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AutoHotkey is a free and powerful utility that allows you to remap, or even reprogram, your keyboard key sequences and more.

How do I create a hotkey for entering my email address? I seem to do this dozens of times a day and it seems to be a chore!

Have I got a recommendation for you. The only caveat is that it's a tad geeky to set up, but it's incredibly powerful. I run it on both my Windows XP desktop and Vista laptop.

AutoHotkey is a free, small program that remains running in your notification area. It intercepts keystrokes (and mouse activity, if you like), and allows you to configure anything from simple remapping of one key to another, to simple text insertion, as you've described, to complex actions that are nearly little programs in and of themselves.

One thing that's easy to overlook is that AutoHotkey works at the keyboard level and is not tied to any application. So anything you use it for is available at any time, regardless of what program you happen to be using.

My needs are fairly simple, so let me show you some of the things that I have AutoHotkey configured to do.

"Automate almost anything by sending keystrokes and mouse clicks."
  • I find myself typing "http://ask-leo.com" a lot, so I have the key sequence "]ta" mapped to that. Any time I type "]ta", in any application, "http://ask-leo.com" is inserted instead.

  • My 8 line email signature (one of several) is automatically typed in for me in response to "]th". I can use that directly in my email program, in a text editing program, or even across a remote desktop or terminal session.

  • The sequence "]dd" inserts the current date like this: 07-Mar-2009.

  • I happen to run "xplorer2" instead of Windows Explorer, so I have the WindowsKey+E keystroke remapped to start xplorer2 instead of Windows Explorer.

  • My Caps Lock key, which I never use for Caps Lock, has been remapped into a MUTE button.

You get the idea. I also have a few shortcuts for common HTML elements that I find myself entering frequently.

Don't let the "]xx" format of my shortcuts throw you either, I chose that. In reality, it can be anything you want - "btw" could automatically type in "by the way", for example. I just chose something that I'd be unlikely to actually ever want literally.

Here are some more ideas from the AutoHotkey home page:

  • Automate almost anything by sending keystrokes and mouse clicks. You can write a mouse or keyboard macro by hand or use the macro recorder.

  • Create hotkeys for keyboard, joystick, and mouse. Virtually any key, button, or combination can become a hotkey.

  • Expand abbreviations as you type them. For example, typing "btw" can automatically produce "by the way".

  • Create custom data-entry forms, user interfaces, and menu bars. See GUI for details.

  • Remap keys and buttons on your keyboard, joystick, and mouse.

  • Respond to signals from hand-held remote controls via the WinLIRC client script.

  • Convert any script into an EXE file that can be run on computers that don't have AutoHotkey installed.

The approach I'm using - hand coding the AutoHotkey macros - can seem a tad geeky, because, well, it is. Here's the AutoHotkey code to type in "http://ask-leo.com":

:*:]ta::
SendEvent http://ask-leo.com
return

"SendEvent" sends keystrokes, but the more confusing part is that ":*:]ta::" part, which defines when the macro should kick in. Once you have that, the rest is fairly easy.

That aside, even with my simple usage I've only skimmed the surface of what AutoHotkey can be used for. Certainly for simple things like text replacement or keystroke remapping it's a near perfect solution.

AutoHotkey - I recommend it.

Article C3668 - March 7, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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16 Comments
andrew, france
March 7, 2009 2:05 PM

Thanks Leo, just installed autohotkey, and run the test example - very impressive - this will save me hours of tedious typing - thank you AGAIN - more useful advise!

Ron N.
March 12, 2009 6:23 AM

For many years I've used a program called My Function Keys. With this, you assign text to the normally useless F keys. A single keystroke is all that is needed. It costs about 12.00 or so. You can even move the text files to other computers so that all you computers behave the same.

Michael Bates
March 17, 2009 8:07 AM

Hello Leo, I tried AutoHotkey for a while and made a few keyboard shortcuts, but then gave it up because it's a little too geeky and I couldn't find a good set of instructions. I would need a task-oriented manual if possible.

