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Dialog Box Programming Considerations

This overview discusses some programming considerations concerning dialog boxes.

The overview includes the following topics.

Dialog Box Procedures

A dialog box procedure is similar to a window procedure in that the system sends messages to the procedure when it has information to give or tasks to carry out. Unlike a window procedure, a dialog box procedure never calls the DefWindowProc function. Instead, it returns TRUE if it processes a message or FALSE if it does not.

Every dialog box procedure has the following form:


BOOL CALLBACK DlgProc(HWND hwndDlg, UINT message, WPARAM wParam, LPARAM lParam) 
{ 
    switch (message) 
    { 
 
        // Place message cases here. 
 
        default: 
            return FALSE; 
    } 
}

The procedure parameters serve the same purpose as in a window procedure, with the hwndDlg parameter receiving the window handle of the dialog box.

Most dialog box procedures process the WM_INITDIALOG message and the WM_COMMAND messages sent by the controls, but process few if any other messages. If a dialog box procedure does not process a message, it must return FALSE to direct the system to process the messages internally. The only exception to this rule is the WM_INITDIALOG message. The dialog box procedure must return TRUE to direct the system to further process the WM_INITDIALOG message. In any case, the procedure must not call DefWindowProc.

The WM_INITDIALOG Message

The system does not send a WM_CREATE message to the dialog box procedure. Instead, it sends a WM_INITDIALOG message when it creates the dialog box and all its controls but before it displays the dialog box. The procedure should carry out any initialization required to ensure that the dialog box displays the current settings associated with the task. For example, when a dialog box contains a control to show the current drive and directory, the procedure must determine the current drive and directory and set the control to that value.

The procedure can initialize controls by using functions such as SetDlgItemText and CheckDlgButton. Because controls are windows, the procedure can also manipulate them by using window-management functions such as EnableWindow and SetFocus. The procedure can retrieve the window handle to a control by using the GetDlgItem function.

The dialog box procedure can change the contents, state, and position of any control as needed. For example, in a dialog box that contains a list box of filenames and an Open button, the procedure can disable the Open button until the user selects a file from the list. In this example, the dialog box template specifies the WS_DISABLED style for the Open button and the system automatically disables the button when creating it. When the dialog box procedure receives a notification message from the list box indicating that the user has selected a file, the procedure calls the EnableWindow function to enable the Open button.

To display a custom icon on the caption bar of the dialog box, your WM_INITDIALOG handler can send the WM_SETICON message to the dialog box.

If the application creates the dialog box by using one of the functions DialogBoxParam, DialogBoxIndirectParam, CreateDialogParam, or CreateDialogIndirectParam, the lParam parameter for the WM_INITDIALOG message contains the extra parameter passed to the function. Applications typically use this extra parameter to pass a pointer to additional initialization information to the dialog box procedure, but the dialog box procedure must determine the meaning of the parameter. If the application uses another function to create the dialog box, the system sets the lParam parameter to NULL.

Before returning from the WM_INITDIALOG message, the procedure should determine whether it should set the input focus to a specified control. If the dialog box procedure returns TRUE, the system automatically sets the input focus to the control whose window handle is in the wParam parameter. If the control receiving the default focus is not appropriate, it can set the focus to the appropriate control by using the SetFocus function. If the procedure sets the input focus, it must return FALSE to prevent the system from setting the default focus. The control receiving the default input focus is always the first control specified in the template that is visible, not disabled, and has the WS_TABSTOP style. If no such control exists, the system sets the default input focus to the first control in the template.

The WM_COMMAND Message

A control can send a WM_COMMAND message to the dialog box procedure when the user carries out an action in the control. These messages, called notification messages, inform the procedure of user input and permit it to carry out appropriate responses.

All predefined controls, except static controls, send notification messages for selected user actions. For example, a push button sends the BN_CLICKED notification message whenever the user clicks the button. In all cases, the low-order word of the wParam parameter contains the control identifier, the high-order word of wParam contains the notification code, and the lParam parameter contains the control window handle.

The dialog box procedure should monitor and process notification messages. In particular, the procedure must process messages having the IDOK or IDCANCEL identifiers; these messages represent a request by the user to close the dialog box. The procedure should close the dialog box by using the EndDialog function for modal dialog boxes and the DestroyWindow function for modeless dialog boxes.

