I always assumed that the naming of the top most keys on a standard keyboard, F1 ~ F12 were somewhat similar to how drives work. That being, drives are labelled starting from C:, then to D:, then to E:, etc.

What was the idea behind picking the letter F for the keys at the top? I've noticed extra mouse and keyboard peripherals that continue this trend by labelling their keys G, and so forth. Is there any reason why they didn't start at A1, A2, etc. etc.?

  • 1
    "F" is for "function". It's a tradition going back to maybe 1965. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 16 '13 at 23:39
  • @DanielRHicks - 1965?? -- I recall seeing function keys appearing on VDT keyboards at about mid-1970s, when cheap microprocessors could be embedded to generate multi-character sequences. 1965 seems too early. – sawdust Sep 17 '13 at 0:12
  • The IBM 3270 introduced in 1971 had (depending on the version) 10-24 "PF" (program function) keys, and I'm pretty sure that some versions of the 2260 introduced in 1965 did too. And many early terminals had 2-4 "Prog" keys (eg, IBM 5475). The "Prog" keys were a carry-over from keypunches, where they caused a "program" punched into a card wrapped around a drum to be interpreted. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 17 '13 at 1:45
  • A number of keyboards, such as the early IBM 5250s, had a "Cmd" key or some such to the left of the numeric keys, and pressing that and then a number key (in sequence, not simultaneously) produced a function key-like action. In many ways this was superior to the clumsy function keys of the early PC keyboards. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 17 '13 at 1:51

They are called function keys that's Why they start with F and not A.

Example modern day usage:

You can use various software and inbuilt packages dependent up on what OS your using (You can use online search engines to find examples) to perform basic tasks.

Personally when using linux I have F1 mapped to type sudo !! because I always forget when/when not to use elevated privs

You also have them action interupts such as F8 during windows boot will prompt for safeboot

Mac users will commonly use these function key to access exposé and dashboard

Their is a million and one uses for your function keys so you can do some research on how to utilize them to their best abilities and perform complex tasks with ease

Further reading: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Function_key


They are "Function Keys." The generic naming of them was so that different programs could use the same keys for different actions. They are most useful when an individual is interacting with the program using the keyboard only. In that case actions can often be performed more quickly than a comparable time spent with both a keyboard and mouse. With the rise of Graphical User Interfaces keyboard control is not as important as it used to be. Commands that used to be assigned to function keys are now additionally assigned to graphic menus and buttons and the like.

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