The Scroll Lock key is useless in the modern day, and some higher-end keyboards don't even have it:

Logitech Wave Keyboard

Same can be said for the Pause and Break keys, but however it pauses the BIOS POST output on many computers, so it's a useful key (some older games also use it to pause the game).

The Scroll Lock key doesn't do anything: it doesn't even lock scrolling as its name suggests. I can understand that some older keyboards have this key, but not the newer ones such as the keyboards bundled with many OEM computers these days; it's not like any newer computer is likely to run an older operating system such as Windows 9x. Games that use the Scroll Lock key may not even be compatible with newer operating systems.

Is there a historical reason for this or are keyboard designers just plain lazy to get rid of this useless key?

  • 4
    Actually, Microsoft Excel at least still uses the scroll lock key. I don't know of any other software that does off the top of my head, but as long as one popular program uses it, it probably won't go away. – aslum Feb 4 '15 at 20:30
  • Rolled back and edited so that pause and break are separate keys; on some keyboards such as my own they are separate keys. – cybermonkey Feb 4 '15 at 20:50
  • 20
    The scroll lock key exists so that I can remap it to another keyboard macro :-) – tohster Mar 12 '15 at 18:38
  • Manufacturing processes are very expensive to setup and change. It is cheaper to leave the scroll lock key in place for the few people still using it. – DaveAlger Mar 13 '15 at 20:37
  • 9
    That toy in the photograph, despite being expensive, is certainly not a high-end keyboard! You might want this, and yes it has a Scroll Lock. – dotancohen Nov 13 '15 at 16:37
up vote 53 down vote accepted

There are a zillion bits of legacy code out there many of which have appropriated the "junk" keys for application purposes.

You've not seen many of them because they are internal, mission-critical programs for which the cost of re-writing and re-training are huge.

To the best of my knowledge you can still put a floppy into a modern windows machine, run the 1985 version of Lotus 1-2-3 and it will work. Microsoft's most valuable feature is backward compatibility.

  • 6
    True, however most modern machines don't include floppy drives anymore. – cybermonkey Sep 20 '14 at 17:45
  • 7
    I don't recall the last time I saw a floppy drive on a machine. – DA01 Sep 21 '14 at 6:27
  • 2
    @zyboxenterprises you can however still get external ones. Serial to USB converter and you're good to go... – jwenting Sep 23 '14 at 8:41
  • 19
    Actually, you can't run old DOS programs in Windows. You can't even run 16-bit Windows apps (Windows 3.11) anymore. (You can run DOS Box, though, which will let you run the very old stuff, but DOS Box is not a Microsoft product.) – John Deters Feb 5 '15 at 1:15
  • 2
    @dudewad: IE is an old, awful browser. Whereas i.e. is the abbreviated form of the Latin phrase "id est", roughly meaning "that is". :-) You're welcome! – Lawrence Dol May 25 '17 at 2:38

One major commonly used application that still supports Scroll Lock is Microsoft Excel. This makes sense if you work in spreadsheets all day and are used to navigating with the keyboard arrow keys more efficiently than the mouse. They still use it. In fact, when you google excel scroll lock, the first thing on the list is Turn off Scroll Lock - Office Support wherein it explains why and how it is still used:

Turn off Scroll Lock

Usually, when a cell is selected in Microsoft Excel and you press the arrow keys, the selection moves between individual cells. However, if you press the arrow keys when Scroll Lock is on, you scroll one row or column at a time. Scroll Lock is a toggling lock key on the keyboard, just like the Caps Lock key. Once pressed, Scroll Lock is enabled. To use the arrow keys to move between cells, you must turn Scroll Lock off.

Wikipedia says:

Window scrolling

...

Today, this particular use of Scroll Lock is rare. Modern programs honoring this behavior include IBM Lotus Notes, Forté Agent, Image-Line FL Studio, Renoise, Microsoft Excel, and on occasions Microsoft Word.

