ShellExecuteExA function (shellapi.h)

Performs an operation on a specified file.


BOOL ShellExecuteExA(
  [in, out] SHELLEXECUTEINFOA *pExecInfo


[in, out] pExecInfo


A pointer to a SHELLEXECUTEINFO structure that contains and receives information about the application being executed.

Return value

Type: BOOL

Returns TRUE if successful; otherwise, FALSE. Call GetLastError for extended error information.


Because ShellExecuteEx 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 ShellExecuteEx 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 instances where ShellExecuteEx 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 initialize COM before using this function.

When DLLs are loaded into your process, you acquire a lock known as a loader lock. The DllMain function always executes under the loader lock. It is important that you do not call ShellExecuteEx while you hold a loader lock. Because ShellExecuteEx is extensible, you could load code that does not function properly in the presence of a loader lock, risking a deadlock and therefore an unresponsive thread.

With multiple monitors, if you specify an HWND and set the lpVerb member of the SHELLEXECUTEINFO structure pointed to by lpExecInfo to "Properties", any windows created by ShellExecuteEx might not appear in the correct position.

If the function succeeds, it sets the hInstApp member of the SHELLEXECUTEINFO structure to a value greater than 32. If the function fails, hInstApp is set to the SE_ERR_XXX error value that best indicates the cause of the failure. Although hInstApp is declared as an HINSTANCE for compatibility with 16-bit Windows applications, it is not a true HINSTANCE. It can be cast only to an int and can be compared only to either the value 32 or the SE_ERR_XXX error codes.

The SE_ERR_XXX error values are provided for compatibility with ShellExecute. To retrieve more accurate error information, use GetLastError. It may return one of the following values.

Error Description
ERROR_FILE_NOT_FOUND The specified file was not found.
ERROR_PATH_NOT_FOUND The specified path was not found.
ERROR_DDE_FAIL The Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) transaction failed.
ERROR_NO_ASSOCIATION There is no application associated with the specified file name extension.
ERROR_ACCESS_DENIED Access to the specified file is denied.
ERROR_DLL_NOT_FOUND One of the library files necessary to run the application can't be found.
ERROR_CANCELLED The function prompted the user for additional information, but the user canceled the request.
ERROR_NOT_ENOUGH_MEMORY There is not enough memory to perform the specified action.
ERROR_SHARING_VIOLATION A sharing violation occurred.

Opening items from a URL You can register your application to activate when passed URLs. You can also specify which protocols your application supports. See Application Registration for more info.

Site chain support As of Windows 8, you can provide a site chain pointer to the ShellExecuteEx function to support item activation with services from that site. See Launching Applications (ShellExecute, ShellExecuteEx, SHELLEXECUTEINFO) for more information.


The shellapi.h header defines ShellExecuteEx 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.


Requirement Value
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)