What is Super Key in Linux?

Get familiar with the super (or is it meta) key in Linux in this chapter of the Jargon Buster series.

While reading Linux tutorials on the internet, you'd come across the term 'super key' and if you are a beginner to Linux, it may confuse you.

In simplest terms, if your computer came pre-installed with Windows, then the Windows key (with the Windows logo) is your super key.

Whereas if you have an Apple computer, you have to press the command key with the ⌘ symbol as your super key.

That's your super key (or meta key)
That's your super key (or meta key)

Pretty simple. Right?

But what was the reason behind naming it super key? I mean there has to be some interesting story behind it.

So let's press the super key all together to uncover more details.

The idea behind the super key

It was introduced in The "space-cadet" keyboard, designed in 1978 at MIT for the Lips machine, and mainly introduced to emulate the meta key.

The meta key was a crucial part of the Emacs editor but the modern keyboards of that time did not ship with a physical meta key and it was often emulated using different key bindings.

The introduction of a super key solved this issue by giving a physical super key.

Fast-forward to 1994 when the Windows key appeared for the first time on the Microsoft Natural keyboard which was used to quickly open the start menu and from 1996, it became common practice to map the meta key on the Windows key.

Common use cases of the super key

When you press the super key on the Ubuntu desktop, it displays the activities overview, which gives you a peek into what is going on in every window:

Get activities overview in Ubuntu by pressing the super key
Get activities overview in Ubuntu by pressing the super key

But you can do a lot more than just have a glimpse of ongoing activities.

For example, you can press Super and Tab together to bring the application switcher and switch between running apps.

Use Alt+Tab or Super+Tab to switch between applications

Here are some shortcuts that utilize the Super key (tested in Ubuntu 23.10):

πŸ“‹
If you are using a distro based on Ubuntu, then some shortcuts may not work as described as the distro maintained may have allocated that shortcut for a different task.
Shortcut Description
Super Open Activities Overview
Super + Tab Switch between open applications
Super + D Show desktop (minimize all windows)
Super + A Open Applications menu
Super + S Show quick settings
Super + Left Arrow Snap the active window to the left half of the screen
Super + Right Arrow Snap the active window to the right half of the screen
Super + Up Arrow Maximize active window
Super + Down Arrow Un-maximize active window
Super + L Lock screen

Pretty handy. Right?

Improve productivity with shortcuts

New to Ubuntu? Here are some helpful shortcuts for Ubuntu users:

13 Keyboard Shortcuts Every Ubuntu User Should Know
Knowing keyboard shortcuts increase your productivity. Here are some useful Ubuntu shortcut keys that will help you use Ubuntu like a pro.

If you are getting started with a terminal, I'd recommend you learn basic terminal shortcuts for Linux terminals:

21 Useful Linux Terminal Shortcuts Pro Users Love
Become more efficient in the Linux terminal by mastering these super useful keyboard shortcuts.

I hope that it was a superbly informative super article ;)

About the author
Sagar Sharma

Sagar Sharma

A software engineer who loves to write about his experience with Linux. While reviving my crashed system, you can find me reading literature, manga, or watering my plants.

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