New Debian Font Weirdness (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 12 Apr 2005

New Debian Font Weirdness

A recent change to the Debian font system has caused some odd font problems which Debian users might do well to know about.

The change has to do with the addition in /etc/fonts of a directory conf.d containing symbolic links to scripts, and the overwriting of some of the existing files in /etc/fonts.

The symptoms are varied and peculiar. On my sid system, on each boot, the system would toggle between two different font resolutions. I'd start xchat, and the fonts would be too teeny to read; so I'd call up the preferences dialog, see the font was at 9, and increase it to 12, at which point I'd see the font I was used to seeing (though the UI font in the tabs would still be teeny). Subsequent runs of xchat would be fine (except for the still-teeny tab fonts). But upon reboot, xchat would come up with the tab font correct and the channel font HUGE. Prefs dialog again: it's still at 12 where I set it last time, so now I reset it to 9, which makes it the right size. Until the next reboot, when everything became teeny again and I have to go back to 12.

The system resolution never changed, nor did the rendering of the bitmapped fonts I use in emacs and terminal clients; only the rendering of freetype scalable fonts changed with each reboot. Back in the days when all fonts were bitmapped, I would have guessed that the font system was alternating between 100dpi fonts and 72dpi fonts.

At a loss as to what might cause this strange behavior, I took a peek into /etc/fonts/conf.d, which Dave had discovered a few weeks ago when he updated his sarge system and all his bitmapped fonts disappeared. Though my problem didn't sound remotely similar to his: my bitmapped fonts were fine, it was the scalable ones which were flaky.

Turns out the symlink I'd aquired in the update, /etc/fonts/conf.d/30-debconf-no-bitmaps.conf, did indeed point to a file called no-bitmaps.conf, just as Dave's had. Just to see what would happen, I removed it, and made a new symlink, 30-debconf-yes-bitmaps.conf, pointing to yes-bitmaps.conf.

Voila! The size-toggling problem disappeared, and, even better, bitmapped fonts like "clean" now show up in gtkfontsel and in gtk font selection dialogs, which they never did before. I can use all my fonts now!

The moral is: if you've updated sarge or sid recently, and see any weirdness at all in fonts, go to /etc/fonts/conf.d and fiddle with the symlinks. Even if it doesn't seem directly related to your problem.

As to why no-bitmaps.conf causes the system to toggle between two different font scalings, that's still a mystery. The only difference between no-bitmaps.conf and yes-bitmaps.conf is that one rejects, and the other accepts, fonts that have "scalable" set to false. Why that would change the scale at which fonts are rendered is beyond me. I'll leave that up to someone who understands the new debian font system. If any such person exists.

Update 5/24/2005: turns out you can change this on a per-user basis too, with ~/.fonts.conf. man fonts.conf for details.

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[ 22:45 Apr 12, 2005    More linux | permalink to this entry | ]

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