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The Indic Fonts HOWTO

Maninder Bali

Dan Scott - Conversion from HTML to DocBook v4.1.2 (XML)
Revision History                                                             
Revision 0.1            2002/01/07             Revised by: mb                
First rendition released by Maninder Bali.                                   

  This is a detailed guide on how to install and use Indic scripts (devanagri
etc.) using UTF-8 encoding under GNU/Linux. This HOWTO is a work in progress.
More sections regarding fonts and other related things shall be added to this
HOWTO in due course of time. Special thanks to Dan Scott for conversion from
HTML to DocBook v4.1.2(XML). Any feedback, sugestions, pointers, gifts, cds,
BMWs will be gladly accepted. All flames will be redirected to /mnt/
praises_for_thee/ for future reference. Be afraid.

Table of Contents
1. Introduction
2. Installing the IndiX system
    2.1. Installing IndiX
    2.2. Running Simpm
3. Devanagri Input and Output setup
    3.1. Linux console
    3.2. X Window System
4. Locale Setup
    4.1. Files and the kernel
    4.2. Locale environment variables
5. Applications with Devanagri
    5.1. Browsers
    5.2. Editors
    5.3. Mailers
6. References and sites
7. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
8. Acknowledgements and Copyright
A. GNU Free Documentation License
    A.1. 0. PREAMBLE
    A.10. 9. TERMINATION
    A.12. Addendum

1. Introduction

  This HOWTO has been written to help you setup your Linux box to use UTF-8
encoding for using various Indic scripts. You will have to install the IndiX
system developed by NCST, Mumbai on your machine in order for you to use
various Indic scripts. I have tested the IndiX system on Exodus GNU/Linux,
RedHat Linux, and Mandrake Linux. Anyone who has tested this system on a
machine running Debian, please let me know and I will include that in this
HOWTO. I want to thank Mr. Keyur Shroff from NCST, Mumbai for allowing me to
modify and redistribute his Devanagri-HOWTO.

  Please note that Exodus GNU/Linux, developed by the good guys at Centurion
Linux, India will ship with the IndiX system installed, thanks to the
Transfer of Technology deal signed by NCST, Mumbai and Centurion Linux Pvt.

  Almost all of the leading GNU/Linux distributions available today have been
localized in various international languages like French, German, Spanish,
Chinese, Arabic, etc. This HOWTO aims at documenting the steps involved in
enabling you to localize your GNU/Linux distribution to Indic scripts of your
choice. To begin with, you must be aware of the complexity involved in
localizing any of the Indian languages. Any Indian language text input
differs from that of English. Perhaps the most significant difference is that
in English, each keystroke maps directly onto a letter where each letter has
a unique code. On the other hand, a 'syllable' - the Indian language
equivalent unit of writing letter is composed of one or more characters
entered through the keyboard.

  The syllable is composed of vowels, consonants, modifiers and other special
graphics signs. These are encoded, just as roman letters are. The user types
in a sequence of vowels, consonants, modifiers and the graphics signs. The
machine then composes these syllables at run time based on language dependent
rules. Every syllable is thus represented in the machine as a unique sequence
of vowels, consonants and modifiers. In a text sequence, these characters are
stored in logical (phonetic) order.

  Indic characters can combine or change shape depending on their context. A
character's appearance is affected by its ordering with respect to other
characters, the font used to render the character, and the application or
system environment. These variables can cause the appearance of Devanagari
characters to be different from their nominal glyphs (used in the code
charts). Additionally, characters cause a change in the order of the
displayed glyphs. This reordering is not commonly seen in non-Indic scripts
and occurs independent of any bi-directional character reordering that might
be required.

  Each syllable has a unique visual representation. However, there are too
many syllables to design glyphs for each one individually. So a font normally
contains certain component glyphs from which a syllable is composed at run
time. The onscreen representation of a syllable is then a composition of
glyphs from the Indian language font. There is no direct mapping of glyph
codes to the consonant, vowel or modifier codes. However, for every syllable
(a sequence of consonants, vowels and modifiers) there is a corresponding
sequence of glyphs. This constitutes a many-to-many mapping from keystrokes
to glyphs as opposed to a simplistic one-to-one mapping in roman scripts.

  Please read the []
Unicode-HOWTO and visit [] for
more information on the UTF-8 encoding.

