Web Apps Have Keyboard Shortcuts, Too — And Many Work Almost Everywhere

keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts aren’t just for web browsers themselves. Most of those web apps you use — everything from Facebook and Twitter to Gmail and Outlook.com — offer keyboard shortcuts you can use to speed things up.

A handful of keyboard shortcuts work almost everywhere. To use them, just go to the website and press the appropriate key. They won’t work while you’re typing into a text box, though.

Keyboard Shortcuts For Any Web App

These few keyboard shortcuts will serve you well almost everywhere:

? – Shows keyboard help in nearly every web app that offers keyboard shortcuts. This will work in Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Outlook.com, Feedly, Pocket, and many, many other web applications. It’ll open an inline cheat sheet with a list of keyboard shortcuts you can use. You don’t need to memorize them all, but you can find the keyboard shortcuts you want.

j and k – Quickly move to the next or previous item. This works for stories in your Facebook newsfeed, tweets on Twitter, emails in Gmail, and so on. The standard arrow keys won’t work for this because they’re used for scrolling the web page up and down.

/  – Search. This generally focuses the web app’s search field, so you can tap / , type a search, and press Enter. Use this to search Facebook posts, tweets, emails, or whatever else the website uses. It works differently from Ctrl+F to search in your browser.

Text-Editing Keyboard Shortcuts for All Websites

Text-editing keyboard shortcuts are also critical. These don’t just work in your web browser — they work in nearly any application on your computer with a text field. No, we’re not just talking about the usual copy-paste keyboard shortcuts, although everyone should be familiar with those. These keyboard shortcuts can help you on any website with a text box you can type into.

Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox also have a “paste as plaintext” keyboard shortcut. This lets you to paste text from your clipboard — but just the text, so you can paste text into a text box without dragging in all the formatting. Press Ctrl + Shift + V (or Command + Shift + V on a Mac) to do it.

Keyboard Shortcuts for Popular Web Apps

You can start using keyboard shortcuts immediately be going to your favorite web app and typing a ? to bring up the cheat sheet. Here’s how that will help you on a few popular websites:

Facebook uses the j and k keys for flipping between news feed stories. Use the p, l, c, s, o, and Enter keys to perform operations on the selected post — so you could quickly move between news feed stories, liking, commenting, and doing everything else with just your keyboard.

Twitter offers many similar shortcuts. Use j and k to select tweets and move through them, and use keys like f, r, and t to perform actions on those selected tweets.  Tap n and start typing to leave a tweet of your own and use other key combinations to move between different pages on the Twitter website.

Gmail offers an absolutely massive list of keyboard shortcuts — really, there are a lot. The ones under Navigation and Actions are probably the most useful, most of the time. k and j will take you between newer and older conversations, while p and n will move between previous and next messages in the current conversation. Use keys like e, r, a, and f to archive, reply, reply-all, or forward the current message.

Microsoft’s Outlook.com offers a variety of its own shortcuts, too. In fact, you can enable other styles of keyboard shortcuts, too — so you could use Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts on Outlook.com, if you’re used to those. Keys like e to archive and r to reply work here, too.

This is just a sample — visit your favorite web app and type ? to find the shortcut keys you can use there.

Geeky readers will note that the j and k keys weren’t chosen arbitrarily. They come from vi’s keybindings. But anyone can use these shortcuts without knowing this bit of trivia.

Image Credit: Don Richards on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.