What does the control key do?

The control key, usually identified as “Ctrl” or “Ctl” on a computer keyboard, is a special type of key called a modifier key that must be pressed in combination with one or more other keys. Its exact function depends on the software and operating system used, but most of the time it performs common functions like saving documents, printing and copying/pasting procedures. The name of the control switch comes from its original purpose in teletype machines, where it was used to control aspects of the machine’s operation.

A computer, mouse and keyboard with a control key.

Modifier keys, which can include shift , alt , control and other keys depending on keyboard layout, are unique because they are rarely used alone. Instead, these types of keys must be used in conjunction with other keys on the keyboard in a technique known as keybinding. Most computer users are familiar with the shift key combination, in which the shift key is used in combination with another key to produce uppercase characters. The control key also modifies the normal output of the keys, but usually changes the output to a command or function rather than a special character. Holding down the control while pressing the “Q” key (Ctrl+Q), for example, will terminate an application, while Ctrl+P can be used to print a document or web page.

The “ctrl” key is often used for keyboard shortcuts.

The precise impact of a control key combination depends on the software and operating system in use. Pressing Ctrl + R in many web browsers will reload a web page, while the same key combination in a word processing program will often right-align a paragraph. Common functions like save, print, and copy/paste are generally the same across many types of programs, while other functions may be specific to a particular program or even individual elements of that program. More complex combinations involving up to four keys are possible; in many cases, users can customize these combinations to perform the operations they want. In some operating systems, the usual control key functions are replaced by a different modifier key, while the key itself is used for a separate purpose.

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Pressing Crtl+S saves a file the same way you would using the drop-down menu.

Like many other computer keyboard elements, the control key is a vestige of earlier technology that has been updated and adapted to remain relevant in modern computing environments. Originally found on teletype machines, the key produced special key codes that were not printed or displayed on the screen, but controlled some aspects of the machine’s operation. Some examples of these codes, which were known as control characters, include Ctrl + J for a linefeed, Ctrl + H for backspace, and even Ctrl + G for ringing a bell in the terminal.

The ‘Ctrl’ key is a modifier key that must be pressed in combination with one or more keys.

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