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?

  • 5
    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
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 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.
    – AStopher
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 20:50
  • 27
    The scroll lock key exists so that I can remap it to another keyboard macro :-)
    – tohster
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 18:38
  • 12
    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
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 16:37
  • 1
    The fact that manufacturing processes are expensive to set up does not explain why these keys are on keyboards that were designed in the last few years.
    – Carl Smith
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 13:02

7 Answers 7


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.

  • 7
    True, however most modern machines don't include floppy drives anymore.
    – AStopher
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 17:45
  • 7
    I don't recall the last time I saw a floppy drive on a machine.
    – DA01
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 6:27
  • 2
    @zyboxenterprises you can however still get external ones. Serial to USB converter and you're good to go...
    – jwenting
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 8:41
  • 22
    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.) Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 1:15
  • 4
    @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! Commented May 25, 2017 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 ...


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

  • 4
    "I don't know," Tidden answered. "But we put it on ours, too." – awesome 😀
    – Avatar
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 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 deprecated, most keyboard manufacturers still install 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".

  • 10
    Congrats, your post now forms the Google definition of the scroll lock key. See here! Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 8:21
  • Deprecated, not depreciated. Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 1:56

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
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 21:33
  • I recommend you to use this script instead for Unicode characters.
    – Ooker
    Commented Jan 21, 2019 at 12:08

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.
    – AStopher
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 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
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 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
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 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
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 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
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 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.
    – user
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 13:10

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