Why is Alt+D the keyboard shortcut for putting focus on the address bar?

The keyboard shortcut for putting focus on the address bar in Explorer and Internet Explorer (and Edge and the version of Internet Explorer that came with Windows 8 that nobody talks about even though I really liked it) is Alt+D.

Why the letter D?

Okay, the proximate reason is that there used to be the word "Address" next to the address bar, so you knew what that thing was. And the keyboard shortcut for that was "Address", or Alt+D. You can still see the accelerator highlighted on the right hand side of this ancient screen shot.

Over time, the label "Address" disappeared, but the accelerator remained as an accommodation for years of muscle memory.

Okay, but why was it "Address" instead of "Address"?

Because the accelerator Alt+A was already taken by the "Favorites" menu.

But why was it "Favorites" instead of "Favorites"?

Because the accelerator Alt+F was already taken by the "File" menu.

It's a really nerdy chain reaction.

Comments (34)
  1. skSdnW says:

    The Alt+D shortcut got a lot of criticism because it took MS so long to also adopt the Ctrl+L shortcut that everyone else used.

    I also like the Metro IE browser on a small tablet. The 8.0 version had a hopeless tab limit and tabs on top but both of those issues were fixed in 8.1. On a small 7″ or 8″ tablet it is still the best browser IMHO. It still has some nasty bugs but overall it is very pleasant to use for simple surfing on the couch.

    1. Antonio Rodríguez says:

      Netscape 4, from 1997, already supported Alt+D as the address bar accelerator. I know because when I entered the Internet in July 1997, I made a custom start page (which I have updated through the years and I still use) with links to my favorite sites and a text like “If you want to go somewhere else, Press Atl+D and type its address”. Hey, it was the era of 14Kbps modems, web directories and web rings, before search engines were as powerful as they are now. You had to pay for every minute of (sloooooow) Internet access, so a custom start page helped a lot.

    2. Nico says:

      I like ALT+D because you can hit it with one hand pretty easily. CTRL+L requires two hands plus a pinky and F4 doesn’t work in Firefox or Chrome. I even tend to use ALT+D then TAB to get into the browser search bar, even though CTRL+E does the same thing.

      As far as keyboard accelerators (do people still use that term?), I think Visual Studio’s introduction of chords was genius. I like how similar actions are grouped behind the same first note (like CTRL+E for text edit stuff). It’s not a good fit for everything but is great for something massive like VS.

      1. Antonio Rodríguez says:

        Really useful keyboard accelerators are those that can be typed just by the left hand (i.e., a modifier or two plus a letter of the left half): you can type them without lifting your right hand from the mouse. But, of course, left-handed people may not agree with me…

      2. GregM says:

        > As far as keyboard accelerators (do people still use that term?), I think Visual Studio’s introduction of chords was genius.

        Yeah, I’ve been using them in Emacs since 1991. (That’s when I started using Emacs, I’m sure it had them long before that.)

    3. cheong00 says:

      Btw, I don’t know Ctrl-L until now. I always thought the shortcut for address bar is Alt-D. As Antonio mentioned it works since the earliest days of internet.

      Also, I remember the introduction of Ctrl-R instead of F5 and Ctrl-F5 confuses a lot of people. Because everyone at that time know F5 is page reload and Ctrl-F5 reload with cache purged. I had more than one user asked me “What if I simply want to reload the page? Do I just press “R” instead?”

  2. Chris B says:

    I never knew you could use Alt+D (or Ctrl+L) – I’ve always used F6.

    1. Don Reba says:

      I didn’t know you could Ctrl+L or F6…

    2. Piotr says:

      F4 here… why so many shortcuts?

      1. RP says:

        Alt-D because it’s the original IE shortcut. Ctrl-L for cross-browser compat.
        F6 because it is a standard Windows shortcut for moving between panes in an Explorer-like window. It works but may not always activate the address bar unless pressed multiple times (e.g. if you have the history pane open, F6 may activate the main pane before moving to the address bar, and if the address bar is already active it will deactivate it, which the other shortcuts won’t).
        F4 is a Windows shortcut for “Selects the Go To A Different Folder box and moves down the entries in the box (if the toolbar is active in Windows Explorer)”.

        In Firefox and Chrome, Alt-D, Ctrl-L, F6 all work, but F4 doesn’t. In Edge all of them work.

        1. 640k says:

          In Chrome it’s Alt+F4

        2. F4 is the shortcut for dropping down a combo box, Since the address bar in IE and Explorer looks like a combo box, it makes sense that F4 would open the dropdown when that control has the focus. The team must’ve added the “set the focus to the address bar too” behavior themselves.

