What is Ctrl Alt Delete? What does Ctrl Alt Del do?

There’s a very slim chance that you have never heard of Ctrl Alt Delete. Most people encountered it, and many probably use it regularly. However, do you want to learn more about what Ctrl Alt Del is on a keyboard? What it’s used for, and how to send this combination of keys to a remote computer? For details and more information, read on:

What is Ctrl-Alt-Delete, and what’s it used for?

Ctrl Alt Delete, also known as Ctrl + Alt + Del, is a keyboard shortcut used on computers and laptops that, depending on the context, allows you to quickly restart your device or show a screen with some basic options from Windows. But first, let’s see how you trigger Ctrl Alt Delete: on your computer or laptop keyboard, press the Ctrl and Alt keys simultaneously. Then, while holding them pressed, press the third key of the keyboard shortcut: Delete or Del.

Ctrl Alt Del on the keyboard

What happens when you press Ctrl Alt Delete?

On a Windows PC, there are two things that can happen when you use the Ctrl Alt Delete keyboard shortcut:

  • If you’re in your computer’s UEFI or BIOS, or while your PC is booting but hasn’t yet finished starting Windows, pressing Ctrl Alt Del once instantly reboots your computer.
  • If Windows is running, pressing Ctrl Alt Delete on your keyboard interrupts anything you do on it and loads a simple screen with a few basic options to choose from. Read the next section of this article to see them.

What is Ctrl Alt Delete used for in Windows?

In Windows 11 and Windows 10, the main desktop operating systems today, pressing Ctrl Alt Delete gives you access to the following options:

  • Lock - Clicking or tapping on this option locks your Windows PC so that no other users can access your account while you’re away. When you want to get back to work, you have to unlock your PC using any of the sign-in methods you’ve previously configured, like Windows Hello Face, PIN, or plain-old password.
  • Switch user - This option lets you sign in to your Windows computer or device using another user account. Switching to a new user doesn’t close any apps or windows open by the currently logged-in user account. It only puts them in a sort of a sleep state so that you can quickly switch back and forth between the different Windows user accounts.
  • Sign out - Choosing this option signs you out of your user account, closing all programs and windows you might have open, so make sure you first save your work.
  • Task Manager - Clicking or tapping on Task Manager opens the Windows tool bearing the same name. Task Manager is very useful when you need to manage how apps, processes, and services run on your Windows PC.
  • Change a password - This option is shown only if you’re using an offline local account on your Windows PC. Clicking or tapping on it allows you to change your user’s password, but only if you know the old one too, so you can’t use it to reset a forgotten password.

The choices available on a Windows 11 Ctrl Alt Delete screen

Additionally, on the bottom-right corner of the Windows Ctrl Alt Del screen, you also get a few buttons that allow you to perform a few other essential functions. Depending on your device, you can see buttons for:

Additional buttons on the Windows 11 Ctrl Alt Delete screen

How to Ctrl Alt Del in remote desktop sessions

If you’re on a remote Windows computer through a Remote Desktop Connection and want to use the Ctrl Alt Delete keyboard shortcut, you might quickly find that it doesn’t work. Instead of acting on the remote computer, Ctrl Alt Del acts on the computer you connect from. To send Ctrl Alt Delete to the remote computer, you have to slightly change the key combination. While remotely connected, press Ctrl Alt End instead of Ctrl Alt Del.

How to send Ctrl Alt Delete to a remote PC: Ctrl Alt End

If you do that, the remote computer will interpret your command as Ctrl Alt Delete.

The Ctrl Alt Delete screen on a remote PC

What is wrong with Ctrl Alt Del?

Sometimes, the Ctrl Alt Delete keyboard shortcut can refuse to work, even if you press it repeatedly. Why is that happening? Well, there are multiple possible causes:

  • For starters, you should check whether pressing Ctrl Alt Del works before Windows starts. If it doesn’t, then most probably there’s an issue with your keyboard. Maybe one of the three keys - Ctrl, Alt, or Delete - is broken, or maybe your whole keyboard reached its end of life.
  • However, if Ctrl Alt Delete works before Windows is loaded, then the problem is likely a software issue. It can be a bug in the operating system, an application that’s misbehaving and freezes your PC, or even some malware that affects your Windows device. In that case, check whether it works in Safe Mode. If it does, you’ll have to do some troubleshooting and/or malware removal to try to get rid of the issues. On the other hand, if it doesn’t work in Safe Mode, our recommendation is to simply try to reinstall Windows, as it’s the most probable way of repairing what’s broken.

What do you use Ctrl Alt Delete for?

Now you know more about what Ctrl Alt Del is and what it’s used for. You also learned how to send Ctrl Alt Delete to a remote computer and what may stop it from working. So what are you using Ctrl Alt Delete for? Which is its primary purpose in your case? Let us know in a comment below.

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