Computing: What is the Scroll Lock Key?


The scroll lock key is a toggle button that quietly resides in the upper right hand side of your keyboard. Most computer users these days don’t even realize it’s there and if they do, they have no idea what its function is. A toggle button is one that can be turned on and off to give the button dual functions, and in the case of the scroll lock key, in modern computing there doesn’t seem to be much of a singular purpose, never mind a dual one, with rare exceptions.

It wasn’t always this way, in days past the scroll lock button was a very useful button that was heavily relied upon. In older days of computing, this key helped a user scroll through a document or navigate within an application; this was especially useful for programmers who were working in lengthy pieces of code. 

Today the scroll lock key has been forced into somewhat of a retirement because most PC keyboards have not only one, but two sets of arrow keys that perform the same function, eliminating the scroll lock key’s purpose. The wheel on the mouse has also helped relieve the scroll key of its duties and, for the average user, this has essentially replaced the scroll lock function for the most part.

The scroll lock key does still serve a purpose because some software applications, such as Microsoft Excel (and other similar spreadsheet programs created by other vendors), do support its functions. It’s useful in spreadsheet programs because the user can turn the scroll key on and keep a cell active and “serves as a form of a placeholder”, while scrolling through the rest of the spreadsheet with the arrows or mouse wheel. This is very handy for keeping a specific cell active and makes it easy to return to after other information is accessed in another area of the spreadsheet.

The scroll lock key is initiated by pushing the “Scroll Lock” key on the keyboard, and when pushed, it will go to the “on” position and the green light next to the “Num Lock” and “Caps Lock” button will light up; to turn it off, simply touch the “Scroll Lock” key and you’ll see the green light go off.

The scroll lock key is seldom today since monitors are larger and display much more text. However, there may be those rare moments you might be working within a program application that supports the scroll lock function and you’ll find the need to use it. In that case, you’ll find it still quietly residing in the corner of your keyboard.

Photo credit: Idly3 found on Wikimedia Commons (slightly adapted to highlight scroll lock key)

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