keycode and charcode

Why do people write statement like

e.keyCode ? e.keyCode : e.charCode

Some people also use e.which

Could someone please explain?



Handling key events consistently is not at all easy.

Firstly, there are two different types of codes: keyboard codes (a number representing the key on the keyboard the user pressed) and character codes (a number representing a Unicode character). You can only reliably get character codes in the keypress event. Do not try to get character codes for keyup and keydown events.

Secondly, you get different sets of values in a keypress event to what you get in a keyup or keydown event.

I recommend this page as a useful resource. As a summary:

If you're interested in detecting a user typing a character, use the keypress event. IE bizarrely only stores the character code in keyCode while all other browsers store it in which. Some (but not all) browsers also store it in charCode and/or keyCode. An example keypress handler:

function(evt) {
  evt = evt || window.event;
  var charCode = evt.which || evt.keyCode;
  var charStr = String.fromCharCode(charCode);

If you're interested in detecting a non-printable key (such as a cursor key), use the keydown event. Here keyCode is always the property to use. Note that keyup events have the same properties.

function(evt) {
  evt = evt || window.event;
  var keyCode = evt.keyCode;

  // Check for left arrow key
  if (keyCode == 37) {
    alert("Left arrow");

It is a conditional statement.

If browser supprts e.keyCode then take e.keyCode else e.charCode.

It is similar to

var code = event.keyCode || event.charCode

event.keyCode: Returns the Unicode value of a non-character key in a keypress event or any key in any other type of keyboard event.

event.charCode: Returns the Unicode value of a character key pressed during a keypress event.


Okay, here are the explanations.

e.keyCode - used to get the number that represents the key on the keyboard

e.charCode - a number that represents the unicode character of the key on keyboard

e.which - (jQuery specific) is a property introduced in jQuery (DO Not use in plain javascript)

Below is the code snippet to get the keyCode and charCode

// get key code
function getKey(event) {
  event = event || window.event;
  var keyCode = event.which || event.keyCode;

// get char code
function getChar(event) {
  event = event || window.event;
  var keyCode = event.which || event.keyCode;
  var typedChar = String.fromCharCode(keyCode);

Live example of Getting keyCode and charCode in JavaScript.


keyCode and which represent the actual keyboard key pressed in the form of a numeric value. The reason both exist is that keyCode is available within Internet Explorer while which is available in W3C browsers like FireFox.

charCode is similar, but in this case you retrieve the Unicode value of the character pressed. For example, the letter "A."

The JavaScript expression:

var keyCode = e.keyCode ? e.keyCode : e.charCode;

Essentially says the following:

If the e.keyCode property exists, set variable keyCode to its value. Otherwise, set variable keyCode to the value of the e.charCode property.

Note that retrieving the keyCode or charCode properties typically involve figuring out differences between the event models in IE and in W3C. Some entails writing code like the following:

 get the event object: either window.event for IE 
 or the parameter e for other browsers
var evt = window.event ? window.event : e;
 get the numeric value of the key pressed: either 
 event.keyCode for IE for e.which for other browsers
var keyCode = evt.keyCode ? evt.keyCode : e.which;

EDIT: Corrections to my explanation of charCode as per Tor Haugen's comments.


I (being people myself) wrote this statement because I wanted to detect the key which the user typed on the keyboard across different browsers.

In firefox for example, characters have > 0 charCode and 0 keyCode, and keys such as arrows & backspace have > 0 keyCode and 0 charCode.

However, using this statement can be problematic as "collisions" are possible. For example, if you want to distinguish between the Delete and the Period keys, this won't work, as the Delete has keyCode = 46 and the Period has charCode = 46.


The property event.which is added when using jQuery to avoid browser differences. See docs.

The which property will be undefined if you are not using jQuery.


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