Appendix E: Keyboard Navigation


Ideal applications provide access to all features through the use of key strokes. J-Bird remains far from the ideal, but version 0.5.2 marked the beginning of progress toward it. This appendix provides some general information about keyboard navigation and some information that is specific to J-Bird.

Keyboard action

An application presents you with objects that you can manipulate. The objects might be buttons, menus, blanks into which you can enter text, selectors, and dialogs that expect information from you. Using a mouse, you move the mouse to the object that you want to manipulate and click in some manner to obtain the results that you want, for example, double-clicking on something to open it. When using the keyboard, only one object receives keystrokes at one time. You use key strokes to move the focus of the keyboard from object to object and then use key strokes to manipulate the object that is currently receiving key strokes.


The tab key is the primary key that is used to shift focus of the keyboard from object to object. It moves you forward through a ring of objects that can receive the attention of the keyboard. Shift-tab moves the focus backwards through the ring of objects.

There are exceptions to the use of the tab key for navigation. For example, a tab is a legitimate blank space that might be entered into a document. Also, application developers can create rings of objects that cannot be escaped by using the tab key. To shift focus in those situations, use ctrl-tab (on all platforms: Linux, Mac, and Windows). In general, if you find that tabbing for navigation is stuck, try ctrl-tab.

Some compound objects have their own navigation systems. For example, the up and down arrow keys are used to move among choices in a pop-up menu. And, left and right arrow keys are used to move among choices in file-folder-tabs such as those that are used to examine various restrictions that can be placed on counts of ticks or lists of species (as in the screen shot to the right).

Manipulating objects

The space-bar usually substitutes for a single click on an object. The space pushes buttons, opens choice pop-ups, selects menu items, and selects/deselects radio buttons and check boxes.

The exception to using the space bar for a click is in pop-up lists of choices such as the main task chooser that you use choose among creating and editing trips and ticks, browsing and editing checklists, counting ticks, etc. On pop-ups such as those, use the return key to effect your selection.

The tree of trips and tree of checklists

The trip browser and the checklist browser display trees. When a tree has the focus of the keyboard, you can use the up and down arrows to move up and down the list of entries. Entries that can be opened to reveal branches may be opened using the right-arrow key, and they may be closed using the left arrow key.

As you move through a tree, an entry in the tree is highlighted. The highlighted entry can be manipulated. To open an entry for editing, press the return key to obtain the table of species seen on the trip or species that are included in the checklist, respectively. Also, a pop-up context menu for an entry can be obtained by holding down the Alt while you press the right-arrow key. That menu is the same menu that would be obtained by right-clicking (ctrl-click on Mac) on an entry.

Trip lists of species and checklists

In J-Bird 0.5.2 it is not yet possible to use keys to navigate and manipulate lists of species that have been seen on trips or that are in checklists. These features are planned for J-Bird 0.5.3.

Dialog windows

Windows appear when J-Bird wants information from you. For example, you may elect to tick species that were observed on a trip, and a dialog appears that contains a checklist on which you can tick species. Or, a dialog that can be used to enter information about a checklist appears when you create a new checklist. Most dialogs can be closed by using keystrokes. Three different keystrokes may be used, and those key strokes usually carry different meanings.

The following table indicates which keys have been implemented in J-Bird dialogs.

Context Dialog Key action
ESC ctrl-W / apple-W return key
splash dialog close close -
Main window menus
option editor cancel accept -
credits display close close -
license display close close -
Create/edit trips and ticks
create trip dialog cancel accept accept
edit trip info dialog cancel accept accept
trip report dialog cancel accept -
tick species on trip dialog - close -
tick import dialog cancel cancel -
tick import unknown species cancel accept/cancel -
Browse/edit checklists
create checklist dialog cancel accept accept
edit checklist info dialog cancel accept accept
tick checklist species dialog - close -
checklist import dialog cancel cancel -
checklist import unknown species cancel accept/cancel -
Make species lists
list of species dialog - close -
Query ticks
results from query - close -
Count species ticks
table of counts dialog - close -
Browse/edit regions
create region dialog cancel accept accept
Browse/edit observers
create observer dialog cancel accept accept

Shortcuts and mnemonics

Shortcuts can be used to activate menu items from the keyboard without actually manipulating the menus. The usual shortcuts have been implemented: ctrl-Q / apple-Q quits J-Bird from main window, ctrl-W / apple-W close dialogs that display File menus, etc.

Mnemonics allow you to use the keyboard to operate menus. They are despised in the Apple interface guidelines, but they are implemented in J-Bird because I can find no other method to operate menus from the keyboard.

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Last updated 26 March 2007