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Low-level editor

Feature available only in Premium and Personal editions.

Note: if you are new to KbdEdit, we recommend that you read the Introduction first. If you are interested in learning more about the internal structure of Windows keyboard layouts, Administration and deployment is a great place to start.

The Low level editor is charged with the tasks of:

Essentially, the Low-level editor lays out the groundwork for High level editor, in which Unicode characters are assigned to virtual key codes.

KbdEdit screenshot Low level editor virtual key scan code

Some of the modifications that can be made using the Low-level editor:

  • Changing position of certain special keys. For instance, users accustomed to Unix terminals might want to swap Caps Lock and Ctrl keys, as shown in this example.
  • Disabling a special key. This might be useful for PCs used in public places (airports, Internet cafés etc), where certain keyboard shortcuts need to be disabled. Another good candidate would be the "Windows" key, which is particularly reviled among gamers, because when pressed inadvertently it throws you from a full-screen game back into desktop mode. This example shows how to use KbdEdit to disable the Win key.
  • Changing the function of a rarely used key. Because of lack of space, many laptops have severely scaled-down keyboards. Right Ctrl key is often missing, while the (often useless) "context menu" key is present. Using low-level editor, you can assign VK_RCONTROL code to the context menu (i.e. VK_APPS) key, and thus bring the right Ctrl key back.
  • Activating the "Kana" modifier, which can double the number of modifier positions, and thus the number of characters produced by each key (see example, and yet another example).
  • Using Web and Multimedia keys on keyboards that do not support them physically. These special keys exist only on certain keyboard models and provide handy shortcuts for common Web browsing operations (Page Back/Forward, Search, Favorites, Home...) and Media Player control (Volume Up/Down/Mute, Pause, Previous/Next). One example would be mapping Volume Up/Down (VK_VOLUME_UP/VK_VOLUME_DOWN) to Numpad +/- keys (VK_ADD/VK_SUBSTRACT), if you happen not to use these keys for their standard purpose. In this example, it is demonstrated how web/media functions can be assigned to numeric keypad keys.

In order to better understand the purpose of this editor, a brief explanation of how physical keyboard operates is due. Each physical key generates a unique 8-bit value called “scan code”. For historical reasons, certain keys generate so called “extended” codes: their scan code is preceded by a special “escape” character to differentiate them from “ordinary” characters with the same scan code. In brief, each physical key is identified through its scan code and whether the scan code is extended or not.

The Unicode code points are not mapped directly to scan codes. Instead, they are assigned to so-called “virtual key” codes. Each keyboard layout has a special table which defines mapping from scan to virtual key codes. This additional layer of redirection is very useful as it decouples the high-level keyboard design from the raw scan codes, which even though standardized can be and indeed are different for certain special keyboards. One example is NEC keyboard used for Japanese.

One useful side-effect of this design is flexibility: almost any key on the physical keyboard can be programmed to act as absolutely any special or letter-producing key. Even the low-level keys like Shift, Caps Lock and Num Lock can be moved away from their default positions. The only exception is the Pause key, which cannot be moved from its standard position on the right-hand side of Scroll Lock (this is not the only peculiarity of this key, as will be shown later).

Virtual Key visual representation

The upper half of the low-level view is occupied by a keyboard's visual representation. At any moment, only one physical key (i.e. scan code) is "active". This key is drawn as pressed in the keyboard display, and the field "Scan code" shows its scan code. For example, the key normally mapped to left Ctrl has a scan code of 0x1D, whereas the right Ctrl has the same scan code, but with the "Extended" attribute set.

The color of a key is also important: lighter-colored keys are mappable, i.e. they can be assigned Unicode code points in the High-level editor. Conversely, the keys drawn in a darker shade are not mappable - they are either modifier or special keys, whose function is fully defined by the VK code.

For certain special keys a "human readable" name is defined by the layout. This name is shown in the "Key name" field, which exists for purely informational purposes. This name cannot be edited by KbdEdit, and has no practical importance anyway.

Current key's virtual code is clearly displayed in the "Assigned virtual code" combo box - for example, VK_ADD for the "Numpad +" key.

KbdEdit virtual code combo box value assigned to numpad plus

The character(s) drawn on the keyboard's visual representation are an abbreviation of the key's virtual code, and do not necessarily reflect the Unicode characters the key generates (creating Virtual Key / Unicode mappings is the domain of the high-level editor).

Abbreviated names for special and certain character-generating keys are self-explanatory: VK_INSERT is shown as "Insert", VK_BACK as "Bk.Spc." (short for "Backspace"), right Windows key (VK_RWIN) is "RWin", cursor keys are represented as arrows, numeric keypad keys as "Num 3", "Num +" and so on.

KbdEdit virtual key special key KbdEdit virtual key combo special key

The situation is trickier for character-producing keys: their abbreviated names represent what they would generate in a standard "US English" layout. Number and letter keys are thus displayed as '1', '2', 'A', 'B' etc. In most Latin keyboards, virtual 'D' key does produce lower and uppercase letters 'd'/'D', but in keyboards for specific scripts like Armenian, Arab, Hebrew etc the letters produced may have no relation at all to a Latin letter the key is named after.

KbdEdit virtual key letter KbdEdit virtual key combo letter

The remaining alphanumeric virtual codes have cryptic names which are of no use as mnemonics for the characters they typically produce. In these cases, the same logic was applied: the characters generated in standard "US English" are used. VK_OEM_3 code is thus shown as "~ `" (tilde, reverse apostrophe), VK_OEM_2 as "? /" (question mark, forward slash) etc.

KbdEdit virtual key interpunction KbdEdit virtual key combo interpunction

An "alphanumeric" virtual code does have one function which does not depend on Unicode characters mapped to it: keyboard shortcuts in Windows applications are nearly always bound to virtual codes. Standard "Clipboard Paste" shortcut "Ctrl+V" will remain bound to the virtual 'V' key code even if this code is mapped to letters other than 'v' and 'V'.

Editing Virtual Key mappings

Editing Modifiers

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