Dvorak remapping with Karabiner-Elements on macOS Sierra works!

With some config file elbow grease, Karabiner-Elements works wonderfully on macOS Sierra to remap your keyboard to Dvorak.

I have been using Karabiner for a while now to remap my keyboard to Dvorak, as the OSX system Dvorak keyboard mapping exposes a bug in many Java apps, including all of the JetBrains development environment tools I use intensively, whereby the keyboard is in fact Dvorak, but all shortcut keys are Qwerty, which is of course tremendously confusing. You can read more about the issue in this StackOverflow answer.

I was postponing the upgrade to macOS Sierra, because Karabiner, fantastic keyboard remapping tool, is unable to function on the new OS due to changed APIs and whatnot.

Fortunately Takayama Fumihiko, awesome hacker behind Karabiner, has been re-implementing his work in a new tool called Karabiner-Elements. The GUI is not up to pre-Sierra level yet, but the tool works perfectly to solve my Dvorak-remapping (and other) issues!

After upgrading to Sierra, install from the dmg file, start Karabiner-Elements, then copy qwerty_to_dvorak.json from the examples into your ~/.karabiner.d/configuration/ directory and name it karabiner.json. It will be immediately picked up, so you’re typing in Dvorak.

Personally I have also added the relevant lines from the change_caps_lock_to_left_control.json and change_section_key_to_accent_key.json examples to the simple_modifications clause of my karabiner.json file. Using caps-lock as control is essential for efficient Emacs use, and that section key at the top-left of the MBP 2015 keyboards should have been backtick / tilde to start with.

5 thoughts on “Dvorak remapping with Karabiner-Elements on macOS Sierra works!”

  1. Have you learned both keyboard layouts equally efficiently? Do you find it hard to switch when using someone else’s query keyboard?

    1. When I learned Dvorak in 2000 my muscle memory conveniently completely unlearned qwerty. Although some of my Dvorak friends report that when you relearn qwerty, you can switch to and fro, I have never felt the pain enough to do that. On most systems activating Dvorak layout is pretty straightforward (excepting obscure bugs such as the topic of this post).

      1. Thanks for the article very helpful. I had the same experience as you that switching back to qwery is more pain then its worth. Especially when your a developer and you use control commands and shortcuts based on the dvorak layout which is all muscle memory.

  2. I just installed the Eclipse IDE and noticed that it ignores the system keyboard setting of “Dvorak with Qwerty Cmd” and instead is typing Dvorak with Dvorak Cmd. I also have Windows computers, which have only the Dvorak keyboard option, so I am somewhat used to typing either Qwerty or Dvorak keys with Cmd and Ctrl. I do not have any issues switching between macOS and Windows, but the lack of complete consistency on the Mac with the Qwerty Cmd is a bit annoying.

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