Keyboard

A computer keyboard is one of the primary input devices used with a computer that looks similar to those found on electric typewriters, but with some additional keys. Keyboards allow the user to input letters, numbers, and other symbols into a computer that often function as commands. The following image shows a Saitek keyboard with indicators pointing to each of the major key sections of a keyboard.

Computer keyboard overview

Overview of each section of the keyboard

Alphanumeric

The alphanumeric part is the primary portion of the keyboard that contains letters, numbers, punctuation and some of the symbol keys. Today most users utilize QWERTY style keyboards, as shown in the below graphic illustration.

Qwerty keyboard layout

Function keys

The Function keys or F1 through F12 keys are used in programs as shortcut keys to performed frequently performed tasks. For example, the F1 key is the key to open the online help for most programs.

Control and Toggle keys

The control keys or toggle keys give the user additional control over text manipulation and cursor placement. They may also be used as shortcut keys in many programs. See our control keys definition for additional information and examples.

Keypad

Although not available on all computer keyboards, especially laptops; the keypad gives the user a quick access to numbers and math functions such as plus, divide, times, and subtract. See the keypad definition for further information, pictures, and related links.

Wrist pad

In the example of the Saitek keyboard above, the plastic wrist pad included with the keyboard is intended to help support the user's wrists and relieve stress from typing. Although many keyboards do not include a wrist pad, hundreds of different options can be purchased at computer retail stores or online.

Warning: Experts debate the need for wrist pads; many Ergonomic experts argue that using a wrist pad may be more stressful and may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. You may want to do your own research before purchasing one.

Arrow keys

Finally, the arrow keys are four directional keys that allow the user to move their cursor or change the section displayed on a page. See our arrow keys definition for further information on this term and related links.

Special keys or media keys on a multimedia keyboard

Multimedia keyboards have additional buttons not found on a traditional keyboard. See our special keys page for further information.

Keyboard interfaces

Today, most desktop computer keyboards connect to the computer using either USB or Bluetooth for wireless communication. Before USB, a computer may have used PS/2 or Serial as a keyboard interface.

Types of keyboards

Today, most keyboards are similar to each other but may be missing one or more of the sections mentioned earlier (e.g. the keypad). Where keyboards begin to differ is in the keyboard layout. While most keyboards use the QWERTY layout, there are still people who use the DVORAK layout.

Laptop keyboards

To help conserve space and reduce the overall weight, there can be many differences between a laptop keyboard and a desktop keyboard. One of the first things most users notice is the size of the notebook keyboard, which is always smaller by placing the keys are closer to each other and not including control keys or a keypad. For a laptop to have all the same functions of a desktop keyboard, laptop keyboards have a Fn key that can be used in conjunction with other keys to perform special functions. For example, pressing the Fn key and the up or down arrow on the keyboard shown below, increases and decreases the brightness of the screen.

Laptop Fn function keyboard key

Another difference that many users notice next is the type of switch beneath each key or how the keys feel when pressed down. Some users even have more typing errors when typing on a laptop because of how easy it can be to accidentally press another key next to the key you intended to press.

Smartphone and tablet keyboards

Most of today's smartphones and tablets do not have a physical keyboard use a thumb keyboard or on-screen keyboard to type messages using their thumbs or other fingers.

Related pages

Also see: AFK, ALT, CTRL, Delete, Enter, Home row keys, Keyboard terms, Natural keyboard, Numeric keypad, OSK, Shift, Spacebar, Tab, Windows key