Some text editors (such as Notepad++, Microsoft Visual Studio) exhibit similar behavior when the arrow keys are used with a Ctrl depressed.

...

My own Google searches are fruitless trying to find an explanation of what "on occasions" means.

The Wikipedia article also shows this question is not new. It quotes from the 1983 January edition of PC Magazine.

The article began with ...

PRODUCT REPORT / COREY SANDLER


An in depth look at a new PC-compatible keyboard
that for some users provides an appealing alternative
to the IBM original
.

Key Tronic's Soft Touch

... and ended with:

Oh, yes. About the "Scroll Lock" key on the IBM PC keyboard: Used with the Ctrl key, it is modified to server as a break when using a BASIC program. But by itself, IBM's "Guide to Operations" will only say it is an "inactive key."

"What is it for?" Key Tronic's expert was asked. "I don't know," Tidden answered. "But we put it on ours, too." /PC

  • 3
    +1 thanks for digging deeper into the ghosts of keyboards past. – msw Sep 22 '14 at 23:45
  • 1
    "I don't know," Tidden answered. "But we put it on ours, too." – awesome 😀 – Kai Noack Dec 11 at 22:30

To add a bit of history on the reason behind the scroll lock,quoting this article

The Scroll Lock key was meant to lock all scrolling techniques, and is a remnant from the original IBM PC keyboard, though it is not used by most modern-day software. In the original design, Scroll Lock was intended to modify the behavior of the arrow keys. When the Scroll Lock mode was on, the arrow keys would scroll the contents of a text window instead of moving the cursor. In this usage, Scroll Lock is a toggling lock key like Num Lock or Caps Lock, which have a state that persists after the key is released.

That said, as msw replied there are still reasons why the scroll lock is there as there are still softwares which use the scroll lock namely

Only a few modern programs still honor this behavior, such as Lotus Notes, Forté Agent, FL Studio, and Microsoft Excel.

That said, even though the need for the scroll lock has been depreciated, most keyboard manufacturers still prefer installing the scroll lock as it was part of the older system and they are not aware of what it does and install it to be on the safer side. To quote this wikipedia article

IBM PC documentation called Scroll Lock an "inactive key". When PC Magazine asked an executive of keyboard manufacturer Key Tronic about the key's purpose, he replied "I don't know, but we put it on ours, too"

  • 9
    Congrats, your post now forms the Google definition of the scroll lock key. See here! – angussidney Nov 12 '15 at 8:21

The fact that you have a key that is unused in any modern application (Excel excluded) and has a dedicated hardware indicator light, it is perfect for use with something like Autohotkey.

For example, you can remap it so that the Scroll Lock key acts as a modifier to set your keyboard to use a different set of characters. This thread has a script that gives you entire Greek alphabet, all with one simple toggle of the Scroll Lock key: https://autohotkey.com/board/topic/113278-send-unicode-letters/

Personally, I have extended the Greek alphabet option further so that I can use Scroll Lock to give me a series of mathematical and engineering symbols as well, using the number and symbol keys. And, because it all relies on the state of the Scroll Lock key, I can make use of every other modifier key too - with combinations of Shift (already used), Ctrl, Alt, the Windows key, that gives me maybe 16 layers? (Maybe more with AltGr). Something on the order of a thousand possible characters,* all without worry of conflicting with another app's shortcut keys? That's any and every symbol you want, and/or a bunch of other languages, all easily switchable (and with a convenient light to tell you if you're in "special characters" or "normal characters" mode).

*Letter, number, symbol, and function keys are available, and in theory you could even re-map the navigation keys too (arrow, pgup/dn, home, end, delete, backspace, etc), or get really exotic and start using mouse keys/wheel...

  • 1
    While basically off-topic, this suggested method for leveraging the ScrollLock key is very insightful and great a UX concept. – zanlok Feb 24 '17 at 21:33

Computer companies (Microsoft in particular) strive to be backward compatible. In addition to there being some software that still uses scroll lock (Excel has been mentioned in other responses), there is hardware that depends on scroll lock too. For example, many KVM switches use it as a hot key to switch to another machine.

