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Control-Alt-Delete (often abbreviated to Ctrl+Alt+Del, also known as the "three-finger salute") is a computer keyboard command on IBM PC compatible computers, invoked by pressing the Delete key while holding the Control and Alt keys: Ctrl+Alt+Delete. The function of the key combination differs depending on the context but it generally interrupts or facilitates interrupting a function. For instance, in pre-boot environment (before an operating system starts) or in DOS, Windows 3.0 and earlier versions of Windows or OS/2, the key combination reboots the computer. Starting with Windows 3.1, the command invokes a task manager or security related component that facilitates ending a Windows session.
The soft reboot function via keyboard was originally designed by David Bradley. Bradley, as the chief engineer of the IBM PC project and developer of the machine's ROM-BIOS, had originally used Ctrl+Alt+Esc, but found it was too easy to bump the left side of the keyboard and reboot the computer accidentally. According to his own account, Hallerman, who was the chief programmer of the project, therefore suggested switching the key combination to Ctrl+Alt+Del as a safety measure, a combination impossible to press with just one hand on the original IBM PC keyboard.
The feature was originally conceived only as a development feature for internal use and not intended to be used by end users, as it triggered the reboot without warning or further confirmation—it was meant to be used by people writing programs or documentation, so that they could reboot their computers without powering them down. Bill Gates (former Microsoft CEO) remembered it as "just something we were using in development and it wouldn't be available elsewhere". The feature, however, was detailed in IBM's technical reference documentation to the original PC and thereby revealed to the general public.
Bradley viewed this work as just one small task out of many: "It was five minutes, 10 minutes of activity, and then I moved on to the next of the 100 things that needed to get done."
Bradley is also known for his good-natured jab at Gates at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of IBM PC: "I may have invented it, but Bill made it famous"; he quickly added it was a reference to Windows NT logon procedures ("Press Ctrl + Alt + Delete to log on").
During a question and answer presentation on 21 September 2013, Gates said "it was a mistake", referring to the decision to use Ctrl+Alt+Del as the keyboard combination to log into Windows. Gates stated he would have preferred a single button to trigger the same actions, but could not get IBM to add the extra button into the keyboard layout.
By default, when the operating system is running in real mode (or in a pre-boot environment, when no operating system is started yet), this keystroke combination is intercepted by the BIOS. The BIOS reacts by performing a soft reboot (also known as a warm reboot). Examples of such operating systems include DOS, Windows 3.0 in Standard Mode as well as earlier versions of Windows.
In Windows 9x and Windows 3.0 running in 386 Enhanced mode, the keystroke combination is recognized by the Windows keyboard device driver. According to the value of the LocalReboot option in the [386Enh] section of system.ini, Windows performs one of several actions in response. If LocalReboot=On (default):
- Windows 3.1x displays a blue screen that allows the user to press Enter to end a task that has stopped responding to the system (if such a task exists) or press Control+Alt+Delete again to perform a soft reboot. The text of this rudimentary task manager was written by Steve Ballmer.
- Windows 9x temporarily halts the entire system and displays the Close Program dialog box, a window which lists currently running processes and allows the user to end them (by force, if necessary). The user can press Control+Alt+Delete again to perform a soft reboot.
Windows NT family
Windows NT family of operating system, whose members do not have "NT" in their names since Windows 2000, reserve Ctrl+Alt+Delete for the operating system itself. Winlogon, a core component of the operating system, responds to the key combination in the following scenarios:
- Invoking Windows Security
- When a user is logged onto a Windows computer, pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete invokes Windows Security. It is a graphical user interface that allows user to lock the system,[a] switch user, log off, change the password, invoke Windows Task Manager, or end the Windows session by shutting down, rebooting or putting the computer into sleep or hibernation. The key combination always invokes Windows Security in all versions and editions of Windows NT family except Windows XP. (See below.) Prior to Windows Vista, Windows Security was a dialog box, did not allow user switching and showed the logon date and time, name of user account into which the user has logged on and the computer name. Starting with Windows Vista, Windows Security became full-screen.
- Secure attention
- Logon spoofing is a social engineering trick in which a malicious computer program, masquerading as Windows login dialog box, prompts for user's account name and password to steal them. To thwart this attack, Windows NT implements an optional security measure in which Ctrl+Alt+Delete acts as a secure attention key combination. Once the protection is activated, Windows requires the user to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete each time before logging on or unlocking the computer. Since the key combination is intercepted by Windows itself and malicious software cannot mimic this behavior,[b] the trick is thwarted. Unless the Windows computer is part of a Windows domain network, the secure attention protection is disabled by default and must be enabled by the user.
