I'm bored of looking up key names for the kbd function, is there a way to automatically insert the correct key name just by pressing the key?

So for example I want something to do this: I'm typing

(local-set-key |

I run magical-insert-kbd-command, press f6 and I get

(local-set-key (kbd "<f6>") |

2 Answers 2


Not sure exactly what you are asking. But C-h k followed by hitting the key shows you exactly what string you need to pass to kbd. For example, C-h k f6 shows you <f6>.

Here is a command that does what you want, I guess and binds the result to C-c c:

(defun foo (key)
  (interactive "kKey: ")
  (insert (format "(kbd %S)" (key-description key))))

(global-set-key (kbd "C-c c") 'foo)

Then type:

(local-set-key C-c c

That prompts you to use a key. If you hit the F6 key then you get this:

(local-set-key (kbd "<f6>") 

[Updated per suggestion by @HaraldHancheOlsen: Changed "(kbd \"%s\")" to ".](kbd %S)"

  • Perfect, thanks!. The main thing I was missing was missing the key-description function.
    – dshepherd
    Jun 4, 2015 at 21:56
  • But OP is right that it would be a useful to have a function that automatically placed the keybinding in the kill ring. Jun 27, 2015 at 6:44
  • 1
    @incandescentman: Huh? Where does the OP say anything about the kill ring? And just what do you mean by the "keybinding" in that sentence? A key binding is not a string, which is what the kill-ring contains. Do you mean the key-description string? or the return value of the above format sexp? Anyway, it should be clear how to modify the command I gave, to add either of those to the kill-ring (just use kill-new).
    – Drew
    Jun 27, 2015 at 15:48
  • "automatically insert." If I understand correctly, the solution above only displays the keybinding (e.g. kbd <M-return>) but does not insert it into an init file. (You'd have to do the additional step of copy/paste.) Maybe I misunderstood. For my own personal use case, I would find it useful to have a way to query the syntax for a keybinding (e.g. is the syntax M-RET or M-<return> or what?) and automatically place that string in the kill ring/pasteboard, so that I could then paste the keybinding into my init file when writing a line like (define-key map (kbd "<M-return>") 'org-return). Jun 27, 2015 at 20:46
  • 1
    Yes, you misunderstood. (But there was also a typo in the key-binding sexp: I forgot to use kbd in the global-set-key sexp - corrected now.) Command foo (which the global-set-key sexp binds to C-c c) reads a key sequence and then inserts, at point of the current buffer, the proper kbd sexp for it. If you use C-c c in your init file, after (local-set-key , then it inserts the kbd sexp you need for the key it reads.
    – Drew
    Jun 27, 2015 at 20:46

If you use M-x local-set-key to do your keybinding interactively, you can use C-x ESC ESC (repeat-complex-command) to get a Lisp expression that you can paste into your config. It probably won't use friendly (kbd ...)-style descriptions, though.

  • Neat. I tend to use define-key though actually, it seems simpler to just define the key outright than to set up a hook to call a function to define the key.
    – dshepherd
    Jun 5, 2015 at 15:05

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