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What Is Tcl/Tk Good For?

In combination the Tcl and Tk packages (we will call the combination simply Tcl/Tk) are useful for creating graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to applications. The GUI is described in terms of instances of Tk widgets, created through calls in Tcl, and Tcl scripts that form the glue that binds together the GUI and the application. (If you are a little lost at this point, all will be clear in a moment with a simple example.)

There are lots of systems out there for adding GUIs to applications so why choose Tcl/Tk? Tcl/Tk has several advantages that make it attractive for this kind of work. Firstly, it is good for rapid prototyping of GUIs. Tcl is an interpreted scripting language. The scripts can be modified and executed quickly, with no compilation phase, so speeding up the development loop.

Secondly, it is easier to use a system based on a scripting language, such as Tcl/Tk, than many of the conventional packages available. For example, getting to grips with the X windows suite of C libraries is not an easy task. Tcl/Tk can produce the same thing using simple scripting with much less to learn. The penalty for this is that programs written in an interpreted scripting language will execute more slowly than those written using compiled C library calls, but for many interfaces that do not need great speed Tcl/Tk is fast enough and its ease of use more than outweighs the loss of speed. In any case, Tcl/Tk can easily handle hundreds of events per mouse movement without the user noticing.

Thirdly, Tcl/Tk is good for making cross-platform GUIs. The Tk toolkit has been ported to native look-and-feel widgets on Mac, PC (Windows), and UNIX (X windows) platforms. You can write your scripts once and they will execute on any of these platforms.

Lastly, the software is distributed under a free software license and so is available in both binary and source formats free of charge.