Using F-Keys in Mac OS XJanuary 31, 2007
F-Keys are used for special operating system wide functionality in Mac OS X. In this article we’ll discover how to take control of the Mac OS X F-Keys and use them in applications that map keyboard shortcuts to F-Keys.
By default in Mac OS X the F-Keys provide operating system wide functionality. For instance, F3 and F4 handle volume. F9, F10 and F11 are used for Exposé’s window tricks. That’s nice for being able to get at those features from within any application, but it really messes things up if an application uses F-Keys as a part of their standard keyboard shortcuts. NetBeans is a perfect example. Shift-Command-F4 is the keyboard shortcut for closing all documents, but on Mac OS X, F4 turns down the volume – not the desired output.
The trick on Mac OS X is that little fn key in the corner of your keyboard and a single setting under System Preferences -> Keyboard & Mouse. By default the F-Keys do Mac OS X things. If you want them to do application specific things you can hold down the fn key and then press the desired F-Key. If you’d like to reverse this behavior, check the box next to “Use the F1-F12 keys to control software features.” With that box checked everything is reversed. The F-Keys will do application specific things and to access the Mac OS X features, you will need to hold down the fn key while you press the desired F-Key. Pick your poison. In either case you have all of the functionality, it’s just a matter of which one you have to hold the extra key for.