Remapping Keys on macOS High Sierra

When I joined Criteo, I was given a brand new MacBook Pro, the one with the Touch Bar and the less-than-stellar keyboard. I’m still getting used to the keys, but the biggest problem was that contrary to my expressed wishes, I received an international key layout, with keys like so:

I have never had the need to type a “§” or a “±” in my life, so that key in the upper-left corner is completely useless to me. Worse, it occupies a place where I would normally type a “`” or a “~” – characters that are useful in my typing at work and in Markdown text like this blog entry.

I’ve done remapping before on macOS, in particular to make typing in Czech much easier without having to resort to switching to a Czech keyboard layout. I used the program Ukelele to do the necessary configury to get the necessary diacritics for vowels that are pretty common in Czech.

However, starting with macOS 10.12 Sierra, Apple made some major changes to how key remapping takes place – for the better in my opinion. I can now perform major remapping of key codes instead of just tweaking dead keys like I was doing with Ukelele. I am now able to restore the “`” / “~” key to its proper place, and improve my touch typing with my left hand while using this laptop.

The utility to accomplish this is called hidutil. It is briefly described in an Apple Technical Note. I wrote a short Bash script to help with the formatting of parameters it takes.


function Map # FROM TO
    CMD="${CMD:+${CMD},}{${FROM}: ${1}, ${TO}: ${2}}"



hidutil property --set "{\"UserKeyMapping\":[${CMD}]}"

The script performs the following mapping:

  • Map “§” to “`” (and “±” to “~” when shifted)
  • Make the Caps Lock key act like a Shift key
  • Make the right Command (⌘) key act like Caps Lock
  • Make the key between Shift and “Z” act like a Control key

The motivation for the additional mappings is to reduce the amount of mis-typed keys I while using Emacs. My muscle memory is highly tuned to Apple’s US keyboard layout, and I found myself prone to mistyping common Emacs chord sequences when using the international version. The mapping does help, but it is not perfect. However, the biggest source of errors – the badly placed “\” key – has no solution yet, and my right hand still suffers for it.

The Map function generates a mapping from one key code to another and appends it to previous mappings, all stored in the CMD variable. The contents of CMD are then used to generate a “UserKeyMapping” value for hidutil to consume.

This works great, but I need to run this every time I log in. To fix that, I created a short LaunchAgent configuration file that will run when logging in:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
<plist version="1.0">

I then put that configuration file in ~/Library/LaunchAgents directory. Now, my remap script runs every time I log in.