How to Remap Your Mac’s Function Keys and Do Anything You Want
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Are there any function keys on your Mac’s keyboard that seem useless to you? You can reprogram them to be more useful!

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For example, you can remap the Mission Control key to take a screenshot instead of revealing active apps. Or how about using the Launchpad key to bring up the emoji viewer, or a menu bar calendar of your choice?

Such changes are easy to make, as we’ll see below. But first, let’s take a closer look at function key behavior itself.

The Dual Role of Function Keys

macOS setting to flip function key bahvior

By default, the function keys on your Mac’s keyboard trigger the actions indicated by the icons printed on them. Accordingly, the F1 and F2 keys adjust the screen brightness, the F3 key triggers Mission Control, the F4 key opens Launchpad, and so on. To use the old-fashioned F-keys, you have to hold down the Fn key as a modifier.

Want to “flip” this behavior? That’s easy to do. Visit System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard and select the checkbox for Use all F1, F2 etc. keys as standard function keys. Now the F1, F2, and other keys work as regular function keys, and you’ll have to use the Fn key modifier to access the printed symbol functions.

(Of course, after you make this tweak, none of the function keys except F11 and F12 trigger any action. That’s because macOS doesn’t have a default action linked to them. We’ll see how to change this behavior later.)

If you want to retain a few function keys as special keys and convert the rest into regular F-keys, install a suitable third-party app for it. We recommend FunctionFlip.

Settings pane for FunctionFlip app on macOS

Once you install it, FunctionFlip shows up as a preference pane under System Preferences, and you can flip keys selectively from this pane. It’s handy that you can do this for every keyboard connected to your Mac.

If FunctionFlip doesn’t work well for you or if you want finer controls to customize your Mac’s keyboard behavior, try Karabiner.

Remapping Function Keys

Now that you’ve set up the general function key behavior to your satisfaction, it’s time to remap individual function keys to do your bidding. To do this, visit System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts. That’s the same location from where you can customize keyboard shortcuts on macOS.

Example 1: Do Not Disturb

Shortcut creation to toggle DnD mode on macOS

Let’s say you want to toggle the Do Not Disturb mode using the F10 key because the mute symbol printed on the key serves as a nice reminder for the shortcut.

To configure this action, locate the corresponding action via the sidebar menu in the settings pane we mentioned above. You’ll find the action under Mission Control, listed as Turn Do Not Disturb On/Off.

Next, select the checkbox for the action and hit the F10 key when the screen prompts you with a blank shortcut field. You might want to test the new shortcut to confirm that it toggles DnD properly.

Example 2: Full-Screen Mode

Shortcut creation to enter full screen on macOS

Now, let’s say you want to use the F11 key to toggle full-screen mode across all apps on macOS. This function isn’t listed as an action in the system settings, but you can still program a new shortcut for it or override the existing one (Control + Cmd + F). To begin, select App Shortcuts from the Shortcuts sidebar we referred to above.

Then, click on the plus icon beneath the right-hand pane. In the dialog box that appears, you’ll notice that the Application dropdown menu is set to All Applications. Leave it alone unless you want the new function key shortcut to work only in a specific app. (If that’s the case, select the relevant app from the dropdown menu.)

In the Menu Title field, type in the action exactly as it appears in the menu for the app.

For our full-screen mode example, use the text Enter Full Screen, because that’s how it appears in the View menu in all apps. Next, move the focus to the Keyboard Shortcut field and hit the shortcut you want to use. In this case, that’s the F11 key. To wrap up, click on the Add button. The new shortcut is now in place.

Since the plan is to use F11 to exit full-screen mode as well, you’ll have to repeat the shortcut creation process to reverse it. Only this time, you have to use the text Exit Full Screen in the Menu Title field. (That’s the text you see in the View menu when you’re already in full-screen mode.)

Troubleshooting Function Key Issues

Error message in macOS settings to highlight clashing shortcuts

You might run into a few problems while remapping function keys, but there are workarounds for them:

  • The key is already in use: You can disable or remap the shortcut for the clashing action, then map that function key to the new action.
  • You want to launch an app with a function key, but you can’t do so from System Preferences: Visit the Preferences pane of the app you want to launch and program the shortcut from there.
  • You can’t assign function keys to certain actions: Install BetterTouchTool to get advanced keyboard mapping options for your Mac. This can solve the problem where, say, an app insists that you use a function key only with a modifier. You can also use BetterTouchTool to trigger other keyboard shortcuts. Of course, it offers a lot more utility than this, seeing as it’s the ultimate productivity app for Mac 4 Ways BetterTouchTool Is the Ultimate Mac Productivity App 4 Ways BetterTouchTool Is the Ultimate Mac Productivity App If you want to save time on your Mac, you need to use BetterTouchTool. Here are some amazing uses for it and how to get started. Read More .

Actions You Could Create Keys For

Emoji viewer popup pane on macOS

Now that you know how to remap keys on Mac, it’s time to decide what you’ll repurpose the function keys for. We have a few suggestions, but you’re sure to come up with many more ideas yourself.

Replace the hard-to-remember default shortcut for the emoji viewer on macOS (Control + Cmd + Space) on macOS with an emoji key. Want to bring up your appointments quickly? Try a calendar key to launch your calendar app. Feel free to trade this for a clipboard key or an email key.

