What's the Use of Function Keys F1 F2…?

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .
function keys f5 f6 f7 f8 5673
Function Keys, your best friend.

This page shows you how to make the most use of the function keys.

What App Use Function Key Shortcuts?

Function keys are used in many apps. Here's some almost universal keys:

If you are a programer, many IDE or Linux terminal tools use all of the function keys.

Following are tips on how you can customize the function keys for more productivity.

Switching Windows/Apps

One of the best use for function keys is switching apps. I've been using this since 1992, across {Mac, Windows, Linux}.

Normally, to switch app you have to do 【Alt+Tab】 or 【⌘ command+Tab】, or even using Windows Flip3D or Instant Viewer or Mac's Exposé. They involve multiple keys or mouse aim. The Tab is pressed by pinky — the weakest finger. But worst is that you have to take a second to eyeball among 10 windows to look for the one you want.

For most of us, there are 3 or 4 specific apps we use everyday, and have to constantly switch to it many times every hour. Examples: {browser, desktop, photoshop, terminal}.

It's good to have F5 F6 F7 F8 for switching to the apps you use the most often.

For how to set a key to switch app, see: How to Set Key to Switch to Browser.

What About App Launch Buttons?

app keys
Special App Launching buttons. These non-standard buttons are not as easy to press as F keys.

On many keyboards, they have special buttons to launch apps. But these buttons have several problems:

  1. They are harder to press than Function keys.
  2. They are in hard-to-reach places.
  3. Their positions and size are not standardized. It requires looking to press the button.

What About Windows's QucikLaunch?

On Windows, if you have pinned apps in Taskbar of Windows 7 (or Quick Launch bar in Windows Vista), the keys are 【❖ Window+1】 【❖ Window+2】 etc. 〔►see Windows Logo Key Keyboard Shortcuts

These are not good shortcuts because:

Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste

The traditional keys for {Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste} are Z X C V, while holding Ctrl or ⌘ command. That's 2 key presses. You can set F1 F2 F3 F4 to them.

Copy and Paste is by far the most used keys. Setting them to single key saves you a lot hand stress.

Here's how to:

Switching Browser Tabs, Close Tab

Often, you have 10 tabs open in a browser. The hotkey to switch to previous/next tab varies depending on browser. For example, for Next Tab, there's:

They all require multiple keys. Using a mouse is more cumbersome, because you have to take a second to aim at the right tab.

It would be very convenient to set F11 F12 for prev/next tab. Pressing one of these key can quickly fly you thru all your tabs.

By default, the key to close tab is 【Ctrl+w】.

Create a hotkey for closing the current tab. Depending on your keyboard, it can be Pause or F13.

(usually, in most browsers, you can press 【Ctrl+Shift+t】 to reopen. In Safari, it's undo 【Ctrl+z】)

Switching Virtual Desktop

On Mac, Linux, Windows 10, you have virtual screen called “workspace”. Typically, Linuxes lets you switch by 【Ctrl+Alt+】 , or 【Ctrl+1】, 【Ctrl+2】. That's 2 or 3 combo-keys requiring both hands.

If you use Virtual Desktop heavily, then F9 F10 are perfect keys for it.

For Linux, just go to the control panel, then windows manager preference. See: Linux: Keyboard Software Guide

For Mac OS X, you can set in control panel too.

Keyboard with Bad Function Keys

Microsoft wireless comfort desktop 5000 keyboard 9652 s
“Microsoft Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000” 5180×2574 Worst example of function keys. ① Continuous row, no group-gap. ② hard-to-press cheap buttons.
  1. Avoid Continuous-Row Function Keys
  2. Avoid Function Keys as Special Buttons

If the function keys is not easy to press, then, it's not good to put frequently used commands to them.

Function Key vs Key Combination, Which is Healthier, Which is Faster?

Function Key vs Key Chord, Which is Healthier, Which is Faster?

Using Numeric Keypad as Function Keys

keyboard number pad 1564
number pad on a gaming keyboard

There are often not enough function keys. But, you can:

How to Program Number Keypad as Function Keys

How to Program Number Keypad as Function Keys

Buy Numerical Keypad

If your keyboard doesn't have number pad, you can buy them, cheap.

Best Number Keypad

List of Programable Keypads

Programable Keypads