- Windows XP behavior
- Windows XP introduces Welcome Screen, a redesigned logon interface. The Welcome Screen of Windows XP, however, does not support the secure attention scenario. It may be disabled in favor of the classic plain logon screen, either explicitly by the user or as a consequence of the Windows XP computer becoming part of a Windows domain network. With that in mind, Windows XP uses the three-finger salute in the following unique scenarios:
- At a logon prompt, the key combination dismisses Welcome Screen and invokes classic logon user interface.
- When a user is logged on to a Windows XP computer and Welcome Screen is enabled, pressing the key combination invokes Windows Task Manager instead of Windows Security.
- Windows Vista and the next versions of Windows NT did not inherit any of the above.
In OS/2, this keystroke combination is recognized by the OS/2 keyboard device driver, which notifies the session manager process. The normal session manager process in OS/2 versions 2.0 and later is the parent Workplace Shell process, which displays the "The system is rebooting" window and triggers a soft reboot. If it is pressed twice in succession OS/2 triggers an immediate soft reboot, without waiting for the session manager process.
In both cases, the system flushes the page cache, cleanly unmounts all disc volumes, but does not cleanly shut down any running programs (and thus does not save any unsaved documents, or the current arrangements of the objects on the Workplace Shell desktop or in any of its open folders).
Ctrl+Alt+Delete is not a keyboard shortcut on macOS platforms. Instead, ⌘ Command+⌥ Option+Esc can be used to bring up the Force Quit Menu. However, in the macOS Server logon screen, pressing Control+⌥ Option+Delete (as the Option key is the equivalent of Alt key on a Mac keyboard) will show an alert saying "This is not DOS." Control+⌘ Command+Power immediately restarts the computer.
Equivalents on various platforms
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|BIOS||Ctrl+Alt+Delete||Perform a soft reboot without memory initialization by jumping to IPL reset vector, after broadcasting a pending shutdown event (on AT compatible machines).|
|DOS + KEYB||Ctrl+Alt+Delete||Perform a soft reboot without memory initialization by jumping to IPL reset vector, after broadcasting a pending shutdown event (on AT compatible machines) and flushing disk caches (since DOS 6, or with FreeKEYB loaded). Some 386 memory managers (e.g. QEMM) can intercept and turn this into a quick reboot. If more than one task is running under multitaskers like DR-DOS EMM386 /MULTI + TASKMGR, this will only kill the currently running foreground task.|
|DOS + K3PLUS or FreeKEYB||⇧ Shift+Ctrl+Alt+Delete||Perform a soft reboot with memory initialization (aka "cold reboot") by jumping to IPL reset vector, after broadcasting a pending shutdown event (on AT compatible machines) and flushing disk caches.|
|LShift+RShift+Ctrl+Alt+Delete||Perform a hard reboot by triggering the chipset's reset logic, after broadcasting a pending shutdown event and flushing disk caches.|
|Windows 3.x||Ctrl+Alt+Delete||Close unresponsive applications. Performs a soft reboot if pressed twice.|
|Windows 9x||Ctrl+Alt+Delete||Bring up "Close Program" dialog box (a simplistic task manager). Performs a soft reboot if pressed twice.|
|Windows NT family||Ctrl+⇧ Shift+Esc||Bring up the Windows Task Manager|
|Ctrl+Alt+End||Used in Terminal Services to send the command to the remote session / application:|
|OS/2||Ctrl+Esc||Bring up the Window List (unblocking the synchronous input queue)|
|Ctrl+Alt+Delete||Perform a soft reboot|
|Ctrl+Alt, NumLock (twice)||Halt the system and begin a system dump to floppy disk|
|TOS (1.4 and higher), MiNT||Ctrl+Alt+Delete||Perform soft reboot without memory initialization (warm boot)|
|RShift+Ctrl+Alt+Delete||Perform soft reboot with memory initialization (cold boot)|
|Linux||Ctrl+Alt+Delete||Signal the init process (usually configured to soft reboot)|
|Alt+SysRq+function key||Magic SysRq key: Depending on the function key, performs a certain low-level function. Examples: sync (flush caches), reboot (forced soft reboot), unmount (remount filesystems readonly), etc.|
|macOS||⌥ Option+⌘ Command+Esc||Force quit applications|
