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Time zone

In order to keep the system time properly according to the present location, the timezone needs to be set. Instructions how to do this for OpenRC based systems and systemd based systems can be found in the system time article.

Locale system

What are locales?

A locale is a set of information that most programs use for determining country and language specific settings. The locales and their data are part of the system library and can be found under the /usr/share/i18n/locales/ directory on most systems. A locale name is generally named ab_CD where ab is the two (or three) letter language code (as specified in ISO-639) and CD is the two letter country code (as specified in ISO-3166). Variants like @euro or @latin are often appended to locale names, e.g. de_DE@euro or nan_TW@latin. Please explore Wikipedia to read more about locales and related articles.

Environment variables for locales

The variables controlling different aspects of locale settings are given in the table below. All of them take one name of a locale in ab_CD format given above.

Variable name Explanation
LANG Defines all locale settings at once, while allowing further individual customization via the LC_* settings below.
LC_COLLATE Define alphabetical ordering of strings. This affects e.g. output of sorted directory listings.
LC_CTYPE Define the character-handling properties for the system. This determines which characters are seen as alphabetic, numeric, and so on. This also determines the character set used, if applicable.
LC_MESSAGES Programs' localizations stored in /usr/share/locale/ for applications that use a message-based localization scheme (the majority of GNU programs).
LC_MONETARY Defines currency units and formatting of currency-type numeric values.
LC_NUMERIC Defines formatting of numeric values which aren't monetary. Affects things such as thousand separator and decimal separator.
LC_TIME Defines formatting of dates and times.
LC_PAPER Defines default paper size.
LC_ALL Overrides all other settings.
Some programs are written in such a way that they expect traditional English ordering of the alphabet, while some locales, most notably the Estonian one, use a different ordering. Therefore it's recommended to explicitly set LC_COLLATE to C when dealing with system-wide settings.
Using LC_ALL is strongly discouraged as it automatically overrides all other LC_* variables (LANG is not affected). This means that changes made by other means will be hidden until LC_ALL is set to a null string. It is probably best not to set it in a startup file.

Most typically, users only set the LANG variable globally.

Generating specific locales

Most users will probably only use one or maybe two locales on their system. How additional locales can be specified is explained in the /etc/locale.gen file.

CODE Adding locales to /etc/locale.gen
en_GB ISO-8859-1
en_GB.UTF-8 UTF-8
de_DE ISO-8859-1
de_DE@euro ISO-8859-15
Use an @euro value from /usr/share/i18n/SUPPORTED as the locale when using the Euro currency symbol (€) on non UTF-8 based locales.

The next step is to run locale-gen. It will generate all the locales specified in the /etc/locale.gen file and write them to the locale-archive (/usr/lib/locale/locale-archive).

root #locale-gen
 * Generating 4 locales (this might take a while) with 1 jobs
 *  (1/4) Generating en_GB.ISO-8859-1 ...                       [ ok ]
 *  (2/4) Generating en_GB.UTF-8 ...                            [ ok ]
 *  (3/4) Generating de_DE.ISO-8859-1 ...                       [ ok ]
 *  (4/4) Generating de_DE.ISO-8859-15@euro ...                 [ ok ]
 * Generation complete

Verify that the selected locales are available by running locale -a.

user $locale -a

The /usr/lib/locale/locale-archive file can be shown by localedef.

user $localedef --list-archive

Its raw content can be displayed using the strings command.

user $strings /usr/lib/locale/locale-archive | less

Setting a locale


When using OpenRC locale settings are stored in environment variables. These are typically set in /etc/env.d/02locale (for system-wide settings) and ~/.bashrc (for user-specific settings). More details can be found in the UTF-8 article. The system wide settings (/etc/env.d/02locale) can be managed through eselect locale. For instance, to set the LANG variable to the C value:

root #eselect locale list
Available targets for the LANG variable:
  [1]   C 
  [2]   POSIX
  [3]   en_US
  [4]   en_US.iso885915
  [5]   en_US.utf8
  [ ]   (free form)
root #eselect locale set 1

Of course, editing the file manually is possible as well to diversify the locale variables.

The command above lists the suffix in lower case without any hyphens, glibc understands both forms of the suffix, many other programs don't. The most common example of which is X. So it is best to always use UTF-8 in preference to utf8.

FILE /etc/env.d/02localeSetting the default system locale in /etc/env.d/02locale

In some cases users may notice glitchy non-English representation in some applications like Krusader (https://bugs.kde.org/show_bug.cgi?id=371582). Removing or commenting the LC_ALL="" line from /etc/env.d/02locale should fix the problem.

It's also possible, and pretty common especially in a more traditional UNIX environment, to leave the global settings unchanged, i.e. in the C locale. Users can still specify their preferred locale in their own shell configuration file:

FILE ~/.bashrcSetting the user locale
export LANG="de_DE.UTF-8"
export LC_COLLATE="C.UTF-8"
FILE ~/.profileSetting the user locale for X applications
export LANG="de_DE.UTF-8"
export LC_COLLATE="C.UTF-8"

Another way of configuring system is to leave it in the default C locale, but enable UTF-8 character representation at the same time. This option is achieved using the following settings in /etc/env.d/02locale:

CODE Using traditional C locale while specifying UTF-8

Using the above snippet, users will be able to see localized file names properly, while not being forced to completely use the selected language.

