Recipe 9.1 Create Context-Sensitive Keyboard Shortcuts

9.1.1 Problem

You've used Access's AutoKeys macro to create keyboard shortcuts for your application, but you'd like the shortcut keys to change based on the currently active form. Is there an easy way to create context-sensitive keyboard shortcuts in Access?

9.1.2 Solution

The SetOption method of the Application object allows you to change global database options programmatically. This solution shows you how to combine this functionality with the Activate and Deactivate event properties of your forms to create custom key shortcut macros for each form of your application.

For an example of key assignments that depend on the active form, open 09-01.MDB. This sample database contains information on units, assemblies that make up parts, and parts that make up assemblies. Open the frmUnit form in form view. At any time, you can press Ctrl-D to "drill down" to the next level of detail or Ctrl-R to revert to the previous level of detail. When you press Ctrl-D on frmUnit, frmAssembly is loaded; if you press Ctrl-D from frmAssembly, frmPart is loaded (see Figure 9-1). If you press Ctrl-D a third time while frmPart has the focus, nothing happens. Thus, the behavior of Ctrl-D changes based on its context. The Ctrl-R keyboard macro is similarly context-sensitive.

Figure 9-1. The sample database after pressing Ctrl-D twice

To keep the example simple, we have not added the additional macro code necessary to keep the forms synchronized. You must manually use Ctrl-R to return to the previous level/form, then navigate to the desired record, and then use Ctrl-D to drill down if you wish to keep the forms synchronized.

To add context-sensitive AutoKeys macros to your own application, follow these steps:

  1. Create a key assignment macro for each form in your application (you can use the same macro for more than one form if you like). Follow all the design rules for an AutoKeys macro, but give your macro a unique name when you are done. In the sample application, for instance, the three key assignment macros are called mcrUnitAutoKeys, mcrAssemblyAutoKeys, and mcrPartAutoKeys, so that the macro name reminds you of its function. Table 9-1 shows the settings for the mcrUnitAutoKeys macro.

    You'll probably want to add comments to your macro to make it easier to understand and maintain, as illustrated in Figure 9-2.

Table 9-1. Settings for the mcrUnitAutoKeys macro

Macro name






Form Name






Where Condition



Data Mode



Window Mode




Object Type



Object Name


Figure 9-2. The mcrUnitAutoKeys macro
  1. Import the basOptions module from 09-01.MDB into your own database.

  2. Add a RunCode action to your AutoExec macro (or create a new macro named AutoExec containing this one action). Set the action's Function Name argument to:

    =acbStoreOriginalAutoKeys( )
  3. In the OnActivate event property of each of your forms, add a call to the acbSetAutoKeys function. This function takes a single argument, the name of the key assignment macro to use while that form is active. For example, on the frmUnit form in the sample application, this property is set to:

  4. In the OnClose event of the last form to be closed in your application (typically, your main switchboard form), add a call to the acbRestoreOriginalAutokeys function. If there is more than one possible last form in your application, you'll need to add this function call to every possible last form. acbRestoreOriginalAutokeys takes no arguments. Figure 9-3 shows these calls in the sample application.

Figure 9-3. Event properties for frmUnit

9.1.3 Discussion

The special built-in Application object refers to your entire Access application. The GetOption method of this object lets you read the options stored under Tools Options, Tools Startup, and additional options that are available only programmatically. The Key Assignment Macro option, which was originally part of the View Options dialog in Access 2.0, is no longer available from the Access user interface, but fortunately it is still available programmatically.

Because the database options are stored in the user's registry, any changes you make to them will affect not only the current database but also any other database the user runs. It's best to store the original value of any option you change and restore it when your application is closed. The acbStoreOriginalAutokeys function uses the GetOption method to read the original key assignment macro name when your application is loaded and store it in the mstrOriginalAutokeys module-level variable. Like the rest of the functions in this solution, acbStoreOriginalAutokeys is very simple, consisting of one statement, a few comments, and an error handler:

Public Function acbStoreOriginalAutokeys( )
   ' Store the user's original Autokeys macro name
   ' so we can restore it when we're done.
   On Error GoTo HandleErr

   mstrOriginalAutokeys = Application.GetOption("Key Assignment Macro")

   Exit Function

   MsgBox "Error " & Err.Number & ": " & Err.Description, _
    , "acbStoreOriginalAutokeys( )"
   Resume ExitHere
End Function

The acbRestoreOriginalAutokeys function resets the option to its original value. This function should be called from the last open form. In the sample database, it is called from the Close event of frmUnit. Its source code is:

Public Function acbRestoreOriginalAutokeys( )
   ' Put the Autokeys macro setting back the way we found it.
   On Error GoTo HandleErr

   Application.SetOption "Key Assignment Macro", mstrOriginalAutokeys

   Exit Function

   MsgBox "Error " & Err.Number & ": " & Err.Description, _
    , "acbRestoreOriginalAutokeys( )"
   Resume ExitHere
End Function

Each form passes the name of its custom key assignment macro to the acbSetAutokeys function when the form is activated. The Activate event of the form calls this function. The function uses the SetOption method to take the passed macro and make it the key assignment macro. Its source code is:

Public Function acbSetAutokeys(strMacroName As String)
   ' Set a new Autokeys macro. Takes the name of the
   ' macro to use for keyboard reassignment.
   On Error GoTo HandleErr

   Application.SetOption "Key Assignment Macro", strMacroName

   Exit Function

   MsgBox "Error " & Err.Number & ": " & Err.Description, _
    , "acbSetAutokeys( )"
   Resume ExitHere
End Function

You can generalize this technique of using GetOption and SetOption to control many properties of your application at runtime?for example, to activate the status bar and toolbars or to allow the user to pick a new font for datasheets from a list you supply. You should always follow the same three basic steps:

  1. Use GetOption to read the current option value and save it in a module-level variable.

  2. Use SetOption to set your new value. Be sure to use the name of the option exactly as it appears in the Access online help.

  3. Use SetOption to restore the original value when your application is closed.

Overlapping User Interface (UI) Methods

In a well-designed Windows application, keyboard shortcuts should not be the only method a user can employ to accomplish a task. Because they are hard for new users to discover or for infrequent users to remember, keyboard shortcuts should be used only as an alternative method of accomplishing a task. Make the task available from some other UI method, preferably one that is more easily discovered than a keyboard shortcut. Other UI methods include command buttons, toolbar buttons, standard menus, and shortcut menus.

To reduce the time delay in switching key assignment macros, we decided to reset the user's key assignment macro only when the last open form is closed. A safer but perhaps slower alternative would be to reset the key assignment macro in the Deactivate event of each form.

Detecting When a User Closes an Application

There is no built-in way to have Access always run a cleanup routine when the user closes your application. The final event you can trap is the last form's closing. If there are multiple possible last forms, you must make sure to check whether the one that has closed is actually the last form. As an alternative, you can open a hidden form in your Startup form or AutoExec macro and call your cleanup processing from this form's Close event. Access will automatically close this form when the user exits, and since this was the first form opened, it will be the last form closed.

The individual calls to the acbSetAutoKeys function are attached to the forms' Activate events instead of their GotFocus events for a very good reason. Unless there are no controls on a form that can get the focus, the form itself will never receive the focus. Only forms consisting strictly of graphic objects and disabled controls will ever trigger a form-level GotFocus event.

It is interesting to note that AutoKeys functionality is just about the only thing left in Access that can be done only by using macros, not in VBA code.