Check Your Keyboard For Damage
Before you do anything else, you should inspect your keyboard for physical damage. Start by looking at the Windows key itself—does it feels as springy as the other keys, or does it feel like there might be dirt or debris stuck underneath? If there is, try to clean it. You may be able to remove the key itself to do this, but check your manual first before you try this to make sure you can without damaging the key itself. You should also look at your keyboard as a whole. A damaged wire on a wired keyboard, for instance, could be enough to stop some or all keys from working. There may also be undetectable issues with your device that you simply can’t detect from a visual inspection. This will likely be true if other keys on your keyboard are no longer working, too. If you’ve spilled a drink over your keys, this would be enough to break your keyboard. Check your device warranty or seek third-party repairs if this is the case.
Try An Alternative Keyboard
If you’re confident that your keyboard isn’t (or shouldn’t) be damaged, then you’ll need to test the theory. A good way to do this is to use an alternative keyboard to test the Windows key on that device. This test allows you to see if Windows itself is the problem. If a software issue is causing the Windows key to stop responding (for instance, due to corrupt files or a malware infection), then the Windows key shouldn’t work on either device. If the alternative keyboard does work, however, then you can probably rule out a software issue as the problem. Before you do, research your keyboard model and determine if there are any other issues that others have reported that could help you narrow down the problem.
Check Windows System And File Integrity
When Windows is in perfect working order, you shouldn’t need to worry about broken keys. When it isn’t working, however, any number of missing files or missing processes could stop the most basic features—such as your Windows keyboard key—from working correctly. A good way to test if this is the case is to check your Windows system and file integrity using the Windows PowerShell. You can use the System File Checker (sfc) tool to quickly repair corrupt Windows files.
- To do this, right-click the Start menu and click Windows PowerShell (Admin). In the PowerShell terminal window, type sfc /scannow to begin checking your system.
Once the System File Checker tool has completed your scan, you can run the Check Disk tool (chkdsk) to check for and repair Windows file system errors.
- In the open PowerShell window, type chkdsk /r to begin the scan. Windows can’t run this scan while booted up, so you’ll need to approve a boot scan to check your system when you next restart your PC. Type Y to approve this, then manually reboot to begin the scan.
Once your PC restarts, the scan should begin. Any problems with your drive that could impact on how Windows is performing should be repaired automatically.
Disable Windows Filter Keys
One of the more useful Windows 10 accessibility features is the ability to filter out unnecessary keystrokes for users who may press keys by accident. Unfortunately, this feature can be enabled by accident for those who don’t need it, causing Windows to ignore presses of the Windows key itself. You can disable this filter keys feature in the Keyboards area of the Windows Settings menu.
- To access your settings, right-click the Start menu and click Settings. From here, press Ease of Access > Keyboard to access your Windows keyboard settings.
- In the Keyboards menu, find the Use Filter Keys setting. Click the toggle for this setting to disable it, ensuring that the Off label is displayed.
Check Battery Levels On Wireless Keyboards
If you’re using a wireless keyboard, then you should already be in a regular schedule of keeping it charged. If your keyboard keys stop working on a wireless keyboard, then you may want to check whether it has enough battery charge to register the correct key presses. How to check this will vary, depending on the device you own. Some wireless keyboards may have battery indicators on the product itself, or you may need third-party apps from the manufacturer to check whether the device is sufficiently charged. If you can’t check this, then leave the device to charge for a few hours before using the keyboard again. This should leave enough time for the keyboard to have sufficient charge to begin working, unless there’s an issue with the battery or product itself that requires additional support from the manufacturer to troubleshoot or repair.
Use Third Party Software To Switch The Windows Key
If these methods don’t fix a broken keyboard key in Windows, you may need to consider replacing your keyboard. Before you do that, however, you could use third-party software to switch the broken Windows key with another, working key instead. You may find other keys on your device aren’t being used, such as the right Ctrl key. You could remap this key using SharpKeys, a utility designed to quickly allow you to switch one key for another.
- Once you’ve installed SharpKeys, you can map one key to another by clicking the Add button.
