ShellExecuteA function (shellapi.h)

Performs an operation on a specified file.


HINSTANCE ShellExecuteA(
  HWND   hwnd,
  LPCSTR lpOperation,
  LPCSTR lpFile,
  LPCSTR lpParameters,
  LPCSTR lpDirectory,
  INT    nShowCmd



Type: HWND

A handle to the parent window used for displaying a UI or error messages. This value can be NULL if the operation is not associated with a window.



A pointer to a null-terminated string, referred to in this case as a verb, that specifies the action to be performed. The set of available verbs depends on the particular file or folder. Generally, the actions available from an object's shortcut menu are available verbs. The following verbs are commonly used:


Launches an editor and opens the document for editing. If lpFile is not a document file, the function will fail.


Explores a folder specified by lpFile.


Initiates a search beginning in the directory specified by lpDirectory.


Opens the item specified by the lpFile parameter. The item can be a file or folder.


Prints the file specified by lpFile. If lpFile is not a document file, the function fails.


Launches an application as Administrator. User Account Control (UAC) will prompt the user for consent to run the application elevated or enter the credentials of an administrator account used to run the application.


The default verb is used, if available. If not, the "open" verb is used. If neither verb is available, the system uses the first verb listed in the registry.



A pointer to a null-terminated string that specifies the file or object on which to execute the specified verb. To specify a Shell namespace object, pass the fully qualified parse name. Note that not all verbs are supported on all objects. For example, not all document types support the "print" verb. If a relative path is used for the lpDirectory parameter do not use a relative path for lpFile.



If lpFile specifies an executable file, this parameter is a pointer to a null-terminated string that specifies the parameters to be passed to the application. The format of this string is determined by the verb that is to be invoked. If lpFile specifies a document file, lpParameters should be NULL.



A pointer to a null-terminated string that specifies the default (working) directory for the action. If this value is NULL, the current working directory is used. If a relative path is provided at lpFile, do not use a relative path for lpDirectory.


Type: INT

The flags that specify how an application is to be displayed when it is opened. If lpFile specifies a document file, the flag is simply passed to the associated application. It is up to the application to decide how to handle it. It can be any of the values that can be specified in the nCmdShow parameter for the ShowWindow function.

Return value


If the function succeeds, it returns a value greater than 32. If the function fails, it returns an error value that indicates the cause of the failure. The return value is cast as an HINSTANCE for backward compatibility with 16-bit Windows applications. It is not a true HINSTANCE, however. It can be cast only to an int and compared to either 32 or the following error codes below.

Return code Description
The operating system is out of memory or resources.
The specified file was not found.
The specified path was not found.
The .exe file is invalid (non-Win32 .exe or error in .exe image).
The operating system denied access to the specified file.
The file name association is incomplete or invalid.
The DDE transaction could not be completed because other DDE transactions were being processed.
The DDE transaction failed.
The DDE transaction could not be completed because the request timed out.
The specified DLL was not found.
The specified file was not found.
There is no application associated with the given file name extension. This error will also be returned if you attempt to print a file that is not printable.
There was not enough memory to complete the operation.
The specified path was not found.
A sharing violation occurred.


Because ShellExecute can delegate execution to Shell extensions (data sources, context menu handlers, verb implementations) that are activated using Component Object Model (COM), COM should be initialized before ShellExecute is called. Some Shell extensions require the COM single-threaded apartment (STA) type. In that case, COM should be initialized as shown here:


There are certainly instances where ShellExecute does not use one of these types of Shell extension and those instances would not require COM to be initialized at all. Nonetheless, it is good practice to always initalize COM before using this function.

This method allows you to execute any commands in a folder's shortcut menu or stored in the registry.

To open a folder, use either of the following calls:

ShellExecute(handle, NULL, <fully_qualified_path_to_folder>, NULL, NULL, SW_SHOWNORMAL);


ShellExecute(handle, "open", <fully_qualified_path_to_folder>, NULL, NULL, SW_SHOWNORMAL);

To explore a folder, use the following call:

ShellExecute(handle, "explore", <fully_qualified_path_to_folder>, NULL, NULL, SW_SHOWNORMAL);

To launch the Shell's Find utility for a directory, use the following call.

ShellExecute(handle, "find", <fully_qualified_path_to_folder>, NULL, NULL, 0);

If lpOperation is NULL, the function opens the file specified by lpFile. If lpOperation is "open" or "explore", the function attempts to open or explore the folder.

To obtain information about the application that is launched as a result of calling ShellExecute, use ShellExecuteEx.

Note  The Launch folder windows in a separate process setting in Folder Options affects ShellExecute. If that option is disabled (the default setting), ShellExecute uses an open Explorer window rather than launch a new one. If no Explorer window is open, ShellExecute launches a new one.


The shellapi.h header defines ShellExecute as an alias which automatically selects the ANSI or Unicode version of this function based on the definition of the UNICODE preprocessor constant. Mixing usage of the encoding-neutral alias with code that not encoding-neutral can lead to mismatches that result in compilation or runtime errors. For more information, see Conventions for Function Prototypes.


Minimum supported client Windows XP [desktop apps only]
Minimum supported server Windows 2000 Server [desktop apps only]
Target Platform Windows
Header shellapi.h
Library Shell32.lib
DLL Shell32.dll (version 3.51 or later)

See also



Launching Applications (ShellExecute, ShellExecuteEx, SHELLEXECUTEINFO)