Shortcut of NSMenuItem and NSButton

Shortcut key, or hot key, is called Key Equivalent in Mac development. To use it, just press corresponding key combination, it will trigger predefined application function.

Among NSControl’s subclass, NSMenuItem and NSButton supports key equivalent, which can be implemented in programmatic way or by changing xib object property.

1. Composition of Key Equivalent

Normally, key equivalent is composite of two parts: some modifier keys and one basic key.

There are 4 possible modifier keys:

Symbol Name
Option, alias Alternate

Normal key, includes alphabet, number, punctuation, symbol key, etc.

Key Equivalent may have no modifier key. This is very common in high-efficiency professional application, for example, in Photoshop, moving layer’s shortcut key is V.

For symbol key, it refers to key like (escape), (up arrow). On Mac laptop, (delete), (page up), (page down), (home), (end) does not have dedicated physical keys. But there are substitutes to accomplish same function:

Key Substitute
Delete Fn + ⌫
Page Up Fn + ↑
Page Down Fn + ↓
Home Fn + ←
End Fn + →

2. Changing xib object property

In Attributes panel of NSMenuItem/NSButton, Key Equivalent input field, is used to set shortcut. For example, a character, E, will be displayed capitalized.

If shortcut includes key, the input field will show an Alternates button, to let you choose displaying style between, like ⌘+ and ⇧⌘=.

3. Programmatic Way

3.1 Normal Key

Following code sets menuItem’s shortcut as E.

[menuItem setKeyEquivalentModifierMask:!NSEventModifierFlagCommand];
[menuItem setKeyEquivalent:@"e"];

Following code sets menuItem’s shortcut as ⌘E.

[menuItem setKeyEquivalent:@"e"];

Following code sets menuItem’s shortcut as ⇧⌘E.

[menuItem setKeyEquivalent:@"E"];

3.2 Symbol Key

First of all, you need to know corresponding Unicode value.

Symbol Name Unicode
Backspace 0x0008
Tab 0x0009
Return 0x000d
Escape 0x001b
Left 0x001c
Right 0x001d
Up 0x001e
Down 0x001f
Space 0x0020
Delete 0x007f
Home 0x2196
End 0x2198
Page Up 0x21de
Page Down 0x21df

Note: NSBackspaceCharacter, NSTabCharacter, NSCarriageReturnCharacter are defined in NSText.h, others are not. All of them (except 4 arrow keys) can be found here. Arrow keys do not use 0x2190, 0x2191, 0x2192, 0x2193, I don’t know the reason.

Following code sets menuItem’s shortcut as ⌘↩.

NSString *s = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"%c", NSCarriageReturnCharacter];
[menuItem setKeyEquivalent:s];

Following code sets menuItem’s shortcut as ⌘↑.

NSString *s = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"%C", 0x001e];
[menuItem setKeyEquivalent:s];

Attention: the format specifiers are different, the latter MUST use %C.

One more thing, the shortcuts displayed by menu items are different than the symbols on xib canvas and those printed on some keyboards.

In xib Running application

Some keyboard models:

Apple - Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad

Belkin - YourType Bluetooth Wireless Keypad

4. Dynamic Menu Items

Option key has an alias, Alternate key, it is called so when holding it, the menu item will appear in a different way.

In Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, this menu item is called Dynamic Menu Items, and invisible by default.

For instance, click MacOS desktop’s left top menu item, then hold option key, you will see, “About This Mac” changes to “System Information…” and its triggered action changes too.

In xib, to implement this:

  1. Add 2 NSMenuItem, they MUST be adjacent, no other menu item between them.
  2. Set valid shortcut for them, and the second’s shortcut MUST be the first’s shortcut, plus key.
  3. Check Alternate property for the second NSMenuItem.

Now, run the app and it will works as above menu item example.

Besides, in step 2, if you switch shortcuts of these two menu items, the default visible will be the second one instead, while they’re still alternate.

5. Some Design Guideline

  1. Do NOT add shortcut for contextual menu. Link
  2. Do NOT conflict with system shortcuts or other popular shortcuts, like ⇧⌘Q (log out account), ⌘C (copy), etc.
  3. Only add shortcut for frequently used action, to relieve user’s learning and remembering burden. For example, about, is a rarely-used action, it does not need a shortcut.

6. Other Weird Facts

  1. ⌃⇧1 and ⇧1 can not exist together, or the former triggers the latter’s action.
  2. ⌃⌥⇧1 and ⇧1 can not exist together, or the former triggers the latter’s action.
  3. ⌃⌥⇧1 and ⌃⇧1 can not exist together, or the former triggers the latter’s action.
  4. ⌃⇧A, its log info shows incorrectly for ⌃A, both in code and xib. What’s more, In code, if keyEquivalent is a capitalized alphabet and keyEquivalentModifierMask does not include NSEventModifierFlagShift, system will add automatically in the shortcut UI.
  5. In xib, set a menu item or button’s Key Equivalent with , , =, and choose alternates as ⌘+, then ⌘= and ⇧⌘= can both trigger its action.
  6. When setting keyEquivalentModifierMask for NSButton, it can not include NSEventModifierFlagControl, or shortcut will not work.

7. Reference

  1. Human Interface Guidelines
  2. Application Menu and Pop-up List Programming Topics
  4. Unicode character table

8. Demo Project

Here is demo project.