Typing glyphs

From APL Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

APL uses a large range of special graphic symbols to represent most functions and operators. While keyboard mappings become memorized over time, entering APL characters can frustrate the beginner. However, a study involving high school students found that typing and using APL characters did not hinder the students in any measurable way. There are several convenient ways to enter the glyphs.

How to Set up an APL Keyboard

Text editors

Keyboard layout extensions exist for several popular text editors like VS Code, Emacs and Vim. This can be an alternative, or complementary, to system-wide settings.

The in-browser language bar


Adám Brudzewsky's in-browser language bar adds APL keyboard functionality to most web pages on demand.


Hacker's Keyboard + APL language


dzaima's Hacker's Keyboard + APL language uses a long-press to access APL glyphs.


Geoff Streeter authored a paper, Supporting APL keyboards on Linux, which was presented at the Dyalog '10 user meeting. In this paper, Geoff details how APL keyboards can be supported in X11 using xkb, the X Keyboard Extension.

Most Linux distributions released after mid-2012 have Dyalog keyboard support included with the distribution.


The simplest way to set up an APL keyboard on Linux is with the following setxkbmap command. Enter the following in your terminal emulator of choice:

setxkbmap -layout us,apl -variant ,dyalog -option grp:switch

An explanation:

  • -layout us,apl assigns us (U.S. English) to be the primary layout, whereas apl is secondary
  • -option grp:switch assigns Right Alt to switch to the secondary apl layout when it is pressed, otherwise us is used
  • -variant ,dyalog assigns the Dyalog APL variant to the apl layout which contains modifiations unique to the Dyalog language (Note the preceding comma)

A full list of keys that can be used to switch layouts is included in /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/evdev.lst under the option category.

Note: these changes are not permanent; the user will have to select one of a myriad of methods to run the command on startup. Alternatively, if they use one of the desktop environments listed below, they can follow those instructions.


  1. Open the Activities menu; this is located in the top-left corner of a default GNOME 3 session (alternatively, use your Super key to open the Activities overlay):
    GNOME Keyboard Step 1: Open Activities Menu
  2. Search for "startup." When the Startup Applications program is highlighted, press the Enter key to open it:
    GNOME Keyboard Step 2: Search for Startup Applications
  3. Select the Add button on the right-hand side:
    GNOME Keyboard Step 3: Click the Add button in Startup Applications window
  4. Provide a name, enter your setxkbmap command, and click Add when finished:
    GNOME Keyboard Step 4: Enter the relevant information for your command
  1. Navigate to ~/.config/autostart and create a .desktop with any name that will help you remember its function.
  2. Add the following to the contents of your file, customizing to suit your needs:
    [Desktop Entry]
    Exec=setxkbmap -layout us,apl -variant ,dyalog -option grp:switch


  1. Prepend an @ to the setxkbmap command from above:
    @setxkbmap -layout us,apl -variant ,dyalog -option grp:switch
  2. Add it as a line in your user's LXDE autostart file, located at:

For Lubuntu versions up to and including 18.04 (before the LXQt split), the location of autostart is ~/.config/lxsession/Lubuntu/autostart.


  1. From your LXQt panel, navigate to PreferencesLXQt SettingsSession Settings; alternatively, enter lxqt-config-session in your terminal emulator. You will be greeted with the following window:
    LXQt Autostart menu of Session Settings window
  2. Select the LXQt Autostart dropdown (it will be highlighted as shown above) and click the Add button to display the following pop-up window:
    LXQt add a new autostart menu item
  3. Provide a name, enter your setxkbmap command, and click OK when finished.

The above GUI approach merely creates a .desktop file in the user's ~/.config/autostart. Create your own file in the autostart directory whose contents are as follows, to replicate the functionality achieved through the GUI:

[Desktop Entry]
Exec=setxkbmap -layout us,apl -variant ,dyalog -option grp:switch


  1. Open your MATE menu (in the top-left corner of a default environment) and select Control Center at the bottom of the window:
    Launch the Control Center from the MATE menu
  2. Scroll down through the main window, and under the Personal category, select Startup Applications:
    Scroll down to the Startup Applications option
  3. Click the Add button on the right-hand side:
    Click Add to add a new startup command
  4. Provide a name, enter your setxkbmap command, and click Add when finished:
    Enter the setxkbmap command you wish to use

Navigate to ~/.config/autostart and create a .desktop with any name that will help you remember its function.

