Actions — Toolbars & Menus
Defining toolbars, menus and keyboard shortcuts with QAction

Next we'll look at some of the common user interface elements, that you've probably seen in many other applications — toolbars and menus. We'll also explore the neat system Qt provides for minimising the duplication between different UI areas — QAction.

Toolbars

One of the most commonly seen user interface elements is the toolbar. Toolbars are bars of icons and/or text used to perform common tasks within an application, for which accessing via a menu would be cumbersome. They are one of the most common UI features seen in many applications. While some complex applications, particularly in the Microsoft Office suite, have migrated to contextual 'ribbon' interfaces, the standard toolbar is usually sufficient for the majority of applications you will create.

Standard GUI elements Standard GUI elements

We'll start with a simple skeleton application, which we can customize. Save the following code in a file named app.py -- this code all the imports you'll need for the later steps.

python
import sys
from PySide2.QtWidgets import (
    QMainWindow, QApplication,
    QLabel, QToolBar, QAction, QStatusBar
)
from PySide6.QtGui import QIcon
from PySide2.QtCore import Qt

class MainWindow(QMainWindow):

    def __init__(self):
        super(MainWindow, self).__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My Awesome App")


app = QApplication(sys.argv)
w = MainWindow()
w.show()
app.exec_()

python
import sys
from PySide6.QtWidgets import (
    QMainWindow, QApplication,
    QLabel, QToolBar, QStatusBar
)
from PySide6.QtGui import QAction, QIcon
from PySide2.QtCore import Qt

class MainWindow(QMainWindow):

    def __init__(self):
        super(MainWindow, self).__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My Awesome App")


app = QApplication(sys.argv)
w = MainWindow()
w.show()
app.exec_()

If you're using PySide6, notice that QAction is now available via the QtGui module.

Adding a toolbar

Let's start by adding a toolbar to our application.

In Qt toolbars are created from the QToolBar class. To start you create an instance of the class and then call .addToolbar on the QMainWindow. Passing a string in as the first parameter to QToolBar sets the toolbar's name, which will be used to identify the toolbar in the UI.

python
class MainWindow(QMainWindow):

    def __init__(self):
        super(MainWindow, self).__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My Awesome App")

        label = QLabel("Hello!")
        label.setAlignment(Qt.AlignCenter)

        self.setCentralWidget(label)

        toolbar = QToolBar("My main toolbar")
        self.addToolBar(toolbar)


    def onMyToolBarButtonClick(self, s):
        print("click", s)

Run it! You'll see a thin grey bar at the top of the window. This is your toolbar. Right click and click the name to toggle it off.

A window with a toolbar. A window with a toolbar.

How can I get my toolbar back!? Unfortunately once you remove a toolbar there is now no place to right click to re-add it. So as a general rule you want to either keep one toolbar un-removeable, or provide an alternative interface in the menus to turn toolbars on and off.

We should make the toolbar a bit more interesting. We could just add a QButton widget, but there is a better approach in Qt that gets you some additional features — and that is via QAction. QAction is a class that provides a way to describe abstract user interfaces. What this means in English, is that you can define multiple interface elements within a single object, unified by the effect that interacting with that element has. For example, it is common to have functions that are represented in the toolbar but also the menu — think of something like Edit->Cut which is present both in the Edit menu but also on the toolbar as a pair of scissors, and also through the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-X (Cmd-X on Mac).

Without QAction you would have to define this in multiple places. But with QAction you can define a single QAction, defining the triggered action, and then add this action to both the menu and the toolbar. Each QAction has names, status messages, icons and signals that you can connect to (and much more).

In the code below you can see this first QAction added.

python
class MainWindow(QMainWindow):

    def __init__(self):
        super(MainWindow, self).__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My Awesome App")

        label = QLabel("Hello!")
        label.setAlignment(Qt.AlignCenter)

        self.setCentralWidget(label)

        toolbar = QToolBar("My main toolbar")
        self.addToolBar(toolbar)

        button_action = QAction("Your button", self)
        button_action.setStatusTip("This is your button")
        button_action.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action)



    def onMyToolBarButtonClick(self, s):
        print("click", s)

To start with we create the function that will accept the signal from the QAction so we can see if it is working. Next we define the QAction itself. When creating the instance we can pass a label for the action and/or an icon. You must also pass in any QObject to act as the parent for the action — here we're passing self as a reference to our main window. Strangely for QAction the parent element is passed in as the final parameter.

Next, we can opt to set a status tip — this text will be displayed on the status bar once we have one. Finally we connect the .triggered signal to the custom function. This signal will fire whenever the QAction is triggered (or activated).

Run it! You should see your button with the label that you have defined. Click on it and the our custom function will emit "click" and the status of the button.

Toolbar showing our QAction button. Toolbar showing our QAction button.

