Automating tasks in Windows


This article was started in August 2009 by comparing AutoHotKey (AHK), AutoIt, WinBatch, and KixStart but it might include other solutions later on.

AutoIt was first released in 1999, with a lot of the syntax and ideas coming from ScriptIt, a Microsoft project itself based on WinBatch. As of August 2009, AutoIt is freeware (I guess that means closed-source), while AHK is an open-source alternative to AutoIt based on a fork of AutoIt that occurred in 2003 when the source code of AutoIt was still available on request.

The core of AHK was written from scratch, but includes some AutoIt3 code to implement some commands.

The AutoIt community feels that the AHK author didn't give enough credit when forking the code, and since then, no love is lost from the AutoIt community toward AHK.


Why choose AutoIT?

BASIC-like syntax, can generate compiled GUI programs, built-in COM support, Unicode handling, data types, arrays, much better flow controls (loops, conditionals, switches), better networking support.

Getting Started

In addition to the online docs, wiki, the CHM files, and the forum, information can also be found in Learning To Script with AutoIt V3, AutoIT 1-2-3, and O'Reilly's AutoIt v3: Your Quick Guide by Andy Flesner.

As of version, AutoIT consists in the following programs:

Sample code

To record an action

Go to \Extras\Au3Record\, and launch Au3Record.exe to record an action that Au3Record will then save as source code that you can use in your scripts.

Note: _WinWaitActivate() is not part of AutoIT; Its code found below must be included in the script.

Caution: Code generated Au3Record isn't always reliable, as some functions won't work. YMMV.

CHECK To have Au3Record generate all the code, you have to start the AU3Record program from inside SciTE, with an AutoIt script open in it, or start the recorder with the /o option to get that checkbox to appear.

To edit a script

Launch the SciTE editor in install\SciTe\SciTE.exe, where you can copy-paste the action you just recorded with Au3Record.exe.

To find information about a window

Use install\Au3Info.exe.

Difference between native WinWaitActive() and external _WinWaitActivate()?

In SciTE-Lite's Tools menu, what's the difference between Compile and Build?

Why doesn't Scite-Lite Compile/Build find syntax errors such as missing closing bracket?

For/Next Loop

For $i = 5 To 1 Step -1

    MsgBox($MB_SYSTEMMODAL, "", "Count down!" & @CRLF & $i)


To comment a line

Use ";"

To display a messagebox

MsgBox(64, "My title", "My text")

To handle time-out when a window doesn't show

Func _WinWaitActivate($title,$text,$timeout=0)

        $result = WinWait($title,$text,$timeout)

        if $result = False Then

                MsgBox(16,"Bad...","Window not displayed")




        If Not WinActive($title,$text) Then WinActivate($title,$text)



To pause for a few seconds

Sleep(1000) ; sleep for 1s

To move the mouse at the center of the screen

#include <Misc.au3>

CHECK MouseMove(@DesktopWidth/2, @DesktopHeight/2)

To send keys to window/control

(only as last resort)

To find a window with just part of title/text

Opt("WinTitleMatchMode", 1) ;1=start, 2=subStr, 3=exact, 4=advanced, -1 to -4=Nocase

More information here.

To put the focus on combobox



To set or refer to the content of a variable: (Const/Global/Local/Dim) $myvar = "test"

To refer to environment variables: @ComputerName

To require explicit declaration of variables: Opt("MustDeclareVars", 1)

Including files

To include files: #include <myfile.au3>

To include an external file into the AutoIT output EXE la NSIS: FileInstall(Source,Destination[,flag])


The array.au3 UDF offers extended functions to handle arrays, eg. _ArrayDisplay($myarray)


For $index=1 to 1



To pause for one second:





Desktop shortcut

To run a desktop shortcut:

Editing Contacts in Outlook

  1. Download and unzip the latest release of OutlookEx UDF (help thread and wiki)
  2. Copy OutlookEX.au3 and OutlookEXConstants.au3 into AutoIt3\Include
  3. If using the Scite editor, copy au3.user.calltips.api into AutoIt3\SciTE\api (append if file already exists), and copy into AutoIt3\SciTE\properties (ditto)
  4. Launch Outlook
  5. Run this code:


Send() can't identify a window

The Send() function sends a string to whatever window is active, ie. it's not possible to tell it to only send data to a specific window. So if you're using a loop, add a WinWaitActive() to make sure you're no sending stuff in a totally different window:

for $index = 1 to $pages
    ;Just to make sure we are sending keystrokes to the right window
    WinWaitActive("Acme - Iron")
    $url = "" & $index & "{ENTER}"
    ;Wait 5s. There might be a better way to check that page download has completed

Concatenating strings

You must use "&", not "+":

$myvar = "First line " & @CRLF & "Second line"


Here's how to clear the clipboard, and copy data to it:

#include <Clipboard.au3>


The PCRE regex engine that AutoIT uses is single-line by default. If you need to find a pattern in a multi-line string, you must tell PCRE explicitely:

"$array = StringRegExp($data, "(?mi)^(\d+) some text", 3)".

There is apparently no way to configure PCRE externely for the duration of a script, ie. without adding settings to every single pattern.

Here's how to extract the second part in a two-item string with a TAB delimiter:

$array = StringRegExp("John" & @TAB & "123", "\t(\d+)', 1)
for $i = 0 to UBound($array) - 1
    msgbox(0, "Items found", $array[0])


AutoIT can be used to write graphical applications. As of Oct 2010, there are two ways to do this: Either directly, or by using the Koda GUI designer.


What's the difference between a window title and a window text?

Script built with Au3Record.exe doesn't run

myscript..au3 (1) : ==> Unknown function name.: _WinWaitActivate("classname=TfrmPref","")

If you just copy/paste the output instead of what's actually saved in a file, you'll be missing some User-defined functions (UDF) that Au3Record relies on:

#region --- Internal functions Au3Recorder Start ---
Func _Au3RecordSetup()
Func _WinWaitActivate($title,$text,$timeout=0)
        If Not WinActive($title,$text) Then WinActivate($title,$text)
#endregion --- Internal functions Au3Recorder End ---

Script built with Au3Record.exe can't find application window

There is a bug with release 3.3 which uses "classname=myclass" instead of "[CLASS:myclass]".


Why choose AHK?

AHK is Faster, has simpler hotkey/hotstring definitions, low level hacks, and is open-source.


Why choose Winbatch?


Why choose KixStart?