Add the following to the contents of your file, customizing to suit your needs:

[Desktop Entry]
Exec=setxkbmap -layout us,apl -variant ,dyalog -option grp:switch


A tutorial specific to Xfce's config files can be found at this GitHub repository.

Approaches to Layout and Input

Most of today's APLs use a mapping which derives from the original APL\360 terminals' keyboard layout. For example, Dyalog APL's standard US English layout for is as follows:

│~ ⌺ │! ⌶ │@ ⍫ │# ⍒ │$ ⍋ │% ⌽ │^ ⍉ │& ⊖ │* ⍟ │( ⍱ │) ⍲ │_ ! │+ ⌹ │Backspace│
│` ⋄ │1 ¨ │2 ¯ │3 < │4 ≤ │5 = │6 ≥ │7 > │8 ≠ │9 ∨ │0 ∧ │- × │= ÷ │         │
│Tab    │Q   │W   │E ⍷ │R   │T ⍨ │Y   │U   │I ⍸ │O ⍥ │P ⍣ │{ ⍞ │} ⍬ │| ⊣   │
│       │q ? │w ⍵ │e ∊ │r ⍴ │t ~ │y ↑ │u ↓ │i ⍳ │o ○ │p * │[ ← │] → │\ ⊢   │
│Caps    │A   │S   │D   │F   │G   │H   │J ⍤ │K ⌸ │L ⌷ │: ≡ │" ≢ │Enter     │
│Lock    │a ⍺ │s ⌈ │d ⌊ │f _ │g ∇ │h ∆ │j ∘ │k ' │l ⎕ │; ⍎ │' ⍕ │          │
│Shift      │Z ⊆ │X   │C   │V   │B   │N   │M   │< ⍪ │> ⍙ │? ⍠ │Shift       │
│           │z ⊂ │x ⊃ │c ∩ │v ∪ │b ⊥ │n ⊤ │m | │, ⍝ │. ⍀ │/ ⌿ │            │

Additional charts for other layouts are available.

There are multiple ways to access the glyphs associated with a particular key.

Shifting key

It is quite common to use Ctrl or Alt or AltGr (right-side Alt) as an additional shifting key. For example, AltGr+AltGr+4 would give while AltGr+Shift+4 would give .

  • APLX uses AltGr with an option to also use Alt

Prefix key

A prefix key is a special key or character which is entered immediately before typing the corresponding key.

  • TryAPL and ngn/apl's scripted demo interface support ` as prefix key.
  • The Dyalog Unicode IME and the Dyalog RIDE (Remote Integrated Development Environment) uses ` by default, but allows choosing any key as prefix key.
RIDE keyword lookup

Keyword look-up

  • The Dyalog RIDE (Remote Integrated Development Environment) allows hitting the prefix key (` by default, but configurable) twice, followed by the (beginning of the) name of a symbol or a functionality. It then displays a drop-down of choices with arrow keys to indicate choice and the Tab key to insert the symbol. E.g. `,`,d,i,v,Tab↹ inserts ÷.

ASCII symbol combination

  • Many APL glyphs can be approximated by overlaying or juxtaposing two ASCII characters. ngn/apl's scripted demo interface and Adám Brudzewsky's in-browser language bar allow such a pair of characters and hitting the Tab↹ key to replace them with the corresponding APL character. For example, <,-,Tab↹ will insert and T,o,Tab↹ will insert .
NARS2000 language bar

On-screen language bar

Several APL IDEs allow the display of a toolbar with a button for each APL glyph:

US keyboard with Dyalog APL glyphs


A couple of keyboards are being sold with APL symbols pre-printed onto the key caps:

APL development [edit]
Interface SessionTyping glyphs (on Linux) ∙ FontsText editors
Publications IntroductionsLearning resourcesSimple examplesAdvanced examplesMnemonicsStandardsA Dictionary of APLCase studiesDocumentation suitesBooksPapersVideosPeriodicals
Sharing code APLcartAPLTreeAPL-Cation
Vendors APL2000DyalogGNU APL communityIBMIPSASTSC
APL glyphs [edit]
Information GlyphTyping glyphs (on Linux) ∙ UnicodeFontsMnemonics
Individual glyphs Jot () ∙ Right Shoe () ∙ Up Arrow () ∙ Zilde () ∙ High minus (¯) ∙ Dot (.)