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Adding shortcuts to your Chrome Extension

paulasantamaria profile image Paula Santamaría ・4 min read

Last week I wrote an article explaining how to create a simple chrome extension. Today we are going to work on a new feature: Keyboard shortcuts.

We will add two shortcuts:

  • Alt + Shift + 1 will open our browser action
  • Ctrl/Command + Shift + 2 will duplicate the current tab

A diagram displaying the two shortcuts we will add to our extension

Table of contents

Commands API

To create a keyboard shortcut for our extension, we must use the commands API. Through this API, we can define commands and bind them to a combination of keys. When someone uses the shortcut, the command will be triggered, and the appropriate logic will be executed.

We must declare our commands in the manifest.json file along with their suggested keyboard shortcut. We can define multiple commands in the manifest.json. However, only 4 shortcuts can be suggested by our extension. The user can bind the other commands to a keyboard shortcut from the browser (chrome://extensions/shortcuts).

Available keys
Any keyboard shortcut must use either Ctrl (Command in Mac) or Alt but cannot include both. We can also use Shift.

Other supported keys: A-Z, 0-9, Comma, Period, Home, End, PageUp, PageDown, Space, Insert, Delete, Arrow keys (Up, Down, Left, Right) and the Media Keys (MediaNextTrack, MediaPlayPause, MediaPrevTrack, MediaStop).

Examples: Ctrl + Shift + L, Alt + Shift + L Command + , Ctrl + Shift + 1

Keep in mind that you cannot use commands reserved by the browser, like Ctrl + T (which in Chrome opens a new tab).

We should handle the logic that we want to execute once the user runs a command in a background script. I will explain more about this later.

Let's get coding

1. Define the commands in the manifest.json file

To define a command, we should use the commands property in our manifest.json file, like so:

{
    "manifest_version": 2,
    "name": "Acho, where are we?",
    ...
    "commands": {
        "_execute_browser_action": {
            "suggested_key": {
                "default": "Alt+Shift+1"
            }
        },
        "duplicate-tab": {
            "suggested_key": {
                "default": "Ctrl+Shift+2",
                "mac": "Command+Shift+2"
            },
            "description": "Duplicates the currently active tab because... why not?"
        }
    }
}
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In the previous code, we defined 2 different commands:

  • _execute_browser_action: This is a reserved command that will be handled by chrome directly. By defining it in our manifest.json, we are telling chrome to open our browser action when the user executes the shortcut. We do not need to handle the logic for this command ourselves.
  • duplicate-tab: This is a custom command that our extension must handle manually. Notice that this command also includes a description, which is not required for reserved commands (chrome just displays a default description that cannot be overridden).

2. Add a background script

To handle the logic for our duplicate-tab command, we will need a background script. Using this script, we will listen for the onCommand method and execute the appropriate logic.

About background scripts

The purpose of Background scripts is usually to listen to events from the browser and trigger a reaction. These scripts will stay running while they perform their tasks after some event was fired, and then they will be unloaded.

To include our background script, we must modify our manifest.json file and define it using the background property, like so:

{
    "manifest_version": 2,
    "name": "Acho, where are we?",
    ...
    "background": {
        "scripts": [
            "background.js"
        ],
        "persistent": false
    }
}
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Finally, let's add a new file called background.js in our project's root.

3. Listen for the command event

For our command to be properly handled, we need to listen to the onCommand event in our background script and execute the appropriate logic once our duplicate-tab is called.

So we will listen to the event and call the duplicateTab function when the duplicate-tab command is called:

chrome.commands.onCommand.addListener(function (command) {
    switch (command) {
        case 'duplicate-tab':
            duplicateTab();
            break;
        default:
            console.log(`Command ${command} not found`);
    }
});

/**
* Gets the current active tab URL and opens a new tab with the same URL.
*/
function duplicateTab() {
    const query = { active: true, currentWindow: true };
    chrome.tabs.query(query, (tabs) => {
        chrome.tabs.create({ url: tabs[0].url, active: false });
    });
}
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Notice that I did not include a case for the _execute_browser_action command because, as we said before, that command is handled automatically by chrome.

Done!

Now when the user executes Alt + Shift + 1, the browser action will be open, and when they use the shortcut Ctrl/Command + Shift + 2, the current tab will be duplicated.

The repo

I'm keeping this repo updated with all my Chrome Extensions examples:

GitHub logo pawap90 / acho-where-are-we

Acho (a cute pup) tells you the title of the current page on your browser. A sample chrome extension.


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Discussion (4)

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ianwijma profile image
Ian Wijma

One thing I always dislike about extension development is that there isn't really an agreed up on standard between Firefox and Chrome. At least that was a few years ago. Not sure how this has improved.

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paulasantamaria profile image
Paula Santamaría Author • Edited

I plan to cover that subject later in this series! From what I've been reading, porting a Chrome Extension to Firefox, for example, should be "easy" nowadays. But I still have a lot of digging to do.

This is what I've been reading, in case you're interested: Porting a Google Chrome extension - Firefox Extension Workshop

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danielavi profile image
Daniel

Explained beautifully and clearly,
waiting to hear more from you,
thanks!

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paulasantamaria profile image
Paula Santamaría Author

Thanks, Daniel! Just published another post on this series :)

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