Why is the signal always false? The signal passed indicates whether the button is checked, and since our button is not checkable — just clickable — it is always false. We'll show how to make it checkable shortly.

Next we can add a status bar.

We create a status bar object by calling QStatusBar to get a new status bar object and then passing this into .setStatusBar. Since we don't need to change the statusBar settings we can also just pass it in as we create it, in a single line:

python
class MainWindow(QMainWindow):

    def __init__(self):
        super(MainWindow, self).__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My Awesome App")

        label = QLabel("Hello!")
        label.setAlignment(Qt.AlignCenter)

        self.setCentralWidget(label)

        toolbar = QToolBar("My main toolbar")
        self.addToolBar(toolbar)

        button_action = QAction("Your button", self)
        button_action.setStatusTip("This is your button")
        button_action.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action)

        self.setStatusBar(QStatusBar(self))


    def onMyToolBarButtonClick(self, s):
        print("click", s)

Run it! Hover your mouse over the toolbar button and you will see the status text in the status bar.

Status bar text is updated as we hover our actions. Status bar text is updated as we hover our actions.

Next we're going to turn our QAction toggleable — so clicking will turn it on, clicking again will turn it off. To do this, we simple call setCheckable(True) on the QAction object.

python
class MainWindow(QMainWindow):

    def __init__(self):
        super(MainWindow, self).__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My Awesome App")

        label = QLabel("Hello!")
        label.setAlignment(Qt.AlignCenter)

        self.setCentralWidget(label)

        toolbar = QToolBar("My main toolbar")
        self.addToolBar(toolbar)

        button_action = QAction("Your button", self)
        button_action.setStatusTip("This is your button")
        button_action.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action)

        self.setStatusBar(QStatusBar(self))


    def onMyToolBarButtonClick(self, s):
        print("click", s)

Run it! Click on the button to see it toggle from checked to unchecked state. Note that custom slot function we create now alternates outputting True and False.

The toolbar button toggled on. The toolbar button toggled on.

There is also a .toggled signal, which only emits a signal when the button is toggled. But the effect is identical so it is mostly pointless.

Things look pretty shabby right now — so let's add an icon to our button. For this I recommend you download the fugue icon set by designer Yusuke Kamiyamane. It's a great set of beautiful 16x16 icons that can give your apps a nice professional look. It is freely available with only attribution required when you distribute your application — although I am sure the designer would appreciate some cash too if you have some spare.

Fugue Icon Set — Yusuke Kamiyamane Fugue Icon Set — Yusuke Kamiyamane

Select an image from the set (in the examples here I've selected the file bug.png) and copy it into the same folder as your source code. To add the icon to the QAction (and therefore the button) we simply pass it in as the first parameter when creating the QAction. If the icon is in the same folder as your source code you can just copy it to

You also need to let the toolbar know how large your icons are, otherwise your icon will be surrounded by a lot of padding. You can do this by calling .setIconSize() with a QSize object.

python
class MainWindow(QMainWindow):

    def __init__(self):
        super(MainWindow, self).__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My Awesome App")

        label = QLabel("Hello!")
        label.setAlignment(Qt.AlignCenter)

        self.setCentralWidget(label)

        toolbar = QToolBar("My main toolbar")
        toolbar.setIconSize(QSize(16,16))
        self.addToolBar(toolbar)

        button_action = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "Your button", self)
        button_action.setStatusTip("This is your button")
        button_action.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action)

        self.setStatusBar(QStatusBar(self))


    def onMyToolBarButtonClick(self, s):
        print("click", s)

Run it! The QAction is now represented by an icon. Everything should function exactly as it did before.

Our action button with an icon. Our action button with an icon.

Note that Qt uses your operating system default settings to determine whether to show an icon, text or an icon and text in the toolbar. But you can override this by using .setToolButtonStyle. This slot accepts any of the following flags from the Qt. namespace:

Flag Behaviour
Qt.ToolButtonIconOnly Icon only, no text
Qt.ToolButtonTextOnly Text only, no icon
Qt.ToolButtonTextBesideIcon Icon and text, with text beside the icon
Qt.ToolButtonTextUnderIcon Icon and text, with text under the icon
Qt.ToolButtonIconOnly Icon only, no text
Qt.ToolButtonFollowStyle Follow the host desktop style

The default value is Qt.ToolButtonFollowStyle, meaning that your application will default to following the standard/global setting for the desktop on which the application runs. This is generally recommended to make your application feel as native as possible.

