Using F-Keys in Mac OS X

January 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.

Keyboard And Mouse-1

Joshua Smith


Amazon Book: Mac OS X for Java Geeks
Amazon Book: Mac OS X Panther Hacks
Using NetBeans on Mac OS X
Marc Liyanage Blog: NetBeans Mac Customization
Marc Liyanage Blog: More NetBeans on Mac OS X

Technorati Tags: , ,


  1. Hi,
    the solution you describe here doesn’t work on my MacBook Pro and Netbeans 6.*
    I had tried that before a long time, even with netbeans 5.

    You need something else.

    I will find it and tell you about it.


  2. More specifically for key F9 to F12. The rest of the F buttons work fine as they were supposed to do inside Netbeans.

  3. Thank you for putting this out. I couldn’t disable the extended function keys by turning them off in the Keyboard Shortcuts tab. I was about to discard the Apple KB and buy a third party one.

  4. I also needed to change settings on the “Keyboard Shortcuts” tab.

    F9 through to F12 are in use by the “Dock, Expose and Dashboard” shortcuts. Disable them, or set different keys for that functionality and you’ll have function keys F9 -> F12 available for applications.

  5. thank you for posting. This was very helpful.

  6. Thanks a bunch for the helpful website. You’ve saved me a whole mess of trouble. I’ve been googling for two days trying to solve this problem. Thanks again. God Bless.

  7. I’ve never posted on anyone’s board, but I’ve needed this info for so long, but never bothered to look it up. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

  8. Peopple with Mac desktops don’t need to use the fn modifier key to access the F-key functions as the keys serve no dual purpose.

    • If you use Photoshop, for example, there are some combinations for which you want to turn OFF those features…
      so the keys HAVE a dual purpose…

  9. Cool thanks for the info. It was helpful in operating a old school game that ran on DOS or something like that. Of course this is on my Intel iMac… (emulation program used…)

    THanks a lot. Helpful.


  10. Do you know how to switch them when I’m booted on the PC side of my Mac? I need to use the F keys, but I have to press “fn” in order to make them work in games I’m playing. Right now, when I press them, the brightness or volume controls activate.

  11. I found the answer to using the Function keys while using Bootcamp in Windows XP.

    While running Windows, in the Bootcamp Control Panel item found in the lower right tray, there is an option to configure the keyboard.

  12. Thanks for the post, Eclipse debugging F7 now works correctly :)

  13. As a MAC newcomer, this article was of valuable help, thanks!

  14. Mac has a UI straight out of 1992!

    Jacking the function keys is retarded. Terrible. Fail.

  15. I have a Mac Pro Keyboard on an old eMac Edu CD. It has 15! function keys. Is there any way to assign F13 – F15 to do things like Log Off, Restart or Shutdown? I’m currently running OSX 10.3.9, but should be upgrading to 10.4.11 shortly. Thanks.

  16. Thanks for the F-Key tip. I just bought a Mac and have RSI so can’t use the mouse at all.

  17. Thank you!!

  18. on my mac mini i have a third-party windows keyboard, and the keys F1-F12 work as normal but when i have the FN held down they do as the icon on the key states. what i was wondering is how to reverse this, so the are the modifier keys with no Fn held down. and in my setting menu there is no option like on yours, there is also 2 separate categories for mouse and keyboard

  19. I think OSX has changed some menus since most of above answers were posted. I just tried this in Snow Leopard, Mac Pro, Mac keyboard. What worked for me looks like this:

    System Preferences
    —-Keyboard Shortcuts tab
    ——go through list of apparently pre-assigned links between Fkeys and functions like Spotlight. Uncheck them all. Then go back to:
    —-Keyboard tab
    ——check the box for “Use all F1, F2….”

  20. Old Post.. but useful – Because I forgot how to do this. Thanks! :)

  21. Works on mine. Thanks for your help!

  22. We have a Mac 10.40x . All of a sudden the numeric key pad is not working. When we press a number nothing happens. Do you know how to fix the problem?

  23. Thanks for the post man…very helpful!!!

  24. […] […]

  25. Thanks for this! It was very useful….

  26. As a relatively new Mac user you have saved me buckets of frustration and hours of Google searching. Thanks!

  27. THANK YOU!
    i have found a 1/2 dozen blogs and posts and articles and not one could dumb it down enough for me. i’ve had this macbook for almost 4 years, i’ve upgraded the harddrive in it and reseated extra RAM, and yesterday, while changing some of the functions (for the option key) i inadvertantly reversed the F-keys and my volume keys no longer worked w/out the Fn button. I looked at everything within the keyboard options (i thought) and could not figure out how to reset it, the frustration was maddening! Thanks for your post!