The system also sends WM_COMMAND messages to the dialog box procedure if the dialog box has a menu, such as the window menu, and the user clicks a menu item. In particular, the system sends a WM_COMMAND message with the wParam parameter set to IDCANCEL whenever the user clicks Close in the dialog box's window menu. The message is nearly identical to the notification message sent by the Cancel button and should be processed in exactly the same way.

The WM_PARENTNOTIFY Message

A control sends a WM_PARENTNOTIFY message whenever the user presses a mouse button while pointing to the control. Some applications interpret this message as a signal to carry out an action related to the control, such as displaying a line of text describing the purpose of the control.

The system also sends WM_PARENTNOTIFY messages when it creates and destroys a window, but not for controls created from a dialog box template. The system prevents these messages by specifying the WS_EX_NOPARENTNOTIFY style when creating the controls. An application cannot override this default behavior unless it creates its own controls for the dialog box.

Control-Color Messages

Controls and the system can send control-color messages when they want the dialog box procedure to paint the background of a control or other window by using a specific brush and colors. This can be useful when applications override the default colors used in dialog boxes and their controls. Following are the control-color messages, which have replaced the WM_CTLCOLOR message.

A control sends a control-color message to the dialog box procedure just before it paints its own background. The message allows the procedure to specify which brush to use and to set the background and foreground colors. The procedure specifies a brush by returning the brush handle. To set the background and foreground colors, the procedure uses the SetBkColor and SetTextColor functions with the control's display device context. The control-color message passes a handle to the display device context to the procedure in the message's wParam parameter.

The system sends a WM_CTLCOLORDLG message to the dialog box procedure if the procedure does not process the WM_ERASEBKGND message. The predefined dialog box class does not have a class background brush, so this message lets the procedure define its own background without having to include the code to carry out the work.

In any case, when a dialog box procedure does not process a control-color message, the system uses a brush with the default window color to paint the background for all controls and windows except scroll bars. An application can retrieve the default window color by passing the COLOR_WINDOW value to the GetSysColor function. While the background is painted, the foreground color for the display device context is set to the default text color (COLOR_WINDOWTEXT). For scroll bars, the system uses a brush having the default scroll bar color (COLOR_SCROLLBAR). In this case, the background and foreground colors for the display device context are set to white and black, respectively.

Dialog Box Default Message Processing

The window procedure for the predefined dialog box class carries out default processing for all messages that the dialog box procedure does not process. When the dialog box procedure returns FALSE for any message, the predefined window procedure checks the messages and carries out the following default actions:

MessageDefault action
DM_GETDEFID You can send this message to a dialog box. The dialog box returns the control identifier of the default push button, if the dialog box has one; otherwise, it returns zero.
DM_REPOSITION You can send this message to a top-level dialog box. The dialog box repositions itself so it fits within the desktop area.
DM_SETDEFID You can send this message to a dialog box. The dialog box sets the default push button to the control specified by the control identifier in the wParam parameter.
WM_ACTIVATE Restores the input focus to the control identified by the previously saved handle if the dialog box is activated. Otherwise, the procedure saves the handle to the control having the input focus.
WM_CHARTOITEM Returns zero.
WM_CLOSE Posts the BN_CLICKED notification message to the dialog box, specifying IDCANCEL as the control identifier. If the dialog box has an IDCANCEL control identifier and the control is currently disabled, the procedure sounds a warning and does not post the message.
WM_COMPAREITEM Returns zero.
WM_ERASEBKGND Fills the dialog box client area by using either the brush returned from the WM_CTLCOLORDLG message or with the default window color.
WM_GETFONT Returns a handle to the application-defined dialog box font.
WM_INITDIALOG Returns zero.
WM_LBUTTONDOWN Sends a CB_SHOWDROPDOWN message to the combo box having the input focus, directing the control to hide its drop-down list box. The procedure calls DefWindowProc to complete the default action.
WM_NCDESTROY Releases global memory allocated for edit controls in the dialog box (applies to dialog boxes that specify the DS_LOCALEDIT style) and frees any application-defined font (applies to dialog boxes that specify the DS_SETFONT or DS_SHELLFONT style). The procedure calls the DefWindowProc function to complete the default action.
WM_NCLBUTTONDOWN Sends a CB_SHOWDROPDOWN message to the combo box having the input focus, directing the control to hide its drop-down list box. The procedure calls DefWindowProc to complete the default action.
WM_NEXTDLGCTL Sets the input focus to the next or previous control in the dialog box, to the control identified by the handle in the wParam parameter, or to the first control in the dialog box that is visible, not disabled, and has the WS_TABSTOP style. The procedure ignores this message if the current window with the input focus is not a control.
WM_SETFOCUS Sets the input focus to the control identified by a previously saved control window handle. If no such handle exists, the procedure sets the input focus to the first control in the dialog box template that is visible, not disabled, and has the WS_TABSTOP style. If no such control exists, the procedure sets the input focus to the first control in the template.
WM_SHOWWINDOW Saves a handle to the control having the input focus if the dialog box is being hidden, then calls DefWindowProc to complete the default action.
WM_SYSCOMMAND Saves a handle to the control having the input focus if the dialog box is being minimized, then calls DefWindowProc to complete the default action.
WM_VKEYTOITEM Returns zero.

