How To’s


Some important defitions may be helpful for beginners.

  • Dialog is a window containing several other GUI elements/controls like buttons, edit boxes etc. Dialog is not necessarily a main window. Message box on top of main form is also a dialog. Main form is also considered a dialog by pywinauto.
  • A control is GUI element at any level of a hierarchy. This definition includes window, button, edit box, grid, grid cell, bar etc.
  • Win32 API technology (“win32” backend in pywinauto) provides an identifier for every control. This is a unique integer called handle.
  • UI Automation API (“uia” backend in pywinauto) may not provide window handle for every GUI element. Such an element is not visible to “win32” backend. But Inspect.exe can show property NativeWindowHandle if it’s available.

How to specify a usable Application instance

An Application() instance is the point of contact for all work with the application you are automating. So the Application instance needs to be connected to a process. There are two ways of doing this:

start(self, cmd_line, timeout=app_start_timeout)  # instance method:


connect(self, **kwargs)  # instance method:

start() is used when the application is not running and you need to start it. Use it in the following way:

app = Application().start(r"c:\path\to\your\application -a -n -y --arguments")

The timeout parameter is optional, it should only be necessary to use if the application takes a long time to start up.

connect() is used when the application to be automated is already launched. To specify an already running application you need to specify one of the following:


the process id of the application, e.g.

app = Application().connect(process=2341)

The windows handle of a window of the application, e.g.

app = Application().connect(handle=0x010f0c)

The path of the executable of the process (GetModuleFileNameEx is used to find the path of each process and compared against the value passed in) e.g.

app = Application().connect(path=r"c:\windows\system32\notepad.exe")

or any combination of the parameters that specify a window, these get passed to the pywinauto.findwindows.find_elements() function. e.g.

app = Application().connect(title_re=".*Notepad", class_name="Notepad")

Note: The application has to be ready before you can use connect*(). There is no timeout or retries like there is when finding the application after start(). So if you start the application outside of pywinauto you need to either sleep or program a wait loop to wait until the application has fully started.

How to specify a dialog of the application

Once the application instance knows what application it is connected to a dialog to work on needs to be specified.

There are many different ways of doing this. The most common will be using item or attribute access to select a dialog based on it’s title. e.g

dlg = app.Notepad

or equivalently

dlg = app['Notepad']

The next easiest method is to ask for the top_window() e.g.

dlg = app.top_window()

This will return the window that has the highest Z-Order of the top-level windows of the application.

Note: This is currently fairly untested so I am not sure it will return the correct window. It will definitely be a top level window of the application - it just might not be the one highest in the Z-Order.

If this is not enough control then you can use the same parameters as can be passed to findwindows.find_windows() e.g.

dlg = app.window(title_re="Page Setup", class_name="#32770")

Finally to have the most control you can use

dialogs =

this will return a list of all the visible, enabled, top level windows of the application. You can then use some of the methods in handleprops module select the dialog you want. Once you have the handle you need then use


Note: If the title of the dialog is very long - then attribute access might be very long to type, in those cases it is usually easier to use

app.window(title_re=".*Part of Title.*")

How to specify a control on a dialog

There are a number of ways to specify a control, the simplest are


The 2nd is better for non English OS’s where you need to pass unicode strings e.g. app[u'your dlg title'][u'your ctrl title']

The code builds up multiple identifiers for each control from the following:

  • title
  • friendly class
  • title + friendly class

If the control’s title text is empty (after removing non char characters) this text is not used. Instead we look for the closest title text above and to the right of the control. And append the friendly class. So the list becomes

  • friendly class
  • closest text + friendly class

Once a set of identifiers has been created for all controls in the dialog we disambiguate them.

