Chances are, you’re already using Alt + Tab to switch between open windows, Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V to copy and paste, Ctrl + Z to undo, and all those text editing keyboard shortcuts. These commands are pretty standardized across operating systems.
But some are Linux-specific. These can change depending on which Linux distribution and desktop environment you choose to run.
Below is a list of 20 keyboard shortcuts you may encounter in three of the most popular Linux desktop environments: GNOME, KDE, and Unity. Some of these will be essential to Linux newcomers, while others may even surprise a long-time user or two. Hopefully you walk away with some that become a regular part of your routine.
1. Open Launcher (GNOME/KDE/Unity)
The launcher is the primary way most users open applications. In GNOME, you can do this by pressing the Super key (which you’ll probably know as the Windows key on most keyboards) and typing in the first few letters of what you want to run followed by Enter. To skip by the overview of open windows and go straight to applications, use Super + A.
Pressing Super works for Unity if you’re using Ubuntu. KDE shakes things up, so you need to use Alt + F1 to open the Kickoff menu and select an app.
2. Launch a Specific App (Unity)
Clicking an app icon may seem quick enough, but on Ubuntu, there’s an even faster way to launch software that you use often. The first nine applications in the Unity launcher have numbers assigned to them. You can open any of them by press Super + 1 to 9. To open a new window in an app that may be already open, hold down Shift while entering the shortcut.
3. Show Notifications (GNOME)
GNOME notifications pop up at the top of the screen, but sometimes they disappear before you can read them. To bring them back, enter Super + V. This is also a quick way to get a glance at the calendar.
4. Take a Screenshot (GNOME/KDE)
You can take a screenshot by pressing Prt Scr. To step up your game, you can hold down Alt + Prt Scr to save just the current window or Shift + Prt Scr to capture a specific area. Hold down the Ctrl key at the same time to automatically copy the image to the clipboard where you can easily paste it somewhere else.
In KDE, you can hold down Ctrl + Prt Scr for the entire desktop or Alt + Prt Scr to grab only a window.
5. Record a Screencast (GNOME)
Taking screenshots is nothing new. What came as a surprise to me is the ability to record a screencast using GNOME out of the box. Simply press Shift + Ctrl + Alt + R to make a record icon appear beside your status icons. Enter this shortcut again to end the recording. The clip will appear in your Videos folder as a .webm file.
6. Lock Screen (GNOME/KDE)
Need to lock your desktop in a hurry? Hey, I’m not here to question what you were doing. Under GNOME, tap Super + L. On KDE, enter Ctrl + Alt + Delete. You or anyone else will need to enter your password before getting back in.
7. Hide Window (GNOME), Minimize Window (Unity)
Alternatively, you can tuck away the current window instead. But I can’t minimize with GNOME, you say? Sure you can. GNOME just doesn’t call it that anymore. Now it’s hiding, and you can do it by pressing Super + H.
Under Unity, minimizing is still minimizing, and you can do that with Ctrl + Super + Down.
8. Show Desktop (Unity)
What, you have multiple windows open? On Unity, you can do this using Ctrl + Super + D. That will minimize all the windows on your desktop. When you’re ready to bring them back, repeat the shortcut, but only if you haven’t opened another window.
9. Show Windows Grid (GNOME/KDE)
Do you like the way GNOME shows all of your open windows when you press the Super key? Under KDE, you can do this using Ctrl + F8. In the bottom right-hand corner, you may also see the option to add virtual desktops, similar to how things work under GNOME.
10. Maximize Window (GNOME/Unity)
GNOME got rid of the standard maximize button you’ve grown accustomed to. Instead, you maximize by dragging the window to the top of the screen, or you can simply press Alt + F10.
Another approach is to press Super + Up/Down depending on whether you’re maximizing or un-maximizing.
In Unity, you do this by pressing Ctrl + Super + Up.
11. Resize Window (GNOME)
Not having to reach for your touchpad felt nice, didn’t it? You don’t have to stop with maximizing your window. Try changing the window’s size in another way by resizing it using the keyboard. To do that, tap Alt + F8. Then use the arrow keys.
