How to Set Up GNUstep for the East Asian Languages


Kazunobu Kuriyama (
Yen-Ju Chen (
Song Woo-il (

Version: 2.2 Alpha

Date: 2004-04-08

This article illustrates how to set up GNUstep for the East Asian languages with some working examples. It also includes some useful information applicable to other non-European languages.

Copyright: (C) 2004, 2003 Free Software Foundation, Inc.


This brief article illustrates how to set up your GNUstep for the East Asian languages known as CJK (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) in literature. We assume that you already know how to set up your X Window System for your language environment such as locale, fonts, and input methods. We also assume that you selected 'art' as the backend of GNUstep's GUI.

Like other computer software made outside the region, GNUstep requires some adjustment to use those languages. The adjustment consists of the following steps:

  1. Prepare one or more true type font files which contain characters of your native language, and organize them in a certain way so that the art backend can use them.
  2. Set the environmental variable GNUSTEP_STRING_ENCODING to an appropriate value for the language in use.
  3. Set the NSGlobalDomain variables such as NSFont, NSFontSize, NSUserFont, and NSLanguages , to name a few, to appropriate values using the GNUstep's utility defaults.

Now we explain each step in detail and give some working examples.


The art backend expects necessary true type font files to be found in the specified directories, which are usually $GNUSTEP_USER_ROOT/Library/Fonts and $GNUSTEP_SYSTEM_ROOT/Library/Fonts. You need to organize font files in a certain way (see below) so that the art backend can recognize them.

For example, suppose you have a hypothetical true type font file called MyFont.ttf and want to allow all other users to use it. Then, as root,

		# cd $GNUSTEP_SYSTEM_ROOT/Library/Fonts
		# mkdir MyFont.nfont
		# cd MyFont.nfont

With your favorite editor, create a file whose contents are as follows:

		    Faces = (
			    PostScriptName = "MyFont";
			    Name = "Regular";
			    Files = ("MyFont.ttf");

Then save it as FontInfo.plist (the format above is known as property list in GNUstep, which explains why the extension is plist). This small file system you've created just now is referred to as .nfont package.

The FontInfo.plist above is just a bare-bones version. For further details, we strongly recommend the reader to read the file nfont_packages.txt found at

If you want to use the font file privately, replace GNUSTEP_SYSTEM_ROOT with GNUSTEP_USER_ROOT in the instruction above.


GNUstep assumes as default that every character is encoded in ISO8859-1 unless the escape character \u precedes it (This exception applies to other encodings). Hence, if you want to use the characters of your native language with GNUstep, you have to tell it which encoding you use. This can be done by setting the environmental variable GNUSTEP_STRING_ENCODING to an appropriate value.

The possible values for GNUSTEP_STRING_ENCODING are as follows:

		NSJapaneseEUCStringEncoding		// Japanese
		NSISOLatin1StringEncoding		// ISO-8859-1; West European
		NSShiftJISStringEncoding		// Japanese
		NSISOLatin2StringEncoding		// ISO-8859-2; East European
		NSWindowsCP1252StringEncoding		// WinLatin1
		NSWindowsCP1253StringEncoding		// Greek
		NSWindowsCP1254StringEncoding		// Turkish
		NSWindowsCP1250StringEncoding		// WinLatin2
		NSISO2022JPStringEncoding		// Japanese

		// GNUstep additions
		NSKOI8RStringEncoding			// Russian/Cyrillic
		NSISOLatin3StringEncoding		// ISO-8859-3; South European
		NSISOLatin4StringEncoding		// ISO-8859-4; North European
		NSISOCyrillicStringEncoding		// ISO-8859-5
		NSISOArabicStringEncoding		// ISO-8859-6
		NSISOGreekStringEncoding		// ISO-8859-7
		NSISOHebrewStringEncoding		// ISO-8859-8
		NSISOLatin5StringEncoding		// ISO-8859-9; Turkish
		NSISOLatin6StringEncoding		// ISO-8859-10; Nordic
		NSISOThaiStringEncoding			// ISO-8859-11
		NSISOLatin7StringEncoding		// ISO-8859-13
		NSISOLatin8StringEncoding		// ISO-8859-14
		NSISOLatin9StringEncoding		// ISO-8859-15; Replaces ISOLatin1
		NSUTF7StringEncoding			// RFC 2152
		NSGSM0338StringEncoding			// GSM (mobile phone) default alphabet
		NSBIG5StringEncoding			// Traditional chinese
		NSKoreanEUCStringEncoding		// Korean

Of these values, choose an appropriate one for your purpose and set the environmental variable to it. For example, for sh or bash,


or, for csh,


User Default Values

Now that you've specified the encoding, you have to determine which fonts you use to display the characters of your native language.

