The ultimate guide to Mac keyboard shortcuts

This guide shows all the tricks to let your fingers do the walking around your Mac.

Brendon Chase
6 min read

Whether you're a newbie or an experienced Apple user, this guide will show you how to let your fingers do the walking around your Mac.

The fastest way to navigate a Mac is to learn the glut of OS X keyboard shortcuts available at your fingertips.

With just a few keystrokes users can save files, switch between different applications or documents, and even create screenshots on the fly. It's easy, if you know the keys.

The basics
If you're new to a Mac you're probably wondering what some of the keys in front of you are supposed to do. Below is a simple outline of the main keys and their symbols used for shortcuts. Get familiar with these core keys on your Mac.

Most Apple shortcuts are executed using one, or a combination of the above keyboard commands, so it's useful to get familar with them. For example, in most applications it's common to use the Command + S key to save a document you're working on. To find the correct keyboard shortcut for your favourite application simply use the mouse and click on the file menu. There you will see the corresponding shortcut next to the mouse click. See screenshot below.

Where's my Windows keys?
Looking to alt-tab, copy to clipboard, or print screen like you did in Windows? Now that you've ctrl-alt-deleted from Windows the good news is the Mac has all of those options and more, but you may just have to learn a few different keys to press. Here's some common shortcuts you probably used in Windows and its comparable alternative on a Mac.

Name Symbol Abbreviation
Function   F fn5

Right, that's the basics out of the way. The above commands will get you around your Mac a lot faster than pointing and clicking with a mouse or trackpad. However, the shortcuts don't end there. Let's get into some more specific keyboard shortcuts that will turn you into a Mac whiz in no time.

The Finder is the default file management program used on Mac OS X. While it is intuitive to use with a mouse there are some useful keyboard shortcuts which can save users time opening files and moving them around. Here's some of the more useful shortcuts:

Action Windows Mac
Copy a folder or file Control + C Command + C
Paste a folder or file Control + V Command + V
Cut to clipboard Control + X Command + X
Search or Find Control + F Command + F
Force quit an application Control + Alt + Delete Command + Option + Esc
Capture screen Print Screen Command + Control + Shift + 3
Find properties Alt + Enter Command + I
Print Control + P Command + P
Quit a program Alt + 4 Command + Q
Save a file Control + S Command + S
Toggle between applications Alt + Tab Command + Tab
Swith to next window Control + F6 Command + ~
Undo Control + Z Command + Z
Select all items Control + A Command + A
Rename a folder Select item + F2 Select item + Enter
New folder Control + N Command + N

One of the most handy keyboard shortcuts on a Mac is taking screenshots. Here are the options available:

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Preview a file Click Spacebar on a selected item
New Finder window Command + N
Close window Command + W
Go directly to a folder or file Command + Shift + G
Connect to a server Command + K
Find the properties of a file or application Command + Option + I
Delete Trash without prompt Option + Shift+ Command + Delete
Delete Trash Command + Option + Delete
Edit Filename Press Enter on selected file
Move a file instead of copying Command + drag file to new destination
Go to "Computer" Shift + Command + C
Go to "Home" Shift + Command + H
Go to "iDisk" Shift + Command + I
Go to "Applications" Shift + Command + A
Minimise window Command + M
Minimise all windows Option + Command + M
Open help Command + ?
Go to "Favorites" Shift + Command + F
Undo last action Command + Z
Change Finder views Command + 1 or + 2 or + 3 or + 4

Eject, Eject!
Is an application not responding or you need to shut down quickly? Don't move your hand towards the power switch before trying these keyboard shortcuts:

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Take a picture of the whole screen Command + Shift + 3
Take a picture of a selected area Command + Shift + 4
Take a picture of a selected window Command + Shift + 4 + Spacebar
Take a picture and place it in Clipboard Command + Shift+ 4 + Control

Expose' is a feature of OS X which allows users to quickly open or hide a window quickly. It can also find the desktop with ease.

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Force Quit an application Option + Command + Esc
Quit all applications and restart Control + Command + Eject
Prompt Restart, Sleep, Shutdown box Control + Eject
Sleep mode Option + Command + Eject

Dashboard is the widget mode in Mac OS X. If you're widget crazy then here's how to manoeuvre around them:

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Expose all open windows F9 (on some keyboards fn+F9)
Expose all windows in one application F10 (on some keyboards fn+F10)
Reveal the desktop F11
Cycle through Exposéd Windows Press Tab after selecting F9 or F10
Slow motion Exposé keys Press Shift while using the above commands

Dock shortcuts

Action Shortcut
Open Dashboard F12
Open and close widget dock Command + Plus (+)
Cycle to next page of widgets Command + Left or Right arrows
Reload or refresh widget Command + R

Spaces is the virtual desktop feature in Mac OS X Leopard designed to unclutter your desktop. If you use this feature then this will help clean the clutter faster:

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Hide applications other than the one you're working on Command + Option while clicking on the Dock application
Turn magnification on or off Command + Shift
Reveal where an application is located in Finder Command + Application in Dock
Move the dock to the right, left, or bottom Hold Shift on Dock divider and drag
Remove item from Dock Press Control + "Remove item from Dock"
Quit or Force Quit Press Control + "Quit" or "Force Quit"

Spotlight is the search functionality inside your Mac that finds files and applications fast. You can easily access it on the top right of your screen but here are a few extra keyboard shortcuts:

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Show all Spaces F8 (fn + F8 on some keyboards)
Move between Spaces Control + up, down, left, or right
Move to a specific Space Control + 1, 2, 3, 4 ...
Move all Spaces into one F8 then C
Move an application to another Space F8 then Command and drag to another Space

Front Row
Front Row is the feature which can turn your Mac into a media centre. Normally the easiest way to navigate to Front Row us using the Apple Remote, but if it's stuck in the vortex of the couch cushions here's how to open and close the application fast:

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Open Spotlight Command + Space
Open Spotlight Window Command + Option + Space
Launch first result Enter
First result in each category Command + up or down
Clear Spotlight search Esc

Start-up/boot commands
These commands are useful for advanced users who need keyboard shortcuts during the boot process. Only click on these if you know what you are doing:

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Open Front Row Command + esc
Close Front Row Esc
Menu actions Up, down, left, right
Play or Pause Space
Volume Command + up or down

Customising shortcuts
While the above keyboard shortcuts will increase efficiency they might also bring on hand cramping, especially around the bottom left side of the keyboard. The good news is that many of the system-wide shortcuts can be customised for personal preference. To do this, simply click on Systems Preferences ->Keyboard & Mouse ->Keyboard Shortcuts and simply double-click the shortcut you want to change. If at any time you want to change back to the original preferences shipped by Apple, simply click on the "Restore Defaults" button found in this dialog box.

If you have your favourite Mac keyboard shortcut add it in the comment section below and we'll add it to our list over time.

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Boot from disc C
Start in Firewire target disc mode T
Safe boot Shift
Choose start-up disc Option
Seek a different start-up volume Command + Option + Shift + Delete
Start-up in single-user mode Command + S
Start-up in Verbose mode Command + V