Alt

Alt keyboard key1. Short for Alternate, Alt is a modifier key located on both sides of the spacebar key on IBM compatible computer keyboards. The picture shows an example of an Alt key.

Note: The Alt key should not be confused with the Altmode key that is used with some Teletype and ASCII terminals. The Altmode key does not function the same as the Alt key.

Where is the Alt key on the keyboard?

Below is an overview of a computer keyboard with the Alt keys highlighted in blue.

Alt keys

Note: Apple computer keyboards use the option key in place of the Alt key.

Alt keyboard shortcuts and what can the alt key do?

Alt is most often used to describe a key combination, such as the example below.

Ctrl + Alt + Del

The above combination means to press and hold the CTRL, ALT, and DEL keys all at the same time to reboot the computer or open the task manager window.

Below are some other commonly used Alt shortcut keys on a Windows computer.

  • Alt = Pressing the Alt key alone focuses the computer on the File Menu (if available).
  • Alt + F = Pressing these two keys opens the File Menu in an open program.
  • Alt + F4 = These keys close the open program. To close an open window or tab within a program press Ctrl + F4.
  • Alt + Spacebar = Open the Window menu of the program currently open.
  • Alt + Tab = These keys switch between open programs left-to-right. Pressing Alt + Shift + Tab reverses the order of switching programs.

Tip: See our shortcut key list for a full listing of all shortcuts.

Tip: In Internet Explorer, pressing the Alt key shows the menu bar visible near the top of the program window.

Using the Alt key to create special characters (alt codes)

With Windows computers, the Alt key can also be used with the number keys on the numeric keypad to create special characters (alt codes) such as accented letters. For example, pressing Alt + 160 with code page 437 gives you an "a" with an accent (รก) in all programs.

Note: When creating alt codes your Num Lock must be enabled, and you must be using the numbers on the numeric keypad and not at the top of the keyboard.

Related pages

2. An alt may also be used to describe the alternate text used to describe an image in HTML.

Also see: CTRL, Ctrl+Alt+Del, Keyboard terms, Meta key, Modifier key, Option key