Broken keyboard keys are quite a common occurrence on laptops and netbooks. Although it’s not a terrible problem if the keypress still registers without the key, it is quite difficult if a common key doesn’t work at all. Maybe there’s keys you keep hitting by mistake such as Caps Lock, or would just like a certain key to be in a more convenient location. Or, there might be a key on your keyboard you never seem to use or need.
In all those situations, a simple solution would be to change the keyboard keys to do something else. Whether it’s disabling the key or making it perform another action. More advanced users could turn to software such as a Macro tool which can help you remap keys on a keyboard or even perform more complicated tasks for you, or run a shortcut/hotkey utility.
When you press a key on the keyboard it sends a “scan code” to tell Windows what has been pressed. Scan codes can be edited in the system registry to map one key to another but editing the registry manually is tricky. Here’s a selection of tools that can remap keyboard keys to other keys. Some edit the scan codes in the registry and don’t need to stay running, others need to stay running in the background.
1. Microsoft PowerToys For Windows 10
The old utility suite for Windows XP and 95 called PowerToys was resurrected in 2019 for Windows 10 users. One built in feature is the Keyboard Manager which can remap one key to another and also remap keyboard shortcuts. PowerToys doesn’t edit scan codes and has to stay running in the background, which could be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your requirements.
Open PowerToys and enable the Keyboard Manager. Click “Remap a key” and choose the key to change (Key column) and then what to change it to (“Mapped to” column). You can either find the key in the dropdown menu or type it in manually. Map a key to “Undefined” to disable it entirely.
Remap shortcuts is similar, add the new shortcut you want to use, and then the shortcut you want to emulate. A useful option is “Target app” that changes the shortcut only for the specified process (use Task Manager > Details to get process names). For example, “RWin+I > Ctrl+Shift+N > Chrome” remaps Chrome’s new incognito window shortcut for Chrome.exe only and leaves the shortcut alone elsewhere in Windows.
Because it has to run in the background, PowerToys is best used if you also want to make use of other built in tools, like FancyZones or PowerToys Run. However, you can simply turn all the other features off to run the Keyboard Manager on its own.
SharpKeys is an easy tool to use but it lacks a keyboard interface layout which could make it quicker to identify the keys you want to change. The main interface is pretty empty to start with and only the edits you have made will show up here. Pressing Add will get things started for remapping a new key. Select the From key in the list on the left which is the the key you want to move, and the To key on the right is where you want to map it.
Do note that not all entries in the list will be available on your keyboard and if you’re unsure, use the Type Key button and physically press the key you want to select. The top “Turn key off” option in the dropdown will disable the key entirely. Pressing “Write to Registry” when you’re done will commit the remapped keys to the Registry and you’ll be required to log off or reboot for the changes to take effect.
Use the Load/Save keys buttons to save the list of key changes so they can be loaded again later on. SharpKeys is available as a zipped portable version or an MSI setup installer, the .NET Framework 4 needs to be installed for Windows 7 users.
MapKeyboard is a portable and tiny keyboard remapper that is under 100KB in size. Just start the program and click on the key you want to remap. At the bottom left of the window, it will show in the “Remap selected key to:” box. Now all you have to do is click on the drop down menu and select the new assignment to give the key or select “Disabled” to turn the key off.
Keys you have edited in this or any other program that uses the Registry are shown in green in the window. When you have finished with the mappings, click the “Save layout” button which will prompt you to logoff for the changes to take effect. MapKeyboard requires .NET Framework v3 to be installed for Windows 10 (and 8/8.1 Windows) users.
MapKeyboard 2.1 was the last version but we are linking to 1.5 which is functionally the same but comes without ads in the window for some of the developer’s other products.
4. Key Mapper
Key Mapper is an easy to use and intuitive tool that can remap a key or disable it completely. To disable a key all you have to do is click on it and drag it off the program’s window, which will then turn the key a brownish color. To map one key to another, click on the key and then drag and drop it onto the key you want it assigned to which will turn the newly assigned key an aqua color.
Double clicking on a key will popup a window where previous edits can be reversed. All the available keys that can be assigned are displayed in categories which groups keys together according to their function. This makes it easier to find what you want and once you select the desired key from the list, simply press the Map button to assign it to the key. Alternatively, use the Capture button and press the desired key.
There is a useful option in the Mappings menu to export all the changes made to a registry file which you can then import later or use on another machine. The on-screen layout can be resized or changed to exclude the keypad, have typewriter keys only, or show a Mac style keyboard. Key Mapper requires .NET version 2/3 which you will be prompted to install if your Windows 10 system doesn’t have it installed already.
KeyTweak offers a few ways to help remap one keyboard key to another. It has a Full Teach Mode where you click the button to begin and just press the from key and then the key you want to map to, then click the “Remap #1 to #2” button. There is also a Half Teach Mode which differs from full teach by offering a drop down list of available keys for you to remap to.
The third way is by using the virtual keyboard in the main window to click on the key to change and then select the new mapping from the drop down below. This also gives you the option of quickly disabling a key and making use of any special keys your keyboard has such as media, Explorer, power, or internet keys.
The keyboard itself might be slightly confusing for some as it lists the scancode numbers for the keys and not the actual characters. Hovering over the key will show its friendly name in a tooltip. Click Apply when you’re done and reboot or log off. As KeyTweak is effectively abandonware and only one executable and pdf help file, we’ve extracted the setup installer and zipped the files to make it portable.
6. Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator
The Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator allows you to create custom keyboard layouts completely from scratch or take an existing layout and edit it to your liking. It works by building and creating an installer that you can then install on any machine as an additional keyboard. There’s also three different setup options for the layout around the Enter key which is a useful feature for laptop and custom keyboards (View > Options).
Something MSKLC cannot touch is any special keys such as Enter, Shift, Control, Alt, Caps Lock, backspace, and the Function keys. The keys that are editable can have multiple entries for the normal keypress, Shift + keypress, Ctrl+Alt+ keypress, and Ctrl+Alt+Shift+ keypress. These can be shown on the main keyboard image by using the “Shift states” boxes on the left.
Existing layouts can be loaded in and edited via File > Load Existing Keyboard. Once you have finished editing, the new layout can be tested and validated before the package is built (via the Project menu). Windows 10 requires the .NET framework version 3 to be installed.
This last tool is a portable standalone executable and only 79KB in size. RemapKeybaord is quite similar to SharpKeys in that it doesn’t have a visual keyboard layout or graphics but instead uses a list of keys in a map from and map to style. It also makes use of the scan code data in the registry.
Any custom scan code data from this or any other program will be shown in the far left pane. To create a new mapping, select the key from the list in the middle “Map this physical key” pane. Then, select the “to this effective function” key from the right pane. The disable key option is at the bottom of the list. Press “Add new mapping” at the top, then press “Save all mappings” to commit the changes to the registry.
Like all other tools using the registry scan code method, you have to log off or restart the system for the changes to take effect.
Final Note: These tools don’t create multiple function macro keys for launching programs or inputting text. They simply map one key on a keyboard to another or create different layouts of the standard keys. Also, laptop Fn or Function keys cannot usually be mapped because they are in most cases hardcoded and don’t represent a physical keypress. Your laptop might have a BIOS option or a dedicated utility from the manufacturer, but it’s unlikely these tools will help.