use the WindowSpecification.print_control_identifiers() method

Sample output
Button - Paper   (L1075, T394, R1411, B485)
        'PaperGroupBox' 'Paper' 'GroupBox'
Static - Si&ze:   (L1087, T420, R1141, B433)
        'SizeStatic' 'Static' 'Size'
ComboBox -    (L1159, T418, R1399, B439)
        'ComboBox' 'SizeComboBox'
Static - &Source:   (L1087, T454, R1141, B467)
        'Source' 'Static' 'SourceStatic'
ComboBox -    (L1159, T449, R1399, B470)
        'ComboBox' 'SourceComboBox'
Button - Orientation   (L1075, T493, R1171, B584)
        'GroupBox' 'Orientation' 'OrientationGroupBox'
Button - P&ortrait   (L1087, T514, R1165, B534)
        'Portrait' 'RadioButton' 'PortraitRadioButton'
Button - L&andscape   (L1087, T548, R1165, B568)
        'RadioButton' 'LandscapeRadioButton' 'Landscape'
Button - Margins (inches)   (L1183, T493, R1411, B584)
        'Marginsinches' 'MarginsinchesGroupBox' 'GroupBox'
Static - &Left:   (L1195, T519, R1243, B532)
        'LeftStatic' 'Static' 'Left'
Edit -    (L1243, T514, R1285, B534)
        'Edit' 'LeftEdit'
Static - &Right:   (L1309, T519, R1357, B532)
        'Right' 'Static' 'RightStatic'
Edit -    (L1357, T514, R1399, B534)
        'Edit' 'RightEdit'
Static - &Top:   (L1195, T550, R1243, B563)
        'Top' 'Static' 'TopStatic'
Edit -    (L1243, T548, R1285, B568)
        'Edit' 'TopEdit'
Static - &Bottom:   (L1309, T550, R1357, B563)
        'BottomStatic' 'Static' 'Bottom'
Edit -    (L1357, T548, R1399, B568)
        'Edit' 'BottomEdit'
Static - &Header:   (L1075, T600, R1119, B613)
        'Header' 'Static' 'HeaderStatic'
Edit -    (L1147, T599, R1408, B619)
        'Edit' 'TopEdit'
Static - &Footer:   (L1075, T631, R1119, B644)
        'FooterStatic' 'Static' 'Footer'
Edit -    (L1147, T630, R1408, B650)
        'Edit' 'FooterEdit'
Button - OK   (L1348, T664, R1423, B687)
        'Button' 'OK' 'OKButton'
Button - Cancel   (L1429, T664, R1504, B687)
        'Cancel' 'Button' 'CancelButton'
Button - &Printer...   (L1510, T664, R1585, B687)
        'Button' 'Printer' 'PrinterButton'
Button - Preview   (L1423, T394, R1585, B651)
        'Preview' 'GroupBox' 'PreviewGroupBox'
Static -    (L1458, T456, R1549, B586)
        'PreviewStatic' 'Static'
Static -    (L1549, T464, R1557, B594)
        'PreviewStatic' 'Static'
Static -    (L1466, T586, R1557, B594)
        'Static' 'BottomStatic'

This example has been taken from

Note The identifiers printed by this method have been run through the process that makes the identifier unique. So if you have two edit boxes, they will both have “Edit” listed in their identifiers. In reality though the first one can be refered to as “Edit”, “Edit0”, “Edit1” and the 2nd should be refered to as “Edit2”

Note You do not have to be exact!. Say we take an instance from the example above

Button - Margins (inches)   (L1183, T493, R1411, B584)
        'Marginsinches' 'MarginsinchesGroupBox' 'GroupBox'

Let’s say that you don’t like any of these

  • GroupBox - too generic, it could be any group box
  • Marginsinches and MarginsinchesGroupBox - these just don’ look right, it would be nicer to leave out the ‘inches’ part

Well you CAN! The code does a best match on the identifer you use against all the available identifiers in the dialog.

For example if you break into the debugger you can see how different identifiers can be used

(Pdb) print app.PageSetup.Margins.window_text()
Margins (inches)
(Pdb) print app.PageSetup.MarginsGroupBox.window_text()
Margins (inches)

And this will also cater for typos. Though you still have to be careful as if there are 2 similar identifiers in the dialog the typo you have used might be more similar to another control than the one you were thinking of.

How to use pywinauto with application languages other than English

Because Python does not support unicode identifiers in code you cannot use attribute access to reference a control so you would either have to use item access or make an explicit calls to window().

So instead of writing

You would have to write


Or use window() explictly


To see an example of this check examples\ get_info()

How to deal with controls that do not respond as expected (e.g. OwnerDraw Controls)

Some controls (especially Ownerdrawn controls) do not respond to events as expected. For example if you look at any HLP file and go to the Index Tab (click ‘Search’ button) you will see a listbox. Running Spy or Winspector on this will show you that it is indeed a list box - but it is ownerdrawn. This means that the developer has told Windows that they will override how items are displayed and do it themselves. And in this case they have made it so that strings cannot be retrieved :-(.

