I use my Desktop far more often than I use my Dashboard. However, my MacBook Pro comes with a dedicated key for Dashboard but it doesn't come with one for Desktop.

Using this article, I was able to remap my Dashboard key to show the desktop by changing the values for keys 62 and 63 ("Dashboard") to the same values used by keys 36 and 37 ("Show Desktop"). Specifically, I changed the value for both array index #1s to 111.

This worked great for my external (kinesis freestyle) keyboard. But when I went back to my internal macbook keyboard, I discovered that the Dashboard key still mapped to the Dashboard rather than the Desktop.

How can I complete this mapping for all of my keyboards? The Kinesis Freestyle, my internal MacBook Pro keyboard, and my external Apple Aluminum Bluetooth keyboard?

Update: I'm definitely not looking for a solution that involves using the Function keys instead of the special keys. I wish to keep using my Function keys as function keys as they're indispensable for other applications.

7 Answers 7


It's certainly no solution - but just to add to the conversation: by default hitting command+(Show All Windows) shows the desktop. i.e. hitting command-F3 where F3 is functioning as a special key and not truly as "F3" If nothing else, it's an easy reach on the keyboard and somewhat logical. I still can't understand why there is no show desktop special key - especially in light of the dedicated dashboard key (who uses that?) and an empty space at F5.

  • Just in case someone likes flagging posts by 1 rep users that start with "just to add to the conversation": This is actually a useful hint.
    – Daniel Beck
    Mar 26, 2011 at 18:38
  • It depends on your model how the keys are assigned. My mid 2010 Macbook Pro has no empty keys: 2x brightness, Exposé, Dashboard, 2x backlit keyboard brightness, 3x media controls, 3x audio volume.
    – Daniel Beck
    Mar 26, 2011 at 18:53
  • 1
    @daniels, it is a useful hint, but is "no solution" as the user states, so might be better as a comment, or reworded into more of an answer.
    – nhinkle
    Mar 27, 2011 at 2:39

Try KeyRemap4MacBook:

KeyRemap4MacBook is a powerful utility for keyboard customization.

The re-mapping of the key more than 500 kinds.
Accelerate speed of the key repeat.
The revival of a lost NumPad key (FN+jkluio789…)

After you install it open the preference pane, expand "Change functional key (brightness, volume...)", and scroll down a bit for checkboxes that let you remap all the built-in keys to F-keys.

  • Nope, doesn't help.
    – emmby
    Apr 22, 2010 at 16:11
  • Does not seem to be able to map the "Launchpad" functional key to "Show Desktop" hassle-free at least, either. But of all solutions, Karabiner (as its called now) seems "as good as it gets" for me (I ended up mapping the completely useless Launchpad key to the slightly more useful Dashboard)
    – fnl
    Nov 12, 2015 at 10:52

Have you tried setting it up on your System Preferences -> Exposé & Spaces?

I haven't received my Snow Leopard copy yet so i can not be sure. But you should be able to choose what key to press for "Show Desktop".

  • Hi Fork, Thanks, but there's no way to control the mapping of the "special" keys in the System control panel. There are ways to control the Function keys, but not the "special" keys. Cheers, Mike
    – emmby
    Sep 1, 2009 at 21:38
  • 1
    Your mac is different than mine. Mine only has the functions keys. But from what I hear that "special" keyboard key is "F4" is it not? See if this little application helps. macupdate.com/info.php/id/27989/functionflip And can you post a pic of the given special key? Sep 1, 2009 at 22:21
  • Hi Fork, no it's really a truly different keycode. I am NOT talking about using the Function keys to show the desktop. You can see a picture of the key here images.anandtech.com/reviews/mac/Penryn/newkeys.jpg. You'll notice that it shares the same key as the F4 key, but it is definitely not the same key code. And no, I do not want to map my Function keys or flip the behavior of those special keys using FunctionFlip, as I need my Function keys for other applications. Cheers, Mike.
    – emmby
    Sep 1, 2009 at 22:34
  • I now understand what you mean. But With that i can not help you either. With some fiddling with Function Flip you could get it to work, but it would not work for your other applications. Sorry I could not be of assistance. Sep 1, 2009 at 23:33

I've been trying to figure this out and fear we've struck out.

Someone who seems knowledgeable (FWIW) here writes that "The hardware keys like sound control keys can not be remapped. they are where they are for good."

More damning is that while running Key Codes, none of the "hardware keys" (exposé, itunes control, brightness, volume) show up at all. It seems that those keys get intercepted before anybody can do anything with them.

I'll keep looking and drop back in if I discover something different, but for now all signs point to SOL.

  • Sigh. For lack of a better answer I'm afraid you may be right.
    – emmby
    Nov 26, 2009 at 17:24

You can effectively do what you want, but there are some caveats with it. What you can do it turn on the option in the Keyboard preferences to use the F-keys as standard function keys, and then go to the Exposé and Spaces preferences and then assign F-keys to them. However, the downside to doing it this way is that you have to hold the fn key to control screen brightness, volume, and media controls now. This is what I chose to do, because I use standard the F-keys in applications and in virtual machines as well.

  • Thanks Adam, but that's definitely not what I'm looking for :)
    – emmby
    Sep 2, 2009 at 4:26
  • Yeah, I figured not, but that's the closest I know about. :) Sep 2, 2009 at 5:24

Man, I could have written this complaint myself (in fact, I just did, elsewhere, before finding this page).

I gave up. The best I could do was redefine Fn-F3 to be Desktop. At least it's on the "Exposé key," so you have the mnemonic thing working, and it's an easy one-handed stretch (Fn-F11 is IMPOSSIBLE) when you need to drag a file attachment into a mail message.


I know this is a very old question, but in case someone comes across it I've found a pretty good solution.

First step is to download Function Flip, which can be found here: http://kevingessner.com/software/functionflip/. Install the preference pane and enable flip on the F3 key. Also make sure that Function Flip starts on login.

Next, go into the Mission Control preference pane and assign Show Desktop to the F3 key.

Now the Mission Control special key will show the desktop, and holding fn while pressing the key will show Mission Control. To fully swap the functionality, you can go into Keyboard Preferences, and change the Mission Control keyboard shortcut to Command + F3.

Of course, you could also do this to the f4 key as well to flip the dashboard / launchpad button.

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