Finally, we can add a few more bits and bobs to the toolbar. We'll add a second button and a checkbox widget. As mentioned you can literally put any widget in here, so feel free to go crazy.

python
import sys

from PySide2.QtCore import QSize, Qt
from PySide2.QtGui import QIcon
from PySide2.QtWidgets import (
    QAction,
    QApplication,
    QCheckBox,
    QLabel,
    QMainWindow,
    QStatusBar,
    QToolBar,
)

class MainWindow(QMainWindow):
    def __init__(self):
        super().__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My App")

        label = QLabel("Hello!")
        label.setAlignment(Qt.AlignCenter)

        self.setCentralWidget(label)

        toolbar = QToolBar("My main toolbar")
        toolbar.setIconSize(QSize(16, 16))
        self.addToolBar(toolbar)

        button_action = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "&Your button", self)
        button_action.setStatusTip("This is your button")
        button_action.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action)

        toolbar.addSeparator()

        button_action2 = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "Your &button2", self)
        button_action2.setStatusTip("This is your button2")
        button_action2.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action2.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action2)

        toolbar.addWidget(QLabel("Hello"))
        toolbar.addWidget(QCheckBox())

        self.setStatusBar(QStatusBar(self))

    def onMyToolBarButtonClick(self, s):
        print("click", s)


app = QApplication(sys.argv)

window = MainWindow()
window.show()

app.exec_()

python
import sys

from PySide6.QtCore import QSize, Qt
from PySide6.QtGui import QAction, QIcon
from PySide6.QtWidgets import (
    QApplication,
    QCheckBox,
    QLabel,
    QMainWindow,
    QStatusBar,
    QToolBar,
)


class MainWindow(QMainWindow):
    def __init__(self):
        super().__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My App")

        label = QLabel("Hello!")
        label.setAlignment(Qt.AlignCenter)

        self.setCentralWidget(label)

        toolbar = QToolBar("My main toolbar")
        toolbar.setIconSize(QSize(16, 16))
        self.addToolBar(toolbar)

        button_action = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "&Your button", self)
        button_action.setStatusTip("This is your button")
        button_action.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action)

        toolbar.addSeparator()

        button_action2 = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "Your &button2", self)
        button_action2.setStatusTip("This is your button2")
        button_action2.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action2.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action2)

        toolbar.addWidget(QLabel("Hello"))
        toolbar.addWidget(QCheckBox())

        self.setStatusBar(QStatusBar(self))

    def onMyToolBarButtonClick(self, s):
        print("click", s)


app = QApplication(sys.argv)

window = MainWindow()
window.show()

app.exec_()

Run it! Now you see multiple buttons and a checkbox.

Toolbar with an action and two widgets. Toolbar with an action and two widgets.

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Menus are another standard component of UIs. Typically they are on the top of the window, or the top of a screen on macOS. They allow access to all standard application functions. A few standard menus exist — for example File, Edit, Help. Menus can be nested to create hierarchical trees of functions and they often support and display keyboard shortcuts for fast access to their functions.

Standard GUI elements - Menus Standard GUI elements - Menus

To create a menu, we create a menubar we call .menuBar() on the QMainWindow. We add a menu on our menu bar by calling .addMenu(), passing in the name of the menu. I've called it '&File'. The ampersand defines a quick key to jump to this menu when pressing Alt.

This won't be visible on macOS. Note that this is different to a keyboard shortcut — we'll cover that shortly.

This is where the power of actions comes in to play. We can reuse the already existing QAction to add the same function to the menu. To add an action you call .addAction passing in one of our defined actions.

python
class MainWindow(QMainWindow):
    def __init__(self):
        super().__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My App")

        label = QLabel("Hello!")
        label.setAlignment(Qt.AlignCenter)

        self.setCentralWidget(label)

        toolbar = QToolBar("My main toolbar")
        toolbar.setIconSize(QSize(16, 16))
        self.addToolBar(toolbar)

        button_action = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "&Your button", self)
        button_action.setStatusTip("This is your button")
        button_action.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action)

        toolbar.addSeparator()

        button_action2 = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "Your &button2", self)
        button_action2.setStatusTip("This is your button2")
        button_action2.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action2.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action2)

        toolbar.addWidget(QLabel("Hello"))
        toolbar.addWidget(QCheckBox())

        self.setStatusBar(QStatusBar(self))

        menu = self.menuBar()

        file_menu = menu.addMenu("&File")
        file_menu.addAction(button_action)

    def onMyToolBarButtonClick(self, s):
        print("click", s)

Click the item in the menu and you will notice that it is toggleable — it inherits the features of the QAction.

Menu shown on the window -- on macOS this will be at the top of the screen. Menu shown on the window -- on macOS this will be at the top of the screen.

