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How to have your Touch Bar and an Esc key on the new MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro
MacBook Pro

The Touch Bar is a touch-based OLED panel that sits at the top of the latest model MacBook Pro and gives us access to system settings, as well as app tools. It replaces the row of function keys, as well as the escape key.

Instead, the escape key sits to the far left of the Touch Bar, basically where it is on a physical keyboard, but it isn't always there. When performing certain activities in some apps, the escape key is hidden. You can access it simply by clicking on your desktop screen. The escape key will reappear, along with the Control Strip and primary system controls.

You probably won't miss having a physical escape key, but if you have a strong desire to press a key instead of tapping the leftmost corner of the Touch Bar panel, or worse, having to perform two steps in order to use the escape key (click on the desktop, then tap escape), there is a solution. You can reassign the caps lock key to be used as the escape key.

How to remap the caps lock key to use as the escape key

  1. Click on the Apple menu icon in the upper left corner of the screen.
  2. Select System Preferences from the drop down menu.

Click the Apple menu, then select system preferences

  1. Click on Keyboard.
  2. Click on Modifier Keys.

Click on Keyboard, then click on Modifier Keys

  1. Click Select keyboard if you have another keyboard paired with your Mac laptop.
  2. Select the built-in keyboard (there is no reason to remap the escape key on another keyboard since it isn't going away).
  3. Click on the drop down menu next to Caps Lock.
  4. Select Escape.

Select the built-in keyboard, and then select Escape from the Caps Lock drop down menu

The caps lock key will now function as an escape key. Frankly, I use the escape key way more often than I use the caps lock key, so this is no loss for me.

Any questions?

Do you have any questions about how escape works on the Touch Bar or how to remap the escape key to the caps lock key? Let me know in the comments and I'll help you out.

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).

11 Comments
  • Meh. CAPS is way to near the Shift to serve as a proper replacement to Esc. In that case I would use Karabiner and remap the §± key to Esc.
  • Please note that Karabiner does not work with Sierra yet.
  • Then isn't the Enter key too close to the righthand Shift key? How do you cope with this equivalent proximity problem? By being right-handed?
  • I've never needed to use Esc except in games. ⌘+Q to quit applications. Terminal applications are usually Ctrl+C. Not really sure what actually uses Esc anymore
  • I use Esc as a single-key way of closing dialogue boxes, pop-ups etc. all the time. And as a copywriter, I also use caps lock regularly.
  • Ah I didn't realize Esc closes dialog boxes, that's a fair point, that one could be a problem for people
  • So I guess no one here uses vi or vim? Uhhg, this keyboard is going to take some getting used to.
  • Yup I do, and I'm not sure if MacVim will put the code in to put an escape key on the Touch Bar, and who knows what will happen with terminal vim. Although I did see I think it was Craig at the announcement show it was possible to get the function keys/escape key back, so it could be possible to have our escape key when we need it.
  • I believe the Esc key shows if you're not using an application that supports the Touch Bar, like a default display that the Touch Bar has if it's not being used, so most likely if you're using the terminal/MacVim it will display it
  • There's an article by Lory Gill titled "How to have your Touch Bar and an Esc key on the new MacBook Pro" on iMore. It's a terrific read. I recommend it.
  • I've remapped the Plutonian Esc key to the Jovian Caps Lock key on all my computers for many years. It has made sense logically to do this since at least the beginning of the personal computer era. I seem to recall it took me about 20 minutes of dedicated practice to become fully accustomed to toggling into vi command mode by moving my pinky finger leftward a smidgen and whacking the largest key on the Western side of home row.