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Full screen applications

Prompt toolkit can be used to build full screen interfaces. This section focuses in how to do it. If you want to build REPL applications instead go to this other article.

Typically, an application consists of a layout (to describe the graphical part) and a set of key bindings.

Every prompt_toolkit application is an instance of an Application object.

from prompt_toolkit import Application

app = Application(full_screen=True)

When run() is called, the event loop will run until the application is done. An application will quit when exit() is called. The event loop is basically a while-true loop that waits for user input, and when it receives something (like a key press), it will send that to the appropriate handler, like for instance, a key binding.

An application consists of several components. The most important are:

  • I/O objects: the input and output device.
  • The layout: this defines the graphical structure of the application. For instance, a text box on the left side, and a button on the right side. You can also think of the layout as a collection of ‘widgets’.
  • A style: this defines what colors and underline/bold/italic styles are used everywhere.
  • A set of key bindings.

The layout

With the Layout object you define the graphical structure of the application, it accepts as argument a nested structure of Container objects, these arrange the layout by splitting the screen in many regions, while controls (children of UIControl, such as BufferControl or FormattedTextControl) are responsible for generating the actual content.

Some of the Containers you can use are: HSplit, Vsplit, FloatContainer, Window or ScrollablePane. The Window class itself is particular: it is a Container that can contain a UIControl. Thus, it’s the adapter between the two. The Window class also takes care of scrolling the content and wrapping the lines if needed.

Conditional Containers

Sometimes you only want to show containers when a condition is met, ConditionalContainers are meant to fulfill this case. They accept other containers, and a filter condition.

You can read more about filters here, the simplest use case is if you have a boolean variable and you use the to_filter function.

from prompt_toolkit.layout import ConditionalContainer
from prompt_toolkit.filters.utils import to_filter

show_header = True
    Label('This is an optional text'), filter=to_filter(show_header)


Currently they are not supported :(, although there is an old PR.


Focusing windows

Focusing something can be done by calling the focus() method. This method is very flexible and accepts a Window, a Buffer, a UIControl and more.

In the following example, we use get_app() for getting the active application.

from prompt_toolkit.application import get_app

# This window was created earlier.
w = Window()

# ...

# Now focus it.

To focus the next window in the layout you can use app.layout.focus_next().



In order to react to user actions, we need to create a KeyBindings object and pass that to our Application.

There are two kinds of key bindings:

  • Global key bindings, which are always active.
  • Key bindings that belong to a certain UIControl and are only active when this control is focused. Both BufferControl and FormattedTextControl take a key_bindings argument.

For complex keys you can always look at the Keys class.

[Global key


Key bindings can be passed to the application as follows:

from prompt_toolkit import Application
from prompt_toolkit.key_binding.key_processor import KeyPressEvent

kb = KeyBindings()
app = Application(key_bindings=kb)

To register a new keyboard shortcut, we can use the add() method as a decorator of the key handler:

from prompt_toolkit import Application
from prompt_toolkit.key_binding import KeyBindings
from prompt_toolkit.key_binding.key_processor import KeyPressEvent

kb = KeyBindings()

def exit_(event: KeyPressEvent) -> None:
    Pressing Ctrl-Q will exit the user interface.

    Setting a return value means: quit the event loop that drives the user
    interface and return this value from the `` call.

app = Application(key_bindings=kb, full_screen=True)

Here you can read for more complex patterns with key bindings.

A more programmatically way to add bindings is:

from prompt_toolkit.key_binding import KeyBindings
from prompt_toolkit.key_binding.bindings.focus import focus_next

kb = KeyBindings()

Pass more than one key

To map an action to two key presses use kb.add('g', 'g').


Many user interface controls, like Window accept a style argument which can be used to pass the formatting as a string. For instance, we can select a foreground color:

  • fg:ansired: ANSI color palette
  • fg:ansiblue: ANSI color palette
  • fg:#ffaa33: hexadecimal notation
  • fg:darkred: named color

Or a background color:

  • bg:ansired: ANSI color palette
  • bg:#ffaa33: hexadecimal notation

Like we do for web design, it is not a good habit to specify all styling inline. Instead, we can attach class names to UI controls and have a style sheet that refers to these class names. The Style can be passed as an argument to the Application.

from prompt_toolkit.layout import VSplit, Window
from prompt_toolkit.styles import Style

layout = VSplit([
    Window(BufferControl(...), style='class:left'),
        Window(BufferControl(...), style='class:top'),
        Window(BufferControl(...), style='class:bottom'),
    ], style='class:right')

style = Style([
     ('left', 'bg:ansired'),
     ('top', 'fg:#00aaaa'),
     ('bottom', 'underline bold'),

You may need to define the 24bit color depths to see the colors you expect:

from prompt_toolkit.output.color_depth import ColorDepth

app = Application(
    # ...