Is there an "AutoHotkey for Dummies" or equivalent?

This is a good program for those who have the patience to learn to use it.

Michael

Roslin
May 27, 2009 6:11 AM

I love AutoHotKey! I use it to start applications that I use frequently but don't want open all the time, or a set of apps I use for presentations. I've also created some scripts to get to control panel apps without all the pointing and clicking.

As for instructions, there are people who have posted their AHK scripts for others to use. I learned quite a bit from seeing other scripts.

Sue
September 15, 2009 1:35 PM

In Word7 there is now a button called Quickparts. Add your email address to that.

Mike K
September 15, 2009 5:56 PM

I use the My Function Keys program suggested above by Ron. It has changed a bit. Only the F1 thru F4 keys are programmable, but there is no cost. Very simple to set up and a real time saver.

David Nuttall
September 15, 2009 8:04 PM

I would also like to recommend the freeware Windows automation engine AutoIt. Much of AutoHotKey's scripting style is based on the old version 2 of AutoIt; AutoIt itself is now in version 3 and has been for years.

As a point of disclosure, I am one of the developers of AutoIt.

James Nell
September 16, 2009 1:48 PM

WOW!! Thanks for introducing me to AutoHotkey.
Took a bit of savy but now it is so easy and I am using it in all my corespondance.
Keep up the good work
Cheers

Barbara Matthews
December 14, 2010 12:06 PM

can the keyboard be programmed to start up a computer(windows xp pro)?

Not that I'm aware of.
Leo
15-Dec-2010

C. DeGama
June 23, 2011 1:30 PM

Thanks, this was literally my exact question. Very helpful, everyone. Cheers.

Maxadolf
August 30, 2011 8:36 AM

I find the CAPS LOCK key irritating to the extreme simply because it is so easy to activate the CAPS LOCK and end up typing several lines in unwanted upper case. Could you please advise how to inactivate this key without interfering with the SHIFT KEY function.

Many thanks in anticipation.

Mike
May 1, 2012 11:52 AM

I first tried this out a few years ago when you first recommended it, but I found it a little too geeky. Two years later, after using your advice to install Ubuntu Linux on an old machine to give it a new lease on life, I have become much more of a geek. Now I have fallen in love with AutoHotkey and have it on my Windows desktop.

Charlie Pelissier
May 1, 2012 1:36 PM

It would have been more helpful, to me, if you mentioned how do you access the AUTOHOTKEY feature.

James
May 2, 2012 3:37 AM

@Charlie Pelissier:
Simply go to http://www.autohotkey.com/.
You might also find it useful to look at http://www.icpug.org.uk/national/features/060305fe.htm.

I was delighted to find I could force CapsLock to be always off, but never thought to use it as a Mute toggle.

Please note that the version of AutoHotkey being actively maintained and developed is AutoHotkey_L, from the same source.

One of the most useful shortcuts I have transposes the characters on either side of the insertion point - absolutely anywhere.

And if, like me, you have a TrueCrypt volume in Dropbox, it's very useful to be able to ensure it's dismounted before suspending Windows.

And life is much simpler if you use a text editor which can highlight AHK syntax appropriately, such as TextPad or NotePad++.

Natalie
May 2, 2012 9:58 AM

I was interested in the AutoHotkey discussion because of the problems I've had in creating macros in MS Word 2010. I used to write some complex macros before the 21st century arrived, but now when I try to create a macro, 1) it doesn't seem to work, and 2) you are warned that macros may compromise your computer because, I think, of their interference with program language. I got the impression that a macro might make you more vulnerable to hackers. I like macros better than Word's QuickParts. Once you have inputted all the keystrokes, one keystroke combo activates them and saves you all kinds of time. I wonder why they are now warning us about macros. Are macros in Word that dangerous?

hughie
May 2, 2012 8:12 PM

I wonder if it can do control-5. Windows does not process some codes and if Autohotkey does not intercept the keyboard itself it will never see control-5 and many other combination codes. I'm hoping...

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