Dugan Chen's Homepage

Various Things

Optimizing Slackware Linux’s Fonts

Getting Unicode/UTF-8 Support

Setting A Unicode Locale

Unicode support will allow Slackware to display non-Latin characters. UTF-8 is the most common Unicode character encoding. Most of Slackware’s components (including the console and X) support UTF-8-encoded characters, but this functionality needs to be turned on.

When using Slackware’s liloconfig (which is run during Slackware’s installation) to set up lilo, you will be asked whether to “USE UTF-8 TEXT CONSOLE?” Say yes.

Then prime Slackware to support Unicode characters by setting your locale to a Unicode one. It’s as simple as editing /etc/profile.d/lang.sh and changing the LANG variable from en_US to en_US.UTF-8.

To test, download ucs-fonts.tar.gz and untar it. Among the extracted files will be an examples directory. In an xterm, go there and cat quickbrown.txt.

The European languages should be properly displayed.

Depending on where you live, a locale other than en_US.UTF-8 might be appropriate. I recommend first reading Linux.com’s Controlling your locale with environment variables, then using a list of language codes and country codes to figure out your locale.

Setting Up A Unicode X Terminal

To get full Unicode support requires an X terminal that actually has full Unicode support. My favorite is rxt-unicode. Install both rxvt-unicode and its dependency libAfterImage from SlackBuilds.org: libAfterImage first, then rxvt-unicode.

Here’s what you need to set rxvt-unicode and XTerm up:

My .Xresources »

As an aside, rxvt-unicode supports transparency. Therefore, this is a good time to make Midnight Commander transparent. Transparent themes for mutt and irssi can be found on their project websites.

Disable gpm because it causes programs like vim and links to lock up in rxvt-unicode (really!). You can do it manually (chmod -x /etc/rc.d/rc.gpm), or with pkgtool.

When running rxvt-unicode, “cat” the files in ucs-font’s example’s directory again. You should be able to see every Unicode character in those files.

Setting A Console Console Font

The Terminus font is a very nice Unicode font for the Linux console. Install it from SlackBuilds.org. Then add the following to your ~/.bashrc (or zshrc, if you’re using zsh):

if [ $TERM = "linux" ]; then
    setfont ter-v16n

Setting Your X Font Resolution

You’ll have the best proportioned typography if you set X to use a font resolution of 96 DPI. If you enter xdpyinfo | grep resolution, you should get back: resolution: 96×96 dots per inch. If your resolution is anything else, you’ll have to set it manually.

If you start X with startx, edit /usr/bin/startx and change



defaultserverargs="-dpi 96"

If you start X with a login manager, edit the configuration file and add -dpi 96 to the ends of the “/usr/bin/X” commands. Under Slackware 13.37, the files are /etc/X11/xdm/Xservers (for xdm) and /usr/share/config/kdm/kdmrc (for kdm). In 13.1, the file for xdm was /etc/X11/xinit/Xservers.

Other Configurations

There are two reasons to prefer a font resolution other than 96 DPI. One is visual impairment; higher-resolution fonts will be larger and easier to see. The other is software that requires another resolution. MythTV, which requires 100 DPI fonts, is an example. If you use MythTV, use the Display_Size section of its wiki to set your font resolution.

Understanding Linux’s Font Subsystem

You need to understand, at this point, what Fontconfig is and how it’s configured. Fontconfig is the font subsystem used by almost all recent Linux software, including all GTK2 and Qt applications. Its configuration is stored in /etc/fonts. One directory, /etc/fonts/conf.avail, stores available configuration files. Fontconfig does not read from conf.avail. Rather, the files there are symlinked into /etc/fonts/conf.d, which Fontconfig does read. After modifying any of those files, or a directory referenced by one of those files, you run fc-cache -f -v as root to refresh Fontconfig.

For example, symlinking /etc/fonts/conf.avail/10-autohint.conf into /etc/fonts/conf.d enables the autohinter. Removing that file from conf.d disables the autohinter. For another example, adding a font into a directory read by Fontconfig will make that font available.

There’s a README file in /etc/fonts/conf.d with more.

Adding More Fonts

General Procedures

Do the following:

mkdir -p /usr/local/share/fonts
cd /etc/fonts
cp fonts.conf local.conf

Then edit local.conf and erase everything between the <fontconfig> and </fontconfig> tags. In its place put the following:


You can then install new fonts by putting them in /usr/local/share/fonts. The files that belong in /usr/local/share/fonts are the actual font files: .ttf, .otf, .dfont, etc. After installing them, run fc-cache -f -v.

This way, the individual fonts you’ve installed yourself are kept separate from those installed via Slackware packages. You can then very easily back up your /usr/local/share/fonts directory.

Webcore Fonts

You need Microsoft’s core fonts for the web to display webpages. (Other webpages, I mean; mine uses Google fonts).

There are two ways to get them. The first, of course, is to copy them from a Windows or OS X installation.

The second is to install them using the webcore-fonts SlackBuild from SlackBuilds.org.

