xcwcp(1) X Window-based Morse tutor program


xcwcp [-s --system=SYSTEM] [-d --device=DEVICE] [-w --wpm=WPM] [-t --tone=HZ] [-v --volume=PERCENT] [-g --gap=GAP] [-f, --infile=FILE] [-F, --outifile=FILE] [-h --help] [-V --version]

xcwcp installed on GNU/Linux systems understands both short form and long form command line options. xcwcp installed on other operating systems may understand only the short form options.

There are no mandatory options.

Options may be predefined in the environment variable XCWCP_OPTIONS. If defined, these options are used first; command line options take precedence.


xcwcp is a X Window-based interactive Morse code tutor program. It lets you choose from a number of options for practice, including sending random characters, random words, and characters from the keyboard. It will also receive Morse code that you send using the keyboard or mouse as a Morse keyer, and display the characters it sees.


xcwcp understands the following command line options. The long form options may not be available in non-LINUX versions.
-s, --system=SYSTEM
Specifies the way that xcwcp generates tones. Valid values are: console for tones through the console speaker, alsa for tones generated through the system sound card using ALSA sound system, oss for tones generated through system sound card using OSS sound system, soundcard for tones generated through the system sound card, but without explicit selection of sound system. These values can be shortened to 'c', 'a', 'o', or 's', respectively. The default value is 'oss'.
-d, --device=DEVICE
Specifies the device file to open for generating a sound. xcwcp will use default device if none is specified. The default devices are: /dev/console for sound produced through console, default for ALSA sound system, /dev/audio for OSS sound system. See also NOTES ON USING A SOUND CARD below.
-w, --wpm=WPM
Sets the initial sending speed in words per minute. The value must be between 4 and 60. The default value is 12 WPM.
-t, --tone=HZ
Sets the initial sounder pitch in Hz. This value must be between 0 and 4,000. A value of 0 selects silent operation, and can be used for timing checks or other testing. The default value is 800Hz,
-v, --volume=PERCENT
Sets the initial sending volume, as a percentage of full scale volume. The value must be between 0 and 100. The default value is 70 %. Sound volumes work fully for sound card tones, but xcwcp cannot control the volume of tones from the console speaker. In this case, a volume of zero is silent, and all other volume values are simply sounded.
-g, --gap=GAP
Sets the initial extra gap, in dot lengths, between characters (the 'Farnsworth' delay). It must be between 0 and 60. The default is 0.
-f, --infile=FILE
Specifies a text file that xcwcp can read to configure its practice text. See CREATING CONFIGURATION FILES below.
-F, --outfile=FILE
Specifies a text file to which xcwcp should write its current practice text.


xcwcp offers GUI controls for changing the speed, tone frequency, 'Farnsworth' gap, and mode of the program. All of the major controls are placed on the application toolbar.

The main GUI window is used to display the characters that xcwcp sends or receives.

To find out more about what a particular GUI control does, use the "What's this..." icon (the '?' at the far right of the toolbar).


xcwcp sends random characters in groups of five, with a space between each group.

When sending random words, xcwcp sends the complete word, followed by a space. Because short words are easier to copy without writing, xcwcp's default dictionary contains only three, four, and five-letter words in its random words list.

xcwcp chooses at random from a list of around 3000 words in its default dictionary. You can change this text using a configuration file, read at startup. See CREATING CONFIGURATION FILES below.


xcwcp can receive Morse code, and display it in its main GUI window. To key Morse code into the program, select the Receive Keyed CW mode, and press the stop/start button. Now, place the mouse cursor over the central window of the program. By pressing the middle mouse button, you should be able to key Morse into the program as if the mouse button was a straight Morse key.

For better keying, you can use the left and right mouse buttons as if they were paddles on an Iambic keyer. This will send Morse code at the exact rate set on the Speed control.

You can also use the keyboard for keying. In this case, any of the Up or Down cursor keys, Space, Enter, or Return may be used as the straight key, and the Left and Right cursor keys act as the two paddles of an Iambic keyer.

By default, xcwcp will try to follow the speed of the Morse code that you send to it. It is possible to switch this tracking off, in which case the program switches to receiving only at the exact speed set on the Speed control. However, fixed speed receiving is very, very picky about receiving only extremely accurately timed Morse code, so unless you are striving for complete perfection, you may find that speed tracking is more comfortable.

The speed tracking in xcwcp can sometime be confused by very wide and abrupt changes in speed. If it is having difficulty finding the speed you are sending at, you can use the File pulldown menu to synchronize the receive speed to the speed set on the Speed control.

At any time, the mode selection combowidget can get focus by using Alt+M. You can then use the space bar or the up/down keys to change the mode. The Tab key moves to the next widget, so you can change speed, etc. Shift+Tab moves backwards.


By default, xcwcp tries to open OSS device "/dev/audio" to access the system sound card. This is generally the correct device to use, but for systems with special requirements, or those with multiple sound cards, the option -d or --device, combined with -s or --system can be used to specify the device and audio system for sound card access. If the sound card device cannot be set up, xcwcp prints the error message
cannot set up soundcard sound

and exits.

Sound card devices, when opened through OSS sound system, are usually single-access devices, so that when one process has opened the device, other processes are prevented from using it. In such cases xcwcp will of course conflict with any other programs that expect exclusive use of the system sound card (for example, MP3 players). If xcwcp finds that the sound card is already busy, it prints the error message

open /dev/audio: Device or resource busy

and exits.