|⌘ Cmd+Control+⏏ Media Eject||Quit all applications and restart|
|⌘ Cmd+⌥ Option+Control+⏏ Media Eject||Quit all applications and shut down|
|Control+⏏ Media Eject||Show restart, sleep or shutdown dialog|
|Control+⌘ Command+Power||Immediately restarts computer.|
|BeOS||Ctrl+Alt+⇧ Shift and click an application's entry in the Deskbar||Kills application|
|Xfce||Ctrl+Alt+Esc + click on window||Kills application (invokes xkill)|
|Ctrl+Alt+Delete||Lock the screen and invoke the screensaver|
|X Window System||Ctrl+Alt+← Backspace||Immediately kills the X server (the key can be disabled). When using an X Display Manager, it will usually start the X server again.|
|TI-30XIIS||On+Clear||Restarts the calculator and clears RAM|
|TI-80, TI-81, TI-82, TI-83, TI-84||Mode, Alpha, S||Shows ROM version number. [Enter] enters self test mode|
|TI-85, TI-86||2nd, Mode, Alpha, S||Shows ROM version number. [Enter] enters self test mode|
|TI-89||2nd+Left Arrow+Right Arrow+On||Restarts the calculator and clears RAM|
|Esc+On||Force break without restarting RAM|
|F5, Diamond+Clear, Alpha+S||Enter self test mode|
|Natural display Casio calculators||⇧ Shift+7+On||Restarts the calculator and clears RAM and EEPROM. Continue pressing Shift to advance through self-test mode.|
|TI-99/4A||FCTN+-++||Resets machine back to startup screen.|
|Voyage 200||2nd+Hand+On||Restarts the calculator and clears RAM|
|HP-48||On+C||Restarts RPL, clearing the Stack and PICT, closing IO, and returning to the HOME directory (but not purging the memory)|
|On+A+F||As above, but also purges the memory|
|Scientific Atlanta Explorer DHCT||Volume Down+Volume Up+Info (on settop box; not remote)||Reboots box (starts up to blue EXPLORER screen)|
|Foxtel Set-top-boxes||Back+Select (on box; except UEC 720)||Power cycles the machine.|
|Standby+Foxtel (on box; UEC 720)|
|Back+Select+Reset (on box; iQ2)|
In popular culture
The keystrokes are well known and infamous for escaping from problems in pop culture. For example, in the Billy Talent song "Perfect World", part of the lyrics include the sequence and associate it with resetting their memory and escaping from a situation: "Control-Alt-Deleted. Reset my memory."
"Play me online? Well, you know that I'll beat you.
If I ever meet you I'll Control-Alt-Delete you"
- When a Windows computer is locked, access to Windows is only allowed when valid credentials are supplied. Unlocking a computer is similar to a logon.
- The only way to wrest the control of Ctrl+Alt+Delete handling from Windows is to subvert its core components such as kernel or winlogon. However, a malicious program that has succeeded in breaching Windows integrity so deeply does not need to steal a password.
- Smith, Gina (2007-12-03). "Unsung innovators: David Bradley, inventor of the "three-finger salute"". Computerworld. Retrieved 2009-04-12.
- "CTRL-ALT-DEL: The Three Finger Salute". Togaware. Retrieved 2009-04-12.
- "Slang Dictionary - Dictionary.com". Reference.com. Retrieved 2012-07-08.
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- Hughes, Virginia (2013-07-12). "The History of CTRL + ALT + DELETE". mental floss. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
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- "Thank this guy for 'control-alt-delete'". Indianapolis Star. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
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- Hyde, Randall (1996-09-30). "The Art of Assembly Language Programming". Retrieved 2012-04-25.
- Paul, Matthias (2002-04-03). "[fd-dev] Ctrl+Alt+Del". freedos-dev.
- "Windows 3.1 Resource Kit SYSTEM.INI 386ENH Section A–L". Microsoft's KnowledgeBase article 83435 (1.0 ed.). 2001-07-30 . Retrieved 2005-01-07.
From SYSINI.WRI in Microsoft Windows Resource Kit for Windows 3.1: LocalReboot=<on-or-off>; Default: On; Purpose: Specifies whether you can press CTRL+ALT+DEL to quit applications that cause an unrecoverable errors in 386 enhanced mode, without restarting Windows. If this setting is enabled, you can quit the applications. If this setting is disabled, pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL will restart your entire system (as it normally does.)
- Chen, Raymond (2014-09-02). "Who wrote the text for the Ctrl+Alt+Del dialog in Windows 3.1?". The Old New Thing. Microsoft. Retrieved 2014-09-10.