          1. skSdnW says:

            F4 _might_ be a shortcut to drop down a combobox but not if the combobox is in extended UI mode.

  3. SimonRev says:

    I have to agree, I loved the Windows 8.1 Metro version of IE for tablet use — much better than Edge on a tablet today. Of course it was worthless in desktop mode, but worked quite nicely on my 8 inch tablet.

  4. Nick says:

    “Modern”/”Metro”/”Store App” IE was the best IE. I miss it as well.

    1. pmbAustin says:

      Agreed. The Metro IE on Windows 8.1, when used on a touch tablet like the Surface/SurfacePro was amazing. Great UI.

      EDGE just doesn’t cut it from a UI standpoint. It’s missing vital things from IE (like MRU tab-switching order with Ctrl-T), and the favorites handling is a messy joke.

      Metro IE on 8.1 set a high UI bar that frankly no other browser has come close to.

  5. Tobias Langer says:

    And why is the Alt-button called Alt?`Who came up with that?

    1. Steven Don says:

      From Wikipedia, the first sentence: “The Alt key […] on a computer keyboard is used to change (alternate) the function of other pressed keys.”

    2. Al go says:

      Do you have a proposed alternate name?

  6. Leonardo Herrera says:

    I did know this. How cool I am.

  7. JW says:

    Do you per chance know the story behind the change of the Windows-wide shortcut for search functionality?

    Win+F on Windows 7 brings up the search dialog.
    Win+F on Windows 10 brings up that useless Feedback hub.
    Win+S on Windows 10 brings up the search stuck in the start menu…

    I switch a lot between these two OSes and this simple change in shortcuts keeps annoying me immensely.

  8. creaothceann says:

    Alt+D didn’t work on German systems, because that was the “Datei” (file) menu.

  9. tj says:

    I thought there was once a Microsoft development guideline that said the keyboard accelerator should be the first consonant in the word that wasn’t already used by any other accelerator, and only if there is no unused consonant then you could use the first available vowel… In which case Address was correct to use Alt-D (and Favorites should have been Alt-V)

    1. From what I can tell, the official guidelines were (1) first letter, (2) a distinctive consonant, (3) vowel.

    2. Louis W says:

      Alt+V already stands for “&View”. By your rule Favorites would need R. But then Edit should have D pushing Address all the way to S!

      1. Edit gets “E” because the “first letter” rule comes before the “prefer consonants” rule.

    3. Steven Don says:

      Then surely Alt-V belonged to the “View” menu?

  10. Myria says:

    That last part is similar to the nerd legend that the UNIX command “dd” got its name from “convert and copy”, but “cc” was already taken by the C compiler. It isn’t true, but you can see where that rumor came from.

    1. Karellen says:

      Reminds me of the legends that IBM and HAL (from 2001) are also not-coincidentally related in a similar way, except for the fact that IBM came first by about 45 years, so HAL should be JCN because why go backwards?

      Plus, VMS and W(indows)NT, because Dave Cutler.

      The truth is out there, people! :-)

  11. Neil says:

    I’ve had to wrangle access keys for a context menu with a large number of items. Although in some cases it was possible to assign duplicate keys (e.g. “Cut” and “Open Link in New Tab” could never appear at the same time, so they could both have “T” assigned to them) there were still enough combinations to make assigning the keys a headache, and I think at one point I had to throw in the towel and remove an item in a case where it wasn’t contextual enough (i.e. there was a more important item that needed the same access key).

  12. DWalker07 says:

    While we are on the topic of “random things about shortcut keys”, I wish it was easier to turn off keyboard shortcuts.

    Keyboard shortcuts that I rarely use should be turn-off-able. I have the bad habit (which I am trying to break) of pressing the CTRL key with my left palm. Then some letter that I type brings up some weird random menu that I would never use, or use once in a million years — and if I really wanted the “once in a million years” feature, I can use the mouse and find it from the menus.

    Yes, different users (or power users) have different needs. My need is to turn off 90% of the keyboard shortcuts, across Office, Visual Studio, SQL Server Management Studio, all browsers, and all other programs that I use. :-)

    1. DWalker07 says:

      Oh — and accidentally touching or looking at the Esc key will throw you out of a window in some programs (Skype for Business) without confirmation.

  13. Ben Hutchings says:

    You could have saved so much trouble by calling them Bookmarks instead of Favorites. It avoids the conflict for accelerators, and the British/American spelling divide.

  14. Neto says:

    This is really cool. I didn’t even use a shortcut, I used to move the cursor to the address bar. I feel so cool right now.

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