Mac: How to Change Keybinding

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

MacOS has a system-wide mechanism to let you define or modify the shortcut keys for text editing operations.

It lets you create keys to:

Mac keyboard viewer us int 2017  41373
Mac keyboard viewer. Hold ⌥ option down to type unicode symbols. You can define your own symbols.

[see Mac Keyboard Viewer and Unicode]

Key Config File

Create a file at


Create the “KeyBindings” folder if you don't already have it.

Copy and past the following:

/* insert Unicode character with Option key down*/
"~;" = ("insertText:", "\U2665"); /* heart */

/* move cursor with i j k l keys while Ctrl key down */
"^i" = ("moveUp:");
"^k" = ("moveDown:");
"^j" = ("moveLeft:");
"^l" = ("moveRight:");

Restart a application and the new keybinding will take effect in that application.

Launch TextEdit to test your changes.

Note: Only applications that uses Cocoa Text System will support this.

Note: if you use Unicode Characters directly in the file such as , you must save the file using UTF-8 encoding.

The syntax in general is this:

/* this is comment */
"keycode1" = actionCode1;
"keycode2" = actionCode2;

Key Syntax

Mac OS X Keybinding Key Syntax

Action Code

Mac OS X Keybinding Action Code

Unicode Reference

If you want to create lots keys to insert math symbols or emoji, see

Unicode Search 😄

Sample File

Example of defining the {Home, End} keys to move to the beginning/end of line.

/* make home/end key to move to begin/end of line */

"\UF729" = "moveToBeginningOfLine:"; /* home key */
"\UF72B" = "moveToEndOfLine:"; /* end key */

Here's example file for inserting Unicode characters with the ⌥ option key.

/* -*- coding: utf-8 -*- */

/* insert Unicode characteres with Option key down */
"~#8" = ("insertText:", "↑");
"~#2" = ("insertText:", "↓");
"~#4" = ("insertText:", "←");
"~#6" = ("insertText:", "→");

"~a" = ("insertText:", "α");
"~h" = ("insertText:", "θ");

"~3" = ("insertText:", "†");
"~7" = ("insertText:", "—");
"~8" = ("insertText:", "•");
"~9" = ("insertText:", "★");

"~&" = ("insertText:", "‣");
"~*" = ("insertText:", "°");

/* insert pairs with Option down */
"~d" = ("insertText:", "«»", "moveBackward:");
"~h" = ("insertText:", "{}", "moveBackward:");
"~t" = ("insertText:", "()", "moveBackward:");
"~n" = ("insertText:", "[]");
"~s" = ("insertText:", "“”", "moveBackward:");
"~-" = ("insertText:", "「」", "moveBackward:");

"~D" = ("insertText:", "‹›", "moveBackward:");
"~S" = ("insertText:", "‘’", "moveBackward:");
"~_" = ("insertText:", "『』", "moveBackward:");

/* insert sig */
"~1" = ("insertText:", "  John\n\n\n☄");

Here's a example of ErgoEmacs Keybinding, one for QWERTY layout and one for Dvorak Keyboard Layout:

You can look at Xcode's keybinding file at /Developer/Applications/ You can view it here: osx_keybinding_xcode.dict.txt.

Emacs Keybinding

Mac OS X by default support emacs keybindings. They are:

Mac OS X's default emacs keybindings
Ctrl+fmove forward
Ctrl+bmove backward
Ctrl+nmove down a line
Ctrl+pmove up a line
Ctrl+abeginning of line
Ctrl+eend of line
Ctrl+kdelete current position to end of line

You can add more of emacs's

Ctrl+spaceset mark
Ctrl+x Ctrl+xSwap cursor position to last mark

However, i don't recommend it. Emacs's keys is very inefficient and ergonomically painful. See: Why Emacs's Keyboard Shortcuts are Painful. If you like a efficient keybinding for text editing, you might try: ErgoEmacs Keybinding.


Something this cannot do. For example:

There are many solutions to these. See:

Mac: Key Remapping, Keybinding Tools

Best is to get a programable keyboard.

see Programable Keyboards with Onboard Memory

See: Problems of Mac OS X's Keybinding Scheme DefaultKeyBinding.dict.


back to Keyboard Shortcut and Layout Tutorial

Mac Keyboard Topic

  1. Mac Keyboard Tools
  2. Swap CapsLock Control Opt Cmd
  3. Change Keybinding
  4. Keyboard Viewer and Unicode
  5. Switch to Dvorak Keyboard Layout
  6. Hover to Switch Window
  7. Mac Keyboard Shortcuts
  8. Apple Keyboards ⌨
  9. Apple Keyboard History ⌨
  10. Difference Between Apple and PC keyboards

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