 

The predefined window procedure passes all other messages to DefWindowProc for default processing.

Dialog Box Keyboard Interface

The system provides a special keyboard interface for dialog boxes that carries out special processing for several keys. The interface generates messages that correspond to certain buttons in the dialog box or changes the input focus from one control to another. Following are the keys used in this interface and their respective actions.

KeyAction
ALT+mnemonicMoves the input focus to the first control (having the WS_TABSTOP style) after the static control containing the specified mnemonic.
DOWNMoves the input focus to the next control in the group.
ENTERSends a WM_COMMAND message to the dialog box procedure. The wParam parameter is set to IDOK or control identifier of the default push button.
ESCSends a WM_COMMAND message to the dialog box procedure. The wParam parameter is set to IDCANCEL.
LEFTMoves the input focus to the previous control in the group.
mnemonicMoves the input focus to the first control (having the WS_TABSTOP style) after the static control containing the specified mnemonic.
RIGHTMoves the input focus to the next control in the group.
SHIFT+TABMoves the input focus to the previous control that has the WS_TABSTOP style.
TABMoves the input focus to the next control that has the WS_TABSTOP style.
UPMoves the input focus to the previous control in the group.

 

The system automatically provides the keyboard interface for all modal dialog boxes. It does not provide the interface for modeless dialog boxes unless the application calls the IsDialogMessage function to filter messages in its main message loop. This means that the application must pass the message to IsDialogMessage immediately after retrieving the message from the message queue. The function processes the messages if it is for the dialog box and returns a nonzero value to indicate that the message has been processed and must not be passed to the TranslateMessage or DispatchMessage function.

Because the dialog box keyboard interface uses direction keys to move between controls in a dialog box, an application cannot use these keys to scroll the contents of any modal dialog box or any modeless dialog box for which IsDialogMessage is called. When a dialog box has scroll bars, the application must provide an alternate keyboard interface for the scroll bars. Note that the mouse interface for scrolling is available when the system includes a mouse.

The WS_TABSTOP Style

The WS_TABSTOP style specifies the controls to which the user can move by pressing the TAB key or SHIFT+TAB keys.

When the user presses TAB or SHIFT+TAB, the system first determines whether these keys are processed by the control that currently has the input focus. It sends the control a WM_GETDLGCODE message, and if the control returns DLGC_WANTTAB, the system passes the keys to the control. Otherwise, the system uses the GetNextDlgTabItem function to locate the next control that is visible, not disabled, and that has the WS_TABSTOP style. The search starts with the control currently having the input focus and proceeds in the order in which the controls were created—that is, the order in which they are defined in the dialog box template. When the system locates a control having the required characteristics, the system moves the input focus to it.

If the search for the next control with the WS_TABSTOP style encounters a window with the WS_EX_CONTROLPARENT style, the system recursively searches the window's children.

