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The Magical Power of CTRL+S

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The magical power of Ctrl S

Hi Everyone! Leo Notenboom here for So have you ever noticed when you’re watching TV, and there’s computer geeks or some computer professional onscreen, you can almost always tell exactly how fake they are, because they’re typing – sometimes it’s just as bad as waving fingers over the keyboard. Sometimes it’s just obvious that they’re not typing anything; they’re just making it up.

They never, ever hit the backspace key – never. And they never, ever save their work. Now, contrast that with real users, real geeks, real computer professionals. It might not be touch typing (I know mine certainly is), but it’s absolutely very real. They’re correcting errors constantly, and I have to admit, backspace by far is the most used key on my keyboard.

I’m not really a very good typist; I never learned touch typing or anything like that. I can get pretty fast, but it also means that I can do corrections pretty fast. And they’re also periodically typing the key sequence ‘Ctrl S’. So what is so special about Ctrl S.

Well, here’s the deal: Anyone that’s used computers for any length of time has had this happen. You’re typing along doing whatever it is you’re doing, creating awesome content, writing blog posts, writing a document, writing a wonderful email – whatever and all of a sudden “poof” – it’s all gone.

The computer has crashed, the application has crashed, the window is closed, something happened, and all of the work that you had just been doing has disappeared – poof. Have that happen enough times, and you start to develop some interesting habits. One of which is to periodically, randomly, frequently, save your work to disk.

Now exactly how you do that varies a lot depending on the application you’re using, but in a lot of applications, it’s the key sequence ‘Ctrl S’. In many Windows applications that’s a shortcut for hitting the File menu and the Save option. And all that does is, it saves what you’re working on to disk, so that if you crash, if something happens, then the work is still there on disk ready for you to reload it.

Now I know that a lot of applications have crash recovery, and that’s great. I’ve seen it do some awesome, awesome things, but it’s not something, to be honest, an experienced user really wants to rely on completely. And of course, it’s just not in all applications. In fact, there are applications that don’t really even have ‘Ctrl S’.

Composing an email in a web browser, for example, if you’re using something like Gmail or Yes, they will save what you are working on to a draft folder periodically but it’s not the same. If your browser crashes at the wrong time, then the email you’re composing goes away. I go so far as to actually compose anything major offline – in another window, in another application that’s actually a file on my disk. I just use a text editor. You can use Notepad and periodically hit ‘Save’ so that no matter what happens, that email you’re composing never is lost.

When you’re done composing it, then of course you copy and paste it into your email program or into email web application and off you go. So, watch your local geek sometime. Notice how he or she types, but also notice how often they are saving their work as they go along.

Type, type, type, ‘Ctrl S’. Type, type, type, ‘Ctrl S’. Type, type, type, ‘Ctrl S’. You get the idea. Depending on how recently and how severely they’ve been burned by this kind of data loss, they could be hitting ‘Ctrl S’ very, very often. That’s a person with experience. It’s often hard won and painful experience but it’s experience nonetheless. They’ve learned from that and they’re protecting themselves.

And unfortunately, this experience apparently doesn’t transfer or doesn’t translate to interesting television. Or movies because once again, those folks behind their computers, fake typing, never ever seem to make a mistake. So what lessons have you learned from your experiences using your technology over the recent years?

What habits have you developed that helped protect you from the major crashes or minor annoyances that you’ve perhaps experienced over time? Let me know. As always, if you’re watching this anywhere but on, here’s the URL. Go visit this link. That’s where you’ll find this video with comments enabled. They’re moderated. I’d love to hear from you.

Let me know what kinds of things you’ve developed over time that protect you from the kinds of things that can happen when you’re using your computer. Take care; I will see you again next week.

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52 comments on “The Magical Power of CTRL+S”

  1. Thank you for that tip. I have been using the Chrome browser on a Windows 7 pro desktop, and in the past few weeks I realized I was accidentally touching the “Ctrl” key (by itself) once in a while. That can really throw me off. It produces totally unexpected results. Took me a while to figure out I was causing it. I dare not try it right now, but I think it closes the tab that is opened. It usually happens when I am trying to hurry and miss the “Shift” key.
    I need a better desk lamp. ;-)

  2. I do all my work on files in a Dropbox folder (any cloud service can be used), so that every ctrl+s is also saved in the cloud, so that even if my disk dies (it did actually crash once, recovered easily because I followed Leo’s advice on backing up) I still have the file I’m working on saved in the cloud.

  3. I recognised this problem instantly. I have lost important emails, so now I just Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C as I go along – usually each paragraph. Using Ctrl+A covers the whole text (page) – when I have a crash i simply open up a new email, do Ctrl+C and my email reappears. Thanks for talking about this problem – great stuff as always.

