Why is F3 Not Working on Mac?

If you are a Mac user, you know the utility of the function keys. With a single button you can perform a global action, like changing the volume or brightness. Of particular use on a Mac is the F3 button, known as “Mission Control,” which reveals all the open windows. But what happens when the F3 button unexpectedly stops working on a Mac? Read on to find out more about some common fixes for this problem, from resetting keyboard preferences to the “kill all dock” command.

What To Do If Your F3 key Is Not Working?

If F3 does not take you to “Mission Control,” there are several possible ways to fix the problem.

  1. Restart the computer
  2. Use “System Preferences” to change your keyboard settings
  3. Use “System Preferences” to change your modifier keys
  4. Reset the SMC for your computer
  5. Reset the NVRAM for your computer
  6. Use a terminal program to run the command “Killall dock”

1. Restart the computer

As anyone who has ever served as a tech assistant knows, the first and last solution to any problem is to restart the computer. Sometimes, when a system error has occurred or an update is pending, a simple restart will solve the problem. To restart your Mac, click the Apple icon on the top left and choose “Restart.”

2. Use “System Preferences” to change your keyboard settings

If restarting doesn’t work, you may need to change your keyboard settings. To do this, click on the Apple icon and choose “System Preferences.” From among the different options or icons available in System Preferences, choose “Keyboard.”

In the dialog window that appears, look for the sentence “Use F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys….” Next to it is a box that may be checked or unchecked. Try checking (or unchecking) this box and then exiting the window.

If “Use F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys….” is enabled (box is checked), you should be able to use the standard F3 function by pressing that key, or by pressing the “fn” button at the bottom of your keyboard along with F3.

3. Use “System Preferences” to change your modifier keys

There is another way to use “System Preferences” to fix your F3 key. Click the Apple icon, choose “System Preferences,” find the option/icon for “Keyboard,” and in the resulting dialog window look for a button labeled “Modifier Keys.”

Pressing this button should open a new dialog window that lists the assigned function of some of the keyboard keys. Check to see if your “fn” key is currently assigned to another function by clicking on the dropdown list. From the list, choose “fn function” or click on the button labeled “Restore defaults.”

4. Reset the SMC for your computer

If these typical fixes using System Preferences and Keyboard Settings don’t work, there are several other options you can try.

The SMC, or “system management controller,” handles all kinds of system functions from thermal controls and battery charging to sleep/wake and keyboard controls. To reset your computer’s SMC, the process differs slightly depending on what type of Mac you use. Some Macs have a different type of internal chip that handles secure operations (those that involve touch sensors—like keyboards—or passwords).

For a Mac that has a new M1 chip there is no SMC, so a simple restart should work. For computers with a T2 chip, like Macbook Pro or Macbook Air, press and hold the right Shift key, the left Option key, and the left Control key for at least seven seconds, then also press the power button and hold for at least seven seconds to restart the computer. For an older computer with a T1 chip, press and hold the Shift, Option, and Control keys on the left side, then press the power button and hold all of these keys down for ten seconds as the computer starts up. Resetting the SMC may restore your F3 key.

5. Reset the NVRAM on your computer

NVRAM is a section of your computer’s memory that stores a few important pieces of information about how the computer works, including details about things like the startup disk and screen resolution. Resetting it may help restore your keyboard function. To reset NVRAM, shut down your computer and when restarting, hold down the Command, Option, P, and R keys. Continue to hold these keys for at least twenty seconds. On an older MAC that chimes at startup, you should hear a second chime before you release the keys and allow it to boot normally. This fix may solve your F3 problem.

6. Use a terminal program to run the command “killall dock”

If your F3 key still isn’t working, you can try opening a terminal program and entering the command, “dillall dock.” This command restarts the computer’s “dock” of applications at the bottom of the screen, restoring them to the default configurations. Those docked applications typically include the “Mission Control” app tied to the F3 key, so restarting the dock may restore its function.

What is a function key?

Like PCs, most Macintosh computers have a row of keys labeled F1 to F12 across the top of the keyboard. Unlike most PCs, a Mac’s F1 to F12 keys are linked to a particular action, like increasing or decreasing volume or brightness. Some Mac laptops now have a small touch strip in this area instead. To reveal the standard function keys, you can still press the “fn” button at the bottom of the Mac keyboard.

What is the F3 key on a Mac?

Typically, the F3 key on a Mac performs a kind of “Zoom out” from whatever application you are currently using, revealing all the apps that are currently in use. This function, called “Mission Control” because it returns you to the center of all your current operations, may also appear as a rocket icon on the dock of apps at the bottom of your screen.

Steven Carr

Steven is a certified IT professional and gaming enthusiast. He has been working in the tech industry for over 10 years, and specializes in all things Tech-related. When he's not geeking out over the latest hardware or software release, he can be found testing out the latest video game.

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