Access key

In a web browser an access key or accesskey allows a computer user to immediately jump to a specific part of a web page via the keyboard. They were introduced in 1999 and quickly achieved near-universal browser support (including Internet Explorer 4, Netscape 6, Safari, Omniweb, and iCab).

In most web browsers, the user invokes the access key by pressing (on PC) or (on Mac) simultaneously with the appropriate character on the keyboard. In Opera, the user presses + followed by the access key (without Alt). In Mozilla Firefox 2.0 the access key keyboard combination was changed to + (still configurable via about:config), while in Amaya, the preferences allow the user the option of choosing or . In Firefox 3.0, this has been changed so that the key combination only focuses on the link, and an is required after the access key combo. In Konqueror on Linux, The key is pressed and released, and then the access key is pressed.

Whilst Mozilla and Firefox versions prior to 3.0 will execute the corresponding links immediately on the press of the access key, IE will just focus on the link and require to be pressed in order to activate the link. If multiple identical access keys are assigned within the same document, IE will tab through them on each keypress (IE will tab backwards if is pressed as well). This way, links can be logically grouped in various access key rings for easier navigation. IE 4.0 only supported letters of the English alphabet as accesskeys. Firefox 2.0 will activate the last of a group of links assigned the same accesskey.

In the summer of 2002, a Canadian Web Accessibility consultancy did an informal survey to see if implementing accesskeys caused issues for users of adaptive technology, especially screen reading technology used by blind and low vision users. These users require numerous keyboard shortcuts to access web pages, as "pointing and clicking" a mouse is not an option for them. Their research showed that most key stroke combinations did in fact present a conflict for one or more of these technologies, and their final recommendation was to avoid using accesskeys altogether. (See the link below: Using Accesskeys - Is it worth it?).

The World Wide Web Consortium, the organization responsible for establishing internet standards, has acknowledged this short-coming, and in their latest draft documents for a revised web authoring language (XHTML 2), they have deprecated (retired) the ACCESSKEY attribute in favor of the XHTML Role Access Module

Specifying access keys

Access keys are specified using the accesskey attribute. The value of the accesskey attribute is what the user will press in order to follow that specific link. Though the accesskey attribute sets the key that can be pressed it does not automatically notify the user of the bound access key. One convention is for the page author to show the access key value by using the '<u>' tag to underline the a letter in the link's text corresponding to the accesskey assigned. For the link below you would press + on a PC, + on a Mac (the command key can give undesired results) and ++ on Opera to be directed to index.html.

or to underline 'H':


alternatively, the following CSS can be used to indicate the character:

*[accesskey]:after {content:' [' attr(accesskey) ']'}
The underlining '<u>' isn't necessary, but can be useful to the user. It helps them identify which key to press to navigate to where they want to. Another possible ways of displaying which accesskeys do what is to create a page with all the accesskeys displayed. Or the webmaster could do both.

Use of standard access key mappings

As of 2004, a standard emerged using numbers, which promotes consistency and enables users more easily to predict keyboard shortcuts on different sites. These include, for example, 1 to go to the homepage, 4 for search, 9 for contact, and others. This scheme is now in use on popular sites such as and , as well as being built into popular message board software such as vBulletin and ultimatebb.

Listed below is the recommended UK Government accesskeys standard:

  • S - Skip navigation
  • 1 - Home page
  • 2 - What's new
  • 3 - Site map
  • 4 - Search
  • 5 - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  • 6 - Help
  • 7 - Complaints procedure
  • 8 - Terms and conditions
  • 9 - Feedback form
  • 0 - Access key details

External links

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