  The Indix system developed by NCST, Mumbai enables most applications in X
Windows (irrespective of the toolkit used), to render Indic characters
according to the unicode standard specification. IndiX provides support for
OpenType fonts and Unicode encoding at X Windows level. This enables most of
the existing applications to handle Indic scripts without any modification or

  Once you have installed the IndiX system, following all the steps mentioned
in this HOWTO, you will be able to fly across seven seas and slap that
annoying sailor who keeps goin' hic' hic'... Okay, on a more serious note,
you will be able to enjoy your Linux experience in Devanagri and other Indic
scripts of your choice.

2. Installing the IndiX system

  You can obtain the IndiX system from NCST, Mumbai site [http://] The system
is available in its source as well as binary form. This HOWTO covers the
installation of the IndiX system using the binary files avaiable for
download. At a later stage, I plan to cover the source installation of IndiX
on your box, too. You need to download the following files in order to
install IndiX sucessfully onto your machine:



2.1. Installing IndiX

  NCST has written Simpm ( Simple Package Manager ) that takes care of the
entire installation process on your system. Simpm carries out the following
steps for a binary distribution of the IndiX system:

 1. It reads the names of the files within the distribution by essentially
    running the command tar -tzpPf package.tgz > .package.list
 2. It saves all these files and the file containing the list using the
    command tar -czpPf .old.package.tgz .package.list `cat .package.list`
 3. Simpm then extracts the files from the package and installs them using 
    tar -xzpPf package.tgz

Should you wish to go back to the old system state for any reason, you can
easily do so using tar -xzpPf .old.package.tgz

2.2. Running Simpm

  simpm with no arguments/parameters will display its usage.

  # simpm -i package.tgz [-d savdir/]                                        
does all the above steps, 1 through 3. The 'i' flag indicates install.
Successful installation will create savdir/.old.package.tgz. If it finds an
existing .old.package.tgz, simpm will not proceed as it means that the IndiX
system has already been installed earlier. However, you can force an IndiX
install by renaming it to a newpackage. Alternatively, you can uninstall the
package and install it again.

  # simpm -u package.tgz [-d savdir/]                                        
uninstalls the package. Note, however, that this command will work only if it
finds a readable .old.package.tgz. Having uninstalled the package, simpm will
restore the original files that were overwritten by the package. The
.old.package.tgz will be deleted after the uninstallation so that all
instances of the previous installation are removed. Simpm maintains a log of
all installs and uninstalls in the savdir/simpm.log file.

  To install the IndiX system, all you have to do is (pray and do your
favourite tribal dance) type in the following commands:

  # simpm -i /path/to/gtk.tar.gz                                             
  # simpm -i /path/to/indix.tar.gz                                           
and all the necessary files will be backed up, and the IndiX system installed
on your machine. Hurrah.

  Congratulations, o' most precious one, on having installed IndiX system on
your machine. The remainder of this HOWTO will focus on setting up your Linux
environment to support Indic fonts and scripts in X.

3. Devanagri Input and Output setup

3.1. Linux console

  Devanagari characters do not display properly in a Linux console. However,
NCST has developed ncst-term (a terminal emulator program in X Window System)
which has support for converting keystrokes to UTF-8 before sending them to
the application running in the ncst-term, and for displaying Unicode
characters that the application outputs as UTF-8 byte sequence.

3.2. X Window System

  You need to make some changes in your XF86Config-4 file (usually resides in
/etc/X11/ directory). A sample config file XF86Config-4.indix is installed
along with IndiX system. This file can be found in /etc/X11/ directory.

3.2.1. Devanagri Font

  OpenType is the most suitable font format to render any Indic script
properly. The IndiX system ships with one OpenType font called "raghu" for
Hindi. Anyone can use and distribute this font free-of-cost. You can find
this font in /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/TrueType/ directory.

  Installing the Indic Fonts:

  In order to install the Indic fonts, you must log in as root. The X Font
Server (xfs) is known to have some problems with the IndiX system, so remove
it from the FontPath of the X Server. This can be achieved by modifying your
XF86Config-4 file (usually in /etc/X11/) and commenting the line in the Files
section and adding /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/TrueType/ to the current

