The Pipe Symbol (|): A Comprehensive Guide

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Unless you work in computing, mathematics, or physics, chances are you have never come across the pipe symbol. However, the pipe symbol is important enough to earn a place on your keyboard, so how should it be used? 

If you want to know what this symbol represents, how it can be used, or why you might want to use it in typesetting, this is the article for you. Take a look at everything the pipe symbol is below and how you can use it yourself. 

What is the Pipe Symbol?

The pipe symbol (|) resembles a vertical line and is a typographical mark used in computing, mathematics, physics, and occasionally in typesetting as a footnote option. It is also known as the vertical bar or vertical line and may be used with a gap. The broken pipe symbol (¦) is used in the same manner as a complete pipe. 

Where is the Pipe Symbol on a Keyboard?

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The pipe symbol is located on the backslash key above the enter key on the right side of the keyboard layout. You can create it by hitting shift and the backslash key. To create the broken pipe, you will have to go into your program’s special character or symbol section. 

If you are using a tablet or phone, you will need to go into your symbols section or numeric keyboard. For the most part, the symbol is used on smartphones to create images in texting rather than for its original use. 

How Do You Use a Pipe Symbol?

As mentioned, the pipe key is used mainly for computing, mathematics, and physics. In computing, it is a programming symbol. For example, the double pipe (||) is used to indicate the words an, and, or, not, and “and not” in conjunction with other symbols to combine or exclude keywords in programming and searches. A single pipe character indicates a delimiter or redirects a command’s output to the input of another command.

It is used in more advanced formulas and equations in mathematics and physics. It also can be used with a double pipe and single pipe to indicate specific directions or relations between equational components. For example, a double pipe indicates two things running parallel to one another (AB||BC).  

The only time you use a pipe symbol in typesetting is when you use it as a footnote option. This is only after exhausting other common footnote symbols, such as the asterisk and dagger. When proofreading your materials that include footnotes, be sure to use it as a fifth (or greater) reference after the more commonly recognized options.  

Let’s Review

The pipe symbol is a typographical mark and, although located on the keyboard, is not used on a regular basis. 

The pipe symbol has very limited use in writing and is more commonly seen in math, physics, and computer programming. If seen in typesetting, it will be used as a footnote option after the more common footnote symbols are used.