The sound card device is not used if xcwcp is only sending tones on the console speaker.


xcwcp first tries to access sound card using PulseAudio sound system, using default device name, unless user specifies other audio device with option -d or --device.

xcwcp then tries to access sound card using OSS audio system and default OSS audio device name ('/dev/audio'), unless user specifies other audio device with option -d or --device.

If opening soundcard through OSS fails, xcwcp tries to access the sound card using ALSA audio system, and default ALSA audio device name ('default'), unless user specifies other audio device with option -d or --device.

If opening soundcard through ALSA also fails, xcwcp tries to access system console buzzer using default buzzer device '/dev/console', unless user specifies other audio device with option -d or --device.

It is very common that in order to access the console buzzer device user has to have root privileges. For that reason trying to open console buzzer almost always fails. This is not a program's bug, this is a result of operating system's restrictions. Making xcwcp an suid binary bypasses this restriction. The program does not fork() or exec(), so making it suid should be relatively safe. Note however that this practice is discouraged for security reasons.

As stated, user can tell xcwcp which device to use, using -d or --device option. Which device files are suitable will depend on which operating system is running, which system user ID runs xcwcp, and which user groups user belongs to.


xcwcp contains a default set of modes and practice text that should be enough to begin with. It can however read in a file at startup that reconfigures these to provide different character groupings, word sets, and other practice data.

To read a configuration file, use the -i or --infile command line option. The file should introduce each xcwcp mode with a section header in '[' ... ']' characters, followed by the practice text for that mode, with elements separated by whitespace. Lines starting with a semicolon or hash are treated as comments. For example

; Simple example mode
[ A to Z ]

xcwcp will generate five character groups for modes whose elements are all single characters, and treat other modes as having elements that are complete words. As a starting point for customized modes, xcwcp will write its default configuration to a file if given the undocumented -# option, for example "xcwcp -# /tmp/xcwcp.ini".


xcwcp is an X Window rewrite of cwcp. Both programs borrow heavily from the the DOS Morse code tutor CP222C.EXE, by VU2ZAP.

The characters echoed in the main GUI window may be ASCII equivalents of Morse procedural signals; see the cw(7,LOCAL) man page for details.


Here are a few hints and tips that may help with the process of learning Morse code.

Firstly, do NOT think of the elements as dots and dashes. Instead, think of them as dits and dahs (so 'A' is di-dah). If you think of them in this way, the process of translating sound into characters will be learned much more easily.

Do not learn the characters from a table. Learn them by watching the groups appear on the screen, and listening to the sounds produced as each is sent. In the very initial stages, it may be beneficial if you can find a person to take you through the first stages of recognising characters.

Do not waste your time learning Morse code at 5 WPM. Set the speed to 12 or 15 WPM, but use extra spacing (the Gap window) to reduce the effective speed to much lower - around four or five WPM effective speed. This way, you will learn the rhythm of the characters as they are sent, but still have plenty of time between characters. As you practice, decrease the gap to zero.

Learn in stages. Start by learning the EISH5 group, then progress down through the menu as each group is mastered. The groups contain characters which are in some way related, either by sound, or by type of character.

Once you have completed all the groups EISH5 to ,?.;)/ (or 23789 if you do not want to learn procedural signals yet), use the full character set options, and the words and CW words options, to sharpen your skill. If you have difficulties with particular characters, return to that group and practice again with a smaller character set.

Resist the temptation to try to learn or improve your speed by copying off-air. You will not know what speed you are working at, and much hand-sent Morse is not perfectly formed. What you can gain off-air though is a general 'resilience', a tolerance for Morse code where the timing of individual elements, or spacing between characters and words, is not 100% accurate.

If working to attain a particular speed for a test, always set the speed slightly higher. For example, if aiming for 12 WPM, set the tutor speed to 14 or 15 WPM. This way, when you drop back to 12 WPM you will feel much more relaxed about copying. Be aware that xcwcp is not necessarily going to send at exactly the speed you set, due to limitations in what can be done with UNIX timers. It often sends at a slower speed than you set, so be very careful with this if you have a target speed that you need to reach.

Use the program to make cassette tapes that you can take with you in a walkman or in the car, for long journeys. You do not have to write down everything you hear to practice Morse code. Simply listening to the shapes of characters over a period will help to train your brain into effortless recognition. In fact, slavishly writing everything down becomes a barrier at speeds of 15-20 WPM and above, so if you can begin to copy without writing each character down, you will find progress much easier above these speeds. But do not over-use these tapes, otherwise you will quickly memorise them. Re-record them with new contents at very regular intervals.

Try to spend at least 15-30 minutes each day practicing. Much less than this will make progress glacially slow. But significantly more than an hour or so may just result in you becoming tired, but not improving. Recognise when it is time to stop for the day.

Do not worry if you reach a speed 'plateau'. This is common, and you will soon pass it with a little perseverance.

At higher speeds, CW operators tend to recognise the 'shape' of whole words, rather than the individual characters within the words. The CW words menu option can be used to help to practice and develop this skill.

Neither the mouse buttons nor the keyboard are ideal for use a keys or keyer paddles, for sending practice. Try to use a proper key for sending where possible. It is hard even for experienced operators to get good keying using the mouse or keyboard. Of the two, the mouse is probably the better option, though, in a pinch.


The calibration option is a bit ropy. It simply sends PARIS repeatedly, and relies on you to time the sending and then work out if any adjustment to the speed is really necessary. Automatic calibration by making measurements over a given period would be a lot better.