How to tab between dialogue box buttons on Mac

Preferences Keyboard All Controls Tab

The tabbing experience on Mac might feel a little gimped if you’re coming from a Windows machine. That’s because, by default, macOS makes it so that the option to move keyboard focus between all controls with the Tab key is disabled.

Instead, tabbing is only possible between text boxes and lists using the default setting. In this tutorial, I’ll show you two quick and easy ways to change this setting and enable a much-improved tabbing experience on your Mac.

The main reason why you’d want to enable this feature is to make navigating your Mac easier. Using the keyboard usually offers a faster way to get things done and being able to switch between buttons using the Tab key just makes sense.

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How to change keyboard focus on a Mac running Mojave or earlier

1) Open System Preferences → Keyboard

2) Click the Shortcuts tab

3) Click the “All controls” radio button

Alternatively, you can use a simple keyboard shortcut—Control (⌃)+F7—to enable All controls to change keyboard focus when tabbing.

How to tab and move between buttons on a Mac running Catalina or later

MacOS 10.15 Catalina makes a change to the way this feature is accessed. If you’re running macOS 10.15 or later, follow these instructions instead.

1) Open System Preferences → Keyboard

2) Click the Shortcuts tab.

3) Check “Use keyboard navigation to move focus between controls.”

Please watch the video above as I demonstrate the difference between these two modes. It’s hard to explain why this option is so desirable without seeing the differences in action, but in a nutshell, it makes it possible to access buttons using the Tab key that you couldn’t before. I certainly recommend using the all controls setting, as it’s one of the first things that I do when setting up a new Mac.

Do you use this option on your Mac? Sound off with your thoughts and opinions down below.