Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Keybindings in Web Browsers

Category: Articles

Marc Englund of IT Mill has done a study on Keybindings in Web browsers and how compatible they all are:

Modern browsers do provide built-in ways to navigate web-pages with the keyboard, but usually you have to use multiple keystrokes to get to a link or button, before you can ‘click’ it – and although some browsers actually assign keybindings automatically, the browser simply can not know what would be a good keybinding for a specific function. And even worse: if the page changes, the keybindings might change – and they probably will.

This is of course unacceptable for web applications – imagine a secretary using a word-processor with keybindings that might change depending on the content of the document…

The problem with keybindings on the web is mostly a multiple platform problem; your users might be using one of several operation systems, with different utility-applications installed, running various browsers, and using different keyboard layouts.

Keybindings in Web Browsers

Posted by Dion Almaer at 1:28 am

4.3 rating from 26 votes


Comments feed TrackBack URI

The chart is not entirely accurate. If an IE7 is in fullscreen-mode, ALT-D will have the side-effect of focus jumping to the addressbar.

Comment by erlando — August 1, 2007

Thanks for that observation, erlando – I’ll include that in the next update!
I did not test any of the browsers in fullscreen-mode this time. More browsers and platforms should be included as well (coming soon) :-)

Comment by Marc — August 1, 2007

I don’t understand this chart. Firefox would let me bind F1 to another function than the program help? And that is supposed to be a feature, not a bug? Simple HTML is sufficient to override default keyboard shortcuts? What’s so strange about Opera’s kiosk mode (Shift + F11)?

Comment by Herbert Braun — August 1, 2007

Yes, Firefox will let you override F1. This chart does not try to indicate whether this is a bug or a feature, just that it works.

Personally I’d say it’s a feature – if used properly. For instance, imagine a web application for a company intranet, one that pops up in a window without browser controls: it’s not actually supposed to work as a browser, but as a separate application, and showing the application specific help instead of the browser help might actually be useful.
Used maliciously on the internet, this could be an annoyance, though. Perhaps it should ask for site-specific permission to override.


Overriding the shortcuts is done with javascript.

There is nothing strange with opera’s kiosk mode iafaik, but is reacted strangely, unpredictably, triggering my shortcut sometimes. It’s quite possible it’s a ‘user problem’, though – I might not know how to use opera propery ;-)

Comment by Marc — August 1, 2007

Well, I personnaly don’t consider changing the key binding as a feature, but more as bug. I would be very annoyed if a website could change the binding I made to be more efficient on ALL THE OTHER websites. It would be as if a doc file changes the MS Word bindings by using some macros.
It makes me think that people are still considering web applications as rich client platform applications, but they are not, and they won’t be for a long time, if ever! Use them for what they are and with their limitations and their advantages.

Comment by gizmo — August 1, 2007

Good job Marc. I can hardly wait for the wall poster :)

Being left-handed I use alternate copy and paste keys so I don’t have to remove my hand from the mouse. You may want to list these as side-effects for CTRL+INSERT / SHIFT+INSERT on Windows.

Comment by James MacFarlane — August 1, 2007

Marc, nice work! I was looking for something just like this. Thanks for sharing your effort. You must be a mind reader.

Comment by Oliver Tse — August 1, 2007

It most certainly is a feature and a must for most modern browser-based applications.

I’m lead on a browser-based admin-interface to a CMS. Unfortunately we are currently IE only, and therefore cannot bind F1 to the application-help. I consider that a bug and a sign, that Microsoft does not believe in fully browser-based apps.

Nice job, BTW! :-)

Comment by erlando — August 2, 2007

Thanks Marc, I now see clearer – interesting work! Originally I was misled by thinking of HTML access keys (that cause problems of a different kind). Anyway, I still think it is a bad idea for web designers to override shortcuts and for the browsers to allow that because it modifies the hosting applciation. Special interest web applications might fare better with AIR, XUL and the likes.

Comment by Herbert Braun — August 2, 2007

Good job, Marc…. that definitely took time! Anyone who builds custom apps / components will find this quite handy.

Question: Willl this link remain so that I can bookmark it and see updates when available?

Comment by Mike Kidder — August 3, 2007

Yes, is “static” address for this article. So, you can link and refer to this article with this URL also in the future.

Comment by Joonas Lehtinen — August 6, 2007

Would be interesting to update for Opera 9.5 Kestral which is in alpha and has had a significant reworking of the keyboard shortcuts area.

Comment by Michael — September 4, 2007

“I’ve just read about TIBET and am trying to make anything with it. Unfortunately its page seems to be almost dead, all links go to their home page from which you can get much ”
Gee can you tell me more about it?
My dog is eating my computer book! about a friendly dog!..brb

Comment by Friendly dog — October 2, 2007

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.