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Remapping F14/F15 Function Keys in OS X TigerReturn to News Page

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Remapping F14/F15 Function Keys in OS X Tiger
By Ralph P. (posted 6/27/2005)



Firstly, love your site- has been very useful to me on a number of occasions. Secondly, I have worked out a process to remap the F14 & F15 keys in Mac OS X 10.4.1. These keys aren't selectable in the Dashboard & Expose or Keyboard & Mouse (Keyboard Shortcuts) System Preferences panes (effectively they are invisible to the remapping facilities).
I really needed the default Expose hotkeys (F9, F10 & F11) for another application and thought I'd remap all the functions to the handy group of 3 keys on my Apple Pro USB keyboard (F13, F14 & F15) that I never use. OS X's built in remapping facilities will let you remap to F13 but not F14 or F15.

F14 & F15 are used as brightness controls for attached Apple displays (I have a 20" Cinema Display and they work for those but didn't work for my previous LCD - an IBM T750).

Here is how to remap to F14 & F15 (included is F13 even though you can actually remap to this OK using system prefs).

Apologies for verbosity of the description!

This procedure was conducted with an Apple Pro USB keyboard connected to a PowerMac G4 Mirrored Drive Doors (MDD) FW800 Dual 1.25Ghz PowerPC Mac with OS X 10.4 (Tiger). It may or may not work with other keyboards (for example Powerbooks etc.) or with previous versions of OS X.

Essentially you need to edit the keyboard shortcuts PLIST file and manually define the keys you want to use to the particular function (sounds easy but there is no description that I could find that described which entries in the PLIST file matched which function - I eventually worked it out via the tried and true trial and error method).

There are a couple of things you need before you can execute this process:-

1) You need a copy of the Property List Editor application. This application is included in the Xcode Tools install (Xcode Tools can be downloaded from the Apple Developer Connection section of the Apple website (http://developer.apple.com/). It's a big download (about 750MB). If you don't have Xcode Tools or don't want to download the lot just to get the Property List Editor have someone who has a copy of the Property List Editor to you (it's 300KB) (can't see why it wouldn't work as an install without the rest of the Xcode Tools but no guarantees!).

2) You need to have a version of the com.apple.symbolichotkeys.plist file on your system. This file is located in
~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.symbolichotkeys.plist
(where the ~ refers to the symbolic for the path for the current user (i.e. on my machine it's Users/xxxxx - so therefor the full path is Users/xxxxx/ Library/Preferences/com.apple.symbolichotkeys.plist). If you have never altered the default hotkey settings or keyboard shortcuts (for Expose, Dashboard or any other preset) then this file won't exist. As soon as you use the System Preferences for Expose or Keyboard (Keyboard Shortcuts) then this file will be created (with only the entries for the shortcuts/hotkeys you changed that override the default settings).

I found that the easiest way to execute the changes was to access the Expose System Preferences item and change all of them to something else (i.e. All Windows (F1), Application Windows (F2), Desktop (F3) and Dashboard (F4)). This results in the ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.symbolichotkeys.plist file being created with the appropriate entries already existing (so you can just change the relevant values without having to add the whole lot!).

Note also that, if you have more than one user defined and you want the changes to apply to all those users, you will have to create and edit the ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.symbolichotkeys.plist file for each one (or copy the one to each users path).

Also, (for those who don't know), an undocumented feature of the Expose and Dashboard functions is that, if you hold down the Shift key while hitting the Expose or Dashboard hotkeys, they perform the same functions but do it sloooowly (try it - its pretty groovy). When you change the hotkeys to create the plist file as I mentioned above, 2 entries are created for each function - one for the hotkey itself and one for the modifier key function (in this case Shift). So you will also need to alter the modifier key entries to match the hotkey you decide to use for each function (if, that is, you want to - I would suggest you do so otherwise the modifier key definition will be left set to the 'old' key setting and I'm not sure what the consequences (if any) of this may be).