An application can also use GetNextDlgTabItem to locate controls having the WS_TABSTOP style. The function retrieves the window handle of the next or previous control having the WS_TABSTOP style without moving the input focus.

The WS_GROUP Style

By default, the system moves the input focus to the next or previous control whenever the user presses a direction key. As long as the current control with the input focus does not process these keys and the next or previous control is not a static control, the system continues to move the input focus through all controls in the dialog box as the user continues to press the direction keys.

An application can use the WS_GROUP style to modify this default behavior. The style marks the beginning of a group of controls. If a control in the group has the input focus when the user begins pressing direction keys, the focus remains in the group. In general, the first control in a group must have the WS_GROUP style and all other controls in the group must not have this style. All controls in the group must be contiguous—that is, they must have been created consecutively with no intervening controls.

When the user presses a direction key, the system first determines whether the current control having the input focus processes the direction keys. The system sends a WM_GETDLGCODE message to the control and if the control returns the DLGC_WANTARROWS value, passes the key to the control. Otherwise, the system uses the GetNextDlgGroupItem function to determine the next control in the group.

GetNextDlgGroupItem searches controls in the order (or reverse order) they were created. If the user presses the RIGHT or DOWN key, GetNextDlgGroupItem returns the next control if that control does not have the WS_GROUP style. Otherwise, the function reverses the order of the search and returns the first control that has the WS_GROUP style. If the user presses the LEFT or UP key, the function returns the previous control unless the current control already has the WS_GROUP style. If the current control has this style, the function reverses the order of the search, locates the first control having the WS_GROUP style, and returns the control that immediately precedes the located control.

If the search for the next control in the group encounters a window with the WS_EX_CONTROLPARENT style, the system recursively searches the window's children.

After the system has the next or previous control, it sends a WM_GETDLGCODE message to the control to determine the control type. The system then moves the input focus to control if it is not a static control. If the control is an automatic radio button, the system sends a BM_CLICK message to it. An application can also use GetNextDlgGroupItem to locate controls in a group.

Generally, the first control in the group combines the WS_GROUP and WS_TABSTOP styles so that the user can move from group to group by using the TAB key. If the group contains radio buttons, the application should apply the WS_TABSTOP style only to the first control in the group. The system automatically moves the style when the user moves between controls in the group. This ensures that the input focus will always be on the most recently selected control when the user moves to the group using the TAB key.

Mnemonics

A mnemonic is a selected letter or digit in the label of a button or in the text of a static control. The system moves the input focus to the control associated with the mnemonic whenever the user either presses the key that corresponds to the mnemonic or presses this key and the ALT key in combination. Mnemonics provide a quick way for the user to move to a specified control by using the keyboard.

An application creates a mnemonic for a control by inserting the ampersand (&) immediately before the selected letter or digit in the label or text for the control. In most cases, the null-terminated string provided with the control in the dialog box template contains the ampersand. However, an application can create a mnemonic at any time by replacing a control's existing label or text by using the SetDlgItemText function. Only one mnemonic can be specified for each control. Although it is recommended, mnemonics in a dialog box need not be unique.

When the user presses a letter or digit key, the system first determines whether the current control having the input focus processes the key. The system sends a WM_GETDLGCODE message to the control, and if the control returns the DLGC_WANTALLKEYS or DLG_WANTMESSAGE value, the system passes the key to the control. Otherwise, it searches for a control whose mnemonic matches the specified letter or digit. It continues to search until it locates a control or has examined all controls. During the search, it skips any static controls that have the SS_NOPREFIX style.

If the search for a control with a matching mnemonic encounters a window with the WS_EX_CONTROLPARENT style, the system recursively searches the window's children.

If the system locates a static control and the control is not disabled, the system moves the input focus to the first control after the static control that is visible, not disabled, and that has the WS_TABSTOP style. If the system locates some other control that has a matching mnemonic, it moves the input focus to that control. If the control is a default push button, the system sends a BN_CLICKED notification message to the dialog box procedure. If the control is another style of button and there is no other control in the dialog box having the same mnemonic, the system sends the BM_CLICK message to the control.

