I'm trying to re-use the useless Caps lock key for something useful on 16.04 MATE. I have come across

setxkbmap -option ctrl:nocaps

to disable it, but could it be remapped to play/pause VLC for example? Thanks for your answers!

  • I don't think that this will work.... for a number of reasons... for example, I think linux treats capslock as a modifier and not a seperate key. That will probably be the reason why you cannot bind it in VLC. Also, if you deactivate it, its deactivated. But you can play around on the commandline and try to bind it with vlc --key-play-pause <key-string>, but I haven't found a string that VLC accepts as capslock... Jun 15, 2018 at 7:29
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    I installed dconf-editor tried a couple of things, installed xdotool tried a couple of things and finally xbindkeys and tried a couple of things. At the end of this fruitless exercise my keyboard pause/play button was broken AND my own screen play/pause button was greyed out and music wouldn't play. I did this in 16.04 so rebooted in 18.04 to confirm everything still works and it was the software hacks that did it. The only saving grace is I only play music through Android phone and not PC. Just a heads up for others to be careful and document what you do to your machine better than me. Jun 15, 2018 at 22:28
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    @pbhj Thanks for the tip. I somehow managed to get play/pause working again with on screen button and keyboard pause/play button in Ubuntu 16.04. I just wanted to warn people of possible pitfalls experimenting with these low-level keyboard utilities. Jun 16, 2018 at 21:41
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    2BFrank: Be sure to accept one of the answers if it solves your problem. Since there's a bounty on this question, leaving an answer unaccepted (and not manually awarding the bounty) will only award half of the bounty to @Sebastian Stark, since his answer is the highest voted. Jun 18, 2018 at 13:29
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    @NonnyMoose Thanks for that comment. I was going to leave it to just autoaward it to the accepted answer or the highest vote total, but I didn't know that it halved the award, so I'll be manually awarding it to the highest vote total in approximately two hours if no answer is accepted. Jun 22, 2018 at 18:05

6 Answers 6


evtest and dbus

Here is a version involving a small script running in the background. A few easy steps need to be taken:

  • Install the evtest program: sudo apt install evtest. This program is able to decode and print raw events from the /dev/input/ hierarchy of devices.

  • Add your user account to the group input. Logout and login again. (This is needed because we are going to read from some device under /dev/input/, which normally can only be done by root or users in group input. We could run the script as root, but then we would have to find a way to tell it which user dbus instance it needs to talk to.)

  • Disable the capslock key like you did or use the corresponding Mate preference. It would also work if you map the capslock key to ctrl, like many people do.

  • Store the following script somewhere, e. g. $HOME/bin/capshack and make it executable:

    EVENT="type 1 (EV_KEY), code 58 (KEY_CAPSLOCK), value 1"
    toggleVLC () {
            dbus-send \
                --type=method_call \
                --dest=org.mpris.MediaPlayer2.vlc \
                /org/mpris/MediaPlayer2 \
    evtest "$KEYBOARD" | \
    while read line
        if [[ "$line" == *"$EVENT" ]]

The above script will listen to your keyboard events and execute a command when the capslock key is pressed. The command that is run is using dbus to send a play/pause event to a running VLC instance. You might have to tweak the KEYBOARD variable to point to your actual keyboard, but it is likely the above value will work.

If you prefer the toggleVLC() function to be called when you release the capslock key, you can change the EVENT variable in the script such that it ends with value 0 instead of value 1.

Also, it is possible that for you the keycode of the capslock key is different from 58. You can check this by running evtest, look at the output when you press capslock, and adjust the EVENT variable accordingly. You do not even have to match by the keycode and set EVENT simply to (KEY_CAPSLOCK), value 1.

Instead of using evtest and above script you could use thd from the triggerhappy package (something like thd --dump /dev/input/* would give similar output) but I found that a little bit less educational.

Now we create a user systemd unit to start the script automatically in the background:

  • Create the user systemd hierarchy: mkdir -p $HOME/.config/systemd/user

  • Add the following text to the file $HOME/.config/systemd/user/capshack.service

    Description=Abuse capslock key
  • Enable the service unit you just made: systemctl --user enable capshack

  • Start the service: systemctl --user start capshack

From now on you should be able to toggle play/pause in VLC using the capslock key. The background script should be automatically started when you log in.


As mentioned already you could also use the triggerhappy package to do this. This is the preferred method for people who want to fiddle less with the system and rather like a more solid solution.

  • Add user to the input group like above

  • Install the package: sudo apt install triggerhappy

  • Add a configuration for triggerhappy to ~/.config/thd/capslock.conf:

    KEY_CAPSLOCK    1   dbus-send --type=method_call --dest=org.mpris.MediaPlayer2.vlc /org/mpris/MediaPlayer2 org.mpris.MediaPlayer2.Player.PlayPause
  • Run thd like this: thd --triggers ~/.config/thd/capslock.conf /dev/input/event*

  • Make thd run for your user in a similar way like described for capshack already.