- You’ll need to map the Windows key (Special: Left Windows (E0_5B) or Special: Right Windows (E0_5C)) using the left-hand menu to a physical key listed on the right. Select your keys here, then click OK to save it to the SharpKeys key mapping list.
- Once you’ve re-mapped your Windows key, press Write to Registry to save the changes. You may need to restart your device afterwards.
Fixing Windows Keyboard Issues
A broken keyboard key in Windows can be difficult to deal with, but you should be able to resolve the problem using one of the methods listed above. In the first instance, checking battery levels and physically inspecting your keyboard could solve the problem, but don’t forget to unplug and plug it back in to re-register your device, too. Once your keyboard is working, you can start to use Windows the way it was designed. Many of the most useful keyboard shortcuts for Windows 10 use the Windows key, including the ability to quickly take screenshots and save them to a file. Let us know your Windows keyboard tips in the comments below. If your keyboard has a broken or missing key, working on it can be challenging. In general, regardless of whether you use a laptop or an external keyboard, it’s plausible that it could run into such keyboard problems over time.
While there are several ways to fix a broken keyboard, the simplest (and beginner-friendly) method is to blow away the dust or debris entrenched in the keyboard activity. However, there are instances when this doesn’t work. An alternative solution at such times is to remap the broken key to another key on your keyboard.
What Is Key Remapping?
Remapping a key is a fail-safe solution to fixing a broken keyboard. It involves assigning the value of one key to another, thereby enabling the corresponding character to appear when pressing the other. Now, depending on your computer’s operating system, there are various key mapping programs, each promising to provide a slightly different set of features while retaining the core functionality. We’ll go over these programs for all three major computer operating systems one-by-one.
Remapping a Key on Linux
Key-remapping on Linux is possible through both native utilities and third-party software. To keep things simple, though, we will use a third-party program called Key Mapper. Key Mapper is an easy-to-use GUI tool for Linux that lets you change the mapping of input devices including keyboards, mice, gamepads, etc. Download: Key Mapper (Free) Follow these steps to use Key Mapper.
- After installing, open the terminal and type the following command to run Key Mapper: sudo key-mapper-gtk. If prompted, enter your root password and hit enter.
- In the Key Mapper window, click the dropdown button next to Device and select your device (keyboard).
- Click on the click here space below Key from the right pane and press the broken key you want to remap. Likewise, enter the key you plan on using as a replacement for the broken key in the mapping column.
- Hit Save from the left pane and click Apply to save your mapping.
With the broken key remapped, you can now enter the assigned key to get the corresponding output. A good thing about Key Mapper is that it creates a preset for every key mapping, so your mappings apply even after you reboot the system. Moving forward, should you wish to remove your key mapping, you can delete the associated preset from Key Mapper to return keyboard input to its original state.
Remapping a Key on macOS
There are several key mapping tools for remapping keyboard keys on macOS. The one we will be demonstrating, however, is a GUI-based key mapping tool called Karabiner-Elements. Karabiner-Elements works on both Intel-based and Apple Silicon Macs, and lets you modify the existing mapping rules or write your own. Download: Karabiner-Elements (Free) To remap a key with Karabiner-Elements on your Mac:
- After installing, open Karabiner-Elements and select the Simple modifications tab.
- Click the dropdown button below From key and select the broken key that you want to remap. Then click on the dropdown button below To key and choose the alternative to your broken key.
- In the Karabiner-Elements app, go to the Function keys tab and ensure that every function key has the right action assigned to it. This is because Karabiner-Elements changes the default actions for some of the function keys, and this can cause confusion and hamper the keyboard’s functionality.
- Since the key remapping works only while Karabiner-Elements is running, we need to add Karabiner-Elements to the list of startup items so that it runs on every bootup.
That way, you do not have to open the app manually on each bootup to apply your key remapping changes.
Remapping a Key on Windows
Windows is the easiest to key remap of the lot, and there are many different programs that let you do so with ease. Some of these programs modify the system registry to permanently change the key bindings, while others take a different (read temporary) approach wherein they do not modify the registry.