You presumably could also change the modifer value to one of the other modifier keys (Control, Option or Command (Apple)). I haven't tried this but here are the relevant modifer keys and their values if you want to try (I know the value for Shift is definately correct):-

0 = no modifier
131072 = Shift
262144 = Control
524288 = Option
1048576 = Command (Apple)

The process.

1) Make a backup of the ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.symbolichotkeys.plist file (in case something goes wrong! Although, if you just delete the file then everything goes back to the default settings (obviously you will lose any changes you made to the default settings for any keyboard shortcuts)).

2) Fire up the Property List Editor (if you installed Xcode Tools its in /Developer/Applications/Utilities/Property List Editor.app).

3) On the Menu Bar click File - Open and navigate to the ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.symbolichotkeys.plist file, select it and click Open.

4) In the resulting window, expand (click on) the triangle (twistie) next to Root then the twistie next to AppleSymbolicHotKeys.

5) You will see a bunch of numbered entries with their own twisties. For each one you want to change, you need to click on (the twistie):-

  1. The number (i.e. 32) then
  2. value then
  3. parameters

6) For each parameters entry there are 3 numbered entries (0, 1 & 2). The entry you want to change for the key that is pressed to initiate the function is the entry numbered '1'. You change the value by double clicking the entry in the Value column and overtyping with the new key value. In the entries for the modifier keys, if you want to also change the modifier value as well as the key value, then the entry for the modifier value is the entry numbered '2'.

7) The relevant Expose and Dashboard Shortcut (hotkey) numbers are:-

All Windows = 32
All Windows Modifier = 34

Application Windows = 33
Application Windows Modifier = 35

Desktop = 36
Desktop Modifier = 37

Dashboard = 62
Dashboard Modifier = 63

8) The relevant values for the F13, F14 & F15 keys are:-

F13 = 105
F14 = 107
F15 = 113


9) When you have changed the key value(s) for the Expose or Dashboard function(s) you want to change, on the Menu Bar click File - Save.

10) Log off and logon (or restart) and test it out (I found that sometimes the changes were immediate without logging off but sometimes they did not 'take' until a log off/restart).

I set my keys up as:-

F13 = Desktop
F14 = Application Windows
F15 = All Windows

Note:- when you go to the Keyboard Shortcuts System Preferences pane and scroll down to the Dock, Expose, and Dashboard entries, for those functions where you have set F14 or F15 as the shortcut key(s), in the Shortcut column there will be a blank space where it usually lists the key(s) that is set. Don't worry - it's not set to nothing, it just cannot display the key (because it doesn't 'know' those keys). Also, when you go to the Dashboard and Expose System Preferences Pane, if you have set F14 or F15 for any of those functions, the key shown in the listbox will display as F1 - once again, don't worry - it's not actually set to F1 - it seems this Preferences pane partially 'knows' the keys.

Presumably you could also assign other functions apart from Expose or Dashboard to the F14 & F15 keys using this method. The easiest way to figure out which entry in the plist file is associated to the function you want to assign F14 or F15 to would be to:-

1) Open the plist file with the Property List Editor and note the numbers that currently exist.

2) Go to System preferences and select Keyboard Shortcuts and change the function you want to change to something other than its default.

3) Open the plist file again with the Property List Editor and there should be a new numbered entry for the function you just changed via Keyboard Shortcuts.

4) Change the value for the key pressed to the value for F14 or F15 using the method described above.

It may also be possible to remap functions to the other non-standard keys on the keyboard (such as the Volume Up/Down, Mute and Eject keys) but I do not know (nor could find anywhere) what the value of these keys are. If anyone has or knows where I can find a utility for displaying the key values of a Mac keyboard when the keys are pressed, then I would be very appreciative and I will test it out (there are lots of these types of things for PCs but I could not find a single one for the Mac - and the PC ones running under VirtualPC aren't helpful because the scan codes for those keys never make it to Windows (VirtualPC) to be scanned - and I'm guessing the Windows Keyboard Driver in Virtual PC translates the key scan codes it gets from the Mac anyhow to the PC equivalent so the accuracy of the data is questionable).

Hope this tip can be of some use to you or users of your website.
Regards, Ralph P.


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