Torsten Müller

Navigation in an Angular application using keyboard shortcuts

published Feb 27th, 2020

My first reaction was “What? Why?”, quickly followed by a “Wow! Cool!” when I heard that a client had the requirement to permit navigating and executing commands in an Angular app using keyboard commands.

The reason for this somewhat unusual request was that we were building a replacement for a legacy application that has been doing duty for several decades. We didn’t want to disrupt the user experience of people used to the key shortcuts but merely augment the existing functionality with a “modern”, click-based interface. Here is a list of the requirements:

  1. Key strokes should cause navigation within the application as well as execute functionality within a page.
  2. The available commands were specific to the different pages, i.e. different Angular components support different key commands.
  3. Commands included the use of the shift, control and option/alt keys.
  4. Data entry into form elements should not trigger the functionality, obviously.
  5. Some commands required the processing of multiple key strokes, since they were multi-character commands, such as rev for “reverse order”. The implementation of this requirement is explained in a post on creating custom Rx.js operators


Based on the aforementioned requirements, there are several technical consequences for its implementation:

  1. The event listener for key presses needs to be on an HTML tag near the root of the element tree to capture events from anywhere on the page through event bubbling.
  2. Though key press events need to be caught at or near the root of the DOM tree, they need to be processed in the currently active component further down in the tree, because it contains the implementation of the functionality to be triggered by the key command. Reacting to the event in the AppComponent would cause us to handle the events for every component and module in one spot, which would be unwieldy and break encapsulation of functionality. This requirement suggests passing events from a parent (the root component) to the current child component. Several different components can have the same key binding, albeit for different functionality.
  3. The previous point suggests the use of an Angular service, which is a singleton and can be injected into every component. This enables the communication of events in the opposite direction of the standard Angular event binding between many different components, i.e. from a parent to a child component. The child components can be dynamically replaced through the router. 1. Key strokes in form elements such as text boxes should not trigger a command, so the implementation needs to account for this scenario and use the event.stopPropagation() method in the right places. This will prevent those events from making it to the key event listener near the root element and thus prevent inadvertent execution of functionality.

Based on these requirements, we can see that we need an Angular Service to react and distribute the events and an abstract class which will be inherited by every component that needs to react to key events. This service will also need to be imported into the AppComponent root of the application, so we can trigger the distribution of the event to the currently active component.

Based on what we know now, the following architecture is one possibility to implement these technical requirements:

Diagram showing the parts of the implementation and their relation

We have the AppComponent, which contains a <router-outlet></router-outlet> tag pair to permit the router to fill that space with a component based on the URL — in this case with one of the components ComponentA through ComponentC. The functionality to respond to a valid key pressed lies in those components and is thus contained where it belongs.

Each of those components extends the abstract class AbstractKeypress, which will require each extending component to provide

  1. a keyActions property with a mapping of the key codes to executable functions and
  2. a reactToKeypress() method which will be called whenever a specified key combination has been entered by the user.

This setup allows the developer to specify the key combinations and the corresponding actions to execute based on the key(s) pressed — separately and independently for each component.

Handling of keyboard events

As mentioned in the previous section, we will use an Angular Service, a singleton, to achieve the communication from the AppComponent down to the component currently contained in the router-outlet. To achieve this event-based communication, we will use Functional Reactive programming, Rx.js, which will allow us later to cleanly write the processing of the events generated here.

The code for the actual service is pretty straightforward and consists merely of an Rx Subject which is exposed to the outside world as an Observable through a public class property. The sole method in this service accepts and publishes to the subject a KeyboardEvent, which will then lead to an onNext event on the publicly available observable.

@Injectable({ providedIn: 'root' })
export class KeyPressDistributionService {

  private keyEventSubject = new Subject<KeyboardEvent>();
  public keyEventObs: Observable<KeyboardEvent> = this.keyEventSubject.asObservable();

  public distributeKeyPress(keyValue: KeyboardEvent): void {;

In order to react to user input, the AppComponent, i.e. the application’s root component, contains a @HostListener on keyup events. This permits reacting to a keypress in any part of the application’s interface through event bubbling, a standard browser behavior where any event that has not been explicitly stopped from propagating will “bubble up” through the tree to the root HTML element, in our case contained in the template for the AppComponent.

