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How to bring back the Escape key on a Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro

If you need a physical Escape key on your MacBook Pro, then you can have one.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Touch Bar is the headlining feature on Apple's new MacBook Pro. You may not miss many of the Function keys it replaces, but some people -- programmers, namely -- consider the lack of a physical Escape key a deal breaker.

A virtual Escape key shows up in its usual spot in the upper-left corner of the keyboard on the Touch Bar when you are using some apps, but it disappears when you are using others. When it's not visible on the Touch Bar, you can also press the Function key to force the Touch Bar to display the Escape key and the 12 Function keys.

If you want a physical Escape key, MacOS lets you reassign one of four keys as an Escape key. (The tilde key would make the most obvious choice since it's the upper-leftmost key on the keyboard, but unfortunately it's not one of your four options.)

To remap a key as the Escape key, follow these three steps:

  1. Open System Preferences and click on Keyboard.
  2. Click on the Keyboard tab at the top if not already in that view and click the Modifier Keys button.
  3. Select the Caps Lock, Control, Option or Command key to act as the Escape key and click OK.
Matt Elliott/CNET

Since I regularly use the Control, Option and Command keys for various keyboard shortcuts, I choose to remap the Caps Lock key.

Should you grow to like the Touch Bar and its virtual Escape key, you can return to this panel in System Preferences and click Restore Defaults to return these four keys to their original purpose.

For more, I present 7 tips and tricks for the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar.