Scripting with Python and AutoHotkey

Kevin Wisniewski Development Technology, Python 7 Comments

Attention: The following article was published over 6 years ago, and the information provided may be aged or outdated. Please keep that in mind as you read the post.

After I began programming, I started noticing that some of the things I was doing on my computer at home were repetitive and could be automated to save time and effort. Unfortunately my first language was C++, which doesn’t exactly lend itself well to that kind of work.

I discovered that certain scripting languages could help me fill that need in my day-to-day tasks – Python and AutoHotkey are two languages that I have found helpful. In this blog, I’ll explain why.

Python

When I first discovered Python, I was impressed that it was so easy to use. I adopted it as my go-to tinkering language. In fact, ease of use is one of Python’s design principles. Some universities are even using it to teach entry-level programming courses.

For me, Python was a quick way to get stuff done, like batch renaming files. Sure, I could have learned how to write a Windows batch script to do that, but Python offered more flexibility for other tasks.

One of the great things about Python is its extensibility. It has a lot of built-in functionality and a ton of third-party packages. When I needed to convert a bunch of image files, a quick Google search revealed a Python package with a simple API that did exactly what I needed. I have also used it for text processing with regular expressions, manipulating Excel data, and generating SQL scripts.

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Just because Python is easy to use doesn’t mean it’s simplistic. It supports object-oriented, procedural, and even functional programming paradigms (with varying degrees of success). You can do list comprehension, lambda expressions, and a ton of other stuff. I don’t think it’s the best tool for every job. In fact, I’ve never used it in a production environment (though some big names do). For me it’s just another tool in my bag of tricks.

xkcd.com/353

Comic via XKCD – http://xkcd.com/353/

AutoHotkey

Around the same time that I started using Python, I discovered AutoHotkey. AutoHotkey is another scripting language. While it can be used for a lot of the same tasks I was doing with Python, where it shines is what it was designed for: writing Windows hotkeys and macros.

AutoHotkey allows you to write all sorts of hotkeys using just about any key on the keyboard. This can go as far as overriding built-in hotkeys in Windows or even only activating a hotkey when a specific program is active. Another thing AutoHotkey does well is manipulate mouse and keyboard input. It has a simple API for simulating user input, which can then be assigned to a hotkey. I’ve used this to automate repetitive website form input so that I didn’t have to bother learning another API.

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Both Python and AutoHotkey have excellent documentation and helpful user communities.

Final Thoughts

Something that I love about programming is that every challenge that I encounter typically has multiple ways to go about resolving it. There is always a different tool or language to consider. I’ve found it helpful to use AutoHotkey and Python for some of my day-to-day development needs. Give them a look, and see if they might be helpful in your projects.

— Kevin Wisniewski, [email protected]

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