The AppComponent will then pass the corresponding KeyboardEvent to the service we just looked at, via the distributeKeyPress() method. And that’s really all our implementation requires in the AppComponent:

  1. Inject the KeyPressDistributionService and
  2. send any keyup events to the service.

By injecting the service into any child component, we can get notification of a key being pressed through the exposed keyEventObs observable. Here’s the relevant code from AppComponent:

@Component({ ... })
export class AppComponent {

  @HostListener('document:keyup', ['$event'])
  public onKeyUp(eventData: KeyboardEvent) {

  constructor(private keyService: KeyPressDistributionService) { }

Converting KeyboardEvent objects

If you’ve never looked at a KeyboardEvent in a browser console, I encourage you to do so: There’s a lot of stuff in there. For purpose of this implementation, all I need is an identifier which unambiguously tells me the key combination the user pressed — Ideally in the form of a string, so that I can use that identifier as the key in a configuration object telling Angular what to do in response to that user action. Since further development will include multi-letter commands, we need to namespace our events so that we can identify the following parts in a unique ID string identifying the key combination pressed:

  1. If only a single key was pressed, as discussed in this post, we prefix the string with k- for key. For multi-letter commands, where a user enters agr for example, the prefix will be s-, for string.
  2. The next segment in our identifier will list any special keys pressed at the same time, a for the ALT key (OPTION on Macs), c for CTRL an s for SHIFT
  3. Finally, the last segment will identify the key pressed, using the newer Javascript property provided by the KeypressEvent object, called code and providing a string such as KeyD.

Using this paradigm, the string k-as-KeyF would indicate that the user pressed the f key at the same time as the ALT and SHIFT keys and k--F5 identifies the F5 key without any modifying keys pressed at the same time.

Since all keystroke events are ending up in the KeyPressDistributionService via a component, we can implement the abstract class AbstractKeypress from our class diagram. This abstract class will be extended by every component needing to react to key press events.

Here is the beginning of that class:

export abstract class AbstractKeypress implements OnInit, OnDestroy {

  private obsRef: Subscription;

  abstract keyActions: {[key: string]: () => void};
  abstract reactToKeyPress(key: string): void;

  protected constructor(private keyServiceRef: KeyPressDistributionService) { }

  public ngOnInit() {
    this.obsRef = this.keyServiceRef.keyEventObs

  public ngOnDestroy() {

  // ... more implementation here


There are a few things noteworthy about this (part of the) class:

  1. It, like AppComponent, gets the KeyPressDistributionService injected to receive the events from the AppComponent
  2. The implementation of the OnInit and OnDestroy interfaces allows us to set up the functionality in this class for every extending component on instantiation.
  3. It uses the Rx.js paradigm in the ngOnInit() method to handle the events, process the data and transfer the result to the extending class.
  4. It contains two abstract properties (keyActions and reactToKeyPress()) whose implementation is up to the extending class. These properties define which keys to listen for and how to process the events (keyActions).
  5. The keyActions object literal will be a mapping of a string as described in the previous section to a function, as indicated by its type signature.
  6. It uses a functional reactive programming paradigm to do its job.
  7. There seem to be two methods, permitKey() and convertToString() which I am keeping from you at the moment.

Let’s look at the Rx chain, which pipes any event from the service through a filter that removes events from special keys and keys we do not want to listen to. For example, we do not want a separate event when the user presses the “Shift” key.

In the next step, we pipe the filtered event into the convertToString() method, which will perform the conversion of the KeyboarEvent into a string as previously stated. Once we have our identifying string for the entered key combo, we call the reactToKeyPress() method in the onNext event of the subscription. This method is declared abstract in this class so that any component extending this class will have to implement it.