    • Hopefully that’s a CTRL+V to paste the text from the clipboard. Another CTRL+C runs the risk of overwriting everything you’d been saving in the clipboard with nothing.

      • Ctrl-V,l if it follows Ctrl-A, can do the same danger as Ctrl-C, when it follows Ctrl-A.

        The Ctrl-A highlights the entire text.

        The Ctrl-V pastes over what is highlighted, or Ctrl-C copies over what is highlighted.

        In fact, just about ANY key (hey Madge, I can’t find the “any key”) will wipe out all your text if it is the next key you press after CTRL+A, which is why it is very important to memorize your OOPS KEY, Ctrl+Z.


  4. Right up there for we fat fingered folks is “Ctrl+Z”. Whether formatting a document or a formula in a spreadsheet. Ctrl+Z will undo the error. Use it quickly, before trying to fix the error, that may lead you down a rabbit hole of more errors. Then you have to use Ctrl+Z a few times to get back. Just hold the Ctrl key and tap Z a few times. If you go to far Ctrl+Y will redo the last action.
    Ctrl+Z (also Ctrl+S) will work even if not available on a menu bar or ribbon.


      • Speaking of not all programs, a joke: I tried Ctrl+S in my vim session and all it did was turn on software flow control. I had to Ctrl+Q to get my terminal back.

        It’s a joke because that can’t happen to me anymore, because `stty -ixon` is in my .zshrc. Yet, it’s a fine example that even Ctrl+S isn’t quite a global shortcut.

        • When I was first introduced to *nix (Xenix, derived from Unix, father of Linux) I hit control S and had no idea that the system hadn’t crashed or hung for some time. Ctrl+Q (much) later resolved it, of course.

  5. Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can possibly go wrong, will”

    It is just a good habit to save and save often.

  6. Interesting post and a good reminder. I know about CTRL + S, but it’s one of those things it’s easy to forget about.

    You know, you could write a book about how computers are used in movies and television in ways that completely defy reality or any sense of how these machines operate in real life.

    — James

  7. I dimly remember knowing about this in the past; so what I have been doing the last couple years; after I lost a lot of replies to web sites and long emails as I hit send or enter, was to select all, copy and then if it disappeared I could paste it back in. I’m going to have to see if I can relearn this.

    • If you’re using Firefox, you should look into getting the extension “Textarea Cache”. It saves the contents of long-form text input fields for you and keeps them around for a little while so that you can recover easier from an accidental Ctrl+W or a failed form submission.

      • Thank you Octav for your suggestion of “Textarea Cache”. My fumbling fingers keep hitting the ‘return to previous web page’ on my roller mouse. I have lost many a comment that way.

  8. Ha ha! If only they would teach that in school. “When you type a period, press Ctrl-S.”

    I can’t count the number of times users whom I support have lost literally hours of valuable work simply for lack of pressing that one key combination.

  9. Ctrl-S is definitely a useful thing. I have noticed, however, that a lot of people just ignore the fact that there are hotkeys for anything, apparently preferring to scroll through menus even for things they do frequently.

  10. Hi Leo – (hey I’ve backspaced already!!) – My habit, formed several years ago, is quite similar – Alt F, S, which is practically the same as Ctrl+S but it’s not so invisible, I can actually see it happen… To me it’s sort of like the difference between seeing the needle on the record and waiting for the CD that never starts playing. (Progress, huh!) :-)

  11. And yes, I copy-paste every online message before I send it, just in case the page refuses to cooperate. Every now and then I’m glad I did. :-) (That’s another habit.)

  12. One thing I add is to save my original file with a different name. Then everything I save is to the new file. The old file remains unchanged until I can check everything.

  13. I always used Ctrl+F+S. Now I use Ctrl+S. I have just learned to trust that it is working even though there is no visible evidence of it doing anything. You touched on cases when this key combination is not available — I don’t compose emails online, but when I am filling out an “email” contact web form (questions or comments to some company) I will repeatedly copy the content to my clipboard as I compose. This way I have a record of the “email” contact and a backup in case the page or the browser crashes. I use a clipboard utility called ClipMate so I never lose the clip and I can name the clip so I can find it again easily. I also use this technique when creating threads or replying to posts on bulletin boards.

  14. When Malcolm Lowry’s publisher managed to lose the typoscript of his first novel Ultramarine (1933), the author had to rewrite it on the basis of an older version that a friend had saved from his waste-basket. In 1944, the typoscripts of two sequels to Under the Volcano (1946) were lost when Lowry’s house was on fire. He never restarted them. The carbon copy and the safe had been invented long before.

