What are Alt Codes?

Other ways to type characters

This page explains Alt Codes and Keyboard Layouts.

Alt Codes

Alt codes allow you to enter characters by their code point (Computer do not store text as graphics, but in numerical format). Characters are stored on your computer as numbers; each letter or symbol is assigned to number. To make sure that text looks the same on all computers, there is a standard called Unicode that defines this. Due to the number of alphabets in the world, Unicode defines tens of thousands of characters.

Most English characters are located in the first 128 characters. Everything you see on your keyboard is mashed in there. Uppercase, lowercase, numbers, symbols, and control keys. Originally, it seems, there were only 7 bits available per letter. Then there were 8, and the next 128 characters were used for accents and such. Finally, we got 16, and even 32. For more information, see the Wikipedia article on UTF-8.

Anyway, back to the subject: when you hold down an alt key and type a number on the right side of the keyboard, a character appears. Make sure Num Lock is turned on, or your efforts will be fruitless. Note that this only works with some Microsoft software. A variant of alt codes are alt-X codes. Unlike alt codes, which require a decimal code point, Alt-X codes work with hexadecimal numbers. After you type in the hexadecimal value for a character, press Alt and the X key simultaneously to convert the code into a character, and vice versa.
More information can be found in the Wikipedia article on Alt Codes.

  • Cardbox Software has created a utility that is supposed to enable alt codes accross all applications.
  • The Unicode Consortium has created PDF charts of each language , with the corresponding numeric code and a picture of the letter (Quick Key has a copy of these charts in the By Language directory).

Keyboard Layouts

For people who use a different alphabet often enough to justify learning a new typing pattern, keyboard layouts should be used. Keyboard layouts map keys and key combinations to characters. Microsoft Windows includes keyboard layouts for most languages, although they may not be installed by default. Go to Control Panel>Regional and Language settings>Languages Tab>Details Button. You should now see the Text Services and Input Languages window. Click Add for more keyboard layouts.

For those who need to customize their keyboard layout, try the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator, or Tavueltesoft Keyman.


About Nathanael

Nathanael Jones is a software engineer, father, consultant, and computer linguist with unreasonably high expectations of inanimate objects. He refines .NET, ruby, and javascript libraries full-time at Imazen, but can often be found on stack overflow or participating in W3C community groups.


If you develop websites, and those websites have images, ImageResizer can make your life much eaiser. Find out more at imageresizing.net.


I run Imazen, a tiny software company that specializes in web-based image processing and other difficult engineering problems. I spend most of my time writing image-processing code in C#, web apps in Ruby, and documentation in Markdown. Check out some of my current projects.

More articles