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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Keyboards ]

Keyboard Key Groupings

Having looked at the physical construction and low-level operation of the keyboard, we now can turn out attention to higher-level considerations of its logical operation. I will start by first listing and discussing each of the keys found in a typical, modern keyboard. Obviously, each specific key doesn't need an explanation, but certain keys have interesting attributes or histories that I think are useful to know.

There are over 100 keys on a modern keyboard. Rather than discuss them all in one monstrous page, I have divided them into logical groups based on function. These are to some extent my own decision based on how I see the keys being organized. These logical groupings resemble the physical groupings you see when you look at some keyboards, but not completely. Physical groupings are more a function of keyboard layout, discussed elsewhere.

A Microsoft keyboard, with the major key groups shaded to show their locations.
Regular alphanumeric and punctuation keys are blue; modification keys are green;
cursor control and navigation keys are yellow; the numeric keypad is red; function keys
are purple; "special" keys are cyan; and Windows keys are pink. In addition, a number of
additional buttons for activating special functions are shown along the top of the keyboard.
(Thanks to Staples for letting me take the original photo for this illustration, in one of their stores.)

So in this section I take a more detailed look at the various groups of keys found on the modern keyboard. Where appropriate, I describe the various keys and what they do. Also included for each key group is a table, which shows all the keys in that group along with their normal "make" and "break" scan codes, and their sequential "key number" as first defined by IBM. Notes on the scan code tables:

  • All scan codes are shown in hexadecimal notation.
  • The scan code tables contain all the keys from the standard 104-key Windows keyboard design. I also mention certain keys that differ on United Kingdom keyboards. I do not cover non-English keyboards, sorry.
  • The keyboard scan codes shown are for the normal keyboard operating mode, sometimes called scan mode 1. There are also two other scan modes, called (unsurprisingly) mode 2 and mode 3 which are not typically used any more, and are not shown (to prevent the tables from becoming unnecessarily complex).
  • Most scan codes are a single byte (eight bits). However, some are two bytes or more, particularly special characters. In some cases the reason for these multiple byte codes is because they were added later to the original IBM keyboard designs.
  • The "break" code is normally calculated by adding 80h to the "make" code, though this is not true of every key.

Next: Regular Alphanumeric and Punctuation Keys

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