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I was just watching a youtube video on chrome with no other programs running, when my keyboard stopped working.

I could still move the mouse with the trackpad, but not click. I could use the upper row of keys (brightness, volume…) but not the other ones.

I left the computer alone for a few minutes, thinking it was lag, so it logged me out. Now I cannot log in because the keyboard does not work, and although I can move the cursor around on the login screen, I cannot click the switch user button.

In the past this issue has been resolved by resetting PRAM and restarting, but as the keyboard failure happens randomly, it is very frustrating to loose all my unsaved work every few weeks when this happens.

7 hours later, testing my keyboard every hour, I discovered the problem disappeared as it appeared.

Is there anyway to fix this without restarting?

How can I prevent this from happening again?

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To regain keyboard access to your machine to troubleshoot the fault and restore correct functionality, here are (2) options to get back into your machine:

Option 1: Wireless Keyboard

Buy a Wireless (USB) Keyboard which uses a USB dongle that looks like a USB Flash Drive that you can just insert into a USB port (or USB-C adapter) and it should "just work". This should enable you to regain the required access to troubleshoot the fault to restore normal keyboard functionality. A wireless Keyboard I like is:

Note: Although I initially suggested a Bluetooth keyboard in addition to the Wireless one, since it's not possible to "click" to add the Bluetooth device to your system this is a non-starter on a system broken in such a way as you describe.

Although I'm in Amsterdam at the mo' and unable to test it on my Macbook, I Googled and the k400 is Mac compatible. I actually use this one with Raspberry Pi's, but might need it when my own Macbook's keyboard craps-out ;-)

Option 2: Remote Access Via SSH (requires another computer)

When I’ve had issues with things like this in the past, I’ve gotten in remotely via SSH. If you can get into the machine via SSH, you can troubleshoot the fault as well as get files you require until the issue Is resolved. Could use a cheap £32 Raspberry Pi to get a terminal session going into the Mac with the broken keyboard.

This possible solution implies of course you’ve enabled the SSH access in your system preferences as below:

Enable SSH Step 1: Show in System Prefs

Enable SSH Step 2: Show Sharing dialog

Given the problems with Apple's keyboards these past few years, I don't doubt others might be having similar issues.

Finally, I'd suggest storing docs in iCloud (DropBox is also really good, but with the codicile that it's not integrated into Apple's ecosphere like iCloud) so you can access your data if you keep having grief with your keyboard-

  • This certainly needs a reference to commands for ssh. Could you add references please? – ankiiiiiii Jul 13 at 9:38
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    Good point! Will do that right now. One sec- – F1Linux Jul 13 at 9:40
  • Doesn't this also require another computer? – benwiggy Jul 13 at 10:04
  • Yes, but who doesn't have access to a second system these days? Could SSH into it from a cheap £32 Raspberry Pi. – F1Linux Jul 13 at 10:05
  • @F1Linux you added good info. But I wanted this hostinger.com/tutorials/ssh/basic-ssh-commands :P – ankiiiiiii Jul 13 at 10:17
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The real question is: Is this a hardware failure or a software problem?

If it's a hardware problem, then you need to take it to an Apple Store or other authorised repair shop. There is currently a repair programme for known problems to some new models.
If you can get your hands on a USB keyboard, you can see whether that works, or if the problem remains.

If it's a software problem, then you need to do some detective work to see if some process is preventing keyboard input somehow. Keep Activity Monitor open, and see if anything is using excessive CPU or memory when the problem occurs. Uninstall any third-party software that might be controlling the system (Check the Privacy System Preference and see what is allowed in the Accessibility list.) See if the problem occurs in a brand new user account (This is a test, not a solution!)

With regard to losing your work, I would recommend an app like Forever Save2, which can be configured to auto-save each application's documents with different time intervals and versions.

  • OP says the problem in the past was resolvable by "resetting PRAM and rebooting" which leads me to believe it's not hardware based per se. If the keygboard was totally hosed, rebooting wouldn't restore it to a correct working state. – F1Linux Jul 13 at 10:06
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Tools to hunt the origin of the problem

What is too busy with my keyboard?

When this partial lost of keyboard occurs, type cmd ⌘+alt ⌥+ESC and check any application which might be grabbing your keyboard.

In case of suspicion, kill one application at a time, starting with the ones which don't have any file open (avoid System Preferences…, Pages, TextEdit…).

Who grab my keyboard?

Download this Python script: watch_activations.py

Start a Terminal and from wherever you installed this script, make it executable with:

chmod u+x watch_activations.py

and execute it with:

./watch_activations.py

[ Don't run it with sudo, this script is innocuous. ]

Keep this window always visible so as to see which application context was activated when your keyboard partially disappears.

Was my keyboard switched in a very assistive mode?

When this partial lost of keyboard occurs, hit cmd ⌘+alt ⌥+F5 and check that nothing unusual was unwillingly checked.

  • How exactly would I type cmd alt esc or cmd alt f5 if my keyboard is not working? – qazwsx Jul 15 at 19:37
  • I bet these ones are working (for the same reason the upper row does) 😊. – dan Jul 15 at 20:04
  • nope, it doesn't – qazwsx Jul 16 at 22:37

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