#cli #linux #windows #keyboard #layout

app kanata

Multi-layer keyboard customization

13 releases (8 stable)

new 1.3.0 Mar 25, 2023
1.3.0-prerelease-1 Feb 28, 2023
1.1.0 Nov 26, 2022
1.0.6 Jul 31, 2022

#10 in Command line utilities

Download history 6/week @ 2022-12-09 16/week @ 2022-12-16 10/week @ 2022-12-23 4/week @ 2022-12-30 9/week @ 2023-01-06 9/week @ 2023-01-13 16/week @ 2023-01-20 39/week @ 2023-01-27 19/week @ 2023-02-03 33/week @ 2023-02-10 35/week @ 2023-02-17 47/week @ 2023-02-24 12/week @ 2023-03-03 21/week @ 2023-03-10 36/week @ 2023-03-17 40/week @ 2023-03-24

114 downloads per month


11K SLoC


Image of a keycap with the letter K on it in pink tones

Improve your keyboard comfort

What does this do?

This is a software keyboard remapper for Linux and Windows. A short summary of the features:

  • multiple layers of key functionality
  • advanced key behaviour customization (e.g. tap-hold, macros, unicode)
  • cross-platform human readable configuration file

To see all of the features, see the configuration guide.

The most similar project is kmonad, which served as the inspiration for kanata. Here's a comparison document.

Demo video

Showcase of multi-layer functionality (30s, 1.7 MB).

Why is this useful?

Imagine if, instead of pressing Shift to type uppercase letters, we had giant keyboards with separate keys for lowercase and uppercase letters. I hope we can all agree: that would be a terrible user experience!

A way to think of how Shift keys work is that they switch your input to another layer of functionality where you now type uppercase letters and symbols instead of lowercase letters and numbers.

What kanata allows you to do is take this alternate layer concept that Shift keys have and apply it to any key. You can then customize what those layers do to suit your exact needs and workflows.


Running kanata currently does not start it in a background process. You will need to keep the window that starts kanata running to keep kanata active. Some tips for running kanata in the background:

Pre-built executables

See the releases page for executables and instructions.

Build it yourself

This project uses the latest Rust stable toolchain. If you installed the Rust toolchain using rustup, e.g. by using the instructions from the official website, you can get the latest stable toolchain with rustup update stable.


Using cargo install:

cargo install kanata

# On Linux, this may not work without `sudo`, see below
kanata --cfg <your_configuration_file>

Build and run yourself in Linux:

git clone https://github.com/jtroo/kanata && cd kanata
cargo build   # --release optional, not really perf sensitive

# sudo is used because kanata opens /dev/ files
# See below if you want to avoid needing sudo:
# https://github.com/jtroo/kanata/wiki/Avoid-using-sudo-on-Linux
sudo target/debug/kanata --cfg <your_configuration_file>

Build and run yourself in Windows.

git clone https://github.com/jtroo/kanata; cd kanata
cargo build   # --release optional, not really perf sensitive
target\debug\kanata --cfg <your_configuration_file>

The full configuration guide is found here.

Sample configuration files are found in cfg_samples. The simple.kbd file contains a basic configuration file that is hopefully easy to understand but does not contain all features. The kanata.kbd contains an example of all features with documentation. The release assets also have a kanata.kbd file that is tested to work with that release. All key names can be found in the keys module, and you can also define your own key names.

Feature flags

When either building yourself or using cargo install, you can add feature flags that enable functionality that is turned off by default.


If you want to enable the cmd actions, add the flag --features cmd. For example:

cargo build --release --features cmd
cargo install --features cmd

On Windows, if you want to compile a binary that uses the Interception driver, you should add the flag --features interception_driver. For example:

cargo build --release --features interception_driver
cargo install --features interception_driver

To combine multiple flags, use a single --features flag and use a comma to separate the features. For example:

cargo build --release --features cmd,interception_driver
cargo install --features cmd,interception_driver

Other installation methods

Packaging status

Notable features


Contributions are welcome!

