How to Program Keyboard Shortcuts in JavaScript and React

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Most applications and programs come packed with keyboard shortcuts that allow you to complete common tasks within their interfaces. Thankfully creating shortcuts within our own projects isn't as difficult as one might think. In this article, I will go over how to create keyboard shortcuts in vanilla JavaScript and how you can take that knowledge and easily implement shortcuts in a React app.

Registering the Keydown Event

In order to determine which keys a user has pressed, we need to add a listener for the keydown event. The object that gets returned from the keydown event contains a few useful properties that can be leveraged to register a desired shortcut or hotkey.

  1. KeyboardEvent.key

    • The key property contains the value of the exact key that is pressed by the user. For example, if you were to press the letter "C" it would return the character "C" as its value. If you were to press the right arrow (==>) the key value would be "ArrowRight."

    (Check out for a convenient tool that allows you to easily visualize JavaScript's keycodes.)

Modifier Keys

Since most shortcuts are used in combination with a modifier key it's helpful to know the properties that are available to be able to detect these particular keys.

  1. KeyboardEvent.ctrlKey

    • This ctrlKey property returns a Boolean indicating whether or not the Control key was pressed.
  2. KeyboardEvent.metaKey

    • Similarly, the metaKey returns true or false depending on if the "Meta" key was pressed. For Macs, this is registered as the Command key and for Windows computers, this is registered as the "Windows key".

There are many more properties available than the ones listed above, but those are some of the more common ones to use. To see an exhaustive list of the possible keyboard event properties check out the full list on MDN.

Listening for Shortcuts

Now that we know which event properties we need to reference we can begin to pair them together to form a proper shortcut. Because most shortcuts are used in conjunction with a modifier key, we will use the ctrlKey property to create a shortcut that will register CTRL + S and CTRL + C to recreate the common "Save" and "Copy" actions.

Based on the properties we learned about above, the code for registering these shortcuts would look something like this:

window.addEventListener("keydown", (event) => {
   /*Allows for a case-insensitive shortcut*/
  if(event.ctrlKey && (event.key === "S" || event.key === "s")) {
     alert("Save File 💾");

  if(event.ctrlKey && (event.key === "C" || event.key === "c")) {
     alert("Copy Selection ✂️");

View demo in a separate browser or place focus on sandbox and then enter shortcuts

React Example with Hooks ⚓

Conveniently, implementing shortcuts within React is actually pretty similar to doing so within vanilla JavaScript. The main difference is that we have to utilize the useEffect hook in order to register the side effect and subsequently remove the event listener as a cleanup when the component unmounts.

For example, if we want to register a keydown handler that gets set when a component mounts, it would look something like this:

useEffect(() => {
 const handleKeyDown = (event) => {
    if (event.ctrlKey && (event.key === "C" || event.key === "c")) 
        alert("Copy Selection ✂️");

    window.addEventListener("keydown", handleKeyDown);
    return () => { /*removes event listener on cleanup*/
      window.removeEventListener("keydown", handleKeyDown);
  }, [])

As an alternative, if you want to have your keydown handler defined outside of the useEffect because it has its own set of dependencies that it needs to keep track of, you could make use of the useCallback hook and set it up like so:

const handleKeyDown = useCallback((event) => {
 if (event.ctrlKey && (event.key === "S" || event.key === "s")) {
      alert("Save File 💾");

 useEffect(() => {
    window.addEventListener("keydown", handleKeyDown);
    return () => {
      window.removeEventListener("keydown", handleKeyDown);
  }, [handleKeyDown]);

El Fin 👋🏽

As you can see, programming shortcuts into an application is fairly straightforward. Implementing shortcuts provides convenience for users to be able to complete common actions throughout an application.

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As always, thank you for reading, and happy coding!

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

Tracy Nuwagaba's photo

Wow, so cool

Catalin Pit's photo

This is something I never thought about. It's really nice and I just learnt something new! Thank you, Alyssa Holland! 🙏

Alyssa Holland's photo

Thanks for reading!

Martin Thampi's photo

I think you can use hotkeys to do the same!

Anshu Meena's photo

its awesome