How to find user interface elements using locators and keyboard shortcuts in Windows applications

Available tools for inspecting Windows applications

One way to automate Windows applications is to target UI components with their identifiers. Microsoft recommends Accessibility Insights for viewing the UI automation properties. Legacy tools such as Inspect.exe can also be used.

Inspecting Windows applications with Accessibility Insights

After installing and launching Accessibility Insights for Windows, inspecting Windows applications is straight-forward. Using the Windows Calculator as an example, hovering over the application displays the properties of the UI components.

Inspecting Windows Calculator with Accessibility Insights

By default, Accessibility Insights displays only a few properties, including the accessible Name of the UI component in the DETAILS pane. In this case, the name of the button is Five. Using localized names for automation is not the most robust option since the labels change based on Windows language settings.

Inspecting Windows Calculator button name with Accessibility Insights

To see more properties, click on the settings icon and select Include all properties that have values:

Including all properties in Accessibility Insights

This will include the AutomationId property. In this case, the value of that property is num5Button:

Inspecting Windows Calculator button automation ID with Accessibility Insights

You can use the value of the AutomationId property in your robot script. Here we are using the Click keyword from the RPA.Windows library, prefixing the automation ID with id::

*** Settings *** Library RPA.Windows *** Keywords *** Open The Calculator Windows Run calc.exe Control Window name:Calculator *** Keywords *** Click The Five Button Using The AutomationId Property Value Click id:num5Button *** Tasks *** Automate The Calculator Open The Calculator Click The Five Button Using The AutomationId Property Value

Accessing UI components and functionality using keyboard shortcuts

If the application supports keyboard shortcuts (see Windows desktop application robot), it is recommended to use those whenever possible.

This is an example of a robot that controls a browser using only the RPA.Windows library and available keyboard shortcuts.

Robocorp also supports browser automation solutions such as Selenium and Playwright.

*** Settings *** Library RPA.Windows *** Tasks *** Automate desktop web browser Open the browser Open new private window Focus address bar Type Robot Framework URL and press enter Open new tab Type Robocorp docs URL and press enter Search Within Page Search Input Field Open Link To Library Documentation Zoom in Log Done. *** Keywords *** Open the browser Windows Search Firefox Control Window name:"Mozilla Firefox" Open new private window Send Keys keys={Ctrl}({Shift}p) Focus address bar Send Keys keys={Ctrl}L Type Robocorp docs URL and press enter Send Keys keys={Enter} Open new tab Send Keys keys={Ctrl}T Type Robot Framework URL and press enter Send Keys keys={Enter} Zoom in Send Keys keys={Ctrl}{Add}{Ctrl}{Add}{Ctrl}{Add} Search Within Page Search Input Field Control Window subname:"RPA Documentation" Send Keys locator=name:Search type:Edit depth:16{Enter} Open Link To Library Documentation Sleep 2s Control Window subname:"RPA Documentation" Click name:"RPA.Windows" type:Hyperlink depth:16

See the robot in action: Automating desktop web browser

When all else fails: Image-based locators

Sometimes UI components in windows applications do not have an ID that could be used to target them, or they can not be accessed by keyboard shortcuts. In these cases it is still possible to locate them using image-based locators.


Windows desktop applications can be automated using UI component IDs, keyboard shortcuts, or image-based locators.

Last edit: September 15, 2022