Unless explicitly stated otherwise, your contributions to kanata will be made under the LGPL-3.0-only* license.

The exception to this is the code under the keyberon directory, which is licensed under the MIT license, and likewise, contributions to code in this directory will made under the MIT license unless explicitly stated otherwise.

Here's a basic low-effort design doc of kanata

If you want to test changes in the keyberon library code, you should change the top-level Cargo.toml file. Look at the comments around the kanata-keyberon dependency to understand what changes to make.

How you can help

  • Try it out and let me know what you think. Feel free to file an issue or start a discussion.
  • Usability issues and unhelpful error messages are considered bugs that should be fixed. If you encounter any, I would be thankful if you file an issue.
  • Browse the open issues and help out if you are able and/or would like to. If you want to try contributing, feel free to ping jtroo for some pointers.
  • If you know anything about writing a keyboard driver for Windows, starting an open-source alternative to the Interception driver would be lovely.

What does the name mean?

I wanted a "k" word since this relates to keyboards. According to Wikipedia, kanata is an indigenous Iroquoian word meaning "village" or "settlement" and is the origin of Canada's name.

There's also PPT✧.


TLDR: QMK features but for any keyboard, not just fancy mechanical ones.

Long version

I have a few keyboards that run QMK. QMK allows the user to customize the functionality of their keyboard to their heart's content.

One great use case of QMK is its ability map keys so that they overlap with the home row keys but are accessible on another layer. I won't comment on productivity, but I find this greatly helps with my keyboard comfort.

For example, these keys are on the right side of the keyboard:

7 8 9
u i o
j k l
m , .

On one layer I have arrow keys in the same position, and on another layer I have a numpad.

arrows:       numpad:
- - -         7 8 9
--         4 5 6
← ↓ →         1 2 3
- - -         0 * .

One could add as many customizations as one likes to improve comfort, speed, etc. Personally my main motivator is comfort due to a repetitive strain injury in the past.

However, QMK doesn't run everywhere. In fact, it doesn't run on most hardware you can get. You can't get it to run on a laptop keyboard or any mainstream office keyboard. I believe that the comfort and empowerment QMK provides should be available to anyone with a computer on their existing hardware, instead of having to purchase an enthusiast mechanical keyboard (which are admittedly very nice — I own a few — but can be costly).

The best alternative solution that I found for keyboards that don't run QMK was kmonad. This is an excellent project and I recommend it if you want to try something similar.

The reason for this project's existence is that kmonad is written in Haskell and I have no idea how to begin contributing to a Haskell project. From an outsider's perspective I think Haskell is a great language but I really can't wrap my head around it. And there are a few outstanding issues at the time of writing that make kmonad suboptimal for my personal workflows.

This project is written in Rust because Rust is my favourite programming language and the prior work of the awesome keyberon crate exists.

Similar Projects

  • kmonad: The inspiration for kanata (Linux, Windows, Mac)
  • QMK: Open source keyboard firmware
  • keyberon: Rust #[no_std] library intended for keyboard firmware
  • ktrl: Linux-only keyboard customizer with layers, a TCP server, and audio support
  • kbremap: Windows-only keyboard customizer with layers and unicode
  • xcape: Linux-only tap-hold modifiers
  • karabiner-elements: Mac-only keyboard customizer
  • capsicain: Windows-only key remapper with driver-level key interception
  • keyd: Linux-only key remapper very similar to QMK, kmonad, and kanata
  • xremap: Linux-only application-aware key remapper inspired more by Emacs key sequences vs. QMK layers/Vim modes

Why the list?

While kanata is the best tool for me (jtroo), it may not be the best tool for you. I'm happy to introduce you to tools that may better suit your needs. This list is also useful as reference/inspiration for functionality that could be added to kanata.


The author (jtroo) will not accept monetary donations for work on kanata. Please instead donate your time and/or money to charity.

Some links are below. These links are provided for learning and as interesting reads. They are not an endorsement.


~259K SLoC