Of the various key mapper software in this category, the one we recommend is AutoHotkey, which does not modify the system registry. Download: AutoHotkey (Free) To use AutoHotkey to remap a key on Windows:
- Run AutoHotkey after installation. It runs in the background, so you need to check its status in the system tray before proceeding.
- Open your favorite text editor and create a new file. Enter the key mapping command in the following syntax – origin key::destination key, and save the file with the .ahk file extension in a secure location on your system. For example, if you need to remap the caps lock key as the shift key, your command should look like – CapsLock::Shift.
Now, since we are using AutoHotkey to remap our keys and not actually remapping them permanently from the system registry, the remapping works only when AutoHotkey runs. So when you reboot your Windows computer, you need to run AutoHotkey manually every time. However, we can avoid this by putting our AutoHotkey script into Windows’ Startup folder.
- In Windows Explorer, copy the .ahk script file.
- Press Win + R to open the Run box and enter shell:startup
- In the Startup folder, right-click inside the window and select Paste Shortcut.
With your key remapping AutoHotkey script in the Startup folder, it should automatically execute every time your machine boots. (An alternative solution is Microsoft PowerToys. However, since PowerToys is known to have issues with Windows updates, it is less reliable than AutoHotkey.)
Working Around a Broken Keyboard
By remapping a broken or missing key you can work around a broken keyboard until you get it repaired or replaced. While there are numerous key mapping programs to do this, the ones we’ve discussed are easier to use and provide the essential functionality. When you get your keyboard repaired, each tool has an option to delete the mapping and return the keyboard to its default input state.
If you have managed to break one of the keys on your keyboard, you can assess the damage and get the key cap replaced if that’s all the damage you managed to inflict onto your device. If you’ve damaged some of the circuitry underneath and have permanently blocked out the functionality of a critical keyboard key, then you may need to replace the keyboard unit entirely. If you have got a key that is temporarily acting up and seems fine, you may have some dust lodged under it that may need to be removed through a deep clean. Whatever the issue is that you’re facing, whether you are going to carry out some of those permanent (and not free) solutions above or whether you never intend to, remapping a key on your keyboard can allow you to continue to use its functionality in the meanwhile. You may have a perfectly well functioning keyboard and may just want a particular key to be accessible through another one. You may want to remap your keys to match a foreign keyboard layout. You may want to map them to make them better suitable for your gaming or any other keyboard intensive activity that you do on your PC. You may simply want to increase productivity or re-purpose an unused key. Whatever your situation is, remapping the keys on your keyboard can be done rather simply with one of the following 3 tools. While there are numerous other tools out there that perform similar tasks, these three are tried and tested ones that we recommend for going about your key remapping agenda.
How Does Key Remapping Work?
Computers do their data processing between inputs, outputs, and the main processing interface through encoded signals. Every time you press a key, depending upon the function that it has been assigned, it transmits the pulse signal specific to that particular task code to your system. Your system then processes that instruction and carries it out. For example, the “A” key on your keyboard may correspond to a particular signal, let’s arbitrarily call it “0001.” Every time your CPU picks up a “0001” signal, it types out an “A.” Remapping the keys on your keyboard utilizes this fact to switch up the assigned signals of each key. If you wanted to use the “X” key, for example, to type out an “A,” you could assign the “0001” signal to it (which in effect means “enter the character A”). Every time you press your “X” key, then, your system will pick up a “0001” signal and execute the “enter the character A” command, typing out the letter “A.” The following key mapping tools simplify this signal exchange by giving you a workable user interface to simply switch around the keys you want to modify. You don’t have to worry about the back end coding and signal assignment that goes into this process.
The KeyTweak tool is a widely used key remapping tool that lets you reassign the functionality of your keyboard’s keys.
- The KeyTweak Remapping Interface: the virtual on screen keyboard allows you to select the key you would like to remap and assign a functionality of your choice to it.Download and install the KeyTweak tool from here. The installer will prompt instructions on screen that you will need to follow till the installation is complete.
- Launch the KeyTweak tool from your Start Menu.
- On the main screen interface, identify the key that you would like to remap on the on screen keyboard and select it. Ensure that the key listed beside “Key Selected” on the screen corresponds with the one that you selected on the on-screen keyboard.
