Cameron Laird's personal notes on Python GUIs

Note: as of 2002, I've largely abandoned maintaining this page, in the expectation that the main Python Wiki would incorporate its content. As of September 2003, that still hasn't happened, nor have I made the time to move the material there in a satisfying way. My conclusion: I encourage readers to use the Wiki, and feel free to ask me specific questions. There are and, at least for the near future will be, a lot of loose ends. Reader Duane Voth rightly points out that one of the important dimensions for quick assessment of toolkits is their availability and usability on different platforms. That's the sort of information I'd hope to keep current on a Wiki ...

Table of Contents


I aim for encyclopaedic comprehensiveness here; that is, I want pointers to all the questions that arise about Python-bound GUIs. As a practical matter, though, I recognize Boudewijn Rempt is right in writing
I think that there are four realistic options for Windows development: tkInter, wxWindows, PyQt and Pythonwin + COM.

The van Rossums used to maintain a page of contributed graphical python software, including brief commentary. While they appeared to have moved on from this chore, the Vaults of Parnassus has a streamlined version. [Finish adding few dozen other links.] [especially explain uiToolkit.]

Gerrit Holl once compared different toolkits in a Web page, but apparently he's abandoned the effort.

Mikael Lyngvig accurately summarizes comp.lang.python discussion of the technical merits of Tkinter, wxPython, and Python-bound JPI. Malcolm Tredinnick compares wxPython and Tkinter astutely.

My thanks to Magnus Lycka for his help correcting the information in this page.

Someplace I make the case that Pythonians have a better selection of useful GUI toolkit bindings than even C coders. Eventually I shall transcribe that argument here. In the meantime, enjoy the skeleton of pointers which follows:


Andy Bulka has a fascinating tutorial in which he demonstrates how fine it is to use Python for Delphi components.


"Fltk ("Fast Light Tool Kit") is a fairly new portable GUI toolkit library for UNIX/X11 and Win32, with OpenGL support, largely compatible with the XForms library, ..." and distributed under GNU Library GPL. This is Markus Fleck's characterization, in which he adds that, "While written in C++, Fltk does not use macros, templates, multiple inheritance, or exceptions, and should thus be quite easily SWIGable." XForms itself apparently has a non-commercial-use-only license.

Kevin Dalhausen and Bjorn Petterson, among others, are working on bindings for Python and Perl. They conduct their work through a mailing list.


FOX is yet another GUI that looks to be of interest to Pythonians. FXPy is a good Python extension, with relatively complete documentation.


JPython gives convenient access to AWT and JFC.


JPI allows Python--CPython, that is--to script Java. It's immature, as of summer 1999.


[Explain Mark Hammond's expertise.]


Sjoerd Mullender bound Motif to Python in a package he calls the Python X Extension. As of mid-2000, "I'm still using it and occasionally changing it ...", in Sjoerd's words. His work includes an "application framework" for rapid GUI development.



PyGTK binds to the GTK+ toolkit and GNOME libraries. While it originally aimed only to be the toolkit for the GIMP, Gtk is now popular for many, many open-source projects.

Prominent in the minds of many working with Qt and GTK are the different licenses under which they operate. I choose not to describe those controversies; I do recommend, though, that users study them enough to understand their consequences. (Is it not thread-safe?)

In mid-1999, Gtk has more widgets than Tk, and generally feels more responsive. Tk generally remains more succinct.


PyKDE is now at 2.2. Phil Thompson currently packages it in two pieces, one for KDE, and one for Qt. My thanks to Boudewijn Rempt for updating me on its status, and referring me to the tutorial he wrote.

With the official 0.9 release, "[t]here's also a rather promising visual development environment out," as Boudewijn notes, and the mailing list is in good shape.

PyKDE advocates generally claim it's zippy, easy, and powerful. On the other hand, pyKDE is (much?) less portable than Qt itself. As Mr. Rempt has written me, "the problem is that nobody has ever wanted to spend money on the Qt toolkit for Windows to try it out!"


The goal of PythonCard is to duplicate the functionality of HyperCard, MetaCard, ...


In early 2000, Python bindings for Qt and KDE have become quite capable. PyQt is mature, a lot of fun, and entirely practical for both Win* and Unix developers.


Pythonwin is available only for Windows. Its IDE is itself written in Pythonwin, and is impressive.


Tkinter's the standard GUI toolkit for Python. Many people protest that, and in fact have, for years. It remains true.

Among the reasons for Tkinter's longevity:

Tkinter is generally not suited for intensely bit-mapped and/or three-dimensional applications. There's no drag-and-drop support standard yet.

Those with an interest in Tkinter will want to read Fredrik Lundh's notes on Tkinter 3000, accessible through his Tkinter home page and Pythonware product page.

[Explain other aspects of Tkinter, including deployment, testing, TkGS, uiToolkit, upcoming book, ...]


As David Gobbi explains it in a posting Deja no longer exposes, VTK is impressive:
Unfortunately, VTK's python wrappers aren't available under Windows (or at least, aren't complete yet). Under UNIX, though, there are tons of impressive VTK examples that use python. We use VTK under linux, IRIX, and NT (the last two with hardware OpenGL acceleration).
Since then, as he told me in a private communication,
VTK/python interface was ported to Windows ... and integrated into the main VTK codebase [early in 1999]. The most recent VTK release (2.4) for Windows comes with the python interface pre-built.

I'm working with the VTK folks to make the python interface rock-solid for VTK3.0, which should be released sometime in the fall [of 1999]. This includes Tkinter widgets for 2D and 3D rendering, plus the ability to pass data (images, vertex arrays, etc) between VTK and python.

Among VTK's attractions: the Prentice-Hall manual, and good bindings also for C++, Java, and Tcl/Tk.


wxPython, based on wxWindows 2.0, is now sufficiently mature to inspire wild enthusiasm in at least some users. Moreover, as Vadim Zeitlin writes, "unlike probably any other GUI toolkit, wxWindows developers are interested in making their toolkit useful to the Python community." The wxWindows development team certainly seems active, with progress in 1999 on many fronts (including MacOS, multimedia classes, GL, ...). Still, Robin Dunn's conclusion is that, "I also don't think that wxPython is ready yet to be included with the Python distribution."

Several of us have found wxPython to be a bit delicate in installation.


My thanks to Fredrik Lundh for his help understanding Python's GUIs.

We wrote at more length on related subjects in an article for SunWorld Online.

Cameron Laird's personal notes on Python GUIs/