You might have seen “right-click” mentioned while reading how-to instructions. But what does it mean? In some cases, it’s more than just clicking your right mouse button. We’ll show you how to right-click on several different pointer devices and platforms.
If you see instructions asking you to “right-click,” it means to press the button on the right side of your mouse. Usually, this opens a context menu related to the item that you clicked on.
Right-clicking, as a physical action, originated with the first multi-button mice created in the 1960s. But the idea of clicking the right button to open a context menu originated in the Smalltalk environment on the Xerox Alto in the mid-1970s, and then later made its way to the Windows operating system with Windows 95. Right-clicking came natively to macOS with Mac OS X Beta in the year 2000, although OS 8 and 9 included a context menu accessible by holding down Control on the keyboard while clicking.
Having two mouse buttons that do different things allows you to perform more tasks using your mouse, which can save you clicks and keyboard presses. Generally, most operating systems reserve the left mouse button as the “primary click” for selecting items on the screen or for opening apps or documents, and they reserve the right button as a “secondary click” used for canceling selections or for opening a context menu. A context menu is a list of options that changes depending on where you click or which application you’re using.
On Windows 10, Mac, iPad, and more, you can swap the function of the two buttons, which is sometimes ideal for left-handed people who might want to use the index finger on their left hand to click the “primary” button on their mouse.
Right-clicking with a mouse is easy. With the mouse oriented as you’d usually hold it, press the rightmost button (or clickable area) on the surface of the mouse.
On a Mac, if you’re using a one-button mouse, you can perform the equivalent of a right-click by holding down the Control key on your keyboard and clicking your mouse button. Or, if you’re using an Apple Magic mouse (where the entire surface is clickable), you can perform a right-click by placing two fingers on the surface of the mouse as you push down.
Trackballs vary greatly in layout in design, but usually, they include a rightmost button either on the surface or on the side of the trackball that functions like the right button on a mouse. To right-click, just click the rightmost button. If you have any trouble, consult your trackball’s documentation to see how to perform a secondary click.
If you’re using a touchpad on a Mac, Chromebook, or Windows PC, you can usually perform a right-click (secondary click) by tapping or pushing down on the touchpad with two fingers at the same time.
Or, if your laptop has two physical buttons below the trackpad, press the rightmost button to perform a right-click.
Here’s where things get interesting. If you’re using a touch-screen Windows PC, you can perform a right-click by pressing and holding your finger on the screen until a context menu appears. This trick dates back at least to Windows CE in 1996.
On the iPhone and iPad, you can perform an action similar to right-clicking by doing a long-press on the screen: Just hold your finger in one place until a menu pops up. Apple often uses this gesture to hide pop-up context menus.
Many third-party styluses designed for use with Windows and Macs (but not the Apple Pencil) include a button on the side of the stylus itself that can function as a right-click when pressed.