If you rely on Notification Center widgets a lot, create a Notification Center key. If you prefer Dashboard widgets instead, use the same shortcut to open the Dashboard.

A word count key to run a macOS word counter script when you select text is another useful idea.

Output of word counter service in Opera on macOS

A “read aloud” key can also come in handy when you want to trigger the text-to-speech function built into macOS. You can make it work with similar functions provided by a third-party app like Dictater.

A page reload key to refresh webpages on macOS with the same shortcut used on Windows (F5) is useful if you switch between the two operating systems often.

macOS services also make great candidates for function key shortcuts, which you can assign from System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Services. Our guide to the Services menu will tell you more about these special actions.

Make the Function Keys More Useful

The function keys on your Mac’s keyboard are an underused resource. You can fix that by following the instructions and ideas we’ve shared above. If you run out of function keys to use, start using them with modifiers like Option and Cmd for more shortcuts.

And if you ever run into the problem of broken or jammed keys on your Mac’s keyboard Why MacBook Keyboards Break So Easily (And How to Fix Jammed Keys) Why MacBook Keyboards Break So Easily (And How to Fix Jammed Keys) Macbook keyboard not working? Here's how to remove dust from your keyboard and other settings to check that can fix your issue. Read More , turn to our troubleshooting guide.

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  1. Daniel
    November 21, 2018 at 11:51 pm

    Hi,

    I know I may not receive a reply but it's worth a shot. Basically the power key doesn't work on my Macbook Air so I am using an official wireless Apple Magic Keyboard... is there anyway for me to reassign the power button to another key (either on my main keyboard or wireless) so I am able to power up my laptop?

    Thank you in advance if anyone chooses to reply! Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      June 15, 2019 at 4:23 am

      Hi Daniel,
      I'm not sure if you still have this question. You might be able to remap the key with a third-party app like Karabiner, BetterTouchTool, or Keyboard Maestro.

  2. Adam
    October 15, 2018 at 8:25 pm

    This OS is the least power user friendly system in existence. A user can navigate all of Windows swiftly with keystrokes alone, opening an exact application with something like the WinKey + number. MacOS offers nothing to compete with these powerful uses. This article adds nothing to bridge the gap.

  3. Nick
    August 1, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Hi there... I realise this is a little after the horse has bolted, but wanted to see if I could get an answer. I currently have a full size wired keyboard but am moving to a non-fill size wireless one tomorrow. This is fine, apart from the fact that I use the enter button on the number pad A LOT (the one with the up arrow underneath a horizontal line). It is like pressing cmd-Enter, but by just pressing one key. Is there some way of remapping that to a function key or some other key? Any help much appreciated!

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      August 11, 2018 at 6:44 am

      Hi Nick, if you use the BetterTouchTool app mentioned in the article, you can configure a function key (or any key of your choice) to trigger the original key or keyboard shortcut i.e. the number pad Enter key or Cmd-Enter.

  4. Stefan Johansson
    November 7, 2017 at 11:58 am

    I am using a MacBook Pro with an external Apple USB keyboard with standard layout in English. I write a lot of texts in Swedish, where there are three more letters than in English, namely Å, Ä and Ö, (ASCII codes 143, 142 and 153) and å, ä and ö (ASCII codes 134, 132 and 148).

    Instead of switching to the Swedish keyboard layout, I would like to use the English keyboard layout all the times, but remap the numeric keys 1 through 6 on the numeric key pad to those letters. How would I do that?

  5. Steven
    May 18, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    This might be a little late to the party, but I just want f5 to paste my work email and f6 to paste my work address. I want f13 and 14 to do the same for my home address. I am using a Logitech K750 at the moment, but I would switch to make this happen. I've tried setting @@ and @@@ to auto-replace with my emails, but it doesn't seem to work for text fields or when I really need it.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      August 11, 2018 at 6:46 am

      Steven, you can configure this using BetterTouchTool.

  6. Sylvia
    July 29, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    Hi Justin,

    I'm doing a lot of keyboarding, and would like to add a delete key that isn't "so far away" from the rest of the keyboard

    (also it's that I use the "wrong finger" for this — my right ring finger instead of the right pinkie, and I despair of re-learning it effectively at this point.)

    I would like:

    RETURN key becomes DELETE
    Right-Hand Side SHIFT key becomes RETURN

    What would you do? It didn't seem to be addressed by your article, though granted, I only skimmed. Thank you very, very much, Sylvia

  7. Genevieve
    March 29, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Well, what do you know! I've managed to work it out! Turns out I had been using the Spanish ISO keyboard which somehow got deleted from the input source options. As soon as I started displaying my keyboard in Spanish again, all the keys regained their original function. Good news! Best :)

    • Justin Pot
      March 29, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      Glad it worked out!

  8. Genevieve
    March 29, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Hi,
    Do you think you could help me revert to the original key assignment on my MacBook Air. Suddenly, symbols I used to be able to type using the shift key have changed. For example, I used to type inverted commas which are depicted above the number 2 by holding down shift and 2. Now when I do that, I get the @ symbol which is depicted beside the 2. All the other punctuation marks and symbols have also been changed and I have no way of accessing the most basic symbols such as question mark, inverted comma, forward slash etc. Many thanks. I would be very grateful if you could point me in the right direction. Thanks, Genevieve