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Super-power your keyboard with Karabiner

If you live inside Emacs (or the terminal), properly tuning your key bindings is paramount. Unfortunately every keyboard is different and, even more than that, pretty much every keyboard is now different that what was being used when the oldest and most useful tools around were being developed.


Vim becomes much more fluid when you have easy access to the ESC key. Because Vim is modal, it uses modifier keys very rarely, which means every time you change from inserting text to any other type of operation, you have to press ESC first (although you should be spending most of your time in normal mode and dropping into insert, rather than vice-versa). The only problem with this? ESC is **so** very far away from the home row. Its hard to picture a more inconvenient place to put the ESC key, at least on a Mac.

In console Vim, you can use CTRL-[ because most terminal emulators recognize this keystroke as identical to escape. This doesn’t work in graphical environments, however. Therefore, many people map their Caps Lock key to ESC, at least on Macs. This is super convenient, because your left pinky requires almost no effort to move over a centimeter. This has the added benefit of making the keyboard aesthetically symmetric (at least in my opinion): left pinky goes out to escape, right pinky goes out to enter. Yin and Yang, if you will.


Unlike Vim, Emacs is not is not inherently modal (although some might say that Emacs just has dozens and dozens of smaller modalities instead of a few all-encompassing ones), and therefore does make heavy use of modifier keys: CTRL, META, etc. I personally try to stay away from META bindings as much as possible and stick with CTRL.

By far the most common way of making CTRL more accessible on a Mac keyboard is remapping Caps Lock to CTRL. After all, pretty much everyone agrees that the size:usefulness ratio of Caps Lock is way off the rails.


I use both Vim and Emacs style key bindings, via the Evil-mode Emacs package. Therefore I want to figure out how to remap my keyboard in such a way as to make both CTRL and ESC easily accessible, and obviously I can’t bind them both to Caps Lock, right?

Wrong! Karabiner allows us to be more nuanced about your key bindings. We can set Caps Lock to be like ESC when we press it by itself (perfect for Vim), but act like CTRL when we use it as a modifier key (perfect for Emacs)! Even better, we can do the exact same thing for the RET key, making CTRL twice as accessible and maintaining that oh so sweet symmetry.

I’m really happy with the setup, and would recommend it to anyone who uses Emacs and Vim regularly.