14.11. Layout Mangers

A widget will not be visible in a window until you assign it a size and location within it’s parent widget. Assigning a specific size and location to every widget is tedious and error-prone. In addition, the desired behaviour for most GUI interfaces is that the widgets resize and relocate in reasonable ways if their parent window is re-sized. Trust me, you don’t what to write code to resize and relocate widgets every time you develop a GUI program! Therefore, layout managers are included in the Tkinter module to do this work for you. You just have to give some basic positioning information to a layout manager so it can calculate a position and a size for each widget.

There are three layout managers in the Tkinter module:

Layout Manager Description
place You specify the exact size and position of each widget.
pack You specify the size and position of each widget relative to each other.
grid You place widgets in a cell of a 2-dimensional table defined by rows and columns.

You should never mix and match these layout managers. Use only one of them for the widget layout within a particular “parent widget”. (Widgets are organized in a hierarchy, which is explained in the next lesson.)

14.12. Specifying Dimensions

By default, a size or position value specified as an integer is in pixel units. If a different unit of measurement is desired, you can use a string and append an appropriate unit symbol. The following units are recognized:

Example Units
37 pixels
“37c” centimeters
“37i” inches
“37m” millimeters
“37p” “points” (as in a 12 point font). (One point is approximately 1/72 of an inch.)

Please note that some of the widgets change the meaning of their width and height based on the widget’s configuration. For example, if you have a Button with text on it, and you set the button’s width and height, the size values are considered to be in text units. However, if you have a Button with an image on its face, the button’s width and height values are interpreted as pixels. If you have a widget whose size is not acting as you would expect, it may be because the units are different than you expect.

In general use, you rarely specify the size of widgets. Your layout manager will set the size of a widget based on the contents of the widget and if you want the widget to be larger, you added some padding around it.

14.13. Place Layout Manager

All widgets have a .place(x, y, width, height) method that can be used to specify the exact location and size of a widget. You can use this method to create a static interface that will always look the same regardless of the parent’s window size. This layout method is rarely used because the GUI window can’t be easily re-sized in user-friendly ways.

14.14. Grid Layout Manager

All widgets have a .grid(row=r, column=c) method that will place a widget in the cell (r,c) of a 2-D table. By default the widget is rendered in the middle of the cell and as small as possible. This can be changed using other optional parameters. The sticky option allows you to move or stretch a widget to the borders of a cell. There are 4 options, tk.E, tk.W, tk.N, and tk.S, which are abbreviations for east, west, north, and south respectively. These options are ‘bit flags’ that can be combined in any combination using simple addition. When you specify opposing cell edges, the widget will stretch to reach both boundaries. Here are some examples:

sticky Parameter Description
tk.W Move the widget to the left cell boundary.
tk.W + tk.N Move the widget left and up so that it is in the upper-left corner.
tk.E + tk.W Stretch the widget so that it fills the cell horizontally.
tk.E + tk.W + tk.S Stretch the widget so that it fills the cell horizontally and move it down to the bottom cell boundary.
tk.E + tk.W + tk.N + tk.S Stretch the widget so it fills the entire cell.

In addition, if you do not want the widget to be rendered as small as possible, you can add space to the widget using ipadx and ipady, which makes the widget itself larger. (The “i” stands for internal padding.) Or you can add space around the widget to force a cell to be larger using padx and pady. This makes the area inside the table cell larger. You can also have a widget span more than one cell in the grid using columnspan and rowspan parameters. Here is an example grid command that stretches a button widget to the full width of a grid cell and adds extra space vertically to the grid cell:

my_button = tk.Button(application_window, text="Example")
my_button.grid(row=3, column=1, sticky=tk.E + tk.W, pady=10)

One final note about grid layouts. You might think that you need to tell tkinter how big your grid layout is – but you don’t. It will figure out how big the grid table is by simply examining all of the widgets inside a container widget. If there are cells that were not assigned a widget, those cells will be empty in the interface.

To accomplish a desired interface design using a grid layout manager is typically a process of experimentation. Don’t expect to get your desired layout on the first try.

14.15. Pack Layout Manager

The pack layout manager tries to place each widget “next to” the previous widget in a container. You can call it without any arguments and it will try to position and size a widget in reasonable ways. To control the exact rendering of a widget using pack is more complex than the grid layout and therefore you are encouraged to use the grid layout manager for most interface design problems.

For situations where you want to have a series of widgets in a vertical or horizontal row, the pack layout manager is fairly simple to use. The side parameter can be TOP, BOTTOM, LEFT, or RIGHT and specifies which side of the container to “pack” the widget against. You also use the ipadx, ipady, padx and pady parameters to add extra space around a widget. The parameter fill can be X, Y, or BOTH to specify whether a widget stays as small as possible or whether if expands to fill all available space inside it’s parent widget. If you want the widget to stretch to fill the available space, you also have to set the expand parameter to True.

Here is an example pack command for a button widget:

my_button = tk.Button(application_window, text="Example")
my_button.grid(side=tk.TOP, fill=tk.Y, expand=True, pady=10)

To accomplish a desired interface design using a pack layout manager is typically a process of experimentation. Don’t expect to get your desired layout on the first try.

14.15.1. Summary

To summarize, let’s review two very important rules:

  • A widget will not be visible in a window until you assign it a size and location within it’s parent widget.
  • You should never mix and match layout managers; use only one type of layout manager for the widgets within a particular parent widget.
Next Section - 14.16. Widget Groupings