Types of computer keyboard keys and their functions

A computer keyboard is the main input device that almost all computers come with. It is used to enter instructions into the computer by pressing the keys which then send the command to the processor. They can be used in all kinds of devices that use different computer user interfaces from command, menu, and Graphic User Interface (GUI).

The main function of a keyboard is to key in data to the computer/device. It acts as a device input device for data entry. The main types of keyboard keys are functional, alphanumeric, formatting, special, and numeric among many others.

type of computer keyboard picture

How a computer keyboard Works

Computer keyboards work by using different switching methods on the keys including capacitive switch, contact switch, magnetic reed switch, ferrite core switch, and mercury contact switch. When a key is pressed it completes a circuit to get a closed circuit. The signal is then sent to the processor within the keyboard which then gives each key a unique code.

The generated code for that particular press is passed to the computer’s main processor where it is processed and the result is displayed on the device monitor. When the user releases the key they were pressing the circuit is open again and the process starts again for a different key that the user press next.

Parts of computer keyboard keys and their functions. 

  1. Functional keyboard keys: they range from F1 to F12 and they are found at the top of the keyboard. They are used for specific functions which are mostly programmed for them. i.e. F1 is used for Help in the Window Operating system F5 is used for a refresh.
  2. Numerical: they range from 0 to 9. They are used to key in numbers and if combined with other keys they can be used to enter arithmetic signs. They are located on the right side of the keyboard.
  3. Alphanumerical: they range from A to Z and 0 to 9. They are located at the central part of the keyboard with numbers being on the top line of them. They are used to key in numbers and letters.
  4. Space bar: it is the longest key on the keyboard and it is used to key in space. It is located at the bottom line center.
  5. Caps lock: it is used to change from capital letters (UPPERCASE) to small letters (lowercase). By default it is in lowercase, to activate UPPERCASE you pressed the button, and it lights. 
  6. Formatting keys: they are mostly found on the right side of the keyboard. They include home, end, page up, page down, delete, etc. they are used to format documents.
  7. Special keys: they include shift, ctrl, and alt. they are used with a combination of other keys to perform special functions which cannot be done by a single key press e.g. ctrl + C for copying.

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List of computer keyboard keys and their functions in Windows 

Key NameKeyboard Key Function
F1 to F12Functional keys are used for a specific function in different applications.
ALPHANUMERICIncludes numbers, alphabets, and special characters. To type special characters use a combination of SHIFT+key with character.
TABUsed to change the indent level when typing.
CAPS LOCKSwitch from lowercase to uppercase
SHIFTUse with a combination of other keys. They are also used to type special characters.
CTRLIs used with a combination of other keys. Mostly for shortcuts. i.e CTRL+C to copy
ALTUse with a combination of other keys. I.e CTRL+ALT+DELETE to switch user accounts.
WINDOWUsed to open the start button. Can be used with others for special operations.
ESCEscape key. It is used to stop action for some applications
BACKSPACEUsed to move cursor one character back. It can also be used to delete characters on the left side of the cursor.
ENTERUsed to move the next line of the document. Can also be used to accept a command.
DELETEUsed to delete a character on the right side of the cursor.
ARROW KEYSThey are directional keys. They help move or scroll up, down, left, and right
HOMEMoves cursor to the start of typing line
ENDMove the cursor to the end of the line
INSERTUsed to activate overtype mode. when active it overwrites the text on the right side of the cursor
PrtScnUsed to screen capture the current display on the screen into a picture
PAGE UPMoves page up
PAGE DOWNMoves page down
NUMBERSNot all keyboard has separate number keys. They are used to enter numeric values and come with arithmetic signs
SPACEBARTyping a space. Can be used for other special functions in other applications like pausing a video in a media player

Types computer keyboards

Categorized in terms of technology keyboards are classified into 2.

Mechanical computer keyboard.

The mechanical is the oldest type of computer keyboard and it is the one discussed earlier on how it operates. The other is the virtual keyboard which allows the user to convert any flat non-reflective surface into a typing area.

Virtual Keyboard

As the word virtual suggests the keyboard is “not real” in the sense that where you are pressing the keys it is not a physical keyboard like one on a laptop or a desktop.

virtual computer keyboard

The above gadget project a full QWERTY keyboard. It is only suitable on a flat non-reflective where the user can be able to press the virtual keys projected. The device has an infrared light diode at the bottom which produces a light parallel to the surface. 

When the user presses the keys their finger cuts the light at that specific key point. The sensor in the device senses which key was intended and it sends the command to the computer processor to the acted upon.

Other types of computer keyboards include:

  • Wireless keyboards: this is a keyboard that doesn’t need a cable connector to link to the computer.
  • Ergonomic keyboards: they are designed in such a way as to reduce body strain when typing.
  • Backlit keyboards: mostly used in laptops and they display light under the keys. They can be used when in a low-light room.
  • Gaming keyboards: they are designed for gaming and they respond to keystrokes faster than other types of computer keyboards
  • Flexible keyboard: they are mostly connected using USB and they can be folded. They are easy to move with
  • Multimedia keyboards: they are normal keyboards but with extra buttons to control media such as video. They have a volume control, pause, end, next button, etc.

Computer keyboard layout

The computer keyboard layout indicates the way different keys are arranged. The keys are laid out in a specific way so that users can learn how to type fast. There are 3 main types of keyboard keys layout but the most common is the layout. QWERTY and Dvorak layouts are available on Windows keyboard settings Colemak you will need to install.

QWERTY keyboard layout

This is the main keyboard keys layout that is used in main computers today. It gets its name from the way alphabetic keys are arranged on the left side of the keyboard. It was adopted from the typewriter to computers. If you working from your desktop, laptop, or even your smartphone then most likely you are using a QWERTY keyboard

QWERTY  keyboard layout.

Dvorak computer keyboard layout

The Dvorak layout is named after its inventor Dr. August Dvorak. He placed the most common keys together to increase the typing speed. Vowels are placed on the left and common consonants are on the right on the same keyboard row

Dvorak device keyboard layout

Colemak keyboard keys layout 

This is the latest improvement on the keyboard and was invented by Shai Coleman. Coleman improved on the Dvorak layout by interchanging key

Colemak keyboard layout

In Windows 10 Colemak keyboard is not available but you can download and install it for yourself.

On-screen keyboard in Windows 10

Have you ever had a challenge using the physical keyboard or some keys are not working how they should? An on-screen keyboard is a software keyboard that you can use as an alternative. On-screen was designed to be used by those who cannot use the normal keyboard because of physical challenges. It is found in the ease of access tools on the Windows operating system.

Windows 10 operating system also offers a touch keyboard that can be used when your computer has a touchscreen monitor. A touch keyboard can be used to key in emojis and emoticons that have become a common way of expressing feelings in the digital era. You can read more on how to create emojis and emoticons using your desktop or laptop.

How to use the on-screen keyboard in Windows 10

To open the keyboard you can use the On-screen keyboard shortcut CTRL+WINDOW+O. To open it from the tools.

  1. Click on the start button
  2. Open Windows Accessories
  3. Click on Windows Ease of Access
  4. Click on the On-Screen Keyboard to open.

After opening it by default, it moves on top of all the other applications. It has all the keys found in the physical keyboard. To use the On-Screen keyboard use the mouse to click on the desired key.

Types of keyboard connectors

Computer keyboards can be connected by the use of several methods. The main connector today is a USB cable. The old type of connector that is not in use anymore is PS/2. To differentiate it from the mouse it was color-coded purple.  

Other types of connectors are wireless keyboards that mostly use Bluetooth to connect.

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