Alt key in the keyboard helps to type special characters, symbols and emoji. We have written articles providing thousands of keyboard shortcuts using alt codes for Windows and Mac. However, many users send emails to us asking clarification on how to properly use the alt code shortcuts. Therefore, in this article we will explain how to use alt code shortcuts in Windows, Mac and Linus based computers.
What is Alt Code?
This is more technical and difficult to understand for a normal user. In simple words, each character you type on the keyboard is encoded to a printable character with the help of code page used on that machine. Earlier days, IBM computers use the alt key along with the decimal numbers to type special characters using code page 437. For example, Alt + 1 will make the smiley symbol like ☺. Though later, Microsoft developed different code pages for Windows and move to Unicode, they retained the legacy method of using alt key with decimal number due to the popularity.
Currently most operating systems and applications use the standard encoding offered by Unicode Consortium. Unicode assigns a hexadecimal code point for each printable character and aims to standardize the characters usage across devices. For example, Unicode point for the same smiley symbol is U+263A.
Now that some applications like Microsoft Word accepts the Unicode hexadecimal code point while other applications like Outlook only accepts decimal codes with alt key. Therefore, usage of alt code shortcuts depend on the following factors:
- Operating system you use.
- Keyboard layout like international English or language specific.
- Language input method.
- Code page for character encoding.
- Font type on the document.
- Device manufacturer.
Below instructions cover all possibilities of using alt code in different scenarios.
Using Alt Codes in Windows
You can use either decimal alt code or hexadecimal Unicode character in Windows computer to type symbols and special characters.
Alt Code with Number Pad Keyboard
Use this method if you have larger keyboard on your PC or laptop with separate number or numeric pad.
- Turn on the number lock to enable the use of number pad.
- Press and hold one of the alt keys on your keyboard.
- Type decimal numbers using the number pad.
- After typing the numbers, release the alt key.
- You can see the symbol corresponding to the Unicode number.
For example, “Alt + 0163” will produce the pound symbol like £.
Using Alt Code without Separate Number Pad
The above method works well on all Windows devices. Unfortunately, nowadays laptops do not come with long keyboard having separate number pad. However, if you notice the standard laptop keyboard has a number pad within the layout. If your laptop keyboard does not have separate number pad, follow the below instructions:
- First press the “Function” or “Fn” key and press “NumLock” to enable number lock on the keyboard. You should see the NumLock key on the top function keys row. On most of the laptops, it should be either F11 or F12 key.
- Once number lock is enabled, your keyboard behavior will change.
- Now, you can press function key, one of the alt keys and type the decimal numbers using the numeric pad within the keyboard layout.
- Remember, you should use the number keys fro the numeric pad and not the number keys on the top row.
Remember, you may or may not need to hold the Fn key depending upon your device.
Using Hexadecimal Unicode
The above two methods work based on the decimal code of the symbol or character. Alternatively, you can also try to use the hexadecimal Unicode point by adding entry in Registry.
- Press “Win + R” keys to open Run prompt.
- Type REGEDIT and hit enter to open “Registry Editor”.
- Navigate to “HKEY_CURRENT_USER/Control Panel/Input Method”.
- Right click on the right pane and create a new string value with the name as EnableHexNumpad.
- Modify the string and assign the value as 1.
Now follow the below instructions to use alt codes:
- Press and hold one of the alt keys.
- Press + key and release it.
- Type the hexadecimal code.
- Release the alt key to see the symbol.
For example, “Alt +00F7” will produce the division symbol like ÷.
Alt Codes for Microsoft Word
As mentioned, Microsoft Word accepts alt code with hexadecimal Unicode point.
- First type the Unicode hexadecimal code point.
- Now, press alt and X keys.
- This will convert the hexadecimal code to the corresponding character.
For example, “2642 Alt + X” will produce the male gender symbol like♂.
If alt code shortcut does not work for you, try alternate options like Character Map, emoji keyboard or Symbol utility within Office applications.
Using Alt Codes in macOS
Similar to Windows computers, you can use the option or alt key on Macintosh.
- In order to use alt code shortcuts on Mac, first you need to add Unicode Hex Input to your input method.
- Click on the input method icon on the top bar and activate Unicode Hex Input method for typing.
- Hold one of the option keys and type the hexadecimal Unicode points.
For example, option 221A will produce the square root symbol like √. However, the problem with this method is that Mac will only accept four digits Unicode points. It will not work if the symbol has more than four digit hexadecimal Unicode point. In such a case, you can use the Character Viewer app to type the symbols.
Using Alt Codes in Linux
On Linux based computers, alt codes work differently.
- Press “Control + Shift + U” keys.
- Type the hexadecimal Unicode point.
- This will convert the input into corresponding Unicode symbols.
Points to Remember
- Many non-English keyboard layouts will have AltGr key on the keyboard. AltGr indicates Alt Graph or Alt Right. In most cases, it works similar to alt key and is simply used as a right alt key located right side on the space bar. However, it may also work like “Fn + Alt” combination.
- When using decimal codes, some applications will accept without leading zeros and on some applications you should include leading zeros.
- The decimal codes used with numeric pad are based on the code page and not the conversion of Unicode hexadecimal point.
- On HTML documents, you can use HTML escape entities or decimal or hexadecimal codes in prescribed format.
Unicode and Windows Alt Code
In our earlier articles, we have explained thousands of keyboard shortcuts using alt codes in Windows and Mac. Many users send us emails and complained that the shortcuts are not working on their computer. The alt codes have a long history that may be interpret differently on different devices.
- On older IBM PCs, 0 – 255 characters are stored in Read Only Memory (ROM) to directly interpret it as a shortcut when used with alt code. For example, alt + 003 will produce the heart like ♥.
- Later, Windows used code page 437 to use the four digit decimal codes with alt codes. For example, alt + 0003 will produce ♥.
- In both of the above method, you should use a separate number pad to type the number.
- Nowadays, it is common to use Unicode character encoding on devices. This led to the use of Unicode hexadecimal code in Mac and equivalent decimal point in Windows. For example, you can use alt + 0003 in Mac and alt + 9786 in Windows without separate number pad to type ♥.
Therefore, depending on the device and case, the shortcut may work differently.