What to do with the Num Lock Key
Mac Tip #342, 11 June 2008
What does the
Num Lock key on your keyboard do? Does your keyboard even have a Num Lock key? What is it? Where is it?
Num Lock key, long overlooked and neglected, is in the opinion of many a total waste of space. I tend to not only agree with that, but go a step further and say that it’s a nuisance.
But in the interests of keeping the readers of MacTips well informed this whole Tip is dedicated to
Num Lock. After all, why can’t it have its 15 minutes of fame?
Look hard at your keyboard. Is there one key that says ‘num lock’? On my MacBook Pro that key is the F6 key at the top of the keyboard. When I press it a green light shines through it, in the way the Caps lock key on my keyboard lights up.
If you have a very new Mac or keyboard, you might not find a Num Lock key, as Apple seem to have finally done away with it.
If you do have a Num Lock key, scrutinise your keyboard again and look very closely at the following keys:
j, k, l, ;, m, ., /, u, i, o, p, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, -. Do you see that each has not only the usual one or two characters, such as
?, but also a very tiny additional symbol in the bottom right corner?
The first time I really noticed the Num Lock key was when I’d pressed it by accident and suddenly my computer behaved strangely — I was typing and mainly nothing happened, except occasionally a number would appear.
It was mysterious. I did standard troubleshooting, such as quitting the application and restarting the computer. Finally I noticed and wondered about the extra green light I’d never spotted before. When I disengaged the Num Lock, everything returned to normal.
When you engage the Num Lock key it deactivates most of the standard character keys, and allows you to type that third character that appears on the group of keys I mentioned before. If you do lots of number work that may be easier than stretching across the top of the keyboard all the time.
If you want to quickly type that third character you can even do it without engaging Num Lock. If you have an ‘fn’ key on your keyboard (most Mac laptops should have one) hold it down and try typing. Most keys type the character you’re probably used to, but those numeric keypad keys produce that third character —
asdfgh123-' instead of
Try it, if you have the
Num Lock key, and see for yourself.