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Definition

hot key

A hot key is a key or a combination of keys on a computer keyboard that, when pressed at one time, performs a task (such as starting an application) more quickly than by using a mouse or other input device. Hot keys are sometimes called shortcut keys. Hot keys are supported by many operating system and applications.

The specific task performed by a particular hot key varies by operating system or application. However, there are commonly-used hot keys. For example, pressing the F1 key in any application running Windows usually brings up a help menu. The "Alt + F4" combination results in closing the current application or, if no application is open, shutting down Windows. To find out which hot keys are used in an application, search the index in that application's help menu using the words "hot keys" or "shortcut keys."

The "F" or function key that come on most computer keyboards can be viewed as a built-in set of hot keys or potential hot keys whose use is determined by the operating system or the current application. Some operating systems or applications allow certain hot keys to be set up to perform a task specified by the user or to start a specific application. For example, a user could set up one hot key to start a music compact disk (CD) and another to adjust the speaker volume.

Microsoft's sales literature refers to hot keys as though they are keys separate from function keys.

This was last updated in April 2005

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