Becuase the fonts used with GNUstep GUI are initially set to those that are appropriate for European languages, you have to overwrite them to display the characters correctly.

At least, you need to change the user default value NSFont, and NSBoldFont. For example, suppose you have a hypothetical .nfont package called MyFont and MyBoldFont, and want to use it to display the characters. To do this, use the GNUstep's utility defaultsas follows:

		$ defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSFont MyFont
		$ defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSBoldFont MyBoldFont

Depending on a situation, you may also need to set NSUserFont to MyFont. (In GNUstep, a pair of a key and a value such as (NSFont, MyFont) is referred to as a dictionary.)

To confirm the value, use

		$ defaults read

If you want to remove the assignment entirely to revert to the original default value, use

		$ defaults delete NSGlobalDomain NSFont
		$ defaults delete NSGlobalDomain NSBoldFont

For further details about the user default values, the reader can refer to the documents DefaultsSummary.html and NSFont.html shipped with the GNUstep core library package.

You can also change the default language (English) into your native language. If an application has a directory called MyLanguage.lproj in the bundle (could be in Resources/ directory), it may be localized for that language. To enable this functionality, which displays the interface in that language, you need to set the user default value NSLanguages to the language. Otherwise, it will fall back to the default one (English). To change the default language, use

                $ defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSLanguages "(MyLanguage)"


In the following examples, we assume that the reader has already set up the X Window System properly for her/his language environment. In particular, the locale the reader wants to use must be supported by both the C starndard library and the X library of the system in use. Before trying some of the examples, make sure the environmental variables governing encoding are set to appropriate values. Such variables include LC_ALL, LC_CTYPE, and LANG.

Traditional Chinese

Environmental Variables:


.nfont package:

Here, use Arphic MingTi font as example

First, make a directory for an .nfont package you are going to make:

                        $ cd $GNUSTEP_USER_ROOT/Library/Fonts (or $GNUSTEP_SYSTEM_ROOT/Library/Fonts)
                        $ mkdir 'MingTi.nfont'
                        $ cd 'MingTi'

Make a copy of the font file in the directory.

                        $ ln -s /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/local/bsmi00lp.ttf ./

And write a FontInfo.plist (see below).


			    Face = (
				    PostScriptName = "MingTi";
				    Name = "Regular";
				    Files = ("bsmi00lp.ttf")

User Defaults:

		        $ defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSFont MingTi
		        $ defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSBoldFont MingTi
		        $ defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSLanguages "(TraditionalChinese)"


Environmental Variables:


.nfont package:

If you are using Windows with Japanese (and have valid owership of it), you may have msgothic.ttc or msmincho.ttc in the Windows machine. If this is the case, you can use them to make your own .nfont packages. We'll give an example below when msgothic.ttc is used.

First, make a directory for an .nfont package you are going to make:

			$ cd $GNUSTEP_USER_ROOT/Library/Fonts (or $GNUSTEP_SYSTEM_ROOT/Library/Fonts)
			$ mkdir 'MS Gothic.nfont'
			$ cd 'MS Gothic'

Make a copy of the font file in the directory, say, assuming the Windows' partition /dev/hda1 is to be mounted at /mnt/win98:

			$ mount -t vfat /dev/hda1 /mnt/win98
			$ cp /mnt/win98/windows/fonts/msgothic.ttc .

And write a FontInfo.plist (see below).

MS Gothic.nfont/FontInfo.plist:

			    Faces = (
				    PostScriptName = "MS Gothic";
				    Name = "Regular";
				    Files = ("msgothic.ttc")

User Defaults:

			$ defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSFont 'MS Gothic'
			$ defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSUserFont 'MS Gothic'

CAVEAT: If you use the font files mentioned above, you must use them within your own right. The instruction given above never changes any rights and duties you have to use these fonts.


Environmental Variables:


.nfont package:

GPL'ed Korean fonts are available at

Create a directory for a .nfont package for Korean fonts, say Un.nfont:

			$ cd $GNUSTEP_USER_ROOT/Library/Fonts
			$ mkdir Un.nfont
			$ cd Un

And write a FontInfo.plist (see below).


			    Faces = (
				    PostScriptName = "Un";
				    Name = "Regular";
				    Files = ("UnDotum.ttf");

User Defaults:

			$ defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSFont Un

Concluding Remarks

Although this article has focused on the CJK languages, most part of it is also applicable to other languages if GNUstep supports the enconding you need.

If you find a way to set up GNUstep for your native language other than CJK, please consider to contribute it to the GNUstep community to share your invaluable experience with others. We'll greatly appreciate it. Comments or suggestions are also welcome.