Windows doesn’t offer a built-in way for users to make a window always on top. There are many third-party tools for this, but they’re often bloated and clunky. So, let’s take a look at what works well.

While there are a lot of tools out there for making a window stay always on top, a lot of them have been around a long time and don’t work well with modern versions of Windows—or on 64-bit versions. We tested a variety of tools so we can recommend the best, most reliable ones. Whether you want to use a keyboard shortcut or a graphical menu these are the ideal ways to make a window always-on-top. And, these tools work with pretty much any version of Windows.

Another quick thing to note: there are some great apps out there that can make a window stay always on top in addition to doing other things. We’re sticking with lightweight, free tools that serve just the function we’re after, but we’ll note some of those other apps later on in the article in case you’re interested—or already using one.

With a Keyboard Shortcut: AutoHotkey

RELATED: The Beginner's Guide to Using an AutoHotkey Script

Using the excellent and useful AutoHotkey program, you can make a one-line script that sets your currently active window to be always on top when you press a certain key combination. The resulting script is lightweight and won’t use much resources or add unnecessary clutter to your system. You can even use AutoHotkey to compile the script to its own executable if you don’t want to keep the full AutoHotkey program running—or if you want an easy way to carry the script with you to other PCs.

First, you’ll need download and install AutoHotkey.

When that’s done, you’ll need to create a new script (if you already use AutoHotkey, feel free to add this to a current script or create a new one). To create a new script, right-click anywhere on your desktop or in a File Explorer window, point to the “New” menu, and then select the “AutoHotkey Script” option. Give the new script file whatever name you want.

Next, right-click your new AutoHotkey script, and then choose the “Edit Script” option. This opens the script for editing in Notepad, or whatever editing program you use.

In the Notepad window, paste the following line of code at the bottom. You can then save and close the script.

^SPACE::  Winset, Alwaysontop, , A

Next, double-click your script to run it. You’ll know it’s running because a green “H” logo appears in your system tray to let you know it’s running as a background process.

You can now press Ctrl+Space to set any currently active window to be always on top. Press Ctrl+Space again set the window to no longer be always on top.

And if you don’t like the Ctrl+Space combination, you can change the ^SPACE part of the script to set a new keyboard shortcut. Consult the Hotkeys documentation on AutoHotkey’s website for help.

Using a Mouse: DeskPins

If you prefer using a mouse over keyboard shortcuts, DeskPins provides a super simple way to make windows always on top by just pinning them.

First, you’ll need to download and install DeskPins. After installation, go ahead and run DeskPins. You’ll see that it adds a pin icon to your system tray.

When you have a window you want to pin to be always on top, click that system tray icon. Your pointer turns into a pin and you can then click any window to pin it so that it’s always on top. Pinned windows actually have a red pin added to the title bar, so that you can tell easily which windows are pinned and which are not.

To remove a pin from a window, move your mouse over the pin. Your pointer will show a small “X” on it to let you know you’re about to remove the pin. And if you want to remove pins from all windows you’ve pinned at once, right-click the system tray icon, and then choose the “Remove All Pins” option.

Using a System Tray Menu: TurboTop

If you like using your mouse, but don’t want to mess around with actually pinning windows—or have the admittedly Windows 95-looking pin buttons added to your window’s title bars—TurboTop sticks a menu system on its system tray icon so that you can make windows always on top.

After downloading and installing TurboTop, click its system tray icon once to view a list of all your open windows. Click a window’s name to make it always on top. Windows that are already always on top have a checkmark—click them again to make them no longer always on top.

Because this tool is so basic and minimal, it works well even when other, fancier applications struggle. It’s impressive how a little utility that hasn’t been updated since 2004 can still work so well thirteen years later—it’s a testament to how cleanly this program does its work.

Without Installing Anything Extra: Built-in App Options

Many apps have built-in options so that you can set their windows to become always on top. You often find these options in media players, system utilities, and other tools that you might want to see all the time. Programs that accept plug-ins may also have an always on top plugin you can install.

For example, here’s how to enable the built-in always on top option in some popular programs:

  • VLC: Click Video > Always on top.
  • iTunes: Click the menu button at the top-left corner of the iTunes window and select Preferences. Click the Advanced tab and enable the “Keep MiniPlayer on top of all other windows” option or the “Keep movie window on top of all other windows” option. Switch to the MiniPlayer window by clicking the menu button and selecting Switch to MiniPlayer.
  • Windows Media Player: Click Organize > Options. Select the Player tab and enable the “Keep Now Playing on top of other windows” checkbox.
  • Firefox: Install the Always on Top add-on. Once you have, press Alt and click View > Always on Top. You can also just press Ctrl+Alt+T to make the current Firefox window always-on-top.
  • Pidgin: Click Tools > Plugins in the Buddy List window. Enable the included Windows Pidgin Options plugin, click Configure Plugin, and set a “Keep Buddy List window on top” preference.
  • Process Explorer: Click Options > Always on Top.

In addition to these apps, some bigger, more fully-featured window and desktop utilities also offer the ability to make windows always on top. DisplayFusion, for example, offers the feature (even in its free version), but also provides tools for managing multiple monitors, controlling the desktop and windows in all kinds of ways, and even tweaking other Windows settings. Actual Window Manager offers the feature, too, and also adds over 50 other desktop management tools. If you already use one of those—or are interested in those other features—then by all means give them a try.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
Read Full Bio »