  After that, the FontPath should look something similar to this:
  FontPath   "unix/:7100"                                                    
  FontPath   "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/misc"                                 
  FontPath   "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/100dpi"                               
  FontPath   "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/75dpi"                                
  FontPath   "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/TrueType"                             
  FontPath   "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/Type1"                                
Next, in order to make use of the OpenType font you have, load the "freetype"
module at startup. You can achieve this by adding the following line in the
Module section of XF86Config-4 file.
  Load "freetype"                                                            
Make sure you specify the modules search path in the Files section, too.
  ModulePath "/usr/X11R6/lib/modules/fonts"                                  
  ModulePath "/usr/X11R6/lib/modules/drivers"                                
  ModulePath "/usr/X11R6/lib/modules"                                        
  ModulePath "/usr/X11R6/lib"                                                
  ModulePath "/usr/lib"                                                      
Any new Indic fonts you want to install should be placed in the /usr/X11R6/
lib/X11/fonts/TrueType/ directory. Now, change to this directory and run the
following commands:
  $ mkfontdir                                                                
  $ xset fp rehash                                                           
In case you want to place your new Indic fonts in some other directory, you
must use xset to add the new FontPath. Please see the xset man-page for
further assistance. You can check the new installed fonts by running the 
xlsfonts command. In case you don't see any Indic fonts using this command,
you may need to restart X.

3.2.2. Devanagri Keyboard Layout

  The IndiX system comes with a keyboard map file for xmodmap. You can use
the utility xmodmap to map a Devanagri keyboard. For most distributions, when
you start X, the X-Server will look for a Xmodmap in /etc/X11/ directory. If
that file does not exist, the server will look for a .Xmodmap in your $HOME.
Just putting the .Xmodmap in your $HOME will be okay. When you start the X
server, it will load this file. You can also load .Xmodmap from the command
  $ xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap                                                       

Note If you are using XFree86 version 4.0 or later, you need to add the line 
     XkbDisable in InputDevice section of XF86Config-4 file. You may config  
     the keyboard section like the following sample.                         
       Section "InputDevice"                                                 
       Identifier  "Keyboard0"                                               
       Driver      "keyboard"                                                
       Option      "XkbDisable"                                              

4. Locale Setup

4.1. Files and the kernel

  You can now use any Unicode characters in file names. No kernel or file
utilities need modifications. This is because file names in the kernel can be
anything not containing a null byte, and '/' is used to delimit
subdirectories. When encoded using UTF-8, non-ASCII characters will never be
encoded using null bytes or slashes. All that happens is that file and
directory names occupy more bytes than they contain characters. For example,
a filename consisting of five greek characters will appear to the kernel as a
10-byte filename. The kernel does not know (and does not need to know) that
these bytes are displayed as greek.

  This is the general theory, so long as your files reside on Linux. On
filesystems which are used from other operating systems, you have mount
options to control conversion of filenames to or from UTF-8:

��*�  The "vfat" filesystems has a mount option "utf8". See file /usr/src/
    linux/Documentation/filesystems/vfat.txt. When you give an "iocharset"
    mount option different from the default (which is "iso8859-1"), the
    results with and without "utf8" are not consistent. Therefore, it is not
    I recommend to use the "iocharset" mount option.
��*�  The "msdos", "umsdos" filesystems have the same mount option, but
    appear to have no effect.
��*�  The "iso9660" filesystem has a mount option "utf8". See file /usr/src/
��*�  Since Linux 2.2.x kernels, the "ntfs" filesystem has a mount option
    "utf8". See file /usr/src/linux/Documentation/filesystems/ntfs.txt.

  The other filesystems (nfs, smbfs, ncpfs, hpfs, etc.) don't convert
filenames; therefore they support Unicode file names in UTF-8 encoding only
if the other operating system supports them. Please note that to enable a
mount option for all future remounts, you add it to the fourth column of the
corresponding /etc/fstab line.

4.2. Locale environment variables

  You should have the following environment variables set, containing locale

    override for LC_MESSAGES
    override for all other LC_* variables
    individual variables for: character types and encoding, natural language
    messages, sorting rules, number formatting, money amount formatting, date
    and time display.
    default value for all LC_* variables. (See `man 7 locale' for a detailed

  In order to tell your system and all applications that you are using UTF-8,
you need to add a codeset suffix of UTF-8 to your locale names. For example,
if you want to run an application in UTF-8 Hindi locale then with bash shell,
you can specify which environment variable to be passed to the application.
  $ LANG=hi_IN.UTF-8 xman                                                    
In order to set locale the Hindi locale globally for a particular user, you
can append the following line in ~/.bashrc file.
  export LANG=hi_IN.UTF-8                                                    
After that you need not to set the LANG environment variable each time you
run a specific application.