    In 1947, a publisher left his briefcase containing a manuscript by Dutch author Willem Frederik Hermans in a café, never to see it again. Hermans gave a carbon copy of the same manuscript to another prospective publisher, making him sign a statement that he had to pay Hermans 10,000 florins if he lost it. (Hermans had a second carbon copy, he remarks when he relates this anecdote.)

    I use Leo’s method of hitting ctrl-s when I type short texts. For anything longer than one page, I take a more rigourous precaution: save my work every 10 minutes as a new file (filename_yymmdd_a, filename_yymmdd_b, etc), and copy these files to a usb stick at least once an hour.

    I’ve written several large manuscripts, two of them printed at 600+ pages each, and never lost a line. This approach gets even more valuable in the stage where I edit all over the manuscript, tying all the loose strings. It also allows retrieving deleted passages from earlier versions that later prove useful after all.

    The volume of the backup files is no problem. Neither is their number. On my hard drive I organize them in daily folders. On my rotating backup disks I keep everything. On the usb stick I weed the old versions, keeping only the last copy for every day. It may seem a lot of work, but actually it’s very simple, it takes little time and it gives great peace of mind.

  15. I’m one of those people who have been computing for years, (I began with a TRS-80) but never
    learned the quick key-strokes. Recently, I learned the power of Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V and more recently,,
    Ctrl-X Ctrl-V. These later commands are very useful in editing music. (I use Finale).

    Leo, It would be a major service to many of us if you would publish a list of all the Ctrl key combos
    and their uses. I’d post it right on the side of my computer.

    • There are dozens if not hundreds of them. You can Google windows shortcut keys and find most of them.
      A couple more very basic ones are
      ctrl z = Undo
      ctrl y = Redo
      I use ctrl z a lot

  16. 90% of my work is done in Kedit (a text editor) which just about never crashes and which save the file automatically under a temporary name every 2 updates. 9% of the time I am using QuattroPro, but the updates are not lengthy and the crash recovery is pretty good. I almost never lose anything of significance. So I don’t save much except when I am using QP right after a c rash, with fear that what I am trying to do provoked the crash. But good article. Especially if it pushes users to do their work in apps that don’t crash.

  17. So far, GMail has never let me down. All the times I’ve managed to lose my message, it has been in my “drafts”, intact (or with only the very most recent changes lost).

    Hmmm, that very reliability is probably encouraging me to be frighteningly complacent……………………..

    Everywhere else I save, save, save, save, save, and backup.

    • same here.

      Also, I send to another gmail e-address every so often;
      go to that account then sending it back;
      when finished it’s back to the initial account & ready to be sent off.

  18. Oh yes! After more than 25 years of computing I always keep a shortcut to the good old Windows Notepad on my start menu and almost everything of any import gets drafted in that first with frequent hitting of CTRL-S. Unfortunately (?) Google Docs can make us a little forgetful as it faithfully saves everything to Google Drive without any intervention from us. Can’t decide if that’s a good or bad thing.

  19. Also have been on line since TRS 80 all the way to Toshiba Satellite . Need an app to learn C** on line Please

  20. Q: What kinds of things you’ve developed over time that protect you from the kinds of things that can happen when you’re using your computer?
    A: Running Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit on a Dell Desktop XPS 8500 with 16.0 GB of installed RAM. My wife and I have identical PCs purchased at the same time. My wife’s PC was periodically crashing. By a very long process of elimination we discovered that it had something to do with the sleep modes that we were both using. We both decided then and there “No more sleep modes” and every night before we go to bed we do a complete shutdown. Result: No more crashes! It could be “Just my imagination running away with me” but it seems that ever since we have been doing a complete shutdown every night our PCs seem to be more robust!

    • I too have disabled the sleep and hibernate. I just say “Dam* the power bill!” and leave my PC on 24/7. I really like the fact I can sit down, move the mouse and have the screen up right away. A weekly reboot after a full backup keeps everything working well.
      Yes, it is overkill, I just hate to go thru the boot sequence when I just need the PC for a few minutes.

  21. There is also in many applications the ability to “Undo”. I have had to do this more times than I like to admit in many different programs.

  22. As to Ctrl-S, it only copies the file name up to the first legitimate punctuation mark (e.g. & is legitimate but / is not). So if there is a legitimate punctuation mark in an article which you want to save and that article has a title, then you use one of the following techniques.

    (1) Sweep your mouse over what you want the title to be and press Ctrl-C, then Ctrl-S, then Ctrl-V, then click on . This is the quicker alternative but there’s always the chance that you won’t sweep your mouse over everything. Then press Ctrl-C to copy this into the clipboard.

    (2) Use control arrows. Ctrl-home will get you to the top of the article which is presumably where the title is located. If the title is totally contained on one line you can simply press Shift – end (as will Shift – and that will mark off the line. If the title is two or more lines long, after you have pressed Ctrl press Shift – ) until you have all of the lines of the title marked off. Then press Ctrl-C.

