How to Get a Hardware Escape Key on MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

Feb 20, 2017 - 12 Comments

Escape key on MacBook Pro touch bar

The new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar model includes a Touch Bar screen in lieu of the standard hardware function keys and escape key. Removing the Escape key may not be a big deal to some Mac users, but for many pro users having no hardware escape key could be considered a major frustration or nuisance.

Before you get too bummed out by not having a hardware escape key on your fancy new MacBook Pro, know that the latest versions of MacOS allow you to modify a select group of other keys to become a hardware escape key instead.

For what it’s worth, this trick to modify a key to perform a hardware Escape function works not only on the newest MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, but also with other Mac models without Touch Bar as well. The only thing you need is the latest version of macOS system software, so be sure you update Mac OS first if you have not done so already.

How to Remap Escape Key on Mac

  1. Go to the  Apple menu and choose “System Preferences” and then go to the “Keyboard” preference panel and choose the “Keyboard” tab
  2. Click on the “Modifier Keys” button in the lower right corner
  3. Choose the key you want to remap and modify to perform the Escape function: Caps Lock (our recommendation), Control, Option, or Command
  4. Select “Escape” from the dropdown list corresponding to the key you want to remap as a hardware Escape key then click “OK” to set the change

Remap hardware Escape key on Mac

Now you can press the Caps Lock key (or the Control, Option, or Command keys) to use as a hardware escape key. Yes that will mean relearning your deeply ingrained Escape key location in the upper left corner of the keyboard to the new location which you chose (granted the virtual escape key will still be visible sometimes depending on the application in use on the Mac, and assuming the application is not unresponsive), but it works, and it serves the purpose of having a physical hardware escape key on the Mac which can be helpful for force quitting apps and other tasks which are best served with a hardware escape key.

The Caps Lock key is arguably the most useless key of the hardware keys, so it makes a good for replacing the Escape key on MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. It is probably not recommended to replace the Control, Option, or Command keys, as those keys are used frequently on the Mac for many purposes, and thus would be largely inappropriate to remap for most Pro users.

Keep in mind this has no impact on the indented virtual Escape key that appears on the Touch Bar with some applications and when you have the Touch Bar shown in the default mode. The indented virtual Escape key will still work as usual, assuming the application is not unresponsive anyway.

If you have a Touch Bar on your Mac, did you remap the Escape key or are you satisfied with the virtual escape key? Let us know in the comments.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac, Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Oliver Cromwell says:

    I hope the next version of MacBook Pro includes an option to have just the real keyboard on the upper end models.

    I use the escape key often, I don’t want to remap it, and I don’t want a virtual button as an escape key. I want a real hardware escape key. I also use the function buttons often.

    I want 32GB RAM and a real keyboard, too much to ask from Apple now?

  2. david watts says:

    I agree with Oliver. Seems that Apple has made a virtue these past few years of making changes to little things that they like but which many users have come to expect.

  3. paul says:

    Better yet, use Karabiner, which is extremely versatile at keyboard remapping. (It used to be called something like KeyRemap4MacBook; I’ve been using it ever since Apple removed the Enter key!)

  4. Scott says:

    Caps Lock is VERY important in Photoshop, so that work around won’t cut it. Hmmmm.

  5. Ray says:

    Of course, you could always study the specifications of any new product to decide if it will suit your use for it, like a grown-up.

  6. Gorbnar says:

    Real men don’t use an ESC key.

  7. avenged110 says:

    “most useless” would probably make more sense as “least useful.”

  8. Andy says:

    Real men use vim ;)

    Prior to this I had the escape key mapped to be forward delete, caps locked mapped as escape, fn mapped to be left ctl, and left ctl mapped as function (I never bothered with caps lock and never missed it, I actually do some photoshop and I’ve always just zoomed in when I needed to be more accurate). With the Touch Bar, I’m finding I like the touchscreen escape a lot (I basically just have to throw my fingers up to the left and i hit it), so using the advice in this article I mapped caps lock to be ctl (old school!) and left ctl to caps lock. And, I’m now realizing the emacs/bash key bindings seem to work across the board… I think I’m really going to like this setup!

  9. James says:

    Still useless! Why can they not have optional hardware keyboard?? Removing all USBs and leaving only 4 useless ports that causes a flood of dongles on the desk is one thing, but removing physical buttons and forcing developers to look at the keyboard instead of relying on muscle memory is just a slap in the face. What’s next? the entire keyboard will be touch-based?
    And still maxing out on 16gb of ram. I’m leaning more and more towards Linux laptop next time.

  10. Ben S says:

    Keyboard mapping issues has always been the bane of using a Mac, especially if you’re a developer and you need to use VMWare Fusion. I’m a vim user and so the escape key is very important to me. Caps lock is also fairly important so I don’t like this work around.

    What’s especially irritating is the Mac keyboard still has truly useless keys on it. The §/± key for example (which is a position where an escape key would be great) is baffling. Why would anyone need this key! And if they really needed it wouldn’t it be best on a function combination unlike escape which is genuinely very important! It didn’t even occur to me that something as basic and important as the escape key would be missing when I bought the MacPro.

    Honestly, I’d lose the whole touch bar for the sake of the escape key… It’s kinda neat but I don’t really see it as very important. I also prefer to learn how computers work so that I can use them quickly than have computers try and learn how I work (which almost always just slows me down).

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