Let's add some more things to the menu. Here we'll add a separator to the menu, which will appear as a horizontal line in the menu, and then add the second QAction we created.

python
class MainWindow(QMainWindow):
    def __init__(self):
        super().__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My App")

        label = QLabel("Hello!")
        label.setAlignment(Qt.AlignCenter)

        self.setCentralWidget(label)

        toolbar = QToolBar("My main toolbar")
        toolbar.setIconSize(QSize(16, 16))
        self.addToolBar(toolbar)

        button_action = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "&Your button", self)
        button_action.setStatusTip("This is your button")
        button_action.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action)

        toolbar.addSeparator()

        button_action2 = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "Your &button2", self)
        button_action2.setStatusTip("This is your button2")
        button_action2.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action2.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action2)

        toolbar.addWidget(QLabel("Hello"))
        toolbar.addWidget(QCheckBox())

        self.setStatusBar(QStatusBar(self))

        menu = self.menuBar()

        file_menu = menu.addMenu("&File")
        file_menu.addAction(button_action)
        file_menu.addSeparator()
        file_menu.addAction(button_action2)

    def onMyToolBarButtonClick(self, s):
        print("click", s)

Run it! You should see two menu items with a line between them.

Our actions showing in the menu. Our actions showing in the menu.

You can also use ampersand to add accelerator keys to the menu to allow a single key to be used to jump to a menu item when it is open. Again this doesn't work on macOS.

To add a submenu, you simply create a new menu by calling addMenu() on the parent menu. You can then add actions to it as normal. For example:

python
class MainWindow(QMainWindow):
    def __init__(self):
        super().__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My App")

        label = QLabel("Hello!")
        label.setAlignment(Qt.AlignCenter)

        self.setCentralWidget(label)

        toolbar = QToolBar("My main toolbar")
        toolbar.setIconSize(QSize(16, 16))
        self.addToolBar(toolbar)

        button_action = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "&Your button", self)
        button_action.setStatusTip("This is your button")
        button_action.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action)

        toolbar.addSeparator()

        button_action2 = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "Your &button2", self)
        button_action2.setStatusTip("This is your button2")
        button_action2.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action2.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action2)

        toolbar.addWidget(QLabel("Hello"))
        toolbar.addWidget(QCheckBox())

        self.setStatusBar(QStatusBar(self))

        menu = self.menuBar()

        file_menu = menu.addMenu("&File")
        file_menu.addAction(button_action)
        file_menu.addSeparator()

        file_submenu = file_menu.addMenu("Submenu")
        file_submenu.addAction(button_action2)

    def onMyToolBarButtonClick(self, s):
        print("click", s)

Submenu nested in the File menu. Submenu nested in the File menu.

Finally we'll add a keyboard shortcut to the QAction. You define a keyboard shortcut by passing setKeySequence() and passing in the key sequence. Any defined key sequences will appear in the menu.

Note that the keyboard shortcut is associated with the QAction and will still work whether or not the QAction is added to a menu or a toolbar.

Key sequences can be defined in multiple ways - either by passing as text, using key names from the Qt namespace, or using the defined key sequences from the Qt namespace. Use the latter wherever you can to ensure compliance with the operating system standards.

The completed code, showing the toolbar buttons and menus is shown below.

python
class MainWindow(QMainWindow):
    def __init__(self):
        super().__init__()

        self.setWindowTitle("My App")

        label = QLabel("Hello!")

        # The `Qt` namespace has a lot of attributes to customize
        # widgets. See: http://doc.qt.io/qt-5/qt.html
        label.setAlignment(Qt.AlignCenter)

        # Set the central widget of the Window. Widget will expand
        # to take up all the space in the window by default.
        self.setCentralWidget(label)

        toolbar = QToolBar("My main toolbar")
        toolbar.setIconSize(QSize(16, 16))
        self.addToolBar(toolbar)

        button_action = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "&Your button", self)
        button_action.setStatusTip("This is your button")
        button_action.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action.setCheckable(True)
        # You can enter keyboard shortcuts using key names (e.g. Ctrl+p)
        # Qt.namespace identifiers (e.g. Qt.CTRL + Qt.Key_P)
        # or system agnostic identifiers (e.g. QKeySequence.Print)
        button_action.setShortcut(QKeySequence("Ctrl+p"))
        toolbar.addAction(button_action)

        toolbar.addSeparator()

        button_action2 = QAction(QIcon("bug.png"), "Your &button2", self)
        button_action2.setStatusTip("This is your button2")
        button_action2.triggered.connect(self.onMyToolBarButtonClick)
        button_action2.setCheckable(True)
        toolbar.addAction(button_action)

        toolbar.addWidget(QLabel("Hello"))
        toolbar.addWidget(QCheckBox())

        self.setStatusBar(QStatusBar(self))

        menu = self.menuBar()

        file_menu = menu.addMenu("&File")
        file_menu.addAction(button_action)

        file_menu.addSeparator()

        file_submenu = file_menu.addMenu("Submenu")

        file_submenu.addAction(button_action2)

    def onMyToolBarButtonClick(self, s):
        print("click", s)

Experiment with building your own menus using QAction and QMenu.

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