Getting Started

GTK is a widget toolkit. Each user interface created by GTK consists of widgets. This is implemented in C using GObject, an object-oriented framework for C. Widgets are organized in a hierarchy. The window widget is the main container. The user interface is then built by adding buttons, drop-down menus, input fields, and other widgets to the window. If you are creating complex user interfaces it is recommended to use GtkBuilder and its GTK-specific markup description language, instead of assembling the interface manually. You can also use a visual user interface editor, like Glade.

GTK is event-driven. The toolkit listens for events such as a click on a button, and passes the event to your application.

Below are some examples to get you started with GTK programming.

Note: We assume that you have GTK, its dependencies and a C compiler installed and ready to use. If you need to build GTK itself first, refer to the Compiling the GTK libraries section in this reference.

Hello World App in C

Hello World Application in GTK using C

To begin our introduction to GTK, we’ll start with a simple Hello World GTK application.

Create a new file with the following content named hello-world-gtk.c.

#include <gtk/gtk.h>

static void
print_hello (GtkWidget *widget,
             gpointer   data)
  g_print ("Hello World\n");

static void
activate (GtkApplication *app,
          gpointer        user_data)
  GtkWidget *window;
  GtkWidget *button;
  GtkWidget *button_box;

  window = gtk_application_window_new (app);
  gtk_window_set_title (GTK_WINDOW (window), "Window");
  gtk_window_set_default_size (GTK_WINDOW (window), 200, 200);

  button_box = gtk_button_box_new (GTK_ORIENTATION_HORIZONTAL);
  gtk_container_add (GTK_CONTAINER (window), button_box);

  button = gtk_button_new_with_label ("Hello World");
  g_signal_connect (button, "clicked", G_CALLBACK (print_hello), NULL);
  g_signal_connect_swapped (button, "clicked", G_CALLBACK (gtk_window_close), window);
  gtk_container_add (GTK_CONTAINER (button_box), button);

  gtk_widget_show_all (window);

main (int    argc,
      char **argv)
  GtkApplication *app;
  int status;

  app = gtk_application_new ("org.gtk.example", G_APPLICATION_FLAGS_NONE);
  g_signal_connect (app, "activate", G_CALLBACK (activate), NULL);
  status = g_application_run (G_APPLICATION (app), argc, argv);
  g_object_unref (app);

  return status;

You can compile the program above with GCC using:

gcc `pkg-config --cflags gtk+-3.0` -o hello-world-gtk hello-world-gtk.c `pkg-config --libs gtk+-3.0`

For more information on how to compile a GTK application, please refer to the Compiling GTK Applications section in the GTK API reference.


Initialising the App

In a GTK application, the purpose of the main() function is to create a GtkApplication object and run it. In this example a GtkApplication instance is created and initialized using gtk_application_new().

When creating a GtkApplication you need to pick an application identifier (a name) and input to gtk_application_new() as parameter. For this example, org.gtk.example is used but for choosing an identifier for your application see this guide. Lastly gtk_application_new() takes a GApplicationFlags argument, which control some of the capabilities that your application has, like being able to open files specified on the command line, or parsing command line options.

Next the activate signal is connected to the activate() function above the main() functions. The activate signal will be sent when your application is launched with g_application_run() on the line below. The gtk_application_run() also takes as arguments the pointers to the command line arguments counter and string array; this allows GTK to parse specific command line arguments that control the behavior of GTK itself. The parsed arguments will be removed from the array, leaving the unrecognized ones for your application to parse.

Within g_application_run the activate() signal is sent and we then proceed into the activate() function of the application. Inside the activate() function we want to construct our GTK window, so that a window is shown when the application is launched. The call to gtk_application_window_new() will create a new GtkApplicationWindow instance and store it inside the window pointer. The window will have a frame, a title bar, and window controls depending on the platform.

A window title is set using gtk_window_set_title(). This function takes a GtkWindow pointer and a string as input. As our window pointer is a GtkWidget pointer, we need to cast it to GtkWindow. But instead of casting window via the usual C cast operator (GtkWindow *), window should be cast using the GTK_WINDOW() macro. GTK_WINDOW() will perform a run time check if the pointer is an instance of the GtkWindow class, before casting, and emit a warning if the check fails. More information about this convention can be found here.

Finally the window size is set using gtk_window_set_default_size() and the window is then shown by GTK via gtk_widget_show_all().

When you exit the window, by for example pressing the X, the g_application_run() in the main loop returns with a number which is saved inside an integer named “status”. Afterwards, the GtkApplication object is freed from memory with g_object_unref(). Finally the status integer is returned to the operating system, and the GTK application exits.

Adding Button

As seen above, hello-world-gtk.c adds a button to our window, with the label “Hello World”. Two new GtkWidget pointers are declared to accomplish this, button and button_box. The button_box variable is created to store a GtkButtonBox which is GTK’s way of controlling the size and layout of buttons. The GtkButtonBox is created and assigned to gtk_button_box_new() which takes a GtkOrientation enumeration value as parameter. The buttons which this box will contain can either be stored horizontally or vertically but this does not matter in this particular case as we are dealing with only one button. After initializing button_box with horizontal orientation, the code adds the button_box widget to the window widget using gtk_container_add().

Adding Label

Next the button variable is initialized in similar manner. gtk_button_new_with_label() is called which returns a GtkButton to be stored inside button. Afterwards button is added to our button_box. Using g_signal_connect the button is connected to a function in our app called print_hello(), so that when the button is clicked, GTK will call this function. As the print_hello() function does not use any data as input, NULL is passed to it. print_hello() calls g_print() with the string “Hello World” which will print Hello World in a terminal if the GTK application was started from one.

Controlling Event Handling

After connecting print_hello(), another signal is connected to the “clicked” state of the button using g_signal_connect_swapped(). This functions is similar to a g_signal_connect() with the difference lying in how the callback function is treated. Using g_signal_connect_swapped() allows you to specify what the callback function should take as the instance parameter by letting you pass it as data. In this case the function being called back is gtk_window_close() and the window pointer is passed to it. This has the effect that when the button is clicked, the window is closed as if the “close” button had been pressed. In contrast, if a normal g_signal_connect() were used to connect the “clicked” signal with gtk_window_close(), then GTK would warn that the button is not a GtkWindow instance. More information about creating buttons can be found here.

Next steps

The GTK documentation contains a full example on how to create a complex application, capable of opening files, storing and loading settings, using menus and more complex widgets.

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