Either way, remove /etc/fonts/conf.d/60-liberation.conf. That file is a workaround for not being able to include them.

Adobe Fonts

Adobe’s user interface and monospace fonts, Source Sans Pro and Source Code Pro, are available on SlackBuilds.org and highly recommended.

Droid Fonts

If you want Android fonts, just download my package of them. You’ll get not only Droid Sans, Droid Sans Mono and Droid Serif, but also newer fonts like Roboto and Droid Fallback. If you like them, put 35-droid.conf in /etc/fonts/conf.d. It will set your sans, serif and monospace aliases to these Android fonts, and make your desktop environment or window manager use them exclusively.

Getting Subpixel Rendering (LCD Monitors Only)

If you have an LCD monitor, that you run at full resolution, you might want to patch your rendering system for subpixel rendering.

Do not enable subpixel rendering if you’re using a non-LCD monitor (such as a CRT), or if you’re not running X at its native resolution (which is probably the case if you’re running Slackware in a virtual machine).

Rebuilding Your Font Rendering Subsystem

You have two options. You can enable Freetype’s default subpixel rendering capabilities, or you can rebuild your your font rendering subsystem to use a custom patchset.

Default Rendering

Download the source directory for Slackware’s Freetype package. It’s in source/l/freetype. Then look at freetype.SlackBuild. Look for the following lines:

# The line below enables code patented by Microsoft, so don't uncomment it
# unless you have a license to use the code and take all legal responsibility
# for doing so.
# Please see this web site for more details:
#   http://www.freetype.org/patents.html
#zcat $CWD/freetype.subpixel.rendering.diff.gz | patch -p1 --verbose || exit 1

Uncomment the line beginning with zcat.

Change the BUILD parameter at the beginning, so that upgradepkg will see it as a new version:


Then build yourself a package and use upgradepkg to have it replace your old Freetype package.

Then add the following to /etc/fonts/local.conf:

<match target="font">
	<edit mode="assign" name="lcdfilter">
	<edit name="hinting" mode="assign">
	<edit name="hintstyle" mode="assign">
	<edit name="antialias" mode="assign">
	<edit name="autohint" mode="assign">

Infinality Filter Rendering

The Infinality project provides nice alternatives to the default subpixel renderer. It also provides configurations with hinting tweaked for individual fonts (e.g. full hinting for Microsoft fonts, slight hinting for everything else). SlackBuilds and packages are available at Someslack, and I’ll let you go there if you’re interested in hearing more about them.

Font Configuration

If /etc/fonts/conf.d contains a filed named 10-no-sub-pixel.conf, remove it.

Use the Lagm LCD test to discover your monitor’s subpixel layout. Mine is RGB.

You may then, in one of two ways, set Fontconfig’s subpixel layout to match. The first is to symlink the appropriate file from conf.avail into conf.d. It’s one of the following:

  • 10-sub-pixel-bgr.conf
  • 10-sub-pixel-rgb.conf
  • 10-sub-pixel-vbgr.conf
  • 10-sub-pixel-vrgb.conf

The other is to set it in Xfce’s, KDE’s, and/or GNOME’s control panel. Remember, you can run xfsettingsd (Xfce 4.6), xfce-mcs-manager (Xfce 4.0–4.4), or gnome-settings-daemon to get Xfce or GNOME’s appearance settings in another DE or WM.


The X resource database should be made aware of your font settings. Put the following (or a variation matching your /etc/fonts settings) in your .Xresources file:

Xft.dpi: 96
Xft.antialias: 1
Xft.hinting: 1
Xft.hintstyle: hintfull
Xft.lcdfilter: lcddefault
Xft.rgba: rgb
Xft.autohint: 0

Xft.rgba, of course, is set to the value you found in the subpixel order test.


X Server

Some applications still get their fonts through the X server instead of through Fontconfig. To make your fonts available to the X server, edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf and add /usr/local/share/fonts as a FontPath.

You also need to do the following after installing new fonts:

cd /usr/local/share/fonts

If you then restart the X server, then fonts you just installed will show up in xlsfonts and xfontsel.

I also recommend the following one-time change:

FontPath "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/misc/"
FontPath "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/75dpi/"
FontPath "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/100dpi/"


FontPath /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/misc:unscaled/"
FontPath "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/100dpi:unscaled/"
FontPath "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/75dpi:unscaled/"

The reason are that the unscaled bitmap fonts in these directories look better than scaled ones, and the 100dpi fonts more closely match your X server’s resolution.


Text in some Java applications, such as Netbeans, can look particularly bad, especially if you’re not running gnome-settings-daemon or xfsettingsd.

To fix that, add the following to /etc/profile:

export _JAVA_OPTIONS='-Dawt.useSystemAAFontSettings=lcd_hrgb'

The lcd_hrgb setting should be changed as appropriate, depending on whether you’ve enabled subpixel rendering (and your subpixel order, if you have). Please refer to the Java Fonts – Sun JRE page on Arch Linux’s wiki for directions.