I've written a web application for which the user interface is in Dutch. I use the system's date and time routines to format date strings in the application. However, the date strings that the system formats are in English but I want them in Dutch, so I need to set the system's locale. How do I do that on Debian? I tried setting LC_ALL=nl_NL but it doesn't seem to have any effect:

$ date
Sat Aug 15 14:31:31 UTC 2009
$ LC_ALL=nl_NL date
Sat Aug 15 14:31:36 UTC 2009

I remember that setting LC_ALL on my Ubuntu desktop system works fine. Do I need to install extra packages to make this work, or am I doing it entirely wrong?


Edit /etc/default/locale and set the contents to:


You can check which locales you currently have generated using:

locale -a

You can generate more by editing /etc/locale.gen and uncommenting the lines for the locales that you want to enable. Then you can generate them by running the command:


You can find a list of supported locales in /usr/share/i18n/SUPPORTED

There is more information available on the Debian wiki.

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    /var/lib/belocs/list doesn't exist. You need to edit /etc/locale.gen or run dpkg-reconfigure locales instead. – pgs Aug 16 '09 at 2:44
  • +1 this answer for describing locale-gen, but as per the previous comment, there's no such file as /var/lib/belocs/list on my system – telent Jul 12 '11 at 19:52
  • It took me 5 hours to find this answer, which ended up being perfect. Moreover, it allows to make aliases: en_US UTF-8 and it_IT UFT-8 allowed me to have my locales in UTF-8 by default, which is great if you have PHP code that depends on locales – Cec May 19 '17 at 8:25
  • Is there a command or package which can edit and set the contents of /etc/default/locale ? – Karl Morrison Feb 15 '18 at 12:27
  • See answer below from Czar. You can do it like: sed -i 's/^# *(en_US.UTF-8)/\1/' /etc/locale.gen – Tobias Gaertner Aug 30 '18 at 10:17

You may need to install the locales package. This will ask you which locales to generate. If it's already installed, then dpkg-reconfigure locales will let you generate more locales.

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  • That only generates locales, not set the system default. – David Pashley Aug 15 '09 at 15:54
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    NO, the final question of dpkg-reconfigure locales is to select the default locale. – pgs Aug 16 '09 at 2:42
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    I had to run it with sudo as in sudo dpkg-reconfigure locales. – Alex Yursha Aug 23 '17 at 4:56
  • If it's a server accessed through ssh the Debian wiki page on locales recommends leaving leave the default locale set to NONE. – Paul Rougieux Dec 13 '17 at 21:16
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    This was exactly what I needed: get all locales installed in just a few keystrokes. Thank you so much! – aexl Jun 14 '18 at 10:24

Answers here are incomplete as with most elsewhere. After piecing together information from a few places, what worked for me was to (1) make sure the locale I wanted was available (generate it if it wasn't) then (2) set locale related environment variables to desired locale.

In my case I needed en_US.UTF-8 programmatically (i.e. non-interactively) installed in a docker container. The ff accomplished what I need but it should work just fine in an interactive shell.

apt-get update

# Install locales package
apt-get install -y locales

# Uncomment en_US.UTF-8 for inclusion in generation
sed -i 's/^# *\(en_US.UTF-8\)/\1/' /etc/locale.gen

# Generate locale

# Export env vars
echo "export LC_ALL=en_US.UTF-8" >> ~/.bashrc
echo "export LANG=en_US.UTF-8" >> ~/.bashrc
echo "export LANGUAGE=en_US.UTF-8" >> ~/.bashrc

On the same shell, you will need to do source ~/.bashrc for the env vars to take effect immediately. You can check that locale has been configured correctly by invoking locale.


There were a lot of Q&A entries regarding this subject but only a few were actually helpful. Credit where credit is due:

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    This worked for us when needing a locale set for a dotnet application running in the official Microsoft images. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Nov 25 '19 at 15:26
  • This worked for me when setting up a Docker container. However after doing locale-gen, instead of adding env vars to the ~/.bashrc, I did update-locale LANG=en_US.utf8 as root user to set system-wide locale to new users. – wind39 May 14 at 19:52

None of these answers worked for me, on an LXC container installed with:

lxc-create -n sse-master -t download -n sse-master -- \
    -d debian -r jessie --arch i386

I always got the following output from locale-gen, i.e. not generating any locales (none listed):

$ sudo locale-gen
Generating locales (this might take a while)...
Generation complete.

Running dpkg-reconfigure locales and selecting some locales did not update /etc/locale.gen as I expected it to.

However, when I modified that file manually and uncommented the locales that I wanted, then locale-gen started working properly:

$ sudo locale-gen
Generating locales (this might take a while)...
  en_GB.UTF-8... done
  en_US.UTF-8... done
Generation complete.

I was also able to generate locales manually like this:

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

But this was not a permanent solution: I found that running locale-gen without the --keep-existing option will delete all such manually-generated locales, i.e. every locale not listed (and uncommented) in /etc/locale.gen.

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For a web application, it might be better to use setlocale() inside the program, rather than requiring that the system default locale be set appropriately outside. Less loose ends that way.

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    If the system doesn't have required locale, than setlocale won't work. – The Godfather Aug 6 '18 at 12:53

For those who, like me, on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, have, somehow, no /etc/locale.gen file, you can add a new locale in /var/lib/locales/supported.d/local and then run :

sudo dpkg-reconfigure locales

You can also add the french (for example) locale this way (instead of editing /var/lib/locales/supported.d/local) :

sudo locale-gen fr_FR fr_FR.UTF-8

to add and generate the ISO-8859-1 and UTF-8 codesets of the fr_FR locale and finally type :

sudo dpkg-reconfigure locales

to finish the job

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  • Thank you for mentioning that supported.d/local file, I found the unnecessary defines there. Took me way too long to find :/ – Avamander Jun 4 at 13:24

But first you need to have needed language pack installed. On my German based VPS there was no english language pack pre-installed. So first you check that you have it installed:

aptitude install language-pack-en
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