 cons25l1
ISO8859-2 cons25l2
ISO8859-7 cons25l7
KOI8-R cons25r
KOI8-U cons25u
CP437 (VGA default) cons25
US-ASCII cons25w

For wide or multibyte characters languages, use the correct FreeBSD port in your /usr/ports/language directory. Some ports appear as console while the system sees it as serial vtty's, hence you must reserve enough vtty's for both X11 and the pseudo-serial console. Here is a partial list of applications for using other languages in console:

Language Location
Traditional Chinese (BIG-5) chinese/big5con
Japanese japanese/kon2-16dot or japanese/mule-freewnn
Korean korean/han

24.3.6 X11 Setup

Although X11 is not part of the FreeBSD Project, we have included some information here for FreeBSD users. For more details, refer to the Xorg web site or whichever X11 Server you use.

In ~/.Xresources, you can additionally tune application specific I18N settings (e.g., fonts, menus, etc.). Displaying Fonts

Install Xorg server ( x11-servers/xorg-server), then install the language TrueType® fonts. Setting the correct locale should allow you to view your selected language in menus and such. Inputting Non-English Characters

The X11 Input Method (XIM) Protocol is a new standard for all X11 clients. All X11 applications should be written as XIM clients that take input from XIM Input servers. There are several XIM servers available for different languages.

24.3.7 Printer Setup

Some single C chars character sets are usually hardware coded into printers. Wide or multibyte character sets require special setup and we recommend using apsfilter. You may also convert the document to PostScript® or PDF formats using language specific converters.

24.3.8 Kernel and File Systems

The FreeBSD fast filesystem (FFS) is 8-bit clean, so it can be used with any single C chars character set (see multibyte(3)), but there is no character set name stored in the filesystem; i.e., it is raw 8-bit and does not know anything about encoding order. Officially, FFS does not support any form of wide or multibyte character sets yet. However, some wide or multibyte character sets have independent patches for FFS enabling such support. They are only temporary unportable solutions or hacks and we have decided to not include them in the source tree. Refer to respective languages' web sites for more information and the patch files.

The FreeBSD MS-DOS® filesystem has the configurable ability to convert between MS-DOS, Unicode character sets and chosen FreeBSD filesystem character sets. See mount_msdosfs(8) for details.