Num Lock: What It Is and How It Works

How to find and use the number lock key

Most keyboards have a number-lock feature, including keyboards with designated numeric keys above the letter keys. Even compact laptop keyboards have a Num Lock key. The key's name may vary from Num Lock to NumLock or NumLK, or something similar, but the functionality remains the same.

Here's a look at how the Num Lock key works, how to find it and turn it on, and how to use it.

While keyboards differ according to manufacturer and model, the information here should apply to most laptops and desktop PCs. We'll also explain why Macs don't have a Num Lock key, but do offer some accessibility functionality via the numeric keypad.

What Does Num Lock Do?

A number-lock key replaces the functions of certain keys on the keyboard with a numeric keypad. Some computers automatically turn on number lock during startup, but you'll have to enable the feature manually on most compact keyboards.

This often-ignored feature can be helpful in several situations. For example, some people find it easier to type long sequences of numbers using a keypad, such as those found on phones and calculators. Also, you'll need to activate Num Lock sometimes to type special characters like curly quotes.

Where Is the Num Lock Key?

Traditional keyboards for desktop computers have a keypad on the right side in addition to the horizontal row of number keys above the letter keys. This is called the numeric keypad. The Num Lock key is usually located in the upper-left corner of the keypad.

If you're using a laptop with a numeric keypad, the Num Lock key will be in the same place as a desktop keyboard. Compact laptop keyboards, however, don't have a numeric keypad, so number-lock functionality usually shares a key with another key, such as the Scroll Lock key, near the Backspace key.

If a key has two functions, the alternate function might be labeled in a different color. Hold down the Fn (function) key and press Num Lock to activate it. On some keyboards, there's a designated key just for number lock, but you still must hold down Fn as you press it. If Num Lock is labeled the same color as the Fn key, then this is probably the case.

Laptop keyboards vary and may have different configurations.

What About Macs?

On Mac keyboards with a numeric keypad, the number keys function only as number keys, so there's no need for a separate number-lock function. The Clear key is typically located where the Num Lock key would be on a PC keyboard.

Although they don't technically support number lock, most Macs have a built-in accessibility feature called Mouse Keys that lets users control the cursor with the number pad. If your keypad stops working because Mouse Keys is activated, try pressing Clear or Shift+Clear to reset it.

How to Turn Num Lock on and Off

Press the Num Lock key on your keyboard to toggle on the number-lock feature. Many keyboards have an LED that lights up when Num Lock is enabled. Some computers turn on number lock automatically during startup, in which case pressing the Num Lock key will disable it.

Once enabled, the number lock key will remain active until you disable it. Num Lock works like the Caps Lock feature in that it can be toggled on and off by pressing the appropriate key. No matter which keyboard you're using, turn off Num Lock the same way you turn it on.

How to Use Num Lock in Windows 10 With the On-Screen Keyboard

If your Num Lock key is broken or missing, it's still possible to enable the number lock feature with the Windows On-Screen Keyboard:

  1. Type OSK into the Windows search bar at the bottom of your screen and select the On-Screen Keyboard app when it pops up.

    A screenshot of Windows 10 with the On-Screen Keyboard app highlighted
  2. Select the Options key on the on-screen keyboard.

    A screenshot of Windows 10's on-screen keyboard with the Options key highlighted
  3. Select Turn on numeric key pad, then select OK.

    A screenshot of the on-screen keyboard in Windows 10 with the Turn On Numeric Key Pad option highlighted
  4. Select the Num Lock key on the on-screen keyboard.

    A screenshot of Windows 10's onscreen keyboard with the NumLock key highlighted
  5. The keypad on your physical keyboard should now work, and you can continue typing as usual.