How To Invert Your X11 NumLock LED

TL;DR: numlockx off; xdotool key Num_Lock

I like to leave NumLock on all the time but, with my current keyboard, the indicator light is a blindingly bright blue. I noticed that the numlock light would sometimes get confused, so its behaviour was reversed (only on when NumLock was turned off) but I couldn’t figure out why until now.

Here’s the deal:

First, under modern versions of X.org with MPX support, the XInput system lets you have one or more master keyboard-pointer pairs, each which can be mapped to one or more physical keyboards and mice, called slaves. (You can examine this by running xinput in a terminal)

Here’s an example of what xinput outputs on my system:

⎡ Virtual core pointer                          id=2    [master pointer  (3)]
⎜   ↳ Virtual core XTEST pointer                id=4    [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ ATI Remote Wonder II                      id=12   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ Logitech USB Gaming Mouse                 id=13   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ Wacom BambooFun 6x8 stylus                id=14   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ Wacom BambooFun 6x8 eraser                id=15   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ Wacom BambooFun 6x8 cursor                id=16   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ Wacom BambooFun 6x8 pad                   id=17   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎣ Virtual core keyboard                         id=3    [master keyboard (2)]
    ↳ Virtual core XTEST keyboard               id=5    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=6    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=7    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Guest Barcode Reader                      id=8    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ CYKB23 USB Keyboard                       id=9    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ CYKB23 USB Keyboard                       id=10   [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ zc3xx                                     id=11   [slave  keyboard (3)]

(For the curious, zc3xx is the button on the side of my USB webcam which triggers the Logitech software under Windows by sending a keycode that maps to the XF86WebCam keysym, same as on a multimedia keyboard)

Noteworthy implications of this design:

  • It’s possible to create more masters and move devices over to them. If you do, you get extra mouse pointers on your screen and, if your window manager supports it, you can have multiple people using several different applications at the same time on the same desktop.
  • Every master has a virtual slave called XTEST, which is used to inject events.
  • Each slave (physical keyboard) can have its own LEDs, but the mod2 modifier that actually controls NumLock behaviour is part of the master.
  • X11 doesn’t yet know how to force all the slave keyboards on a given master to share the same LED states. (Because, if you want to support all the different kinds of keyboards out there, it’s very complicated)

This means that, if you press NumLock on one keyboard, it will turn NumLock on/off for the whole master/slave grouping, but the light will only change on that one keyboard.

The problem I was having was that older versions of the numlockx command were faking a NumLock keypress on the XTEST virtual keyboard, rather than my physical one, and then pressing NumLock on the physical keyboard just toggled the LED and the modifier while assuming they were still in sync.

numlockx has now been fixed, but you can still trigger this mismatch manually if, like me, you want the light to come on when NumLock is turned off. Just use this command:

numlockx off; xdotool key Num_Lock

The first half puts both your NumLock modifier and LED into a known state (off) and then the call to xdotool presses NumLock on the virtual XTEST keyboard, which turns on the modifier and the invisible/imaginary LED on the virtual keyboard, while leaving the LED on the physical keyboard untouched.

As long as you only change your numlock state by pressing the button, they’ll stay out of sync until the end of your desktop session. Enjoy!

(Thanks to Peter Hutterer for explaining things)

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2 Responses to How To Invert Your X11 NumLock LED

  1. Pingback: Delicious Bookmarks for November 9th through November 11th « Lâmôlabs

  2. Georg says:

    THANK YOU! :-)

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