Sticky Keys

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

What is Sticky Keys

Sticky Key is a keyboard feature in {Windows, Mac, Linux}.

It lets you press key combination by pressing each key in sequence. For example, to press Ctrl+c, you press Ctrl, release it, then press c.

This works for any of Shift Ctrl Alt ⌥ option ⌘ command

Sticky Key is an excellent feature if you have hand pain from Repetitive Strain Injury of typing key combo too much.

How to Turn on Sticky Keys in Microsoft Windows

On Windows 10, press ❖ Window, then type “stickykey” to launch the settings.

Windows 10 sticky keys 2021-06-03
Windows 10 sticky keys 2021-06-03
Windows 10 sticky keys 2021-06-03 7
Windows 10 sticky keys 2021-06-03

Sticky Keys Indicator on Microsoft Windows

Once its on, you have this key indicator in the taskbar. It shows which modifier keys are currently “stuck”.

Windows 10 sticky keys indicator 2022-08-17 gKRyX
Windows 10 sticky keys indicator (left most icon) 2022-08-17

How to Turn on Sticky Keys in MacOS

On Mac, go to menu [System Preferences ▸ Universal Access ▸ Keyboard tab].

macOS sticky key 2019-08-13 ztdhw
macOS sticky key 2019-08-13

How to Turn on Sticky Key in Linux

For Linux, it's usually under the system preference settings, Accessibility section or Keyboard section.

linux xfce sticky key
Linux xfce sticky key

Problem with Sticky Keys

I tried sticky keys since about 2010. But always ends up turning them off, after about a month. On Microsoft Windows, Mac, Linux.

Sticky keys is really nice to use, but it always have problems. Basically, you have the issue of trying to find out which key is turned on. Happens few times per hour. Each time one has too check the status, that's about 3 seconds eye and mind energy, and freeze the world.

If you have sticky keys on, you have to press ❖ Windows key 4 times to start and exit it.

Also, normally, Escape cancels sticky, but if you have Ctrl on, and press Escape, which becomes Ctrl+Escape, which invokes the Windows start menu like what the ❖ Windows key does. Similarly, Alt+Escape switches window.

Another example, look at the following shortcuts.

Windows 10 input language keys 2023-04-24
Windows 10 input language keys 2023-04-24

you have shortcuts like shift by itself, or Ctrl+Shift, or LeftAlt+Shift, then with sticky keys on they become very confusing.

The problem isn't about sticky key itself. But due to how actually complex and piled up legacy are the keyboard shortcuts since the 90s. Wild and inconsistent.

There are different types of shortcuts by how the keys are pressed, that affect sticky keys.

Types of different keyboard shortcuts (ways they are pressed):