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Part 1: Getting AutoHotkey

In this section I'll walk you through downloading and installing AutoHotkey. I'll also recommend a simple Workflow and related Tools for creating and editing AutoHotkey scripts.

Where and How do I get AutoHotkey?

Download and install from

  • If you have full administrator access to your machine (as in, it's a laptop that you personally own) then you can do a full install of AutoHotkey.
  • If you DON'T have full administrator access to your machine (as in, it's a company or school laptop that an IT department manages for you) then you can still use AutoHotkey in portable mode.
    • Even though you can use AutoHotkey this way, you probably still shouldn't if there's any policy against it. Don't get in trouble.

How AutoHotkey Works

  • The AutoHotkey program runs constantly in the background, "listening" to your keyboard and mouse inputs
    • You'll see a green "H" icon in the system tray when it is active.
  • You start the program and configure its behavior using AutoHotkey Script files, which are simple text files on your computer with the .ahk file type.
    • You can turn any .txt file into a .ahk file by editing the file type (there's more than one way to do this, depending on how Windows-savvy you are).
  • When your mouse or keyboard inputs match a trigger defined in the Script file, AutoHotkey runs the instructions nested under that trigger.
    • You can configure multiple trigger types—the most common are "Hotkeys" and "Hotstrings."
      • A Hotkey is a single key or combination of keys, kind of like Ctrl+c to "copy" or Ctrl+v to "paste."
      • A "Hotstring" is a sequence of keys that you type, usually in an editor window like your email client or Note-Taking program.
    • Either type of trigger can then do anything your mouse and keyboard can do, but automatically!

Getting Set Up + Workflow Recommendations

This part of the guide is highly Opinionated—that is, what I outline below is far from mandatory, and AutoHotkey will work fine if you do none of this. But I consider the following to be a smart way to set things up.


  • Text Editor (I use VS Code)
    • Since AutoHotkey scripts are just text files, it's helpful to have a fully-featuredText Editor for making edits to your AutoHotkey scripts.
      • VS Code has an extension for AutoHotkey that adds syntax highlighting and smart code completion suggestions for AutoHotkey's built-in functions.
        • VS Code is also usable WITHOUT the ability to officially install programs on whatever computer you're using (that's called a "portable" program). So even if you're using a company laptop with IT department-managed installation of programs, VS Code is still an option that you can try.
          • Even though you can use VS Code this way, you probably still shouldn't if there's any policy against it. Don't get in trouble.
  • Git version control + GitHub or some other repo service
    • In order to keep track of your scripts, add a layer of redundancy so that you don't accidentally delete them, and make sure that any changes you make over time are never permanent, I recommend using some Version Control Software, such as Git., together with a Remote Host for keeping your VCS backed up somewhere safe.
      • Git is an industry standard tool that programmers use to manage large, sprawling Programming projects. It's a Swiss Army Knife made for that purpose—but we'll only need to use its most basic features.
      • (Optional):GitHub is an extremely popular Remote Host for storing Git repositories. You can use it to share your AutoHotkey scripts with the world, if you want, or keep them private. Other Remote Hosts include GitLab and BitBucket.

Setting Things Up

  • Recommended Folder Structure
    • Create a folder just for AutoHotkey scripts
    • Create a single "Main" .ahk file that will "Include" other, smaller scripts
    • Make this folder a Git repository
  • Recommended structure for your "Main" .ahk file
    • Keyboard shortcut for reloading your currently-running script
    • "Include" statements at the bottom of the file
  • Running your AutoHotkey scripts on machine startup

Recommended Workflow

  • If you haven't already, go ahead and create a .ahk file in your Git repository folder
    • Name it whatever you like—the name of the file is not important to AutoHotkey's actual functionality.
    • Go ahead and add the shortcut above to the top of that file using your Text Editor of choice and save it. (From now on I won't remind you to save the file after every change, but you should get in the habit of doing so.)
    • Add the .ahk file to your Git repository and commit this first change. (From now on I won't remind you to commit new changes to Git once you're happy with them, but you should get in the habit of doing so.)
  • Double-click on that .ahk file to start AutoHotkey running in the background.
  • From now on, whenever you make changes to your .ahk file, after you save the changes hit Ctrl+F5 to automatically refresh the version of the script that AutoHotkey is running in the background.

Conclusion and What's Next

If you've followed along to this point, you should have AutoHotkey installed on your Windows machine, have a Text Editor installed and configured to recognize and help you out with writing AutoHotkey code, and have a local folder set up as a Git repository to record the changes you make to your scripts over time (whether local-only or together with a Remote Host is your prerogative). 

Next, I'll walk you through actually USING AutoHotkey to do some simple stuff, like rebinding keys on your keyboard to act like other keys instead.