How to use mouse keys to navigate your computer with only your keyboard

Mouse died? Trackpad not responding? No problem.
A person's hands on a smaller black keyboard in front of a larger black keyboard, perhaps figuring out how to use mouse keys to navigate their computer without a mouse.
With practice, you may be able to move just as fast with mouse keys as with a mouse. Onur Binay / Unsplash

It’s hard to imagine using a computer without a mouse or its notable descendants, the trackpad and pointing stick (you know, that rubber thing in the middle of the keyboard). So when they stop working, either because a button jammed or because they’ve given up altogether, it can feel like your computer has been bricked. Fortunately, that’s not the case. In fact, with the right keyboard shortcuts, including “mouse keys,” you don’t need a mouse or trackpad at all, and you may even find yourself preferring to use your keyboard.

Why your keyboard can also be your mouse

Modern computing has long relied on keyboard navigation, and the earliest versions were more or less just a bolted-on typewriter. Manufacturers eventually added “home,” “end,” “page up,” and “page down” keys to make navigating reams of information less of a chore. Over time, more specialized keys, including “alt” and “command,” appeared as computers took on new jobs. Still, the keyboard has changed so little that decades-old models may be perfectly compatible with today’s operating systems.

Keyboards also were built to spare your wrists. Even though a mouse offers a degree of precision beyond a keyboard’s capabilities, the small, precise movements of certain mouse-moving muscles can, over time, cause pain and other discomfort in your hands and wrists. As a result, keyboards and keyboard shortcuts have become important for computer users with motor control or dexterity concerns. No matter who you are, you may find keeping your hands on the keys for a few hours each day makes you more efficient and more comfortable.

General keyboard navigation shortcuts

So if your mouse or trackpad is broken, or you just don’t want to use it, you’ll need to get familiar with common shortcuts. Most programs, regardless of the operating system or browser you’re using, let you employ the Tab key to hop between on-screen options in order, hit Enter to launch a command, and scroll with the arrow keys. Home and End, meanwhile, will generally take you to the top or bottom of the page, respectively. Each operating system has its own shortcuts, so focus on the one you use most often.

Cross-platform apps such as Google Chrome also tend to use the same shortcuts regardless of the user’s operating system, but their developers have to play along with computer manufacturers’ quirks. Mac users, for example, would use Command+T to open a new tab, while those on Windows or Linux would hit Ctrl+T. Still, while there may be many similarities, you shouldn’t assume one shortcut translates to another program.

[Related: Master your Mac with custom keyboard shortcuts]

Once you’ve identified your most commonly used programs, keep a list of shortcuts handy and practice using them. They’re often a little faster than using a mouse, especially if it’s something you do a lot, such as returning to your Google search results and trying the next link.

Activate mouse keys on Windows 10 or 11

To enable mouse keys in Windows 10 or 11, press Win+I to open Settings. Depending on which operating system you have, the subsequent options will be different:

  • Windows 10: Go to Ease of Access, then scroll down to the Mouse. Turn Control Your Mouse with a Keypad on.
  • Windows 11: Click Accessibility, then scroll down to find Mouse. Click that, and turn on the toggle switch next to Mouse keys at the top of the window. Adjust any other options there that you’d like.

Now, you’re off to the races, though it’s important to note that mouse keys are most likely to work if you have a separate keypad on the right-hand side of your keyboard. If you have a smaller laptop that lacks one, you can still enable mouse keys, but they might not work. Experiment a little and see if your computer will let you navigate with your keyboard.

If it does, each number from one through nine will control a different direction: eight is up, two is down, four is left, and six is right. Seven, nine, one, and three serve as diagonals. Five stands in for left-click, and for right-clicking, hit the plus key. You can enable or disable this type of navigational control with Left shift+Left alt+Number lock. Need the keypad to enter numbers? Number lock will, uh, lock it to entering numbers.

Enable Full Keyboard Access on macOS

For Apple computers, mouse keys can be activated via “Full Keyboard Access,” which doesn’t require a numerical keypad. That’s a good thing because these keypads are very much optional accessories on Macs.

[Related: 38 advanced Mac keyboard shortcuts to supercharge your workflow]

To enable this on macOS Ventura, go to the Apple menu, choose System Settings, and then Accessibility. Under the Motor heading, click Keyboard, and turn on the toggle switch next to Full Keyboard Access at the top. If you’re using an older version of Apple’s operating system, you’ll find the option by navigating through Apple menu > System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > All Controls.

With that done, you’ll have enabled mouse keys. If your Mac doesn’t have a numerical keypad, take some time to practice. You’ll be using the line of number keys at the top of your keyboard, but it’ll have the same navigational layout as a keypad: eight is up, two is down, four is left, and six is right, with one, seven, nine, and three serving as diagonals. It will feel odd at first, but it’s workable.

Turn on Ubuntu’s mouse keys

Unlike most operating systems, Linux lets you ditch the desktop entirely and use the command line interface (CLI) for everything, running code directly. Just hit Ctrl+Alt+T to open a terminal or Alt+F2 to open the “run” application window, if you already know what program you need. But if you’re not looking to get this involved, it’s still easy to turn on mouse keys.

First, if you have a number lock key, hit Ctrl+Shift+Number lock and press the numbers to see if the pointer moves. If so, you’re all set. If not, press Ctrl+Alt+Tab or the Super key, if you have one. This will open Activities. If you installed Ubuntu on a Windows laptop, use the Windows key. Select Settings, then Universal Access. Under Pointing and Clicking, you’ll find Mouse Keys. Hit Enter to turn it on, and you’re set.

This story has been updated. It was originally published on June 24, 2019.