5. Applications with Devanagri

5.1. Browsers

5.1.1. Netscape Navigator

  Netscape 6.01 or later can display HTML documents in UTF-8 encoding. All a
document needs is the following line between the <head> and </head> tags:
  <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">        

  To setup Netscape so that it displays Hindi characters:

 1. Goto, Edit -> Preferences
 2. Select category, Appearance -> Fonts
 3. Select Language encoding "Unicode"
 4. Set Variable-width and Fixed-width fonts to "raghu"
 5. Check button "Always use my font settings, overriding web page font"

  Also, ensure that the character coding scheme is set to UTF-8


 1. Goto, View -> Character Coding
 2. Select "Unicode (UTF-8)" from the list

5.1.2. Konqueror

  Konqueror has good support for Unicode. To setup konqueror so that it
displays Hindi characters:

 1. Goto, Settings -> Configure Konqueror
 2. Select "Konqueror Bowser" from the left pan
 3. Goto "Appearance" tab on the right pan
 4. Select charset "iso106460-1"
 5. Set all fonts to "raghu" for this encoding and also set Default encoding
    to "utf8"

5.2. Editors

5.2.1. yudit

  yudit by G�sp�r Sinai ([]
yudit/) is an excellent unicode text editor for the X Window System. It
supports simultaneous processing of many languages, input methods,
conversions for local character standards etc. It has facilities for entering
text in all languages with only an English keyboard, using keyboard
configuration maps. Customization is very easy. Typically you will first want
to customize your font. From the font menu, choose "Unicode". Next, you
should customize your input method. The input methods "Straight", "Unicode"
and "SGML" are most remarkable. For details about the other built-in input
methods, look in /usr/local/share/yudit/data/. To make a change the default
for the next session, edit your $HOME/.yuditrc file. The general editor
functionality is limited to editing, cut and paste and search and replace.
There is no provision for an undo. yudit can display text using a TrueType
font. But it doesn't seem to support combining characters.

5.2.2. Vim

  Vim (as of version 6.0) has good support for UTF-8. When started in an
UTF-8 locale, it assumes UTF-8 encoding for the console and the text files
being edited. It supports double-wide (CJK) characters as well and combining
characters and therefore fits perfectly into UTF-8 enabled ncst-term.

5.2.3. gedit

  gedit is an editor developed using GtkText widget. gedit-0.9.0 does not
support FontSet. This means that you can't edit both English and Hindi text
simultaneously. But if you choose a proper font then you will be able to use
any one language at a time.

5.2.4. xedit

  With XFree86-4.0.1, xedit is capable of editing UTF-8 files if your locale
is set appropriately. Add the line
  "Xedit*international: true"                                                
to your $HOME/.Xdefaults file.

5.3. Mailers

  Mail clients released after January 1, 1999, should be capable of sending
and displaying UTF-8 encoded mails, otherwise they are considered deficient.
But these mails have to carry the MIME labels:
  Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8                                    
  Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit                                            

  Simply piping an UTF-8 file into "mail" without caring about the MIME
labels will not work. Mail client implementors should take a look at [http://] and [

  Now about some of the individual mail clients (or "mail user agents"):

5.3.1. kmail

  kmail (as of KDE 1.0) does not support UTF-8 mails at all.

5.3.2. Netscape Mail

  Netscape Mail can send and display mails in UTF-8 encoding, but it needs a
little bit of manual user intervention. To send an UTF-8 encoded mail:

 1. After opening the "Mail" window, but before starting to compose the
    message, select from the menu "View -> Character Coding -> Unicode
 2. Then compose the message and send it.

  When you receive an UTF-8 encoded mail, Netscape does not display it in
UTF-8 right away, and does not even give a visual clue that the mail was
encoded in UTF-8. You have to manually select from the menu View -> Character
Coding -> Unicode (UTF-8).

  For displaying UTF-8 mails, Netscape uses different fonts. You can adjust
your font settings in the Edit -> Preferences -> Fonts dialog by selecting
the "Unicode" font category.

5.3.3. exmh

  exmh 2.1.2 with Tk 8.4a1 can recognize and correctly display UTF-8 mails if
you add the following lines to your $HOME/.Xdefaults file.
  ! Exmh                                                                     
  exmh.mimeUCharsets: utf-8                                                  
  exmh.mime_utf-8_registry: iso10646                                         
  exmh.mime_utf-8_encoding: 1                                                
  exmh.mime_utf-8_plain_families: fixed                                      
  exmh.mime_utf-8_fixed_families: fixed                                      
  exmh.mime_utf-8_proportional_families: fixed                               
  exmh.mime_utf-8_title_families: fixed                                      