12. Move Window (GNOME)
Keyboard-powered window management doesn’t stop there. You can drag a window around without your mouse. To do that, press Alt + F7. You will know this worked when the arrow turns into a hand. Then you can use the arrow keys to shift around.
13. Split Window (GNOME/Unity)
It’s handy to work with two windows side by side, but setting them up can be tedious. To make the task completely simple, press Super + Left to make an application consume the left half of the screen. Super + Right does the opposite.
On Unity, change these shortcuts to Ctrl + Super + Left and Ctrl + Super + Right.
14. Open Window list (GNOME)
Another way to do half of the tasks mentioned above is to press Alt + Space. This opens up the menu that you can also see by right-clicking on the titlebar. You can click on functions or navigate to them using the arrow keys and pressing Enter.
15. Switch Between Workspaces (GNOME/KDE)
Virtual desktops are nothing new to Linux desktop environments, but GNOME Shell does knock things on their head, so to speak. Workspaces are aligned virtually instead of horizontally. To swap between them, press Ctrl + Alt + Up or Down. If you want to bring a window with you, hold down the Shift key at the same time.
On KDE, the default shortcuts are arranged horizontally, so you will want to press Ctrl + Alt + Left or Right instead.
16. Close Window (GNOME/KDE/Unity)
The command for closing windows will feel familiar to anyone who has made the shift over from Windows. Whether you’re on GNOME, KDE, or Unity, you can avoid clicking the X button by pressing Alt + F4 instead.
On KDE, you can go a step further and kill a window that may be frozen by entering Ctrl + Alt + Esc.
17. Switch to a Specific Workspace (KDE)
You can hop back and forth between workspaces using arrow keys on KDE, but if you know exactly which one you want to switch to, there’s a faster way. Press Ctrl + F1 to move to the first workspace or any combination up to Ctrl + F4.
18. Enter a command
Want to know the one Linux shortcut to rule them all. Press Alt + F2. This will open a small little window where you can enter a command.
From here, you’re limited only by your imagination (or the software that’s installed on your machine). Type in the exact name of a program to launch it without clicking an icon. Try killall followed by a program name to force quit an application that has frozen. This shortcut may take time to master, but you will be happy when you do.
19. Right-click without Using Your Mouse (GNOME/KDE)
You can bring up the context menu without having to reach for your mouse, which can be especially handy if, for whatever reason, you don’t have one. On GNOME, make it happen using Shift + F10. On KDE, try Ctrl + F10 instead.
20. Display up a List of Shortcuts
When you log in to Ubuntu for the first time, the desktop shows a window filled with Unity keyboard shortcuts. If you ever want to see this list again, you can retrieve the window whenever you like by holding down the Super key.
Which Shortcuts Do You Use?
These are default keyboard shortcuts, but they’re not the only ones you can use. These Linux desktop environments let you change combinations and enter shortcuts for a large number of other actions. Just because a distribution doesn’t let you show desktop using keyboard shortcuts by default doesn’t mean you cannot tell it to. Open up Settings (GNOME) or System Settings (KDE/Unity) and look for the relevant keyboard shortcuts section.
Keyboard shortcuts can often be the difference between using a few seconds to do something and instantly doing the job.
Okay, put that way, memorizing a bunch of shortcuts doesn’t seem like much of a big deal. But over the course of any given day, you may use some of these combinations dozens of time, eliminating how often you have to reach for the mouse and interrupt your train of thought. This isn’t solely about efficiency. We’re also talking ease of use.
You’re not limited to editing text, navigating around the desktop, and launching apps. You can use shortcuts to operate Firefox and do the same with Google Chrome, the two most popular web browsers on Linux. Considering this is where the bulk of us spend our time these days, some of those commands are also essential.
What are your favorite Linux shortcuts? Do you have a key combination to recommend that isn’t on the list above? Be sure to leave a comment below.