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Function keys, or F-keys, are special-purpose keys on a keyboard that allow you to perform certain actions on your computer quickly. These keys comprise the top row of keyboards and are labeled F1 through F12.

remap-mac-function-keys

IMAGE: Clay Banks (Unsplash)

Depending on your computer’s operating system, the function keys can help you with various actions. For instance, on macOS, you have the F1 and F2 function keys dedicated to adjusting brightness levels, F3 and F4 for quickly accessing Mission Control and Launchpad, and so on.

However, of the 12 function keys on your keyboard, it is very unlikely that you would end up using every single one of them. Since most of these function keys are left unused, it is best to remap them to other actions on the Mac to get more out of your keyboard.

What Is Key Mapping?

Key Remapping is a way of replacing the default value of a key with that of another key. It allows you to assign various system actions and operations to the unused and unassigned keys on your keyboard so you can repurpose them for other useful actions.

Remapping a key on your Mac can come in handy when you want to fix your broken keyboard or when you want to put an unused key on your keyboard to use.

For the purpose of this guide, we will remap the Mac function keys to help you make the most of these keys on your keyboard.

How to Remap Mac Function Keys

Like we mentioned earlier, the function keys on Mac keyboards work as both special keys and standard function keys. But by default, the behavior of these keys favors special keys, meaning they trigger the action (printed on top of their keycap) when you press them directly and perform the standard function-key actions when you press them with the fn key.

So if you need to repurpose these function keys effectively, you should first change their default key behavior to operate as standard function keys. That way, you can trigger your actions with these keys by simply pressing them once without having to use the fn key.

Here are the steps to do this:

  1. Open System Preferences and select Keyboard.
  2. In the Keyboard tab, tick the checkbox for Use F1, F2, etc., keys as standard function keys.
    Change Mac function key behavior

Once done, you can proceed to remap these function keys using the following steps:

  1. Open System Preferences and select Keyboard. If you have an external keyboard, you can choose the keyboard you want to modify.
  2. Click on the Shortcuts tab and select Keyboard from the left-hand pane.
  3. Tick the checkbox next to the action you want to use to enable it.
  4. Click on the key to its right and press the function key you want to assign this action.

When you select Keyboard from the left-hand pane, you get to see some other options in the menu too. Going into these options will present you with all their associated actions.

For instance, if you select Spotlight, you get two Spotlight actions, namely Show Spotlight search and Show Finder search window. You can enable these actions by ticking the checkbox next to them and assigning them a function key. So the next time you are in a situation where you can benefit from any of these actions, you just need to press their designated function keys to trigger them.

Remap Mac function keys to perform Spotlight actions

We will help you with repurposing your function keys to some of these actions to demonstrate the entire remapping purpose. Since most of these actions will require you to follow a similar set of steps, the steps mentioned below should help you set up pretty much all kinds of actions.

All the actions require you to be on the Shortcuts tab in the Keyboard settings. So the steps you see below assume you are on the Key Shortcuts tab. To navigate here, open System Preferences and go to Keyboard > Shortcuts.

1. Repurpose Mac Function Key to Take Screenshots

Ideally, you take screenshots on Mac by pressing a combination of keys. While this works flawlessly pretty much every time, repurposing your unused function key to take a screenshot makes the process a little convenient since now you only need to press a single key to capture your screen.

  1. Select Screenshots from the left-hand pane.
  2. On the right, tick the checkbox next to the screenshot options you want to enable. Select Save picture of screen as a file to capture the entire screen or Save picture of selected areas as a file for selective screenshot capturing.
  3. Double-tap on the shortcut to the right of the shortcut type and press the function key you want to assign that action.

2. Repurpose Mac Function Key to Show Notification Center

If you often need to check the Notification Center on your Mac for updates, you should repurpose one of your function keys to access the Notification Center quickly.

  1. Select Mission Control from the left-hand pane.
  2. Check the checkbox next to Show Notification Center to enable it.
  3. Double-tap on the shortcut adjacent to it and press the function key you want to use for this action.

3. Repurpose Mac Function Key to Show Turn Do Not Disturb On/Off

Similar to configuring a function key to trigger Notification Center, you can also do the same for toggling Do Not Disturb. So if you often have to enable/disable Do Not Disturb on your Mac, this shortcut will definitely save you a few extra clicks.

  1. Select Mission Control.
  2. Tick the checkbox next to Turn Do Not Disturb On/Off.
  3. Double-click the shortcut area and press the function key with which you want to toggle the Do Not Disturb mode.

4. Repurpose Mac Function Key to Move Focus Between Apps

When you have two or more apps in a split-screen mode on your Mac, you either use your mouse or a key combination (considering you have enabled it) to switch focus between these active app windows. However, if you have a spare function key on your keyboard, you can make this multitasking experience more convenient and efficient.

  1. Select Keyboard from the left pane.
  2. Tick the checkbox for Move focus to active or next window.
  3. Double-tap the shortcut beside it and press your preferred function key.
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5. Repurpose Mac Function Key to Launch Apps

If there is a certain menu item in an app, or if there are common menu items (help, enter full-screen, exit full screen, etc.) across multiple apps that you have to access over and over, you can make the most of the unused function keys on your keyboard by assigning them to trigger these actions.

  1. Select App Shortcuts from the left-hand pane.
  2. Click the plus (+) button below the right window.
  3. On the popup window, select the app you want to open. Select All Applications if the action you want to perform is common to all applications.
  4. Enter the exact name of the menu in the Menu Title window. You can find this by navigating that app manually.
  5. Tap on the field next to Keyboard Shortcut and press the function key you want to assign to this action.

6. Repurpose Mac Function Key to Run Services

macOS comes built-in with various services across different categories, and you can even create your own service to automate tasks on your machine. For instance, you can create services to batch-convert images, bulk-resize images, among other things.

Although you can trigger these services using keyboard shortcuts, if you have a few unused function keys on your keyboard, you may want to use them to do this more conveniently.

Similarly, if you already have multiple custom services on your system, you can configure them to all the different function keys to run them with just a click.

  1. Select Services from the left pane.
  2. Check the checkbox next to the service you want to configure.
  3. Double-click the shortcut field and press the function key you want to assign to this service.

Remap Mac Function Keys Using Third-Party Key Mapping Software

While the built-in method of remapping keys works well and is a good place to start if you are new to key remapping, it has its own share of shortcomings. The biggest of these is the lack of control over system services and app actions, which limits you in setting your key remappings, not to mention the lack of control over assigning actions and emulating button operations.

An alternative to getting around these shortcomings is to use third-party key mapping software. On Mac, you have a bunch of such utilities that you can try. However, we recommend using Karabiner Elements, Ukelele, or Keyboard Maestro.

While Karabiner Elements and Ukelele are free, Keyboard Maestro comes with a price tag for a few extra features. However, in our opinion, Karabiner Elements is perfect for pretty much all sorts of key remapping needs.

Making the Most of Mac Function Keys

By bringing function keys on your keyboard to life, you can use these keys to perform pretty much all kinds of actions and operations on your Mac.

Of course, the ones we have listed above are just a handful of examples where you can use them effectively, and there are a variety of other use-cases where you can use them in a way that works the best for you. Third-party keyboard utilities are best for such advanced keyboard mapping.

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