What Does XInput and DirectInput Mean?

What Does XInput and DirectInput Mean?

Your controller will use either XInput or DirectInput to work, but what do these terms mean, and does it matter which one you use?

closeup of an xbox controller infront of a computer

Maybe you’ve heard the terms ‘XInput’ and ‘DirectInput’ here and there, almost always referencing controllers that you can use for Windows. But what do they actually mean? Does it matter which one you have, and, if so, how can you tell what you have?

Let’s explore both terms and see what each one means for you.

XInput, DirectInput, and Input Libraries

screenshot of a gamedev tool mapping controls

All of these terms refer to an API that exists between the controller and your system. Essentially, how your controller talks to your computer and knows what buttons mean what.

All this is to say, you generally don’t need to worry about which is which and what does what. Driver packages will install what you need and controllers are automatically assigned the one that they use.

Related: What Is an API and What Does the Acronym Mean?This information isn’t just used by gamepads. Just about any device that inputs into your system passes through these APIs. It’s just generally noticed more when setting up or purchasing gamepads.

What Are the Differences Between XInput and DirectInput?

XInput is newer, so it’s easier to use and is generally found in a wider range of modern gamepads. In comparison, DirectInput is a much older API, so old that it’s considered a legacy API by Microsoft.

Because of its age, DirectInput still manages to hold some advantages over Xinput. The feature list is impressive and the API is well documented, meaning it’s generally easier to implement. DirectInput can be found being used for a wide range of older hardware, especially from third-party brands.


An example of this split in terms of features versus legacy functions is the PlayStation 3 and 4 controllers. These controllers did not natively support XInput, which made using these controllers quite difficult on newer games.

Does It Matter If You Use XInput or DirectInput?

screenshot of steamworks documentation showing unified input support

The good news is you really don’t need to worry about which API your gamepad uses.

Most modern controllers can easily interface with both (if they don’t use their own, custom API) and programs like Steam unify these sorts of libraries to retroactively add support where it’s needed.

Related: How to Set Up and Use Console Controllers With Steam

Old APIs, New APIs, They’ll All Work the Same

While there are a lot of technical differences between these two libraries, modern gamepads have mostly unified the experience, and truly made gaming on PC ‘plug-and-play.’

Still, it’s worth knowing the difference between these two terms, as it may come up when troubleshooting your own gamepad.

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