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Change What App Keys Do for the Keyboard in Windows 10, 8 and 7

How to Change What App Keys Do for the Keyboard in Windows 10, 8 and 7

Some keyboards contain a number of additional keys that you can use to launch a Windows application or perform a specific action. The most common keys are Calculator, Web Browser, Mail, Search. Microsoft keyboards are known for having these keys, but not only MS keyboards have them. Other manufacturers also have many models of multimedia keyboards with application keys.

While custom keys often require a keyboard driver, Windows is able to recognize certain keys out of the box. It is a lesser known feature of the OS that you can customize what those keys do.

This post will show how to how to change what extra App Keys do for the Keyboard in Windows 10, 8 and 7.

Customize App Key Actions

The keys have a reference in Windows registry. There is a Registry branch for that:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\AppKey\<KEY_NUMBER>

There, <KEY_NUMBER> corresponds to a key on the keyboard which action can be customized manually.

E.g. the key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\AppKey\6 corresponds to the "Favorites" keyboard key, and the subkey name number 18 is Calculator.

Under such subkey, you can create two string (REG_SZ) values.

  • Association = ".txt" - open the default app that is set to open text files. By default it is Notepad.
  • ShellExecute="C:\windows\notepad.exe". Run the specified app. In my case it is notepad.exe from the system folder.

You can use the above two values to change what this or that extra keyboard button do. Setting ShellExecute to an empty string will disable the keyboard key action, so the button will do nothing. You can only use the ShellExecute or Association string value (or none of them) for a key. It is not possible to use both the ShellExecute and Association string values together for a single key.

We will review below the procedure in detail. But first, see the app key reference to get corresponding Registry key names for the keyboard buttons.

Registry Key Names for Keyboard App Buttons

Key Description
1 Back (Web browser)
2 Forward (Web browser)
3 Refresh (Web browser)
4 Stop (Web browser)
5 Search
6 Favorites (Web browser)
7 Web Home (Web browser)
8 Mute Volume
9 Volume Down
10 Volume Up
11 Next Track (media)
12 Previous Track (media)
13 Stop (media)
14 Pause/Play (media)
15 Mail
16 Media Select
17 This PC or My Computer
18 Calculator
19 Bass Down
20 Bass Boost
21 Bass Up
22 Treble Down
23 Treble Up
24 Mute Microphone
25 Volume Down Microphone
26 Volume Up Microphone
27 Help
28 Find
29 New
30 Open
31 Close
32 Save
33 Print
34 Undo
35 Redo
36 Copy
37 Cut
38 Paste
39 Reply (mail)
40 Forward (mail)
41 Send (mail)
42 Spell Check
43 Toggle Dictation on/off
44 Toggle Microphone on/off
45 Correction List
46 Play (media)
47 Pause (media)
48 Record (media)
49 Fast Forward (media)
50 Rewind (media)
51 Channel Up (media)
52 Channel Down (media)
53 Delete
54 Flip 3D

Now, let's see how to redefine the key action. For example, I will customize the Calculator button (number 18).

To Change What App Keys Do for the Keyboard in Windows 10, 8 and 7

  1. Open the Registry Editor app.
  2. Go to the following Registry key.
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\AppKey\18. Replace 18 with the actual number for the key you want to customize.
  3. On the right, modify or create a new string (REG_SZ) value ShellExecute.
  4. Set it to the full path to the app that you want to launch with your keyboard button.
  5. If you want to disable the key so it will do nothing, set the ShellExecute value data to the empty string.

You are done. Nothing else is required, the change will take effect instantly.

Alternatively, you can use another value, Association, instead of ShellExecute. Association can be set to any file extension, e.g. .txt.mp3, .doc, etc, so the button will launch the default app set for that file extension. For example, for Association = .txt  it can launch Notepad, Microsoft Word for .doc, and Windows Media Player for .mp3.

To Change What App Keys Do for the Keyboard with File Extension

  1. Open the Registry Editor app.
  2. Go to the following Registry key.
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\AppKey\18. Replace 18 with the actual number for the key you want to customize.
  3. On the right, modify or create a new string (REG_SZ) value Association.
  4. Set it to .txt to make the button open the default text editor app, e.g. Notepad. Replace .txt with the file extension of your choice.
  5. Setting the Association value to http will launch the default web browser.
  6. Setting the Association value to mailto will launch the default mail app.
  7. The change will take effect instantly.

You are done.

To save your time, you can use Winaero Tweaker. Starting in version 0.18, it allows redefining extra keyboard keys with the following GUI:

Using it, you can avoid the Registry editing completely.

That's it.

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4 thoughts on “Change What App Keys Do for the Keyboard in Windows 10, 8 and 7

  1. Dmitriy

    How to make for example calculator key to become play/pause button? What if i need to make an action and not to open a file or executable? I can’t write a path to play/pause action, is there any commands like “http” or “mailto” for this needs?

    Reply
    1. Morteza

      You can use Microsoft PowerToys.
      Install it and go to Keyboard Manager > Remap Keys > Remap a key
      Now for the Key column, click on Type button and press Calculator button on your keyboard. Next in the Mapped To column click on Type button and press Play/Pause button on your keyboard.
      Finally click on OK and confirm the changes.

      Reply
  2. Oyvind

    Great stuff.
    But, all our HP Elitebook PC’s in the 84xxp and 85xxp series has 4 extra keys on the top right over the keyboard. They are labelled (from left ot right): Wireless on/off, Browser Home, Mute and Calculator.
    All of them – except Browser Home – can easily be modified using your method as described. Also, using Winaero Tweaker works well for all keys – except the infamous Browser Home Key. I believe this key is #7, but is there a way to double check this?
    How can it be that this particular key is so stubborn?

    Reply

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