- In the drop down menu beside “Choose New Remapping,” select the key functionality you would like to assign to it. Ensure that the key that appears in the “Pending Changes” area on the screen matches the key you assigned.
- Click Apply.
- Reboot your system to have the newly remapped settings take effect.
Unlike the other tools we will discuss here, SharpKeys does not give you a visual keyboard representation. The visualization of what is going to go where is entirely your own responsibility. The tool works to the same effect as the others, nonetheless, allowing you to change the function mapping of a key to any other desired key. To use SharpKeys, you must carry out the following:
- The SharpKeys Mapping Interface: the left hand portion allows you to select a key and the right hand portion allows you to assign its functionality.Download and install the SharpKeys tool from here. The installer will prompt instructions on screen that you will need to follow till the installation is complete.
- Launch the SharpKeys tool by finding it in your Start Menu. Unless there has been an error in the installation, the tool should launch easily. If it does not, you may need to uninstall it and reprocess the installation.
- In the application interface, you can choose to create a new mapping or modify one that already exists. You can click on either and select the keys you would like to map or modify. Once you have mapped them to the functionality you would like, hit “Write To Registry” to implement the changes.
- To bring your newly mapped keys into effect, restart your system. Once it boots up, it will follow the mapping that you’ve manually set for your keyboard keys.
Microsoft Keyboard Layout
Microsoft has its own downloadable utility for key remapping. To use the Microsoft Keyboard Layout tool on your computer, download its installation file from this link. Follow the on screen instructions to process the installation. Once the installation completes, find the tool in your PC’s Start Menu, launch it, and follow these steps:
- Microsoft’s Keyboard Layout Creator Tool also features an on screen virtual keyboard for selecting the keys you would like to map to a distinct and custom functionality.Click on the “File” tab and then select “Load Existing Keyboard.” Find the keyboard closest to the one you would like to have in its final form from the available options. For example, if you would like to keep your keyboard as the standard US QWERTY keyboard but would like to swap a few keys around, choose “US” as your loading layout and then perform the minor manipulations you’d like in the next few steps. If you wanted to switch entirely to another layout, you could choose another keyboard layout closest to it.
- Head back into the “File” tab and select “Save Source File As.” Save your layout to a location on your computer.
- Head into the “Project” tab and then select “Properties.” Amend the properties in this section, you can rename this keyboard layout, add a description, change its type direction, and then click “Okay” to save.
- Click on any key to select which key functionality to assign to it. Be weary of keyboard replacements affecting common combination functionalities. For example, if you were to map the “A” key to a Greek letter Unicode ALT key code, you may lose out on the CTRL + A functionality of your keyboard. Use the least used keys for swaps to avoid disrupting your combination operations.
- Once you have made your changes, head into the “Project” tab and select “Validate Layout.”
- Head back into the “Project” tab and now select “Test Keyboard Layout.”
- Head into the “Project” tab a third time and select “Build DLL and Setup Package.”
- If you’d like to output your new keyboard layout as an image file for reference, head into the “File” tab and click on “Save As Image.”
- Find the location on your computer where you saved your keyboard layout. In its folder, you will find a “Setup.exe” file. Run this and then restart your system.
- Once your system restarts, your new keyboard layout will take effect.
- If you have multiple keyboard layouts loaded, you can switch between them from the taskbar at the bottom right of your screen.
While there are hundreds of key remapping tools out there, the three discussed above are the easiest and most user-friendly ones to use. They are simple to work around and offer you a range of customization from remapping a broken key to adding additional characters to adding multiple languages into a single keyboard to concatenating functional combinations into a single keystroke. Whatever your motivation for key remapping is, these tools are your best bet at easily and safely carrying out your key remapping adjustments. Alyssa Arford is an aspiring Electrical & Electronics Engineer with a vested interest in the innovation and design of computer hardware. Her passion for understanding the nitty gritty of how hardware components come together and playing around with the potential of silicon devices puts her in a position to confidently discuss emerging technologies and their implications in advanced computing.
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