Once the right locale is set up, be sure to update the environment variables to make the system aware of the change.

For a system-wide default locale:

root #env-update && source /etc/profile

For a user-specific locale:

user $source ~/.bashrc

After this, kill the X server by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Backspace, log out, then log in as a user.

Now, verify that the changes have taken effect:

user $locale

The values of locale environment variables that have been explicitly set e.g. in an export statement (if using bash) are listed without double quotes. Those whose value has been inherited from other locale environment variables have their values in double quotes.


With systemd set the locale with the localectl command. Check the list of available locales with:

root #localectl list-locales

Then set the desired locale:

root #localectl set-locale LANG=de_DE.utf8

Finally check if the result is good:

root #localectl | grep "System Locale"
   System Locale: LANG=de_DE.utf8

Keyboard layout for the console


The keyboard layout used by the console is set in /etc/conf.d/keymaps by the keymap variable. Valid values can be found in /usr/share/keymaps/YOUR_ARCH/. i386 has further subdivisions into layout (qwerty/, azerty/, etc.). Some languages have multiple options - experiment with the various options to decide which one fits your needs best.

FILE /etc/conf.d/keymapsSetting the console keymap


With systemd the keymap layout used for the console can be set using the localectl command. First check the available keymap layouts:

root #localectl list-keymaps

Then set the requested console keymap layout:

root #localectl set-keymap it

Finally check if the console keymap layout was set correctly:

root #localectl | grep "VC Keymap"
       VC Keymap: it

Keyboard layout for the X server


The keyboard layout to be used by the X server is specified in /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/30-keyboard.conf by the XkbLayout option. For details visit the Xorg guide and the article about Keyboard layout switching.


With systemd the keymap layout for the X11 server can be set using the localectl command. First check the available X11 keymap layouts:

root #localectl list-x11-keymap-layouts

Then set the requested X11 keymap layout:

root #localectl set-x11-keymap it

Finally check if the X11 keymap layout was set correctly:

root #localectl | grep "X11 Layout"
      X11 Layout: it

Native Language Support

For message based localization to work in programs that support it and have the nls USE flag, compile the programs with this flag set. Message strings are installed in /usr/share/locale/<locale>/LC_MESSAGES/<package>.mo files. Most of the programs using the Native Language Support (NLS) also need the gettext library to extract and use localized messages. Of course, Portage will automatically install it when needed.

After enabling the nls USE flag some packages might need to be re-emerged:

root #emerge --ask --changed-use --deep --with-bdeps=y @world


LINGUAS causes packages to implicitly skip locales. When using it, the package manager cannot determine which locales were omitted. Do not use LINGUAS if you intend to redistribute binary packages.

There is also an additional LINGUAS variable that is used by some gettext-based build systems to control which localization files are built and installed. The variable takes in space-separated list of language codes, and a suggested place to set it is /etc/portage/make.conf:

root #nano -w /etc/portage/make.conf
## (Add in the LINGUAS variable. For instance, for German, Finnish and English:)
LINGUAS="de fi en"

Note that there is a large difference between LINGUAS being unset and being set to an empty value: Unset LINGUAS means to install all available languages. By contrast, with LINGUAS="", most ebuilds would install only the packages' default language but none of the LC_MESSAGES files.

Incorrect setting of LINGUAS may lead to incomplete translation of some applications, such as KDE Plasma and its apps. Try to remove LINGUAS and rebuild related packages if you encounter this problem.


A USE_EXPAND variable called L10N decides which extra localization support will be installed. This is commonly used for downloads of additional language packs by packages. Similar to LINGUAS, the variable takes a space separated list of language tags, and it can be set in /etc/portage/make.conf:

root #nano -w /etc/portage/make.conf
## (Add in the L10N variable. For instance, for German and Brazilian Portuguese:)
L10N="de pt-BR"

To set it per-package, edit /etc/portage/package.use and prefix the requested language packs with "l10n_", as shown in the next example:

FILE /etc/portage/package.use
app-text/aspell l10n_de l10n_pt-BR

Note that while the common two letter language codes (like de or fr) are identical in LINGUAS and L10N, more complex entries have a different syntax because L10N uses IETF language tags (aka BCP 47). For example, pt_BR and sr@latin in LINGUAS become pt-BR and sr-Latn in L10N, respectively.

A list of L10N values that can be used is provided as /var/db/repos/gentoo/profiles/desc/l10n.desc:

user $grep -i portuguese /var/db/repos/gentoo/profiles/desc/l10n.desc
pt - Portuguese
pt-BR - Portuguese (Brazil)
pt-PT - Portuguese (Portugal)

After setting the L10N USE_EXPAND variable it may be necessary to re-emerge some packages:

root #emerge --ask --changed-use --deep --with-bdeps=y @world

See also

External resources


This page is based on a document formerly found on our main website gentoo.org.
The following people contributed to the original document: Alexander Holler, Steven Lucy, Benny Chuang, Lars Weiler, Tobias Scherbaum, Flammie Pirinen, , Francisco Blas Izquierdo Riera (klondike)
They are listed here because wiki history does not allow for any external attribution. If you edit the wiki article, please do not add yourself here; your contributions are recorded on each article's associated history page.