If you want to see if a style is being applied in a component, set the style to bg:#dc322f and it will be highlighted in red.

Dynamically changing the style

You'll need to create a widget, you can take as inspiration the package widgets.

To create a row that changes color when it's focused use:

from prompt_toolkit.layout.controls import FormattedTextControl
from prompt_toolkit.layout.containers import Window
from prompt_toolkit.application import get_app

class Row:
    """Define row.

        text: text to print

    def __init__(
        text: str,
    ) -> None:
        """Initialize the widget."""
        self.text = text
        self.control = FormattedTextControl(

        def get_style() -> str:
            if get_app().layout.has_focus(self):
                return "class:row.focused"
                return "class:row"

        self.window = Window(
            self.control, height=1, style=get_style, always_hide_cursor=True

    def __pt_container__(self) -> Window:
        """Return the window object.

        Mandatory to be considered a widget.
        return self.window

An example of use would be:

layout = HSplit(

# Key bindings

kb = KeyBindings()


@kb.add("c-c", eager=True)
@kb.add("q", eager=True)
def exit_(event: KeyPressEvent) -> None:
    """Exit the user interface."""

# Styles

style = Style(
        ("row", "bg:#073642 #657b83"),
        ("row.focused", "bg:#002b36 #657b83"),

# Application

app = Application(


The best way to understand how it works is by running the examples in the repository, some interesting ones in increasing order of difficult are:


Prompt toolkit application testing can be done at different levels:

  • Component level: Useful to test how a component manages it's data by itself.
  • Application level: Useful to test how a user interacts with the component.

If you don't know how to test something, I suggest you check how prompt toolkit tests itself. You can also check how do third party packages do their tests too, such as prompt-toolkit-table or pyvim.

Keep in mind that you don't usually want to check the result of the stdout or stderr directly, but the state of your component or the application itself.

Component level

If your component accepts some input and does some magic on that input without the need to load the application, import the object directly and run tests changing the input directly and asserting the results of the output.

Application level

If you want to test the interaction with your component at application level, for example what happens when a user presses a key, you need to instantiate a dummy application and play with it.

Imagine we have a TableControl component we want to test that accepts some input in the form of data. We'll use the set_dummy_app function to configure an application that outputs to DummyOutput, and a helper function get_app_and_processor to return the active app and a processor to send key presses.

def set_dummy_app(data: Any) -> Any:
    """Return a context manager that starts the dummy application.

    This is important, because we need an `Application` with `is_done=False`
    flag, otherwise no keys will be processed.
    app: Application[Any] = Application(

    return set_app(app)

def get_app_and_processor() -> Tuple[Application[Any], KeyProcessor]:
    """Return the active application and it's key processor."""
    app = get_app()
    key_bindings = app.layout.container.get_key_bindings()

    if key_bindings is None:
        key_bindings = KeyBindings()
    processor = KeyProcessor(key_bindings)
    return app, processor

We've loaded the processor with the key bindings defined in the container. If you want other bindings change them there. For example prompt-toolkit uses a fixture to set them. Remember that you have the merge_key_bindings to join two key binding objects with:

key_bindings = merge_key_bindings([key_bindings, control_bindings])

Once the functions are set, you can make your test. Imagine that we want to check that if the user presses j, the variable _focused_row is incremented by 1. This variable will be used by the component internally to change the style of the rows so that the next element is highlighted.

def test_j_moves_to_the_next_row(self, pydantic_data: PydanticData) -> None:
    Given: A well configured table
    When: j is press
    Then: the focus is moved to the next line
    with set_dummy_app(pydantic_data):
        app, processor = get_app_and_processor()

        processor.feed(KeyPress("j", "j"))  # act

        assert app.layout.container.content._focused_row == 1


Last update: 2021-11-05