Last Updated: November 22, 2017
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Remapping Caps Lock key to something more natural on Mac OS X

Over the years I've tried to continually improve my ability to use the keyboard
for navigating around my system. I've used a wide variety of systems throughout
my career that spans nearly two decades, and for the last several years have
focused on Mac OS X for my desktop work. As most Mac addicts are aware of, there are numerous keyboard shortcuts
available that will enable them to speed up their workflow by not having to lift
their hand and make use of a mouse or trackpad.

These keystroke combinations generally require heavy use of modifier keys,
which include specific keys such as Command, Shift, Option, Control,
Caps Lock, and the Fn key.

As a software developer, I find that I need some of these modifier keys
extremely often, but one key that I use quite frequently is the Control key.
However, on my QWERTY keyboard, I personally find that the Control key is
located in a very awkward place. For years I struggled with using this key, but
due to its placement, I very rarely would find it properly. Even when I did, it
often required me to slow down quite a bit, which I found really interrupted my
flow, even though I'm not an expert typist (at roughly 59 words per minute).
I learned to type in high school, so at this point I have over a quarter century
of practice. In my view, I should be a much faster typist, so it's going to
take a good bit of work to improve my speed. One way to do that, aside from
regular practice sessions on sites such as
typeracer and the like, is to remap certain keys
to a more natural location on the keyboard.

My suggestion: Remap the Control key!

"But which key do I map it to?", you ask? Well, it just so happens that
I almost never need the Caps Lock key. Most capitalization of words occurs
for a single character, but in those cases I think the Shift key is perfectly
sufficient for accomplishing that goal. Also, I think the Caps Lock key is in
a very easy-to-reach location on the keyboard, and given that I use the
Control key quite a lot, this should be a perfect fit.

So how do you achieve remapping a key on OS X? Let me show you...

Here are the instructions:

  1. Open System Preferences on the Mac.
    I invoke Spotlight by clicking the Command and the spacebar at the
    same time, then typing System Preferences.


  2. Select Keyboard from the System Preferences.


  3. From the Keyboard panel click the Modifier Keys... button.
    Do NOT select the Keyboard Shortcuts panel.


  4. Select ^ Control from the menu to the right of the Caps Lock Key
    setting, then click the OK button.


That should complete the key remapping.

Now, anytime you need to do an operation that requires the control key, such as
suspending a UNIX process with Ctrl-Z, simply press the Caps Lock key
instead. I have used this key remapping for over a year and found that it has
greatly improved my work flow. Give it a try and see if you get the same

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5 Responses
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I completely disagree with you on remapping something to something else that is so near the first one. I've found this https://pqrs.org/macosx/keyremap4macbook/pckeyboardhack.html.en and it allows changing caps lock to any key you wish, not only modifier keys.

over 1 year ago ·
Carwin y 0220

I've actually taken to remapping the "hold" of caps-lock as Control and using a single press as ESC which is really handy for Vim usage. Steve Losh has a great post about this: http://stevelosh.com/blog/2012/10/a-modern-space-cadet/#the-original

over 1 year ago ·
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@carwin - Interesting. I think @mislav just posted about that at https://coderwall.com/p/uo_big. Nice tip!

over 1 year ago ·

Followed the instructions (but I mapped to Esc instead). Works fine on the built in Keyboard for my MBPro but not on an external (plug in) keyboard. Weird.

8 months ago ·

@upasaka I had trouble with this too until I noticed the Select keyboard option at the top of the Modifier Keys... drop-in window. Modifier keys are per-keyboard. :) Hope this helps.

7 days ago ·
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