Use the Tab Key to Switch Between Dialog Buttons in Mac OS X

Feb 26, 2010 - 15 Comments

Finder Would you prefer to use the keyboard to speed up navigation around your Mac? That’s what the Full Keyboard Access setting allows for. Using a Keyboard option, you can have the Tab Key able to switch between dialog buttons, fields, and anything else in a dialog box within Mac OS X. This can greatly enhance the speed at which you use your Mac, and I’m a bit surprised Apple has never chosen to enable the feature by default. Additionally, it can be a very helpful setting for accessibility purposes, since it’s often easier to leave your hands on the keyboard than move around a mouse or trackpad.


If you’ve never tried this setting, or you know you like it and want to have such a feature that is fairly common to other operating systems, you can quickly enable tab navigation in virtually every release of OS X.

How to Enable Tab Key for Navigating Mac Dialog Boxes & Buttons

  1. Launch System Preferences from the  Apple menu
  2. Click on the “Keyboards” preference panel
  3. Select the “Shortcuts” tab (sometimes called “Keyboard Shortcuts” in older versions of OS X)
  4. Look near the bottom of the window for a mention of “Full Keyboard Access: In windows and dialogs, press Tab to move keyboard focus between:” and click to select the radio button next to “All controls”*
  5. Close System Preferences

* If that sounds confusing, see the below screenshot for clarification. The setting is easily overlooked.

mac tab key dialog navigation

Now anytime you have a dialog window pop up you can quickly navigate to the alternate choices and options by simply hitting the Tab key, very useful!

Note the difference here, by default in OS X you can only use Tab to move between “Text boxes and lists only”, the “all controls” option isn’t described well, but it’s literally everything in a window or dialog box of OS X that becomes controllable through this option.

Of course, if you decide you don’t like the feature you can just go back to Keyboard system preference panel and disable it again, that’s up to you.

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Posted by: David Mendez in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

15 Comments

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  1. Tim says:

    indeed very useful — thanks for sharing this tip.

  2. […] المصدر التصنيفات : تلميحات, ماك ١٠١ var addthis_pub="techwd";  اطبع هذه المقالة |  أرسل المقالة لصديق […]

  3. Nick says:

    Thank you so much!

  4. Adriaan says:

    Great! Thanks so much!

  5. Mike says:

    thanks for this great tip

  6. Gee says:

    I can’t get it to work properly. I can move the highlight but that’s only a sort of frame. So when I push return it still chooses save rather than don’t save when in a save dialog.

  7. ign says:

    awesome!!!!!!

  8. myr0 says:

    you have to use your spacebar!!

  9. hannah says:

    thank you sooooo much for this – it was driving me insane & i couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they sold macs to the blind

  10. […] can also manually enable Tab key navigation from the System […]

  11. Chetan says:

    Thank you so much.. I look so stupid.. after using it for nearly 7 years, I happen to search this feature now and found your information easy to use.

    thank you for educating me. :)

  12. JpMacGuy says:

    Thanks so much. A very helpful tip! Exactly what I was searching for.

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