10.4. Language and Country-Specific Settings

SUSE Linux is, to a very large extent, internationalized and can be modified for local needs in a flexible manner. In other words, internationalization (I18N) allows specific localizations (L10N). The abbreviations I18N and L10N are derived from the first and last letters of the words and, in between, the number of letters omitted.

Settings are made with LC_ variables defined in the file /etc/sysconfig/language. This refers not only to native language support, but also to the categories Messages (Language), Character Set, Sort Order, Time and Date, Numbers, and Money. Each of these categories can be defined directly with its own variable or indirectly with a master variable in the file language (see the locale man page).


These variables are passed to the shell without the RC_ prefix and represent the listed categories. The shell profiles concerned are listed below. The current setting can be shown with the command locale.


This variable, if set, overwrites the values of the variables already mentioned.


If none of the previous variables are set, this is the fallback. By default, SUSE Linux only sets RC_LANG. This makes it easier for users to enter their own values.


A yes or no variable. If it is set to no, root always works in the POSIX environment.

The variables can be set with the YaST sysconfig editor (see Section 8.3.1, “Changing the System Configuration Using the YaST sysconfig Editor”). The value of such a variable contains the language code, country code, encoding, and modifier. The individual components are connected by special characters:


10.4.1. Some Examples

You should always set the language and country codes together. Language settings follow the standard ISO 639 available at http://www.evertype.com/standards/iso639/iso639-en.html and http://www.loc.gov/standards/iso639-2/. Country codes are listed in ISO 3166 available at http://www.din.de/gremien/nas/nabd/iso3166ma/codlstp1/en_listp1.html.

It only makes sense to set values for which usable description files can be found in /usr/lib/locale. Additional description files can be created from the files in /usr/share/i18n using the command localedef. The description files are part of the glibc-i18ndata package. A description file for en_US.UTF-8 (for English and United States) can be created with:

localedef -i en_US -f UTF-8 en_US.UTF-8

This is the default setting if American English is selected during installation. If you selected another language, that language is enabled but still with UTF-8 as the character encoding.


This sets the language to English, country to United States, and the character set to ISO-8859-1. This character set does not support the Euro sign, but it can be useful sometimes for programs that have not been updated to support UTF-8. The string defining the charset (ISO-8859-1 in this case) is then evaluated by programs like Emacs.


The above example explicitly includes the Euro sign in a language setting. Strictly speaking, this setting is obsolete now, because UTF-8 also covers the Euro symbol. It is only useful if an application does not support UTF-8, but ISO-8859-15.

SuSEconfig reads the variables in /etc/sysconfig/language and writes the necessary changes to /etc/SuSEconfig/profile and /etc/SuSEconfig/csh.cshrc. /etc/SuSEconfig/profile is read or sourced by /etc/profile. /etc/SuSEconfig/csh.cshrc is sourced by /etc/csh.cshrc. This makes the settings available systemwide.

Users can override the system defaults by editing their ~/.bashrc accordingly. For instance, if you do not want to use the systemwide en_US for program messages, include LC_MESSAGES=es_ES so messages are displayed in Spanish instead.

10.4.2. Locale Settings in ~/.i18n

If you are not satisfied with locale system defaults, change the settings in ~/.i18n. Entries in ~/.i18n override system defaults from /etc/sysconfig/language. Use the same variable names but without the RC_ namespace prefixes, for example, use LANG instead of RC_LANG.

10.4.3. Settings for Language Support

Files in the category Messages are, as a rule, only stored in the corresponding language directory (like en) to have a fallback. If you set LANG to en_US and the message file in /usr/share/locale/en_US/LC_MESSAGES does not exist, it falls back to /usr/share/locale/en/LC_MESSAGES.

A fallback chain can also be defined, for example, for Breton to French or for Galician to Spanish to Portuguese:



If desired, use the Norwegian variants Nynorsk and Bokmål instead (with additional fallback to no):






Note that in Norwegian, LC_TIME is also treated differently.

One problem that can arise is a separator used to delimit groups of digits not being recognized properly. This occurs if LANG is set to only a two-letter language code like de, but the definition file glibc uses is located in /usr/share/lib/de_DE/LC_NUMERIC. Thus LC_NUMERIC must be set to de_DE to make the separator definition visible to the system.

10.4.4. For More Information

  • The GNU C Library Reference Manual, Chapter “Locales and Internationalization”. It is included in glibc-info.

  • Markus Kuhn, UTF-8 and Unicode FAQ for Unix/Linux, currently at http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/unicode.html.

  • Unicode-Howto, by Bruno Haible: /usr/share/doc/howto/en/html/Unicode-HOWTO.html.