  • Make sure you have only one of the mentioned methods (capshack or thd) running, to not double toggle which each key press.

I tested all this on 18.04 under the standard session and 16.04 mate. But it should theoretically also work under wayland or with other desktop environments.

  • @WinEunuuchs2Unix thanks for mentioning. I personally prefer the more verbose style of the full if/then/else clause: It is more explicit, it is easier to extend and it does not tend to make lines too long. Although in this case it really wouldn't matter much indeed. Jun 16, 2018 at 21:50
  • I agree about lines too long. Recently I adapted coding style to two lines with first line [[ test ]] && \ and the second line indented four spaces with <command> to run on positive test. I agree whole heartedly about readability because my recommendation is alien to most programming languages. Jun 16, 2018 at 22:23
  • this is great ! Although I think it seems triggerhappy should be the way to go, since evtest is actually a debugging program :) Jun 18, 2018 at 7:53
  • yes, evtest for learning, the for doing :) Jun 18, 2018 at 8:48
  • ... For me anyway, keycode 58 is m, so that script doesn't work. I recommend checking xmodmap -pke | grep Caps_Lock before using this script to make sure the keycode is correct. Jun 18, 2018 at 13:25

In Ubuntu 16.04 after spending hours googling & fiddling with dconf-editor and xbindkeys I found an extremely easy solution:

  • Very quick setup in 2 minutes
  • Only xdotool needs to be installed
  • No scripts necessary
  • Caps lock is still recognized but doesn't toggle letter case
  • Works with standard Ubuntu Keyboard Custom Shortcut Settings

If you need Gnome XF86AudioPlay support you need xdotool (not needed for VLC as OP stipulates):

sudo apt install xdotool

Now here's the tricky part. Every time you press the Caps LocK key to toggle the music between Play and Pause, capital letters also toggle off and on.

Use this method to turn off Caps Lock toggling while still keeping key active:

setxkbmap -option caps:none

Music players that adhere to Gnome

Then in Ubuntu 16.04 go into Settings >> Keyboard >> Shortcuts >> Custom Shortcuts:

audio pause-play shortcut.png

  • Set the name to Audio Play
  • Set the command to xdotool key XF86AudioPlay
  • Then click the Apply button

After adding the new option the assigned shortcut key will read Disabled. Click on Disabled and when prompted for key to assign press the Caps LocK key.

Music players like VLC

Follow the steps for Gnome in the previous section but for the command use this instead:

qdbus org.mpris.MediaPlayer2.vlc /org/mpris/MediaPlayer2 org.mpris.MediaPlayer2.Player.PlayPause

VLC won't recognize media keys: How to make the keyboard media keys to work with VLC globally? even when built into the keyboard. Therefor the custom keyboard shortcut to XF86AudioPlay is useless with xdotool.

Setting custom keyboard shortcuts from command line

This Q&A discusses how to set custom keyboard shortcuts from the command line: How to set custom keyboard shortcuts from terminal?

Deactivating caps lock permanently

Next step is to make this setxkbmap -option caps:none persistent across reboots. Googling results in this answer by Terdon: Save setxkbdmap settings:

An easy way would be to add the command to your $HOME/.profile file (you can create it if it doesn't exist):

setxkbmap -option caps:none

That should make it run every time you log in.

Note that you should use $HOME/.profile rather than $HOME/.bash_profile, $HOME/.bashrc or some other similar file. This is because this setting should be read by your login manager.

  • Simple, elegant, does the job: The perfect answer to me!
    – Fabby
    Jun 21, 2018 at 0:04
  • @Fabby Well I must admit it's easy to setup and test and doesn't require low-level mucking about or constantly running scripts. I went through four different attempts before stumbling upon this method. Still wouldn't call it perfect but THANKS!. If they let me back into Europe again I'll buy you a pint. Jun 21, 2018 at 0:25
  • Does it work with Wayland?
    – danzel
    Jun 21, 2018 at 10:34
  • @dabzel I'm afraid Wayland doesn't work with setxkbmap -option caps:none. The utility program is installed however Wayland keeps toggling between upper and lower case. You could post a separate question on how to get Wayland to respect setxkbmap. Jun 21, 2018 at 22:41

This answer has been tested on Ubuntu MATE 16.04.4 LTS in a VM (but the keyboard was a USB keyboard on passthrough, so that should not make a difference). It also requires no extra software, and can be done on a vanilla install without installing any packages, and it is persistent between boots.

Remap Caps Lock

  1. Edit the file /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/pc as root. Be careful not to make a mistake here (like forgetting the comma) because you might not be able to use your keyboard anymore if you do. (Guess what I learned the hard way? ;)

  2. Comment out the line

        key <CAPS> {    [ Caps_Lock     ]   };

    by placing two forward slashes (//) at the beginning of it.

  3. Add beneath it the following line:

        key <CAPS> {    [ XF86AudioPlay, XF86AudioPause ]   };
  4. Comment out the line

        modifier_map Lock   { Caps_Lock };

    in the same manner as above.

