What to do with the Num Lock Key

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?

The 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 / and ?, but also a very tiny additional symbol in the bottom right corner?

The keys on my MacBook Pro that can be used with the Num Lock key.

The keys on my MacBook Pro that can be used with the Num Lock key.

I took a photo of my MacBook Pro keyboard, and drew outlines round the relevant keys. Click the thumbnail for a larger version.

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 asdfghjkl;'.

Try it, if you have the Num Lock key, and see for yourself.


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  1. Miraz Jordan said:

    Ranjith: it sounds as though your keyboard may be faulty.

    First try plugging it in to a different USB port directly on the Mac. If those keys still don’t work then talk to a technician.

  2. ranjith said:

    numeric keys (right side of the keyboard) in apple mac keyboard is not working. any solutions for this problem? pls give the comments

  3. Mike said:

    exactly, pressing any key incl. spacabar, I get nothing. – What you mean by “right keys” – are there some left keys as well? LOL So which key shall I press next, when “F6″ is engaged? Why do you think it is ok if I get nothing by pressing mjkluio789 ?

  4. Miraz Jordan said:

    Mike, when you say ‘including the numerals’ do you mean that even when you press J, or K etc you get nothing?

    What do you mean by the ‘blank’ key? Do you mean the Spacebar?

    It sounds as though maybe Num Lock is working correctly, but you’re not pressing the right keys…

  5. Mike said:

    I am using MacBook Pro, and OSX 10.5.7.
    Whenever I press the “F6″ (“Num”) key, only the function keys incl. enter, shift, tab, but not blank, work. The other keys are dead, including the numerals. … Until I disengage F6, then all is back to normal. Any suggestions?

  6. Michael Levine said:

    I just bought a new iphone G-3, and cannot pair it with a u-connect (to car radio), of a 2007 Jeep Commander. The u-connect attempts to “find” the iphone and then times out. The iphone shows “u-connect on the screen” but the pairing always fails. Anyone have a suggestion?

  7. Miraz Jordan said:

    Thanks for the feedback Laura, and for the additional keywords.

    It can be so frustrating when something’s wrong and you don’t know what words to use for search for it – until you’ve found it, of course.

    That Num Lock is a real challenge!

  8. Laura said:

    YES. Thank you. Out with num lock!! I also thought my preferences or keyboard went berzerk, but it was the flippin’ F6 num lock. No lights, no clearly labeled key, no indicator …I thought I lost my mind. Several other people online had this problem also, all with incorrect diagnosis — and your commentary had the only useful info. So my addendum, if you don’t mind, of useful keywords… mac, can’t navigate in finder, keyboard won’t work in finder, shortcuts won’t work, can’t rename folders, can’t use arrow keys, can’t tab over in finder …Thanks again!

  9. Miraz Jordan said:


    make sure the Num Lock key is engaged. I don’t know if the eMac illuminates it or not – I would think it should.

    Then try typing the appropriate keys.

    Make sure you’re using an Apple keyboard, not a third party keyboard.

    Perhaps confirm whether it’s working by typing into a text editor – just in case there’s some software you’re using that for some reason doesn’t work with the Num Lock. I can’t imagine why some software wouldn’t recognise it, but it costs nothing to check.

    If all of that fails then try Apple’s support forums or visit a technician.



  10. israel smilansky said:

    i have eMac the numbers on the leftside of the keaboard don’t work
    I think the numlock does’nt work too.
    what I shold do to activate it?

  11. Miraz Jordan said:

    Hi Robert,

    the Num Lock key is like any other – use it when you need it, ignore it when you don’t.

    There’s no reason to think that having it on or off can do any damage to your computer, any more than leaving say Caps Lock engaged could.

    The difference it *does* make is that it affects what letters, numbers or symbols are produced when you press the keys mentioned in the Tip above.

  12. Robert C. said:

    All I would like to know ,or find out is,……”Is it necessary to leave the Numbers Lock Key,(keyboard Button!),ON all the time”? I have been told by “several”…..”Yes”!……..I have also been told by “many”!…….
    “No”! ……….Will it do any Damage if I choose “Either-Way”?
    Thank-You very much,(if you get this and are able to reply?),
    Sincerely,Robert C.

  13. Norbert C. Ballauer said:

    Hi Miraz
    Thanks for the tip, on my iBook G3 which I use when I have to be in bed, the num lock is above the 7 across the top and I use a QuickSilver 2002 as my desktop and the num lock is on the Clear key in the numeral part.
    You see I am in my 80′s and don’t see any sense in buying a new computer when the ones I have do what I need. I OS 9.2.2 on both so I have the best of two worlds.
    Again thanks for the tip. The day you get a bounce from your message to me you will know that I will no longer be here. God Bless You.

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