The escape key; just a vim need?

chiangs profile image Stephen E. Chiang ・1 min read

Lately I've been thinking about how I rarely use the esc key and now the new Mac has brought back physical escape keys due to previous criticisms...And I'm wondering...who besides vim users needs that escape key so frequently?

So please tell me, what are you using that escape key for?


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Esc is really important for keyboard-only navigation of the internet, as well as some desktop apps.

Hitting Esc when you have an input, button, link, or similar element focused on a web page will defocus that item and reset the tab index. You can easily try this here on DEV, click in the search box at the top, then hit Esc and the search box will lose focus (and if you hit tab, it will (usually) focus something other than the search box). This is important because it lets someone who is interacting with the web page with only the keyboard reset the tab index quickly and efficiently. This is where most of the criticism for the Mac came from, as they're generally otherwise one of the most accessibility friendly platforms out there.

In addition to this, a lot of video games use Esc, often to pause the game, bring up a menu of some sort, drop out of a text chat input (in much the same way that web pages handle it), or sometimes some combination of those.


In Emacs ESC can be used as Meta key instead of ALT. One advantage of ESC in this scenario: You don't need to press the keys simultaneous, you press them one after another. This is nice solution when you have a non-English (e.g. German) keyboard layout and you need to press e.g. Meta+[ because on a German keyboard [ is in fact ALT GR+8 which might lead to a knot in your fingers.


I use it frequenty. In videogames it's common using Esc, also comes to my mind situations where Enter don't send or close the text input, like notes in a pdf, and I use Esc to exit


People that use extended character-sets (e.g., UTF) – but don't have an international keyboard – or meta-characters need escape keys (especially if their keyboard lacks a number-pad).


Or people who have accessibility requirements and have difficulty pressing chorded key combinations.


I'm using in Intellij Idea to close a tool windows (shift + esc). Also sometimes to close (popup or sth)


Even on a Mac, the shortcut for force-quit needs the escape key...