6. References and sites

IndiX links
    ��+�[] IndiX Homepage
    ��+�[] IndiX Download
Centurion Linux and Exodus GNU/Linux
    The good guys at Centurion Linux have finished work on Exodus GNU/Linux,
    a 100% Free Software distribution featuring full Hindi language support
    for GNOME and KDE. The much awaited Exodus GNU/Linux (code named
    BitterCoffee) is expected to be released in the Indian market shortly.
    ��+�[] Centurion Linux Homepage
    ��+�[] The Official GNOME i18n Team -
        India (hindi)
    ��+�[] The official Unicode website
    ��+�[] UTF-8 and Unicode FAQ

7. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

7.1.   I can't start the X windows system. It gives an error "Could not open
    default Indic font 'xyz'".
7.2.   Can I use any other font as the default system font instead of the
    raghu font shipped with the IndiX system?
7.3.   I have installed IndiX system but it doesn't show Hindi characters.
7.4.   Why are some of the pixels in Hindi characters distorted?
7.5.   All Hindi characters are displayed, but why are they not rendered
7.6.   Why can't I download ISO images of Exodus GNU/Linux, yet?

7.1. I can't start the X windows system. It gives an error "Could not open
default Indic font 'xyz'".

Please make sure that the font 'xyz' is correctly installed and is in the
current FontPath. The Indic fonts usually reside in the /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/
fonts/TrueType/ directory. Your FontPath is defined in the /etc/X11/
XFree86Config-4 file. To learn more about howto specify your FontPath, read
the section on X Window System (3.2) in this HOWTO.

7.2. Can I use any other font as the default system font instead of the raghu
font shipped with the IndiX system?

You can load an Indic script font by giving command line server option while
starting X Window System. e.g.
  $ startx -- -devanagari "my_devanagari_font"                               
  $ startx -- -tamil "my_tamil_font"                                         
Here, "my_devanagari_font" and "my_tamil_font" should be replaced by the font
name that you want to load. You can either specify alias name or full XLFD
name for the font. However alias name must be there in fonts.alias file and
XLFD name in fonts.dir file.

7.3. I have installed IndiX system but it doesn't show Hindi characters. Why?

This could possibly be due to the fact that your Hindi locale has not been
setup correctly. To change/set the locale you should set LANG environment
variable. Append the line
  export LANG=hi_IN.UTF-8                                                    
in your ~/.bashrc and ~/.bash_profile files. Restart your terminal emulator
program and run the application. After this the application should display
Hindi characters.

7.4. Why are some of the pixels in Hindi characters distorted?

This is probably because the X Font Server (xfs) is running and is still in
the current FontPath. You can either shutdown the X Font Server or remove it
from the current FontPath. To shutdown xfs issue the following command after
becoming root:
  # /etc/rc.d/init.d/xfs stop                                                
To remove xfs from the current FontPath, read the section Section 3.2 in this

7.5. All Hindi characters are displayed, but why are they not rendered

IndiX system uses an OpenType font to render Indic script characters, as it
is the most suitable font format for Indic scripts. If you use some other
kind of font, for example a TrueType font or a Bitmap font, then the font
does not have enough information that is required to render Indic script text
properly. So it is recommended to use only OpenType fonts for Indic scripts.
Also, in case you are already using an OpenType font, please update your

7.6. Why can't I download ISO images of Exodus GNU/Linux, yet?

The good guys at Centurion Linux are looking for sponsors who can take care
of their hosting needs. If you are interested in helping Centurion Linux out,
please contact me on <>.

8. Acknowledgements and Copyright

  Parts of this HOWTO have been taken from [
Unicode-HOWTO.html] The Unicode HOWTO by Bruno Haible and The Devanagri HOWTO
by Keyur Shroff.

  I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my papa, mummy and my
brothers Manvinder and Kulvinder for their unconditional love and support,
without whom I could never have achieved anything in life. Forever, I love
you. Loshaca :)

  To Girija, my girlfriend: :) Thanks for everything.

  I am very grateful to Keyur Shroff for allowing me to modify and
redistribute his Devanagri HOWTO. Special thanks go out to him for his
guidance, help, and support.

  Thanks to Rohan D'Sa and Manvinder Bali of Centurion Linux for having
helped me with various UTF-8 and Indic scripts issues. Also, thanks for
representing Centurion Linux at the Business Technology meet organised by
Ministry of Information Technology, New Delhi.

  Once again, special thanks to Dan Scott for converting the HOWTO to DocBook
XML format. Thanks Dan :)

  This HOWTO is copyrighted ?? 2001-2002 by Maninder Bali, <> and is distributed under the terms of the GNU Free
Documentation License (GFDL) stated below.

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A.12. Addendum

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