Basic Keyboard Input

Click to focus, then press left arrow, right arrow and spacebar to rotate the cube. Press and release the 'a' key to change color.

Keyboard handling in the PlayCanvas engine is provided by the pc.Keyboard object. The Keyboard object provides a simple interface for common keyboard operations like checking if a key is pressed or held down. It also takes away the various cross-browser problems with handling keycodes and charcodes.

Take a look at the keyboard input Scene in the tutorials project. Here is the code for the tutorial:

var KeyboardHandler = pc.createScript('keyboardHandler');

KeyboardHandler.attributes.add('redMaterial', {
    type: 'asset',
    assetType: 'material'

KeyboardHandler.attributes.add('whiteMaterial', {
    type: 'asset',
    assetType: 'material'

// initialize code called once per entity
KeyboardHandler.prototype.initialize = function() {
    // Use on() to listen for events on the keyboard device.
    // Arguments are:
    // 1) The event name to listen for
    // 2) The callback function to call when the event fires
    // 3) (optional) The value to use for 'this' in the callback function

    this.app.keyboard.on(pc.EVENT_KEYDOWN, this.onKeyDown, this);
    this.app.keyboard.on(pc.EVENT_KEYUP, this.onKeyUp, this);

// update code called every frame
KeyboardHandler.prototype.update = function(dt) {
     * Notice in the demo that pressing and holding the arrow keys doesn't
     * make the block spin. wasPressed() is used to detect a
     * keypress that occurred since the last frame and will only be
     * called once even if the key is held down.
    var angle = 0;
    if (this.app.keyboard.wasPressed(pc.KEY_LEFT)) {
        angle = -5;
    } else if (this.app.keyboard.wasPressed(pc.KEY_RIGHT)) {
        angle = 5;

     * Notice that pressing and holding the space bar makes the block
     * continuously spin. isPressed() is used to detected if a
     * key is down right now. So it will be true every frame as long as
     * the key is still pressed.
    if (this.app.keyboard.isPressed(pc.KEY_SPACE)) {
        angle = 1;

    // Update the spinning cube
    this.entity.rotateLocal(0, angle, 0);

* Event handler called when key is pressed
KeyboardHandler.prototype.onKeyDown = function (event) {
    // Check event.key to detect which key has been pressed
    if (event.key === pc.KEY_A && this.redMaterial) {
        this.entity.model.meshInstances[0].material = this.redMaterial.resource;

    // When the space bar is pressed this scrolls the window.
    // Calling preventDefault() on the original browser event stops this.

* Event handler called when key is released
KeyboardHandler.prototype.onKeyUp = function (event) {
    // Check event.key to detect which key has been pressed
    if (event.key === pc.KEY_A && this.whiteMaterial) {
        this.entity.model.meshInstances[0].material = this.whiteMaterial.resource;

There are two ways of detecting keyboard input. The first is done in the update method of your scripts. Use isPressed() and wasPressed() and check whether a key is currently pressed or has just been pressed. The second uses events to respond to a key press or release as it happens.

isPressed vs wasPressed

In the demo above you can see the difference in behaviour between isPressed() and wasPressed().

When you press and hold the left or right arrow keys the cube will rotate by 5°, but it will only rotate once. This is because wasPressed() only returns true for the frame immediately after the key was pressed.

If you press and hold the spacebar you will see that the cube rotates continuously by 1° per frame. This is because isPressed() returns true for every frame in which the key is pressed.


isPressed(key) checks to see if key is currently pressed and returns true if it is. It will return true for every frame while the key is pressed.


wasPressed(key) checks to see if key was pressed since the last frame. wasPressed() will only return true once for a single key press.


The second method of handling key presses is to listen for events. Two keyboard events are supported on the Keyboard device:

DOM keyboard events are implemented differently on different browsers so the PlayCanvas Engine provides events on the pc.Keyboard object so you can use the same code everywhere. When the keyboard events are fired the event handler is passed a pc.KeyboardEvent object which contains the key code of the key that was pressed on released.

Notice we are also passing a third argument to on(), which is this or the Script Instance itself. The third argument to on() is used as this in the event callbacks, so we need to pass it in here, otherwise it won't be set to the correct object.

Key Codes

Identifying which key is pressed is done using key codes. These are numerical values which match up to a key on the keyboard. For example, pc.KEY_A is the A key, pc.LEFT is the left arrow key.

Note, you should always use the enumeration pc.KEY_* rather than using numerical values. As the actual value of these constants may change in the future.

Try it out

Try it out in full screen here or at the top of the page. Compare tapping and holding the arrow keys, and tapping and holding the spacebar.