    After you have performed (1) or (2) press Ctrl-S, Ctrl-V, and mouse click on Save. DO NOT proceed as follows -> Ctrl-S, Ctrl-V, Ctrl-S since the second Ctrl-S will accomplish nothing other than getting your computer to beep you the insulting insinuation that you have not used a legitimate sequence of Ctrl characters.

    I prefer using Ctrl keys because I am only human and my mouse sweeps are not always flawless. The choice is yours.

  23. I teach everyone I help a simple saving rule – save every time you don’t want to retype what you’ve done. In a complex document, that could be every 3 or 4 characters. In a less-intense document, that might be once a paragraph. My kids have said that it’s saved them a lot of times, and they’ve all told their friends. Ctrl-S is the easy way to save on the fly.

    Thanks, Leo!

  24. I always hear a program running in background.
    It slows down the computer to a great degree.
    how can I locate this program ? this seems to run for up to an hour seems to be scaning the whole hard drive.
    thanks jon

  25. While I was shopping last week, I came across a former student who wanted to reminisce a bit. We were talking about how often the power has been affected by storms this year, and she reminded me of the “mean trick” that I used to teach them the values of saving often. During the first couple of weeks in my Programming classes, I occasionally turned off the power while the students were writing their programs. (A master switch at the front of the room controlled all of the outlets in the room.) Since the first programs were usually just a few lines, it wasn’t terribly traumatic. But they soon learned the value of hitting Ctrl-S frequently.

  26. I set ‘auto save’ in Word to save automatically after 3 mts. The default is 10 mts at least. But, I change it to 3, so that most of the time I don’t loose anything that is on the doc. Of course, I have to wait sometimes to type when the ‘Auto Save ‘ interrupts. As I use a lot of images and lists in my doc, my Word application freezes sometimes. So, it is worth the trouble. The ‘Save a Backup Copy’ actually interrupts even worse. I also apply Cont.+C on my responses before hitting Submit. Without this, I’ve lost them quote some times when my responses don’t get posted due to some net problem or the other.

  27. Bless you, Leo. This article great and so important. I frequently tell people, CTRL S!! An out-of-town visitor ignored my frequent pleas and guess what? Yep, she lost everything. Too bad, so sad. AskLeo is without a doubt an absolute necessity in my computing life. (I’ve just ordered your book, Just Do This: Back Up! It will surely be a key tool.) ellenc

  28. Well and good, Leo – that saving our current on-going content is desired. But that doesn’t solve the problem of why the crash occurs in the first place. For me, almost every time the crash occurs, I first see the page go white, then the blue twirler appears, with the message – “Windows Explorer has stopped working. Check online or close the program”. Well – checking online is useless, as the program closes all the time regardless of what I click. Can you give me a cure for this ? Thanks ….. Robert

    • The whole point of this little rant is that there are literally hundreds of thousands of different reasons that things can crash. CTRL+S (or similar) is a way to protect yourself from those thousands of things.

      In your case, there are thousands of things that could cause what you’re seeing, alone. I’d start with malware scans, SFC, updated drivers (video in particular) as a start, and perhaps even a repair-reinstall of Windows itself if things don’t get better.

  29. For most email replies of any significance, I compose off-line for two reasons. One is that I have a copy if the email fails or goes south in some way. The other more important one is that it makes it impossible to send a badly written draft before I have corrected the grammar and spelling as well as refined the content to say what I really mean.

    Another safety measure, if you are not writing off-line, is to delete the @ in the address (if it is only going to one or two people) so that even if you hit send it will not actually be sent.

  30. I find Microsoft Office One Note a very useful program for nutting out more complex articles or written thought processes. You can create any number of different notebooks and then divide them up into sections and individual pages as seems appropriate for the type of work you’re doing. But you never have to remember to hit ctrl S because your work is saved automatically as you type. I will often save completed sections as a PDF to One Drive for online backup and/or perusal on a mobile device.

  31. When I taught computer classes, I told my students the control key changes the keyboard. There’s a whole raft of control commands. I know this because the Academic Dean disliked using the mouse.

  32. Last year, Word 2016 had a bug that made it crash when you closed a document and tried to save it. So before that bug was fixed, I would press CTRL, S every few sentences or so.

    For me, the magic keys are

    * the delete key, as I tend to add more things than omit them

    * the Shift/Delete sequence. Nothing like permanently deleting over 100 cookies!!!

    • Shift+Delete is great, but it can become a risky habit. In case of an oops moment, Recuva or Cloud storage recycle bin to the rescue. Speaking from experience.


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