What Do the Function Keys on the Keyboard Do?

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Illuminated keyboard

The Function keys on the top row of the keybaord are assigned tasks by the operating system or application. They are often combined with the Alt and Ctrl keys to do certain tasks, and on laptops, can also have dual functions like turning the volume up or down when used with a designated key, usually the Fn key. Read on to add the Function keys to your repertoire of Windows keyboard shortcuts.

Function shortcuts aren't the same across all operating systems, though some keys in some programs can perform the same task. If you have a browser open, tapping F5 will reload the page. Not all programs use the function keys or a program may assign a different function than is mentioned here, though in general most Function keys do the same thing in most programs. The Function keys listed here should work from Windows 7 to Windows 10, but if not, here's a complete list of Windows 7 keyboard shortcuts. If you want the Function or other keys to do something else, you can remap your keyboard to your liking. This How to Remap Your Keyboard article has a few different methods.

F1
F1 is an almost universal help key for most programs. It usually opens the Help menu. The Win + F1 key combination opens the Microsoft help and support dialog box.

F2
F2 is an editing key, it will rename a highlighted folder, icon or file. It's the same as right clicking a file, folder or icon and selecting rename. In Office, Ctrl + F2 opens the Print dialog box.

F3
F3 usually opens a search function in most programs, including web browsers. It opens the search function on the Windows desktop and in Windows File Explorer. In Office, it changes the case of any highlighted text.

F4
F4 on its own doesn't do much. It opens the location bar in Windows File Explorer and Internet Explorer. Combined with other keys it's like an escape key, closing open windows and tabs quickly. Alt + F4 quickly closes the current active window or program. In Office you'll be asked if you want to save changes before closing. Ctrl + F4 closes the window open in a program or document, for example it will close a tab in a browser if more than one tab is open.

F5
F5 refreshes the Windows desktop and File Explorer - changes made in either don't always show up right away. In most Office programs it brings up the Find and Replace dialog box. It's very useful in browsers, F5 is used to reload a web page. Ctrl + F5 in a browser forces a refresh of the page, clearing the cache and reloading the page again.

F6
F6 moves the cursor to the address bar in most browsers, making it a very useful shortcut. In Office, Ctrl + Shift + F6 opens a new Microsoft Word document.

F7
F7 will turn on caret browsing in Firefox. In some programs in Office, it opens the Spelling and Grammar check, while Shift + F7 opens the Thesaurus.

F8
F8 will boot your Windows computer into Safe Mode. In Windows 7, tapping the F8 key during boot will let you boot into Safe Mode. In Windows 8 and 10, the F8 key has to be enabled to boot into Safe Mode.

F9
F9 doesn't have a Windows function. In Office, it will refresh a document in Word and send and receive email in Outlook.

F10
F10 will activate the menu bar in most open applications. Shift + F10 will act as a right click/context menu in most programs.

F11
F11 opens enter and exit full screen mode in Windows File Explorer and most browsers.

F12
F12 doesn't have an assigned function in Windows. In Office, it opens the Save As dialog box in most programs. Ctrl + F12  opens a document in Word, Shift + F12 saves an existing document in Word (like Ctrl + S does), and Ctrl + Shift + F12 opens the Print dialog box in Word (like Ctrl + P does).
F12 also opens and closes the developer tools console in most browsers.
I accidentally open the developer tools in browsers fairly often and this Function key closes them instantly. You might say this article was brought to you by the F12 key. :)

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Comments

My problem is with a wireless keyboard that came with an HP desktop. The Function keys don't perform what you would expect to be the default---as you outlined above.
Instead, you have to use the Fn key along with the Function keys to rename, refresh. etc. Otherwise they act as "action" keys to change volume, display brightness, et al. There is no keyboard lock/unlock toggle for the Fn key. I learned that on some laptops, you can change the setting in the BIOS---System Configurations, but there is no such setting on my desktop (probably because the keyboards on desktops are interchangeable).
Any thoughts?

I'm not sure about changing keyboard settings the BIOS, I'm not familiar with the options that HP uses in whatever BIOS flavor they use.
I'm assuming your keyboard doesn't have any software that would allows you to make changes like Logitech or Razer keyboards do that let you customize the keyboard.
Outside of getting a new keyboard, I would give SharpKeys a try. There's an installable version (MSI) and a portable version (EXE). I'd go with the portable version.
There's a good how-to at How-To Geek on how to use SharpKeys, it's a few years old but it covers Windows from Vista to 10.
Map Any Key to Any Key on Windows 10, 8, 7, or Vista.

If that doesn't work, my last suggestion would be AutoHotkey, it's a great program but there's a learning curve if you're new to that type of software. It would allow more extensive keyboard modification. The link to the How to Remap Your Keyboard How To in the article above has some good AutoHotkey suggestions.

Someone else might have a suggestion and chime in as well.

Thanks for the response, rhiannon.
No the keyboard didn't come with any software and not even the flimsiest documentation.
But I will definitely check out your suggestions when I get some time. My immediate reaction, though, is to wonder whether it's possible to assign--let's say--"reload" to the F5 key when that's not a primary key function like SHIFT or ENTER or SPACE or a specific character.
Incidentally, one of my favorite Function key combinations is SHIFT+F3 which toggles selected text through CAPS, LOWER CASE & SENTENCE &/or TITLE CASE (though it doesn't work in all applications).

That should be possible with SharpKeys, but I haven't tested it on a laptop.

I personally do not find the F keys anywhere near consistent from PC o PC - they seem mostly dependent on the manufacturer or model.
I avoid them unless I see real value to them.

That's interesting. Do you think it's the operating system, the keyboard itself, or something else?

Great article. It relates to the "top row of Function Keys" on the top row of most keyboards

However a lot of laptop keyboards also have a Function key "Fn" usually next to the Ctrl Key on the bottom row of the Keyboard
This additional Function (Fn) key, adjust laptop settings including volume, screen brightness, and so on, usually used in conjunction with a F1-F12 key

There is no mention of this laptop related Function (Fn) key in this article, so things are a little ambiguous

Thanks for your comment. :)

I didn't mention the function keys were on the top row of the keyboard, I'll amend that when I get to my desktop.

I think this line in the first paragraph addresses laptops: "They are often combined with the Alt and Ctrl keys to do certain tasks, and on laptops, can also have dual functions like turning the volume up or down when used with a designated key, usually the Fn key."