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Key delay and repeat rate on X11

(This is part of a larger series on finding your footing on Arch Linux.)

Last modified: 4 July 2022

Goal: Understand and control your typematic rate and typematic delay. You’ll usually do this to make pressed-down keys repeat faster.

Dependencies: This guide works on the X Window System. You should first set up X if you have not yet done so.


Typematic rate and delay

Go to the browser’s URL bar, then press and hold down a key. After an initial delay, the key begins to repeat at a fixed rate. The initial delay between key press and the onset of repetition is called typematic delay, and the time between key repeats once repetition begins is called typematic rate.

A typical typematic delay is a few hundred milliseconds. Typematic rates tend to be faster, and are usually measured in hertz; 20 to 30 Hz (20 to 30 key repetitions per second) are common values.

Set rate and delay in X11

You can set the X11 typematic delay and repeat using the xset program, as suggested in ArchWiki: Xorg/Keyboard configuration/Using xset. To set a 200 ms delay and 30 Hz repeat rate (for example), run the following in shell:

xset r rate 200 30

The default values (according to the ArchWiki) are 660 ms and 25 Hz; experiment to find what works for you.

To make this change permanent, add the xset command to your ~/.xinitrc before starting your window manager or desktop environment.

# Place in ~/.xinitrc to set for all X sessions
xset r rate 200 30

# Then start your window manager, e.g.
exec i3

Set rate and delay in the Linux console

Scope: the console you see immediately after booting and logging in, but before starting X. If you use a display manager to start X, you may never interact with the Linux console at all, and can probably skip this step.

You use kbdrate instead of xset to set typematic delay and rate for the Linux console. The equivalent of xset -r rate 200 30 is

sudo kbdrate -d 200 -r 30

You can use a systemd unit to make the change permanent at every boot. I suggest following the ArchWiki’s clear instructions at ArchWiki: Linux console/Keyboard configuration/Systemd service.