That leaves the definition of the two operator functions, as shown here:

  public permitKey(keyEvent: KeyboardEvent): boolean {
    const disallowedKeys = ['Shift', 'Control', 'Alt', 'Meta'];
    return !disallowedKeys.includes(keyEvent.key);

  public convertToString(keyEvent: KeyboardEvent): string {
    const modifierKeys = ['altKey', 'ctrlKey', 'shiftKey'];
    let keyCode = 'k-';
    for (const code of modifierKeys) {
      if (keyEvent[code]) keyCode += code.substr(0, 1);
    return `${keyCode}-${keyEvent.code}`;

The permitKey() method filters out unwanted key press events; It returns false for key codes contained in the disallowedKeys array, thereby suppressing events in the Rx chain of the service via the filter operator..

The convertToString() method builds the identifying string described before, For example, the string k-acs-KeyA indicates that the A key was pressed together with the ALT, SHIFT and CONTROL keys, here prefixed with the string k- (for “key”).

That includes all the functionality of the abstract class. Let’s next look at how this class is extended by Angular components.

Implementing the components reacting to key presses

Here is an example of a component that extends the AbstractKeypress class:

@Component({ ... })
export class ExampleLandingComponent extends AbstractKeypress {

  public keyActions: {[key: string]: () => void} = {
    'k--KeyA': () => { console.log('reacting to A'); },
    'k-as-KeyD': this.deleteSomething,
    'k--F5': () => { console.log('F5 clicked!!!'); }

  constructor(private keyService: KeyPressDistributionService) {

  public reactToKeyPress(key: string): void {
    if (this.keyActions[key]) this.keyActions[key]();

  private deleteSomething(): void {
    console.log('deleting something due to key click');

We see that it specifies the keyActions as an object literal with the previously explained key format and assigns functions to each key, with the one for Alt+Shift+D calling up the deleteSomething() method defined in this component. As usual in Angular, the service is injected through the constructor.

The method reactToKeyPress() is defined here as required by the class AbstractKeypress and simply calls the method defined in the keyActions definition. It would be possible, to assign certain functionality to the component that is not defined in keyActions, should the need arise.

One more noteworthy fact is that we inject the KeyPressDistributionService here and call super() in the constructor, to form the connection with the abstract class. The implementation thus far gives us the capability to define key commands in the browser and execute functionality that we specify for different commands. One thing missing from our list of requirements is to suppress the entry of information into form field, which we’re looking at next.

Adding a form to the component

Web apps are nothing without the use of forms. And of course, entering content into text fields is standard functionality but will interfere with our current navigation scheme, if we don’t take action to prevent that interference.

Here is the relevant part of a template for a component with a reactive form, setting a formGroup property binding and an event binding for form submission on the root element of the form:

<form [formGroup]="userForm" (ngSubmit)="onSubmit()" (keypress)="stopKeyPressPropagation($event)" >
    <li> ... </li>
    <li> ... </li>

The last event binding is for the keypress event to which we’re assigning a method, which looks like this:

  public stopKeyPressPropagation($event) {

No magic here: When a keypress event is about to bubble out of the form, this code captures the event and calls the stopPropagation() method on it, thereby preventing the event to ever make it to our event listener on the top-level HTML element triggering our logic. Note that if you change the event used in the service, the event will have to be likewise adapted in all templates containing forms. Overall, though, this implementation nicely separates the entry of data into a form field from the navigation scheme cooked up in this post.


In this blog post I looked at how one could implement a mechanism to allow applications to provide a means to execute functionality using keyboard commands. Going along in the implementation, I demonstrated how to separate commands from different Angular components to isolate and structure the functionality, avoid interference with form input fields and showed how one could pass events from a parent to a child component via an Angular service.

In a follow-up post, I will look at how to extend this implementation to permit multi-key commands, such as the rev mentioned earlier, which might be used to indicate that the user wants to review something.

The code for this implementation, including the upcoming implementation of the multi-key commands is in bitbucket.