System Tray

What Does System Tray Mean?

The system tray is a notification area on the operating system taskbar. It contains icons that provide users with easy access to system functions such as email, printer, network connections and volume control. The icons also indicate the statuses of the processes running on the computer. By hovering, double-clicking or right-clicking a notification icon, one is able to view the status of, access details about and control the associated application. The system tray is usually shared by all applications running on the computer.


The system tray is also known as the notification area or status area in Windows and the menu bar in Mac OS X.

Techopedia Explains System Tray

The system tray is available in both desktop and mobile operating systems such as Windows, Linux, Mac OS, Android and iOS. The location of the tray depends on the operating system; it is at the bottom right corner in most Windows versions and is at the top right corner on Linux, Mac OS and Android. However, since it resides on the taskbar, the position can be changed by changing the position of the taskbar.

Typical default icons include time, network connections, volume control and antivirus. However, the system tray is customizable and other icons can be added as desired, either by making an entry in the registry or by creating and dragging a shortcut icon to the tray or from the program options.

An icon can be removed by uninstalling the associated program, disabling the notification in the program itself or stopping it from loading at startup. However, even when notifications are hidden, the associated application continues to run in the background, it simply is no longer displayed in the taskbar.

Common display options in some Windows versions include “Show icon and notifications,” “Hide icon and notifications” and “Only show notifications.” The icons can be turned on and off as desired, with the latter option completely hiding them from the system tray.

Typical behaviors of the Windows system tray include the following:

  • Double-clicking a system tray icon launches the corresponding program; a dialog box may appear.
  • If the mouse is hovered over an icon, a popup message about the application and, sometimes, its status is displayed, such as a network connection and whether or not there is Internet access.
  • Right-clicking an icon opens up a menu with various options depending on the application, some of which may include open, exit, sign out, volume control and eject.

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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…