  5. Reboot.

Note: (credit to danzel for pointing this out) Updates to the package xkb-data can overwrite this file. A reasonably safe method for preventing this is diverting the path using dpkg-divert. (I say "reasonably safe" because the upstream source for this file hasn't been modified in three years.)

Alternative Method

Manually disable your Caps Lock key in your keyboard layout settings, then use the approach in this answer to add your own key re-mappings.


Your caps lock key no longer locks caps, and it has been remapped to Play/Pause at this point. You should be able to play and pause music in VLC now. If it works at this point, you may skip the rest of these instructions.

However, when I tried it, VLC did not respond to the Play/Pause key.

Make sure the keyboard shortcut is set properly

  1. Open Keyboard Shortcuts (System → Preferences → Hardware → Keyboard Shortcuts)

  2. Ensure that "Play (or Play/Pause)" is set to "XF86AudioPlay"

  3. If it is not, click on the "Shortcut" section and press your new Play/Pause key to set the shortcut. helpful screenshot

  4. If it still doesn't work, reboot a couple of times for good measure. (That's actually what fixed it for me.)

  • This may interfere with xkb options, especially caps:... ones. Also, it could be overwritten by system updates.
    – danzel
    Jun 19, 2018 at 20:09
  • Indeed, it could. Good point about system updates, though. I will add a note about this in my answer. Thanks for the feedback! Jun 20, 2018 at 2:02
  • Dear All, wow !! Sorry was afk for a while :-) and am now discovering all the effort you all put into the solution !! Will try @WinEunuuchs2Unix answer, and keep you posted. Thanks, LLAP !!
    – 2BFrank
    Jun 21, 2018 at 13:18
  • @2BFrank Out of curiosity, did you find an answer that worked? Jun 22, 2018 at 22:34

Install xbindkeys, xcape and playerctl. Make sure that xcape (mapping CapsLock to a spare key like Alt+F12 by xcape -e 'Caps_Lock=Alt_L|F12) and playerctl are autostarted on log-in, and add to the file ~/.xbindkeysrc the two lines

"playerctl play-pause"
  Alt + F12

Make your capslock key a play/pause key

This solution will remap your capslock key's scancode to a different keycode in the kernel input driver, in this case play/pause.


  • No need to modify existing system files (only one new file has to be created)
  • Applications won't know that it is actually a capslock key but think a real play/pause key has been pressed
  • No need to disable capslock, no possibility to mess up xkb configuration


  • Has to be done for each keyboard individually (which, depending on the situation, can also be an advantage)


  • evtest (can be installed via sudo apt-get install evtest)


In a terminal, run sudo evtest and select your keyboard. If there is no output when you press a key, press Ctrl+C and try a different device. Remember the device event number you selected, we will need it afterwards. Press the capslock key. Some lines like the following will appear:

Event: time 1529406021.187148, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
Event: time 1529406021.218427, type 4 (EV_MSC), code 4 (MSC_SCAN), value 70039
Event: time 1529406021.218427, type 1 (EV_KEY), code 58 (KEY_CAPSLOCK), value 0

We need the value from the MSC_SCAN line preceding the KEY_CAPSLOCK line. In the example above, this would be 70039, but the scancode on your keyboard is probably different.

Now run the following command, but replace the X with the device event number you used for the evtest command:

grep "" /sys/class/input/eventX/device/id/*

...this will output bustype, product, vendor and version of the keyboard.

Create a file named 65-keyboard-custom.hwdb in /etc/udev/hwdb.d/ (root permissions required) with the following content:



  • [bus], [vendor], [product] and [version] have exactly 4 characters and letters need to be uppercase
  • [scancode] has to be lowercase
  • the evdev:... line has no preceding space
  • the KEYBOARD_KEY... line has exactly one preceding space

For example:


Finally, compile the new configuration to the hardware database:

sudo systemd-hwdb update

If you want to apply the changes immediately, inform udev:

sudo udevadm trigger

If you want to revert the changes, just remove the file you created and reboot.

You can find more detailed information in my original answer on this topic.

  • @Nonny Moose that's why I wrote "Has to be done for each keyboard individually". Plus, you can specify as many keyboards as you like, so you really only have to do this for every new keyboard you buy. On the other hand, you can omit a keyboard if you like, e.g. because it already has a physical play/pause key.
    – danzel
    Jun 19, 2018 at 18:45
  • ... Well, I wasn't paying attention. I stand corrected. Jun 20, 2018 at 1:58

Maybe using xbindkeys or XTE you could do that. But first be sure of what is the Keycodes, you can see the code for the capslock key using command xevin the terminal and pressing it (you can see keycode of any keu or mouse button, including Gaming mouses). With capslock and play buttons' keycode in hand you can edit xbindkeys confi file and put there your changes. use touch ~/.xbindkeysrc to create the config file (if system does not create it automatically) and nano ~/.xbindkeysrc to edit it. I've used it last month and here its an examble. take a look at these links that might be very helpfull for you.



Remap a button from my gaming mouse to a keyboard key


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