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

IBM 2741 APL keyboard
IBM 2741 APL keyboard
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.

Unicode Characters

You'll need to insert Unicode character when you setup a layout. So, here are the characters you can use for copy paste first before you created your layout to type them.

Create Your Own Layout


For Mac OS X, see: Mac: How to Change Keybinding


[Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator By Microsoft. At , accessed on 2017-03-12 ]

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 60769
Unicomp Keyboard with APL key labels. Unicomp Keyboard

[see Unicomp Keyboard]

back to Keyboard Shortcut and Layout Tutorial

APL Keyboards

  1. How to Create APL or Math Symbols Keyboard Layout
  2. MCM Model 70 Microcomputer (1972)
  3. IBM 5100 (year 1975)
  4. Space-Cadet Keyboard

Hacker Lore Keyboards

  1. IBM Selectric
  2. History of Emacs and vi Keys
  3. Apple Keyboard History ⌨
  4. Space-Cadet Keyboard
  5. ADM-3A Terminal
  6. DEC VT100 Terminal
  7. IBM Model M keyboard
  8. Sun Microsystems Type 6 Keyboard
  9. Control Key and Capslock Key Positions in Old Keyboards
  10. The Idiocy of Happy Hacking Keyboard

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