- Alternate codes: what are they and why are they needed?
- History of alt codes
- Popular alternative codes
- Alternative codes without numpad on keyboard
The standard keyboard contains hundreds of keys and not infrequently used special characters. Alt codes allow you to bypass the limitation in Windows. Today we will talk about what are keyboard alt codes and. It’s appearance and development, list popular combinations, discuss possible alternatives to Windows and other operating systems.
Alternate Codes: what are they and why are they need?
The alt code is a combination of the “Alt + X” format; where Alt is actually the Alt key and X is a number or sequence of numbers, such as 255 or 0160. Hold down Alt, type a number on the numpad (must be on), release Alt and get the desired character. For example, Alt+157 in the English layout gives us the sign of the Japanese currency, the yen.
Alt codes are useful for:
- Enter a character that is not on the keyboard: degrees, euros, etc.
- Enter a letter from another alphabet (Georgian, Armenian, Greek…).
- Enter a nonbreaking space and any other characters required for the layout. Among other things, the unbreakable space connects the preposition and the word to the right of it, so that if something happens, they move to the next line together. As a result, when viewing text on any device, the preposition does not stick to the previous line and does not spoil the overall appearance.
- Again, don’t jump between layouts. You do not have to think about the place of punctuation marks in Russian and English layouts. Suppose you are used to working in Russian, but you switch to English to write a few words and a few punctuation marks. It is not at all necessary to return to the Russian layout to throw a comma or search frantically for it in the English layout. Use the Alt code and print more.
And one more thing – if a key on the keyboard is broken, the Alt code with the required letter is kept for one or two nights. Then you have to go to the store for the keyboard, because entering letters via Alt codes is not very convenient.
History of Alt Codes
Alt codes date back to the 1980s, the first mass-produced personal computers. Then the IBM PC with MS-DOS came on the market. They worked with text data like this: English (Latin) letters, punctuation marks, numbers, etc. Common characters, such as 0 to 255, correspond to numeric codes in the ASCII table.
The ASCII standard was developed in the US and was not suitable for computers in many other countries. IBM then introduced code pages that increased the character stock by taking a particular language into account. Such code pages also consisted of 256 characters, and the first half from 0 to 127 corresponded to the first half of the ASCII table, and the second was national, “localized”. In DOS, you had to hold down the Alt key and type the appropriate code to “call” an extra character. For the United States, the code page is called CP437 (CP is the code page, from the English “code page”), for Western European languages – CP850, for the Russian alphabet – CP866, etc.
Alt codes in DOS proved very popular. So much so that Microsoft kept them when they moved to Windows in the 90s. However, they used other code pages known as Windows code pages or ANSI tables (ANSI is a standard that evolved from ASCII). Page CP-1251 was for Cyrillic, CP-1253 for Greek, 1256 for Arabic… You got your character by typing a combination like Alt + X. However, there was a caveat: while the old codes worked, the new zeros appeared code pages. You can now insert a cent sign by typing Alt + 155 (from CP437) or Alt + 0162 (from CP-1252, table for English and some Western European languages).
With the advent of the Unicode standard on Windows, the need for code pages disappeare. Alt codes, however, remain a tribute to the past.
Popular Alt Codes
I’ve gathered some useful alternative code that will be useful for design and just writing. It all depends on the order of Russia. If “English” is specified in parentheses, that Alt code is only suitable for English layout.
Alternate codes only work on Windows. Entering it on GNU/Linux and macOS will not work.
However, alternative methods for entering special characters are available for other operating systems. Let’s take GNU/Linux as an example.
Using the Ctrl + Shift + U combination, release the keys, enter the Unicode character code and press Enter; you will see the desired special character. Let’s say the code is 00A9, -2122 for 2122. Make sure to switch to the English keyboard before logging in.
Also, the English layout on GNU/Linux requires input using the Compose key. For example, to assign a new key in Linux Mint, go to Settings → Keyboard → Appearance → then specify which button you want to use as the new key. It is conveniently located in the lower right corner. After that, click “Create” and enter the drawing code. For this O is C. So the exact combination looks like “Alt, O, C”. However, the number combination is “Lower, O, O”. You can find a list of basic codes for the Compose key on Wikipedia.
One way to expand the character set on the lazy keyboard without resorting to fallback codes is to install the layout from Ilya Birman, a well-known designer from Chelyabinsk. It is suitable for Windows 10 and macOS. Codes are entered by pressing the Alt key to the right. Some codes require you to hold down the Alt and Shift keys to the right. The advantage of the design is that the combinations are immediately and intuitively remembered, say “Alt + <” gives the opening quote in “herringbone” and “Alt +>” – the lock.
If you don’t fancy the routine handling of editing text on the site, take a closer look at Art.Lebedev Studio’s Typographer tool. The program replaces a hyphen with a hyphen, inserts a nonbreaking space, adds Christmas tree quotes, removes extra spaces. You can “write” text directly in the browser via “Typograph”.
Alt Codes without Numpad on Keyboard
What to do with Alt codes if there is no numpad on the keyboard? The on-screen keyboard helps you with that.
To enable it, go to the “Toggle On-Screen Keyboard” menu in the search bar and move the slider to the “On” position. See “Using the On-Screen Keyboard”. Or call it with the Win + Ctrl + O command. Go to the “Options” section of the keyboard and check the “Enable the Numeric Keypad” box, then click “Num Lock”. Enable Caps Lock on a real keyboard, press Alt again on a real keyboard, and enter the desired code on the numeric keypad.
However, in Windows you can do without the alternate codes. Find “Character Chart” by “Search”, open this app, select the desired character and copy it. It offers many web services that are almost the same.
Alternative codes solve the problem of missing characters on the keyboard. If they’re not fancy, they’re reliable, so Microsoft won’t let them down in Windows. Of course it’s not the 80’s and there is an alternative, but many people use familiar old-fashioned combinations. Alternative codes are unlikely to become history in the foreseeable future.