We're back after a server migration that caused effbot.org to fall over a bit harder than expected. Expect some glitches.

Events and Bindings

As was mentioned earlier, a Tkinter application spends most of its time inside an event loop (entered via the mainloop method). Events can come from various sources, including key presses and mouse operations by the user, and redraw events from the window manager (indirectly caused by the user, in many cases).

Tkinter provides a powerful mechanism to let you deal with events yourself. For each widget, you can bind Python functions and methods to events.

widget.bind(event, handler)

If an event matching the event description occurs in the widget, the given handler is called with an object describing the event.

Here’s a simple example:

Capturing clicks in a window
from Tkinter import *

root = Tk()

def callback(event):
    print "clicked at", event.x, event.y 

frame = Frame(root, width=100, height=100)
frame.bind("<Button-1>", callback)
frame.pack()

root.mainloop()

In this example, we use the bind method of the frame widget to bind a callback function to an event called <Button-1>. Run this program and click in the window that appears. Each time you click, a message like clicked at 44 63 is printed to the console window.

Keyboard events are sent to the widget that currently owns the keyboard focus. You can use the focus_set method to move focus to a widget:

Capturing keyboard events
from Tkinter import *

root = Tk()

def key(event):
    print "pressed", repr(event.char)

def callback(event):
    frame.focus_set()
    print "clicked at", event.x, event.y 

frame = Frame(root, width=100, height=100)
frame.bind("<Key>", key)
frame.bind("<Button-1>", callback)
frame.pack()

root.mainloop()

If you run this script, you’ll find that you have to click in the frame before it starts receiving any keyboard events.

Events

Events are given as strings, using a special event syntax:

<modifier-type-detail>

The type field is the most important part of an event specifier. It specifies the kind of event that we wish to bind, and can be user actions like Button, and Key, or window manager events like Enter, Configure, and others. The modifier and detail fields are used to give additional information, and can in many cases be left out. There are also various ways to simplify the event string; for example, to match a keyboard key, you can leave out the angle brackets and just use the key as is. Unless it is a space or an angle bracket, of course.

Instead of spending a few pages on discussing all the syntactic shortcuts, let’s take a look on the most common event formats:

Event Formats

<Button-1>

A mouse button is pressed over the widget. Button 1 is the leftmost button, button 2 is the middle button (where available), and button 3 the rightmost button. When you press down a mouse button over a widget, Tkinter will automatically “grab” the mouse pointer, and subsequent mouse events (e.g. Motion and Release events) will then be sent to the current widget as long as the mouse button is held down, even if the mouse is moved outside the current widget. The current position of the mouse pointer (relative to the widget) is provided in the x and y members of the event object passed to the callback.

You can use ButtonPress instead of Button, or even leave it out completely: <Button-1>, <ButtonPress-1>, and <1> are all synonyms. For clarity, I prefer the <Button-1> syntax.

<B1-Motion>

The mouse is moved, with mouse button 1 being held down (use B2 for the middle button, B3 for the right button). The current position of the mouse pointer is provided in the x and y members of the event object passed to the callback.

<ButtonRelease-1>

Button 1 was released. The current position of the mouse pointer is provided in the x and y members of the event object passed to the callback.

<Double-Button-1>

Button 1 was double clicked. You can use Double or Triple as prefixes. Note that if you bind to both a single click (<Button-1>) and a double click, both bindings will be called.

<Enter>

The mouse pointer entered the widget (this event doesn’t mean that the user pressed the Enter key!).

<Leave>

The mouse pointer left the widget.

<FocusIn>

Keyboard focus was moved to this widget, or to a child of this widget.

<FocusOut>

Keyboard focus was moved from this widget to another widget.

<Return>

The user pressed the Enter key. You can bind to virtually all keys on the keyboard. For an ordinary 102-key PC-style keyboard, the special keys are Cancel (the Break key), BackSpace, Tab, Return(the Enter key), Shift_L (any Shift key), Control_L (any Control key), Alt_L (any Alt key), Pause, Caps_Lock, Escape, Prior (Page Up), Next (Page Down), End, Home, Left, Up, Right, Down, Print, Insert, Delete, F1, F2, F3, F4, F5, F6, F7, F8, F9, F10, F11, F12, Num_Lock, and Scroll_Lock.

<Key>

The user pressed any key. The key is provided in the char member of the event object passed to the callback (this is an empty string for special keys).

a

The user typed an “a”. Most printable characters can be used as is. The exceptions are space (<space>) and less than (<less>). Note that 1 is a keyboard binding, while <1> is a button binding.

<Shift-Up>

The user pressed the Up arrow, while holding the Shift key pressed. You can use prefixes like Alt, Shift, and Control.

<Configure>

The widget changed size (or location, on some platforms). The new size is provided in the width and height attributes of the event object passed to the callback.