  • This is not an answer, it should instead be a comment. – cybermonkey Mar 12 '15 at 18:19
  • 3
    "Backward compatibility" seems a perfectly sensible - and obvious - answer to me. In point of fact, the Scroll_Lock is perfectly accessible in Linux/X (keycode 78 keysym 0xff14), and like any other key can be mapped to whatever the user chooses. It's rather like the later "Windows" keys that have no standard use outside that OS, but can be redefined by each user. – jamesqf Mar 12 '15 at 19:12
  • 6
    @ʎǝʞuoɯɹǝqʎɔ I was originally going to post it as a comment, but then I thought that someone would complain about using comments for answers. But how is the keys utility for KVM switches any less of answer than the answer talking about how it's still used in Excel? – jamesdlin Mar 12 '15 at 21:35

In addition to legacy applications, some more recent applications use this key as a key that is unlikely to conflict with other applications.

For instance, the XFire social gaming program has a chat overlay that be shown during full screen games. Games tend to have a lot of special key bindings, so XFire chose to use Scroll Lock + X as the hotkey to load the chat overlay because it was unlikely to conflict with other key bindings.

While this is not a reason for keyboard manufacturers to continue including a Scroll Lock key, it shows that some developers still find use for it.

  • Disclaimer: I haven't used XFire in years, they may well have changed their default hotkey for this. – DLeh Feb 4 '15 at 20:55

Pressing the Scroll Lock key in the Linux console while text is scrolling through the screen freezes the console output (but not input) during which no further text is printed on the screen, but the program keeps on running as usual. When Scroll Lock is pressed again the screen is unfrozen and all text generated during the freeze is printed at once. This allows the user to pause the display and read long messages that scroll through the screen too quickly to read, for example when the system is booting up.

  • OK, so some very niche systems have a use for that key. But - as the question asked - is this the reason that key still exists on keyboards? – JonW Aug 17 '16 at 7:27
  • 1
    What JonW said (and also in the comment to user69530's answer); this sounds like using an existing key because it exists and has no other significant use, as opposed to the reason why that key exists in the first place. – a CVn Aug 17 '16 at 13:10

Scroll lock is still commonly used with KVM switches. It's a handy key to switch between devices.

  • 1
    Welcome. Could you elaborate? For instance some might not know what a KVM switch is. – Mayo Aug 4 '15 at 14:19
  • 3
    Also - why Scroll Lock? It doesn't sound like this action has anything to do with locking the scroll. It sounds more like they used the Scroll Lock key for this feature because that keyboard key doesn't have another useful use. That's not really a reason to keep it around. – JonW Aug 4 '15 at 14:35
  • @JonW Agreed. It looks to me like the Scroll Lock key is used in this instance as it is almost guaranteed that this key will not be in use, which is what the accepted answer actually says. If so, this answer adds absolutely nothing. – cybermonkey Aug 4 '15 at 16:20
  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. – Devin Aug 4 '15 at 16:21
  • @Devin This is an answer. It may be a poor answer, but it is still an answer and as a result, your NAA flag (if you raised it) will very likely be declined. – cybermonkey Aug 4 '15 at 16:22

I've used PCs since the 1990's and never used the Scroll Lock key. I didn't know what it was for. Until the mild trouble in my right shoulder and neck, from 20 years of mousing, became so bad I had to get relief. I ended up with a keyboard that has a touch pad. The touch pad has a scroll bar on the right side that attempts to take the place of the wheel. When I try to use the scroll on the touch pad, I get a sharp pain in the right side of my back.

There are many people like me who consider the scroll lock to be very useful.

  • 1
    Welcome to the site, @Julia! Can you provide a bit more context about how the Scroll Lock is used? Your post explains why the mouse and the touch pad don't work, but I'm not understanding how the Scroll Lock does work. – Graham Herrli Aug 11 '15 at 22:39

protected by Community May 19 '17 at 12:41

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.