Remote Desktop (RDC, Remote Desktop Connection or Microsoft Terminal Services Client) is an useful multi-channel protocol that allows user to connect to and administer remote computer with full screen support. However, as the Remote Desktop Connection screen is effectively running within the host Windows system desktop, users who use keyboard shortcuts frequently may get confused with keyboard shortcuts to use when working on remote PC’s desktop, or getting incorrect, erroneous or unexpected behavior with keyboard shortcuts and accelerators.

For example, Ctrl-Alt-Del keystroke combination is often used to invoke Windows Security dialog where users can run Task Manager, change password, log off, shutdown computer, lock desktop, switch user and etc. When pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del keys on keyboard, the escape interrupt sequence is always captured and processed by local Windows system, despite Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) connection window is maximized into full screen mode.

Another example is Alt-Tab to switch among multiple opened windows and running tasks or processes. In complete reversal, Alt-Tab works completely on remote box when Remote Desktop Connection is opened in full screen mode, but will only switch between local windows when RDC window is restored down, where RDC window is one of the window in rotation.

To get the intended result, a slightly different keyboard shortcuts are used when applied to a remote desktop session window. Here’s a list commonly used keyboard shortcuts key combination to use in Remote Desktop Connection navigation, together with the action the shortcuts perform and equivalent keyboard shortcuts on local desktop (in brackets).

  • CTRL+ALT+END: Open the Microsoft Windows NT Security dialog box (CTRL+ALT+DEL)
  • ALT+PAGE UP: Switch between programs from left to right (CTRL+PAGE UP)
  • ALT+PAGE DOWN: Switch between programs from right to left (CTRL+PAGE DOWN)
  • ALT+INSERT: Cycle through the programs in most recently used order (ALT+TAB)
  • ALT+HOME: Display the Start menu (CTRL+ESC)
  • CTRL+ALT+BREAK: Switch the client computer between a window and a full screen
  • ALT+DELETE: Display the Windows menu
  • CTRL+ALT+Minus sign (-): Place a snapshot of the entire client window area on the Terminal server clipboard and provide the same functionality as pressing ALT+PRINT SCREEN on a local computer (ALT+PRT SC)
  • CTRL+ALT+Plus sign (+): Place a snapshot of the active window in the client on the Terminal server clipboard and provide the same functionality as pressing PRINT SCREEN on a local computer (PRT SC)

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  • Alejandro

    This question was asked a while ago, but I looked around online because I also needed the answer to this question and couldn’t find something useful. But after a couple weeks I stumbled upon an option that seems to be a good fix to switch between desktops that other people might find useful:

    Open the Remote Desktop Connection program.
    don’t log in to your remote desktop yet, instead click on the arrow that says options
    There you can go to the Local Resources tab
    on Keyboard, you can select the option Apply Windows key combinations: On this computer
    then click connect.

    If you do this you can use ALT+TAB and it will switch between your other programs and the Remote Desktop window even in full screen.

    Obviously you won’t be able to use alt+tab to switch between programs inside the remote desktop window.

    Also, I like using the program VirtualWin, which lets you have multiple desktops on Windows, like it’s possible in Linux. I put the Remote Desktop window on another Virtual desktop and switch between the virtual desktops (for which you also need to Apply Window key combinations, like mentioned above). I like this program and thought you might find useful as well.

  • Prince

    how to press Ctrl+Shift+? on other PC through by Remote Desktop.

  • depannage informatique

    Yes it’s a good command, for show process of my server, i have search many, the solution is here !

  • Grateful

    I didn't think I was going to find the hotkey I needed but the CTRL+ALT+BREAK was the magical combination. Thank you for your post.

  • Mark

    How do you switch between full-screen remote desktop sessions? Currently I have to minimize the one I'm using and then use the mouse to go to the one I want to use. There has to be a shortcut to move among the four that I'm using!

    • Rodrigo Yabiku

      ctrl+alt+pause/break, alt+tab until you get the one you want and ctrl+alt+pause/break again.

      well, maybe you'll have to get used to this.. =]

  • Picchy

    Thank you

  • Jim F

    So, how do you send a CTRL+ALT+DEL to the end RDP session if you are several deep?

    Client –RDP–> Server –RDP–> 2ndServer

    CTRL+ALT+DEL sends CTRL+ALT+DEL to 'Server'; what about 2ndServer?

    • Paul

      Try ctrl+alt+end, sends the ctrl+alt+del sequence to the rdp machine

  • md

    ctrl+alt+break

  • Usha

    Thanks for the information related to the short cut keys can be used in Remote Desktop. For the past 1 hr, I was unable to logoff my Remote Desktop as the Start menu was not available and seen. When i was surfing thro' the google, i got this link and got the resolution..

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  • Karen

    Is there anyway to assign a printer while working Remotely?

  • I log in via remote destop to computer A. From computer A, I log in via remote desktop to computer B. Now how do I send all these key strokes, eg Ctrl-Alt-Del to computer B?

    Thank you.

  • Larry

    Hey, thanks a bunch for posting this. I needed the information because of the PrintScreen functionality in RDP/RDC.

    I think that the description above may have one glitch … I needed the "print active window" function and found that it's Ctrl-Alt-Minus

    instead of saying "Active Window" under Ctrl-Alt-Plus above. By the way, I verified that the minus key on the main keyboard area versus the keypad to the right, they both work equivalently. Thanks; Larry.

  • ashish

    Excellent and quick help..thanks for posting it

  • Samsonov

    OMG! Didn't you try to read Windows help file? All this is described there!

  • Danie de Kock

    Thank you!!!!

  • Gary Schirmer

    This was excellent and saved me having to drive into my office to reboot my computer. Thanks for providing this valuable information!

  • Steve Mitchell

    Thank you. CTRL+ALT+BREAK is what I needed. I remote thru the FW to my main PC and then from there to servers. When the main PC and a server are in full-screen mode the server window is in front of all others and fills the screen and there is no way to get to the main PC. This command solves the problem.

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