In Windows, if you hold down Alt, you can repeatedly press Tab to choose a different application to switch to. If you change your mind, while still holding Alt, you can press Esc and cancel the switch.

Similarly, you can use Ctrl + Tab to switch between tabs in most tabbed applications. However, if you try to cancel the action with Esc, it triggers the start menu instead. Is there a way to cancel the tab navigation?


Alt-Tab is handled by the operating system, which implements the behavior you're describing for the escape key. The application that currently has focus will never see it.

However, Ctrl-Tab is handled by the application, and that behavior is determined by the decisions made by the application's developers. That will do anything, but typically will select between multiple sub-windows or tabs because this is the behavior a user expects.

Pressing the escape key while holding down control is also handled by the operating system, not the application, and the application will not see that keypress, therefore cannot react to it.

  • 7
    In addition, alt-tabbing in Windows doesn't actually "take effect" until you release the Alt key. Usually, pressing Ctrl-Tab causes the application to take immediate action, and cancelling may not mean the same thing in this situation.
    – Steve
    Aug 1 '14 at 18:35
  • 1
    Specifically, Ctrl + Esc is a Windows shortcut to open the Start Menu, which is why it does what you're seeing.
    – Ickster
    Aug 1 '14 at 19:23
  • Like @Steve said. On Windows the effect of an alt+tab won't trigger until you let go the alt key (you also get a modal on top of everything, obstructing your view and disabling any kind of interaction with the active process). On tabbed applications the ctrl+tab is an atomic action, it doesn't wait for you to release ctrl, it either happens or not. Having a key to stop something that can't be stopped is not wise.
    – Ben
    Aug 1 '14 at 20:20
  • In applications like Visual Studio, the actual tab switch doesn't take place until ctrl is released.
    – recursive
    Aug 1 '14 at 21:03

If you decide after hitting Ctrl-Tab that you'd like to not change tabs, hitting Ctrl-Shft-Tab should back you up the list of tabs to where you just were.

  • 2
    Not necessarily. Visual Studio uses a similar stack to the one used by Alt-Tab. Ctrl+Shift+Tab in that context would switch to the tab used the least recently. Ctrl-Tab would return you to the last tab used (but it would still affect the tab stack)
    – 3Doubloons
    Aug 2 '14 at 7:27
  • @3Doubloons Oh, right. I meant, if, before releasing the ctrl key, you decide to return yup the original tab you had open, adding shift before hitting tab again would do it. Good clarification!
    – sintax
    Aug 2 '14 at 14:27

I know this is an old question. However, in new version of navigators, you can move between tabs with Ctrl-PageUp/PageDown (so Ctrl-PageDown is like Ctrl-Tab). Moreover, in the latest version of Firefox, the default behavior of Ctrl-Tab has been changed: it is used to switched between recently used tabs. So just press Ctrl-Tab again to go back to the last tab.

This default behavior is of course could be changed to go back to the old behavior.

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