Mac: Key Remapping and Keybinding Tools

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page is a list of tools and tutorial for remap keys, create keyboard shortcuts, layouts, etc.

Swapping Modifiers

There are several ways to swap modifiers. The easiest is builtin preference panel.

osx keyboard modifier switch
“Keyboard and Mouse” control panel under System Preference in Mac OS X 10.4.x. 〔►see Mac: How to Swap Control, Caps Lock, Option, Command Keys

Karabiner (aka KeyRemap4MacBook)

For more advanced modifier remapping (For example, distinguish left Ctrl vs right Ctrl, remap Esc, remap Enter ↵ key, define Microsoft keyboard's ▤ Menu key, …), you can use Karabiner.

KeyRemap4MacBook 2014-01-29
Karabiner @

Seil (aka PCKeyboardHack)

Some key changes cannot be done with Karabiner. You need Seil.

PCKeyboardHack screenshot
PCKeyboardHack. seil (keyboard tool for Mac) @

Add/Change Keyboard Shortcut in Specific App

Mac OS X since 10.4 lets you add/change keyboard shortcut in a specific app.

Just go to System Preferences, Keyboard and Mouse, Keyboard Shortcuts. Then click the + sign at button.

Note: This mechanism is not very flexible, because:

Microsoft IntelliType

IntelliType Mac
Microsoft IntelliType Pro for Mac.

Buy a Microsoft keyboard then use the bundled IntelliType Software. Note: depending on what keyboard model you buy, not all features of IntelliType will be available.

See: Microsoft IntelliType Review.

For Microsoft keyboard, i recommend:

Microsoft sculpt ergonomic keyboard 21855
Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard. Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard

〔►see Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Review

Programable Gaming Keyboards

Most gaming keyboards's keys are programable, via the firmware on the on-board memory. This is the best solution, because, once a key is set in firmware, you can just plug your keyboard into any computer, any Operating System, and the keys will work the way you wanted.

The gaming keyboard's programable feature is also vastly superior than any of the keyboard software can do. Also, extremely easy to use Graphical User Interface, with macro recording capabilities. They also have profiles (which is a set of configurations). You can configure one profile for Mac, or a profile for specific app such as photoshop.

But, most of gaming keyboard's software is Microsoft Windows only. So, you'll need access to Windows machine first to configure the keys. After that is done, you can use it on the Mac. (check with the keyboard maker to see if they have Mac software.)

I recommend the following reprogramable keyboard that have on-board memory:

App Launchers, General Key Macro Utilities

Mac Quicksilver key trigger panel
Mac Quicksilver key trigger panel

Quicksilver, home page @ A app launcher. Assign hotkey to launch/switch/open apps or files. The hotkey can be single key (For example, F1) or combo-key (For example, 【⌘ command+F1】).

• $$$ Keyboard Maestro @ A basic key macro software. Good, but a bit expensive.

• $$$ QuicKeys @ A comprehensive automation software, with key macro features, and also key macro recording abilities. I used it in 1990s for 10 years and find it the best. It was the number one most touted productivity enhancement software in Mac community in the 1990s. The company changed hands a few times over the years. The first Mac OS X version released around 2001 is not so good. Since then i haven't used it. Don't know how good it is today.

Text Editor Keybinding Behavior, Insert Date, Custom keys for Math/Unicode Symbols

mac unicode char

You can use Mac OS X's system-wide mechanism by creating a key config file DefaultKeyBinding.dict. See: Creating Keyboard Layout in Mac OS X.


〔►see Emacs: How to Define Keys

Advanced Key Interface Mapping; Low-Level Tools and Utilities

If you are really serious about key mapping, that you want to change any key to any key. For example, weird things like making Tab ⇥ as ⌘ command, make ⌥ option type Space, make the number keypad keys as extra function keys, re-interpret the USB signals as they come in, then, these are the tools. (Note: i haven't really used them.)