- Chappell, Geoff (1998-05-06). "Is this possible?". Newsgroup: comp.os.ms-windows.programmer.vxd. Usenet: firstname.lastname@example.org. — a report of differences in
LocalRebootbetween Windows 3.x and Windows 95
- Terhune, Gary S. (2004-01-11). "Lost Ctrl-Alt-Del function on W98, 2nd". Newsgroup: microsoft.public.win98.gen_discussion. Usenet: uAIVMjC2DHA.2336@TK2MSFTNGP09.phx.gbl. Retrieved 2013-10-02. — a report of the effect of
LocalRebootin Windows 95
- Osterman, Larry (2005-01-24). "Why is Control-Alt-Delete the secure attention sequence (SAS)?". Larry Osterman's WebLog. MSDN Blogs. Retrieved 2007-03-15.
- "Enable Press Ctrl+Alt+Del Secure Logon On Windows 7 or Vista". My Digital Life. 2010-01-28. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
- "How to enable or disable the CTRL+ALT+DELETE sequence for logging on to Windows XP, to Windows Vista, and to Windows 7". Microsoft Support. Microsoft. 2010-12-10. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
- "How to change the logon window and the shutdown preferences in Windows XP". Microsoft Support. Microsoft. 2007-05-07. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
- "Using CTRL+ALT+DEL key combination to open Windows Security opens Task Manager". Microsoft Support. Microsoft. 2006-01-15. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
- Iacobucci, Ed (1988). Das OS/2-Buch [OS/2 Programmer's Guide] (in German) (1st ed.). Hamburg: Osborne / McGraw-Hill Book Company GmbH (published 1989). ISBN 3-89028-151-6.
- Albrecht, Robert M.; Plura, Michael (1993). Das große Buch zu OS/2 Version 2 (in German) (1st ed.). Düsseldorf: Data Becker. ISBN 3-89011-598-5.
- Moskowitz, David; Kerr, David (1995). OS/2 Warp Version 3 für Insider [OS/2 Warp Unleashed Deluxe Edition] (in German) (1st ed.). SAMS Publishing. ISBN 3-87791-815-8.
- "Mac OS X Server Easter Egg - This is not DOS". Retrieved 2011-10-07.
- "Mac keyboard shortcuts". Apple, Inc.
- "Useful keyboard shortcuts". Ubuntu Desktop Guide. Canonical. Retrieved 2014-10-30.
- "Console Security". Ubuntu Server Guide. Canonical. Retrieved 2015-06-02.
- Paul, Matthias (2004-03-13). "Rebooting from user-space" (FreeDOS technical note). Archived from the original on 2017-01-16. Retrieved 2017-01-15.
- Paul, Matthias; Frinke, Axel C. (1997-10-13) [first published 1991], FreeKEYB - Enhanced DOS keyboard and console driver (User Manual) (v6.5 ed.) (NB. FreeKEYB is a Unicode-based dynamically configurable successor of K3PLUS supporting most keyboard layouts, code pages, and country codes.)
- Paul, Matthias; Frinke, Axel C. (2006-01-16), FreeKEYB - Advanced international DOS keyboard and console driver (User Manual) (v7 preliminary (v6.58) ed.)
- Frinke, Axel C.; Paul, Matthias (1995-05-10) [first published 1991], K3PLUS v6 - Der ultimative Ersatz für den DOS-Standard-Tastaturtreiber KEYB GR (User Manual) (in German) (r49-v6.21 ed.) (NB. K3PLUS was an extended keyboard driver for DOS widely distributed in Germany at its time, with adaptations to a handful of other European languages available.
K3PLUS.DOCis part of the
- "FreeMiNT-Portal - mint.doc". 2000-04-27. Archived from the original on 2017-01-15. Retrieved 2017-01-09.
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- FOXTEL Set-Top Unit Reboot
- Wordspy cites the earliest such use as Chris Miksanek's 18 December 1995 Computerworld column titled, "Ctrl-Alt-Delete those holiday trinkets".
- "Billy Talent – 'Perfect World' Lyrics". Retrieved 2011-07-13.
- Brinker, Jay. "Control Alt Delete at the Melbourne Fringe". The Conversation. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic – 'it's all about the pentiums' Lyrics". Retrieved 2011-10-26.
Play me online? Well, you know that I'll beat you. If I ever meet you I'll Control-Alt-Delete you
- Linux manual pages for kill(2) and reboot(2).