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Many user interface (UI) elements or dialog boxes have buttons. I would like to be able to activate a button with just the keyboard, without the mouse. How can I do this?

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7 Answers 7

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For many dialog boxes you can select the option you want by pressing +firstletter where firstletter is the first letter of the option you want to select

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    Cooool!!! +1! I had no idea.
    – Harv
    Commented Jan 29, 2011 at 22:33
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    I haven't been able to get this to work once. What dialog boxes support this? What percentage of the time does this work for you given all the apps you use?
    – user588
    Commented Feb 13, 2011 at 20:38
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    @mankoff Try it while carrying out what the original question asked and it works Commented Feb 13, 2011 at 20:49
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    This doesn't work more often than not in my experience.
    – fredley
    Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 10:59
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    This works in Sequel Pro. I found it very non-intuitive, which is how I ended up here. Thank you! Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 19:49
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Enable Keyboard Control of the UI

System Prefs > Keyboard > Shortcuts

Then select "All Controls" radio button at the bottom, rather than just "Text boxes and lists only".

enter image description here

Keyboard Shortcuts

  • (TAB) will move between buttons.
  • esc (ESC) is cancel.
  • space (SPACE) selects the active button (blue, outline).
  • (RETURN) is OK or the default button (blue, pulsing, filled).
  • For some dialog boxes, +first_letter will select the button with a certain first letter in the text (as pointed out by @Griffo).
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    It is actually under the "Shortcuts" tab. System Perfs > Keyboard > Shortcuts Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 17:22
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    This is definitely the correct answer. Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 6:08
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    This is the correct answer. It works perfectly on macOS High Sierra.
    – alezvic
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 0:05
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    This works on the latest macOS Mojave. Thanks~
    – jdhao
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 17:05
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    In macOS Catalina, the checkbox is now labeled "Use keyboard navigation to move focus between controls" and was unchecked by default (which seems to be against the spirit of accessibility). Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 16:32
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To elaborate on the answers above, many (most?) dialogue boxes will have the default option in blue. Hitting will cycle between options, with a blue outline around the other button, but the default will remain blue. Hitting will always select the default, space will select whichever button is highlighted.

In this example, pressing will 'Keep .txt' and pressing space will 'Use .bak.'

Dialogue Box

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In macOS Big Sur (version 11.3+), System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts

Select Use keyboard navigation to move focus between controls

Select Use keyboard navigation

@Eric Leschinski's answer gives an overview of keyboard shortcuts

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+. also works for Cancel. And in some applications just pressing the initial letters works. Photoshop is one, but it's pretty common for other cross-platform applications too.

Typing +W+D is a quick way to do something like Close and don't save.

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See full Keyboard Access at the bottom of the following screenshot:

Keyboard Preferences When a prompt window like the one you included appears, the selected button will be highlighted in blue.
Screenshot:

Copy dialog

Then you press the space to action that button.

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    Thanks @Am1rr3zA for the previous edit but I discovered my answer didn't work so I amended it. ;o) Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 23:49
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Tab to move to the next dialog box. Space to select

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    As stated by the answers above, this doesn't just work out of the box. You have to enable it in System Preferences.
    – daviesgeek
    Commented Aug 18, 2012 at 6:19
  • @daviesgeek — And Tab does not switch dialog box ! Fortunately. Commented Jan 31, 2015 at 17:41

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