The Event Object

The event object is a standard Python object instance, with a number of attributes describing the event.

Event Attributes

widget

The widget which generated this event. This is a valid Tkinter widget instance, not a name. This attribute is set for all events.

x, y

The current mouse position, in pixels.

x_root, y_root

The current mouse position relative to the upper left corner of the screen, in pixels.

char

The character code (keyboard events only), as a string.

keysym

The key symbol (keyboard events only).

keycode

The key code (keyboard events only).

num

The button number (mouse button events only).

width, height

The new size of the widget, in pixels (Configure events only).

type

The event type.

For portability reasons, you should stick to char, height, width, x, y, x_root, y_root, and widget. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, of course…

Instance and Class Bindings

The bind method we used in the above example creates an instance binding. This means that the binding applies to a single widget only; if you create new frames, they will not inherit the bindings.

But Tkinter also allows you to create bindings on the class and application level; in fact, you can create bindings on four different levels:

  • the widget instance, using bind.

  • the widget’s toplevel window (Toplevel or root), also using bind.

  • the widget class, using bind_class (this is used by Tkinter to provide standard bindings).

  • the whole application, using bind_all.

For example, you can use bind_all to create a binding for the F1 key, so you can provide help everywhere in the application. But what happens if you create multiple bindings for the same key, or provide overlapping bindings?

First, on each of these four levels, Tkinter chooses the “closest match” of the available bindings. For example, if you create instance bindings for the <Key> and <Return> events, only the second binding will be called if you press the Enter key.

However, if you add a <Return> binding to the toplevel widget, both bindings will be called. Tkinter first calls the best binding on the instance level, then the best binding on the toplevel window level, then the best binding on the class level (which is often a standard binding), and finally the best available binding on the application level. So in an extreme case, a single event may call four event handlers.

A common cause of confusion is when you try to use bindings to override the default behavior of a standard widget. For example, assume you wish to disable the Enter key in the text widget, so that the users cannot insert newlines into the text. Maybe the following will do the trick?

def ignore(event):
    pass
text.bind("<Return>", ignore)

or, if you prefer one-liners:

text.bind("<Return>", lambda e: None)

(the lambda function used here takes one argument, and returns None)

Unfortunately, the newline is still inserted, since the above binding applies to the instance level only, and the standard behavior is provided by a class level bindings.

You could use the bind_class method to modify the bindings on the class level, but that would change the behavior of all text widgets in the application. An easier solution is to prevent Tkinter from propagating the event to other handlers; just return the string break from your event handler:

def ignore(event):
    return "break"
text.bind("<Return>", ignore)

or

text.bind("<Return>", lambda e: "break")

By the way, if you really want to change the behavior of all text widgets in your application, here’s how to use the bind_class method:

top.bind_class("Text", "<Return>", lambda e: None)

But there are a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t do this. For example, it messes things up completely the day you wish to extend your application with some cool little UI component you downloaded from the net. Better use your own Text widget specialization, and keep Tkinter’s default bindings intact:

class MyText(Text):
    def __init__(self, master, **kw):
        apply(Text.__init__, (self, master), kw)
        self.bind("<Return>", lambda e: "break")

Protocols

In addition to event bindings, Tkinter also supports a mechanism called protocol handlers. Here, the term protocol refers to the interaction between the application and the window manager. The most commonly used protocol is called WM_DELETE_WINDOW, and is used to define what happens when the user explicitly closes a window using the window manager.

You can use the protocol method to install a handler for this protocol (the widget must be a root or Toplevel widget):

widget.protocol("WM_DELETE_WINDOW", handler)

Once you have installed your own handler, Tkinter will no longer automatically close the window. Instead, you could for example display a message box asking the user if the current data should be saved, or in some cases, simply ignore the request. To close the window from this handler, simply call the destroy method of the window:

Capturing destroy events
from Tkinter import *
import tkMessageBox

def callback():
    if tkMessageBox.askokcancel("Quit", "Do you really wish to quit?"):
        root.destroy()

root = Tk()
root.protocol("WM_DELETE_WINDOW", callback)

root.mainloop()

Note that even you don’t register an handler for WM_DELETE_WINDOW on a toplevel window, the window itself will be destroyed as usual (in a controlled fashion, unlike X). However, as of Python 1.5.2, Tkinter will not destroy the corresponding widget instance hierarchy, so it is a good idea to always register a handler yourself:

top = Toplevel(...)

# make sure widget instances are deleted
top.protocol("WM_DELETE_WINDOW", top.destroy)

Future versions of Tkinter will most likely do this by default.

Other Protocols

Window manager protocols were originally part of the X window system (they are defined in a document titled Inter-Client Communication Conventions Manual, or ICCCM). On that platform, you can install handlers for other protocols as well, like WM_TAKE_FOCUS and WM_SAVE_YOURSELF. See the ICCCM documentation for details.