So what problems does this cause?

app.HelpTopics.ListBox.texts()                # 1"ItemInList")   # 2
  1. Will return a list of empty strings, all this means is that pywinauto has not been able to get the strings in the listbox
  2. This will fail with an IndexError because the select(string) method of a ListBox looks for the item in the Texts to know the index of the item that it should select.

The following workaround will work on this control

This will select the 2nd item in the listbox, because it is not a string lookup it works correctly.

Unfortunately not even this will always work. The developer can make it so that the control does not respond to standard events like Select. In this case the only way you can select items in the listbox is by using the keyboard simulation of TypeKeys().

This allows you to send any keystrokes to a control. So to select the 3rd item you would use

app.Helptopics.ListBox1.type_keys("{HOME}{DOWN 2}{ENTER}")
  • {HOME} will make sure that the first item is highlighted.
  • {DOWN 2} will then move the highlight down two items
  • {ENTER} will select the highlighted item

If your application made an extensive use of a similar control type then you could make using it easier by deriving a new class from ListBox, that could use extra knowledge about your particular application. For example in the WinHelp example every time an item is highlighted in the list view, its text is inserted into the Edit control above the list, and you CAN get the text of the item from there e.g.

# print the text of the item currently selected in the list box
# (as long as you are not typing into the Edit control!)
print app.HelpTopics.Edit.texts()[1]

How to Access the System Tray (aka SysTray, aka ‘Notification Area’)

Near the clock there are icons representing running applications, this area is normally referred to as the “System Tray”. In fact, there are many different windows/controls in this area. The control that contains the icons is actually a toolbar. It is a child of Pager control within a window with a class TrayNotifyWnd, which is inside another window with a class Shell_TrayWnd and all these windows are part of the running Explorer instance. Thankfully you don’t need to remember all that :-).

The thing that is important to remember is that you are looking for a window in the “Explorer.exe” application with the class “Shell_TrayWnd” that has Toolbar control with a title “Notification Area”.

One way to get this is to do the following

import pywinauto.application
app = pywinauto.application.Application().connect(path="explorer")
systray_icons = app.ShellTrayWnd.NotificationAreaToolbar

The taskbar module provides very preliminary access to the System Tray.

It defines the following variables:

explorer_app:defines an Application() object connected to the running explorer. You probably don’t need to use it directly very much.
TaskBar:The handle to the task bar (the bar containing Start Button, the QuickLaunch icons, running tasks, etc
StartButton:“Start me up” :-) I think you might know what this is!
QuickLaunch:The Toolbar with the quick launch icons
SystemTray:The window that contains the Clock and System Tray Icons
Clock:The clock
 The toolbar representing the system tray icons
 The toolbar representing the running applications

I have also provided two functions in the module that can be used to click on system tray icons:

 You can use this to left click a visible icon in the system tray. I had to specifically say visible icon as there may be many invisible icons that obviously cannot be clicked. Button can be any integer. If you specify 3 then it will find and click the 3rd visible button. (Almost no error checking is performed now here but this method will more than likely be moved/renamed in the future.)
 Similar to ClickSytemTrayIcon but performs a right click.

Often, when you click/right click on an icon, you get a popup menu. The thing to remember at this point is that the popup menu is a part of the application being automated not part of explorer.


# connect to outlook
outlook = Application.connect(path='outlook.exe')

# click on Outlook's icon
taskbar.ClickSystemTrayIcon("Microsoft Outlook")

# Select an item in the popup menu
outlook.PopupMenu.Menu().get_menu_path("Cancel Server Request")[0].click()

COM Threading Model

By default, pywinauto sets up the client Multithreading COM model (MTA) on init if no other model was defined prior to import of pywinauto. The model can be set up by another imported module implicitly or specified explicitly through sys.coinit_flags.

Example for overriding MTA by setting the single threaded appartment model explicitly.

import sys
sys.coinit_flags = 2  # COINIT_APARTMENTTHREADED

import pywinauto

Notice that the final value of COM model is assigned back to sys.coinit_flags. This is to avoid conflicts with other modules. Possible values for sys.coinit_flags:

  • 0 - Multi-Threaded Apartment model (MTA)
  • 2 - Single-Threaded Apartment model (STA)

More info: