Feb 20

macOS Hidden Shortcuts

Category: apple,mac,macosx,tips

I’m a pretty big macOS user with a combination of my primary Mac laptop, an iMac desktop machine and also an ancient Mac Mini Server machine. I’m also a really heavy Terminal user with someone commenting that they’ve not seen a Mac user with so many terminal windows. There’s a secret to this: the terminal and the Mac share many keyboard shortcuts that you’d not expect.

Now the Mac has a massive selection of keyboard shortcuts that use the “Command” key (I still call it the Apple key). These are ones like “Command-S” for save, “Command-A” for select all plus our friends “Command-C” and “Command-V” for copy and paste respectively. However if you look at the rather long keyboard shortcut list, it’s easy to skip past these “Control” prefixed shortcuts:

Control-A    Move to the beginning of the line or paragraph.
Control-E    Move to the end of a line or paragraph.
Control-F    Move one character forward.
Control-B    Move one character backward.
Control-L    Center the cursor or selection in the visible area.
Control-P    Move up one line.
Control-N    Move down one line.
Control-O    Insert a new line after the insertion point.
Control-T    Swap the character behind the insertion point with the character in front of the insertion point.

These shortcuts are interesting as they’re based around using the keyboard to navigate around and they’re also the only ones that use the “Control” character. These commands are special because they come from the Terminal. If you spin up the Terminal, you’ll find that bash quite happily accepts these commands for you. You can actually also use these on a Linux box in it’s terminal emulator and bash will respond just the same for you.

Out of all of these shortcuts there are two that are ones I use all of the time: Control-A and Control-E. These move to the start or end of the “line or paragraph”. It’s like a home or end key except if your hands are already on the keyboard in the normal location, moving to Control-A or Control-E is pretty quick. This allows me to quickly jump between the start and end of the line in most Mac apps and obviously on the command line.

Now there are obviously times that are exceptional. Microsoft Office applications like Word and Excel don’t play nicely with these shortcuts however strangely Outlook does. The application that I’m writing this in right now, Desk, curiously maps “Control-A” to be select all as it would be on a Windows computer. When I end up in these applications there is a cognitive disconnect while I’m trying to work without realising that the keyboard shortcut I just typed is misbehaving.

However the one place I notice this most is actually at work on my Linux desktop. While the terminal emulator for Linux handles Control-A/Control-E as one expects, the rest of the GNOME/GTK desktop that I use doesn’t which is immensely frustrating because I want to get to the start of the line but I end up selecting everything!

One other note about Mac shortcuts is that there are a lot of shortcuts that work properly in a good chunk of applications straight out of the gate. Checkout the list and I’m sure you’ll see plenty you recognise. I think the most powerful features of the Mac operating system is that you can take any menu item and assign (or change) it’s shortcut. I wrote a blog post about how I use this feature to change Command-Q for Safari from “Quit Safari” to “About Safari”.

Good luck checking out not only these shortcuts and many more!

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