  28. This little app should resolve your problems : http://www.molowa.com/mac-os-x/palua/palua-3-0/

  29. When I press the FN key and the F9 key together nothing happens? It is suppose to tile the windows. Can you help?

  30. Great article. That was exactly what I was looking for. Thanks

  31. Thank for your the explanation. It worked for me on MBPR.

  32. I know this post is way old… but if you can’t get F12 (or any other function keys) to work in an application by following these instructions here’s how I did it (I’m in Mountain Lion btw):

    I went to the Apple Icon > System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts… from here you can unassign function keys from the OS by unchecking (for instance, F12 is assigned to “show dashboard” under “Mission Control.” Did exactly what I needed.

  33. You must spent a lot of time writing posts on your website, you can save a lot of work,
    just search in google:
    treoughan’s rewriter

  34. Hello, every time i used to check weblog
    posts here in the early hours in the morning, for the reason that i like to find out more and more.

  35. Thanks a lot for information. I started using mac and was wondering while using the android studio , why the specified shortcut keys (with F6) was not working. Thanks again. I very much appreciate this.

  36. Started untrodden web throw


    sex bizzare toys porn innocent women seduced porn ballsack porn free brutal dildo porn free alladin porn pics

  37. Thanks for stopping by my page! I’m Bentley Werner.
    Even though I jokingly credit my aunt for my writing talent, I know that it is a ability I have fostered from childhood. Though my aunt is a writer, I also started out young.
    I’ve always had a way with words, according to my favorite professor . I was always so excited in English when we had to do a research assignment .
    Now, I help current students achieve the grades that have always come easily to me. It is my way of giving back to schools because I understand the troubles they must overcome to graduate.

    Bentley Werner – Professional Writer – //www.mscn.org/]Mscn.org Company

  38. Welcome everyone ! I’m Jean Hartman.
    Even though I jokingly credit my mother for my writing talent, I know that it is a skill I have fostered from childhood. Though my mother is a writer, I also started out young.
    I’ve always had a way with words, according to my favorite professor . I was always so excited in science when we had to do a research paper .
    Now, I help current pupils achieve the grades that have always come easily to me. It is my way of giving back to students because I understand the troubles they must overcome to graduate.

    Jean – Professional Writer – Byrumsocialstudies Company

  39. Welcome to my blog ,
    I’m Liana Lynn.
    If you’ve ever been too busy and couldn’t finish a academic paper, then you’ve come to the right place. I work with students in all areas of the writing process . I can also write the essay from start to finish.
    My career as a professional writer started during my school years . After learning that I was very skilled in the field of academic writing, I decided to take it up as a career .

    Professional Academic Writer- Liana Lynn- Literaturematters Confederation

  40. My name is Britney. And I am a professional Content writer with many years of experience in writing.

    My goal is to solve problems related to writing. And I have been doing it for many years. I have been with several groups as a volunteer and have assisted clients in many ways.
    My love for writing has no end. It is like the air we breathe, something I cherish with all my being. I am a full-time writer who started at an early age.
    I’m happy that I`ve already sold several copies of my poems in different countries like Canada and China and others too numerous to mention.
    I also work in a company that provides assistance to many clients from different parts of the world. People always come to me because I work no matter how complex their projects are. I help them to save energy, because I feel happy when people come to me for writing help.

    Academic Writer – Britney Kay – Londonrespiratoryteamconference Confederation

  41. изготовление документов – купить диплом, Авиа билеты, гостиницы, аренда автомобилей отели дешево скидки аппартаменты экскурсии

  42. Welcome to my blog ,
    I’m Jana.
    If you’ve ever been too tired and couldn’t finish a research paper , then you’ve come to the right place. I help students in all areas of the writing technique. I can also write the assignment from start to finish.
    My career as a scholarly writer started during my school years . After learning that I was very talented in the field of academic writing, I decided to take it up as a job .

    Professional Academic Writer- Jana Woods- Csnbiologyclub Band

  43. Hi guys, I am Simona a professional in academic writing.

    I enjoy solving people’s problems and make them happy. That is what I have been doing for decades now.
    I have been writing since I was 12 years old and never knew it would turn out to be a full-time career. I have also been able to handle several assignments that involves writing. And I worked in three organizations as a volunteer to assist people.My interest has always been to help people succeed. And I go the extra mile to make that happen.
    I enjoy writing Thesis and have helped people from countries like Mexico.
    I work with a service provider whose mission is to provide quality works and make people happy. In fact, many clients come to me for help on a daily basis because they know I always deliver. And I will continue to provide nothing but the best to build trust like I have been doing for the past few years.

    Academic writer – Simona Ortega – Desalescollege Corps

Leave a Reply to Jay Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: