What’s the Difference Between the “Enter” and “Return” Keys?


A Mac keyboard's "Return" key with a red question mark in front of it.

On a Mac prolonged keyboard, there’s a “Return” and an “Enter” key. On most PC keyboards, there are two “Enter” keys, however some say “Return” as a substitute. What’s occurring right here? We have a look at the historical past behind the keys.

The Historic Distinction Between Enter and Return

To know the distinction between Return and Enter, we’ll want to return to their origins.

The Return key comes from typewriters. On an electrical typewriter (such because the IBM Selectric collection), urgent the Return key executes a “carriage return,” which strikes the carriage (the curler meeting holding the paper you’re typing on) again to the beginning of a line. It additionally rotates the curler so the paper advances down a line or two on the identical time (known as a “line feed”). It’s how you start typing on a brand new line.

The "Return" key on an IBM Selectric typewriter.
The Return key on an IBM Selectric typewriter. IBM

The Enter key originates from early video display screen laptop terminals, when the necessity arose to differentiate between including a carriage return inside a type subject and submitting the data itself. “Enter” on this case means to ship information into the pc after typing a price. Enter additionally derives considerably from laptop numeric keypads, which come from a lineage of including machines and information entry units. On this context, it’s usually used as an equal to the equal signal (“=”) or Total key on an including machine, which retains a operating complete of values entered.

RELATED: The place Did the Numeric Keypads on PC Keyboards Come From?

Mac and PC Do Issues Otherwise

On a regular Home windows PC keyboard with a numeric keypad, you’ll discover two Enter keys: One simply above the precise Shift key, and one within the far lower-right nook of the keyboard as a part of the numeric keypad. This design emerged on the PC platform with the 101-key “Mannequin M” keyboard again in 1984.

On a Home windows PC, each of those keys return the identical inner ID code (“13” for Carriage Return), which signifies that most applications don’t differentiate between them. Internally, nevertheless, they return different location codes, which suggests a correctly coded program can inform the distinction if it desires to.

Some Microsoft Office apps and a variety of Adobe apps deal with the 2 Enter keys in a different way relying on context. Normally, the Enter in the principle part of the keyboard sends a Carriage Return (new line), and the Enter on the numeric keypad is used for submitting information in an entry, just like clicking an “OK” button. However that may simply change primarily based on the software program context.

On a Mac, you’ll see a Return key in the principle alphanumeric part of the keyboard and an Enter key within the numeric keypad part of prolonged keyboards. This association first appeared on the Apple Lisa keyboard in 1983 and carried over to the Mac Numeric Keypad in 1984 and the Mac Plus extended keyboard in 1986.

The "Return" and "Enter" keys on a Mac keyboard.

On a Mac, the Return and Enter keys have two completely different ASCII codes (36 and 76), and as with the PC, many apps contemplate them the identical key, however some apps deal with them in a different way. In case your keyboard doesn’t have a numeric keypad, the Return key may also say “Enter” on it. To make your Return key act like Enter, press Fn+Return.

So we’re left with an unsatisfying conclusion. Enter and Return are non-identical twins of one another, every with completely different capabilities primarily based on completely different contexts. They’re two completely different keys, and but they usually do the identical factor. In the end, their worth comes from their completely different areas on the keyboard—though, if you concentrate on it, when has the usual keyboard structure ever actually made sense?

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