How to Create APL or Math Symbols Keyboard Layout

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page shows you how to create a keyboard layout for inputting math symbols. for {Windows, Mac OS X, Linux}.

For example, you can create APL (programming language) keyboard layout, or for LaTeX/XeTeX, or simply as a system to type math symbols in plain text.

APL Keyboard Layout

APL keyboard layout
APL keyboard layout. image source 〔png image 1279×361
APL2 keyboard layout
APL2 keyboard layout. image source

Unicode Font

First, you need to have a font that has the math characters you need. The DejaVu font has all APL symbols and vast majority of math symbols.

Download DejaVu fonts at

For other choices, see: Best Unicode Fonts for Programer. For emoji, see Download Free Unicode Fonts.

APL Symbols in Unicode

You'll need the Unicode characters when setting up a layout.

〔►see Unicode APL Symbols

APL Symbols Meaning and Code Example

〔►see APL Symbols Meaning and Code Example

Generic Math Symbols

Create Your Own Layout

mac unicode char
Mac OS X, 【⌥ option+key】 can be customized to insert your favorite symbol.


For Mac OS X, see: Mac: How to Create Keyboard Layout and Keybinding


Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator By Microsoft. At

Using Emacs

If you are using emacs, you don't need any of the OS layout.

emacs provides you the most flexibility. There are many ways to setup to insert a particular character.

Insert by Keyboard Shortcut

Put the following in your emacs init.

;; example of systematic keys to insert math symbols
(global-set-key (kbd "<f9> <right>") "→")
(global-set-key (kbd "<f9> a") "α")
(global-set-key (kbd "<f9> b") "β")
(global-set-key (kbd "<f9> t") "θ")

The F9 key can be any other key.

You can also set up Hyper and ❖ Super keys.

see Emacs: How to Define Keys

This method of input is:

Insert by Abbrev

You can insert Unicode by abbrev. For example, typing alpha follow by space, becomes α.

see Emacs: Abbrev Mode Tutorial

This method is:

Insert by Short Code and Activation Key

Another way is to type a short code, from 1 to 4 letters, then press a hotkey to change it to a math symbol.

see Emacs: Xah Math Input Mode

It is designed for working with typing math in general, not specifically for APL.

You can add your own abbrevs for APL symbols.

APL Keyboard Keycaps

You can buy a keyboard with APL keyboard keycaps.

unicomp model m us apl 52915
Unicomp Keyboard with APL labeling. Unicomp Keyboard

〔►see IBM Model M keyboard, Unicomp

space cadet keyboard 6
Space-cadet Keyboard has APL key labels, but not in standard APL layout. 〔►see Space-cadet Keyboard

back to Keyboard Shortcut and Layout Tutorial