Take the 2-minute tour ×
Ask Different is a question and answer site for power users of Apple hardware and software. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I want to create a keyboard shortcut to i.e. open Firefox while I am working in another application. I know I can use ⌘T when I am in Firefox to open a new tab.

I haven't found a way to create that kind of shortcuts in System Preferences.

Any ideas?

Update : Alfred (wwww.alfredapp.com) allows you to launch any app via a hotkey. You need to buy the powerpack to use this feature.

share|improve this question
So you mean keyboard shortcuts? –  Rabarberski Aug 5 '11 at 13:24
Look at the Services on the Application menu any reasonably written Cocoa app will have these and they can be assigned keys. Unfortunately I think Firefox is not written to use these. Safari can be used here –  Mark Mar 19 '13 at 12:02
add comment

5 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I'm currently using KeyRemap4MacBook:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
    <autogen>__KeyToKey__ KeyCode::CONTROL_R, KeyCode::VK_MODIFIER_EXTRA1</autogen>
    <autogen>__KeyToKey__ KeyCode::F11, KeyCode::VK_OPEN_URL_Safari</autogen>
    <autogen>__KeyToKey__ KeyCode::I, ModifierFlag::EXTRA1, KeyCode::VK_OPEN_URL_iTunes</autogen>

__KeyToKey__ KeyCode::CONTROL_R, KeyCode::VK_MODIFIER_EXTRA1 maps the right control (which is under a thumb on my keyboard) to an extra modifier key.

If you have the Powerpack for Alfred 2, you can create a workflow like this:

Hotkeys have a short delay by default, but you can reduce it by changing the trigger behavior:

Other applications that support assigning shortcuts to opening applications:

Another option is to assign keyboard shortcuts to shell commands like open -a TextEdit. Specifying the full path (like open /Applications/TextEdit.app/) is not any faster.

I also used AppleScripts like this at one point:

tell application "TextEdit"
    reopen -- open a new default window if there are no open windows
    activate -- make the application frontmost
end tell

The scripts were blocked until the application finishes opening, so they seemed somewhat less responsive when I ran them with FastScripts. If for example there are two TextEdit windows open, the activate command raises both of them, but open -a only raises one of them.

You can also create Automator services like this:

They are currently not really usable though. There is a bug in 10.7 and 10.8 where the keyboard shortcuts for Automator services don't always work until you hover over the services menu from the menu bar. There is also a relatively long (maybe 0.1-1 s) delay before services are run, and the keyboard shortcuts for services don't work when an application that doesn't have a services menu is frontmost.

share|improve this answer
add comment


Alfred, in its Power Pack version, can map shortcuts to applications, among many other features.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Get Quicksilver, http://www.blacktree.com/, it will allow you to set keyboard shortcuts to open apps. There are actually more many more apps that do this (Alfred, Keyboard Maestro etc etc.)

Mac OS X actually has a built-in way of doing that, but it doesn't work for Firefox, because it doesn't support services! http://hints.macworld.com/article.php?story=20090903085255430

Update Jan 2012: Blacktree no longer updates Quicksilver--the developer went to Google and has released Google Quick Search Box. Quicksilver lives on, but it has a new home at qsapp.com.

share|improve this answer
Thanks. Was very helpful to me. used Google but didn't find your link. –  politicus Aug 4 '11 at 7:41
Cool, so you came right? –  Paul Eccles Aug 4 '11 at 11:02
"Yes". Installed Quicksilver (very powerful, certainly better than having just a shortcut). Tried Keyboard Maestro. Now having a rest before learning all these shortcuts ;-) –  politicus Aug 4 '11 at 13:41
add comment

If you do not want to use third party apps.
Then you can use Automator (Services ), and the Built in keyboard shortcuts.

Here is how in an answer to a similar question.

Very simple.

In Step 3, of creating the service.
Set it to 'any application' .

set Service receives to: 'no input' in 'any application' (Do this by using the drop downs at the top.)

share|improve this answer
Be nice to know why there is a down vote on this. Not commenting on down votes is not helpful to anyone –  markhunte Apr 15 '13 at 16:39
add comment

I know Alfred has already been mentioned, but I thought I'd say a little bit about choosing shortcut keys. It was not obvious to me at first what would be a good set of shortcuts that was (a) easy to remember, (b) easy to use, and (c) did not conflict with other system or application shortcut keys.

I ended up using the "alt" key as the basis, and generally relying on keys that can be triggered by the left hand, and choosing descriptive letters (e.g., x for Excel). this allows you to have the mouse in the right hand and the shortcut keys triggered with the left.

Another benefit of using Alfred Hotkeys to activate an application is that if an application is hidden, it will be unhidden.

Here's a screen shot of how I have it configured: example alfred hotkey configuration

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.