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Using and reassigning F keys – How to change the default setting

We see them every day on our laptop’s keyboard, but hardly any of us know what they mean and what they are actually for – the F keys. Whether you are using a Windows or Mac keyboard, the F keys, or more precisely the function keys, are always in the first row at the top. Even though we rarely use them when writing, they are important. Many helpful applications are hidden behind these F keys. This article will show you what they are and what else the keys can do.


What is the significance of F1-F12?

F1 has been linked to the help menu since the old DOS days. This is very useful when you want to quickly consult the operating instructions. F1 in conjunction with the Windows key opens the “Help and Support Center”.

F2 lets you quickly and easily rename file names and folders. This function is like the context menu command “Rename”, but using the keys is much easier. Instead of laboriously clicking about, you simply select the file and press F2.

F3 opens the search function. Instead of the search window, the dialog appears in the task area of the active window. If you work in Explorer and tap this function key, the web search pops up in the left margin.

F4 combines two useful functions in one key. It can be used to open the address bar in Explorer. Here you can then enter and retrieve a page’s address. If you press the ALT key at the same time, the active browser window will close.

F5 is used to refresh the list of drives. This can be a network drive or a website that you have accessed via Internet Explorer but haven’t looked at in a while. The key combination CTRL and F5 deletes all cached images as well as all texts. You will then get a current version of the displayed page.

Via F6 you can move the cursor in the window area. The window area includes the address bar as well as the task and content area. However, this is only practical if you are used to controlling your computer via keyboard input. To do so, use Ctrl and F6 in Word and you can then switch between open documents.

Although F7 has no functionality, the F7 key may have been used in a few tools. If you want to find out, start your favorite program and open the operating instructions via F1. Then type in “function key” as a search word.

The F8 key, however, is really worth noting. If you want to boot Windows and then tap the F8 key shortly before the Windows logo appears, the operating system starts in safe mode. This repair mode can access drives when Windows fails to boot normally.

Like F7, F9 has no functionality in Windows. It, too, may nevertheless have been used in a few tools. To find out which ones, the procedure is the same as for F7.

F9 switches you to the menu bar. You can use the arrow key to move from one item to another. This key can also be used as a counterpart to the right-click. When the cursor is on an object and you then tap F10 and the Shift key, the context menu pops up.

F11 switches between normal and full screen mode in Internet Explorer. It can hide menu bars and toolbars, which is useful when you want to see more of a page. If you then press F11 again, the page will return to the normal view.

F12 is not assigned any functionality in Windows. The same rules apply as for F7 and F9. In Word you can press F12 to enable the Save As function.

The Fn key is not working – What can I do?

Many manufacturers install software on the computer that allows you to use Fn. Your computer recognizes the desired commands thanks to this software. If Fn is not working, you should open the control panel and then look for the software among the programs. When you find it, right-click on Repair. If you have completely reinstalled Windows, the software for Fn must also be reinstalled. It can be found either on the manufacturer’s website or on the second partition. Many computers have a second partition with drivers and additional software. If all this doesn’t work, the problem is with the hardware rather than the software. In this case, you should contact a technician.

How can I enable or disable the Fn key?

The Fn key is mainly found on laptops. It enables additional functions. Whether you can assign additional functions to the keys depends on the manufacturer. Such functions are not necessarily also accessible to the user. Moreover, accidental activation or even locking of the Fn key can lead to massive problems when operating the device. As a user, however, you can permanently disable the Fn key. Doing so can prevent permanent locking or accidental activation.

Activate Fn key

Function of the Fn key

The numeric keypad can be activated via the Fn key. The larger a device is, the more space there is for a numeric keypad, making the key unnecessary on larger devices. It has nevertheless been retained and is used to enable or disable various functions. If they are not used, the key can also be switched off.

Hand with mac keyboard

There are two ways of doing this:

  1. Only temporarily switching off the Fn key. To do so, press either Ctrl + Shift - Num or Fn + Num
  2. Permanently switching off the Fn key: the key can be permanently disabled via BIOS. To do so, press the F key for the BIOS setup menu during power-on. This is the usually the F10 key. It depends on the manufacturer in this case, too. In the BIOS menu, there is an item called System Configuration. Use the keyboard arrows to navigate to the Action Keys Mode item and then select the Disabled option to disable it. If you then press F10 again, the changes are saved. Then the device is restarted.

Reassigning the F-keys step by step

Pressing a function key triggers an operation. You can also rearrange these functions by reassigning the respective function key. If you want to assign a new action to it, e.g., opening apps like Microsoft Word, proceed as follows:

  1. First, right-click on the Word shortcut and then select Properties.
  2. In the new window, switch to the Link section.
  3. Then use the mouse to click on the Key Combination field and press the F key that will later be used to launch Word.
  4. Then go to Apply to save the settings.

Word then normally opens on the desktop when you press the selected F key.

What to do if the keyboard settings are messed up?

The easiest and most effective way to fix this is to use the ALT + SHIFT key combination. If you are using an older version of Windows, you should check if you can find a button labeled DE or EN in the taskbar. Here you can set the keyboard directly. If that doesn’t help either, try the other solutions suggested below.

How do I disable the numeric keypad?

Due to the fact that laptops are much smaller, they are not equipped with a special numeric keypad. To use the numeric keypad on a laptop, you have to enable the NumLock key. It is used when you want to turn a part of the main keyboard into a numeric keypad. Many users are not even aware of the fact that the NumLock key is located on the keyboard. However, if you accidentally enable it, the keyboard will only write numbers. You can also disable the key.

NumLock key on black keyboard

Disabling NumLock with the Fn key

Laptops have the Fn key, which you can press in conjunction with other keys to disable the NumLock function. The key combination you have use to do so depends on the manufacturer. If you know it, simply press the key combination to enable the NumLock. If you then press the combination again, the NumLock is disabled. After pressing the key combination to enable NumLock, press the key combination again and NumLock will be disabled.

Disabling NumLock in BIOS

You can also disable the key in the BIOS. To do so, first boot the computer and when you see the first POST-BOOT screen, press the appropriate key to launch the BIOS setup. Then find the NumLock State, NumLock Key or Boot Up NumLock and change the value to Disabled or Off.


Even if you are not sure what the function keys do, each key on your keyboard has a meaning and initiates an operation. Knowing about these keys is worthwhile, as it can make working on a laptop or PC easier. If you take a closer look at the topic, you can save time during your activities and thus get your work done faster. The knowledge you gain is also sure to come in handy when your computer’s keyboard or laptop seems to be on the blink again. You’ve probably only accidentally hit a function key and the error can be fixed quickly and easily.

Created: November 11, 2022