Dialog Box Settings

The dialog box settings are the current selections and values for the controls in the dialog box. The dialog box procedure is responsible for initializing the controls to these settings when creating the dialog box. It is also responsible for retrieving the current settings from the controls before destroying the dialog box. The methods used to initialize and retrieve settings depend on the type of control.

For more information, see the following topics:

Radio Buttons and Check Boxes

Dialog boxes use radio buttons and check boxes to let the user choose from a list of options. Radio buttons let the user choose from mutually exclusive options; check boxes let the user pick a combination of options.

The dialog box procedure can set the initial state of a check box by using the CheckDlgButton function, which sets or clears the check box. For radio buttons in a group of mutually exclusive radio buttons, the dialog box procedure can use the CheckRadioButton function to set the appropriate radio button and automatically clear any other radio button.

Before a dialog box terminates, the dialog box procedure can check the state of each radio button and check box by using the IsDlgButtonChecked function, which returns the current state of the button. A dialog box typically saves this information to initialize the buttons the next time it creates the dialog box.

Dialog Box Edit Controls

Many dialog boxes have edit controls that let the user supply text as input. Most dialog box procedures initialize an edit control when the dialog box first starts. For example, the dialog box procedure may place a proposed filename in the control that the user can then select, modify, or replace. The dialog box procedure can set the text in an edit control by using the SetDlgItemText function, which copies text from a specified buffer to the edit control. When the edit control receives the input focus, it automatically selects the complete text for editing.

Because edit controls do not automatically return their text to the dialog box, the dialog box procedure must retrieve the text before it terminates. It can retrieve the text by using the GetDlgItemText function, which copies the edit control text to a buffer. The dialog box procedure typically saves this text to initialize the edit control later or passes it on to the parent window for processing.

Some dialog boxes use edit controls that let the user enter numbers. The dialog box procedure can retrieve a number from an edit control by using the GetDlgItemInt function, which retrieves the text from the edit control and converts the text to a decimal value. The user types the number in decimal digits. It can be either signed or unsigned. The dialog box procedure can display an integer by using the SetDlgItemInt function. SetDlgItemInt converts a signed or unsigned integer to a string of decimal digits.

List Boxes, Combo Boxes, and Directory Listings

Some dialog boxes display lists of names from which the user can select one or more names. To display a list of filenames, for example, a dialog box typically uses a list box and the DlgDirList and DlgDirSelectEx functions. The DlgDirList function automatically fills a list box with the filenames in the current directory. The DlgDirSelect function retrieves the selected filename from the list box. Together, these two functions provide a convenient way for a dialog box to display a directory listing so the user can select a file without having to type its name and location.

A dialog box can also use a combo box to display a list of filenames. The DlgDirListComboBox function automatically fills a list box portion of the combo box with the filenames in the current directory. The DlgDirSelectComboBoxEx function retrieves a selected filename from the list box portion.

Dialog Box Control Messages

Many controls recognize predefined messages that, when received by controls, cause them to carry out some action. For example, the BM_SETCHECK message sets the check in a check box and the EM_GETSEL message retrieves the portion of the control's text that is currently selected. The control messages give a dialog procedure greater and more flexible access to the controls than the standard functions, so they are often used when the dialog box requires complex interactions with the user.

A dialog box procedure can send a message to a control by supplying the control identifier and using the SendDlgItemMessage function, which is identical to the SendMessage function, except that it uses a control identifier instead of a window handle to identify the control that is to receive the message. A specified message may require that the dialog procedure send parameters with the message, and the message may have corresponding return values. The operation and requirements of each control message depends on the purpose of the message and the control that processes it.

For more information about the control messages, see Windows Controls.

Custom Dialog Boxes

An application can create custom dialog boxes by using an application-defined window class for the dialog boxes instead of using the predefined dialog box class. Applications typically use this method when a dialog box is their main window, but it is also useful for creating modal and modeless dialog boxes for applications that have standard overlapping windows.

The application-defined window class allows the application to define a window procedure for the dialog box and process messages before sending them to the dialog box procedure. It also lets the application define a class icon, a class background brush, and a class menu for the dialog box. The application must register the window class before attempting to create a dialog box and must provide the dialog box template with the atom value or name of the window class.

Many applications create a new dialog box class by first retrieving the class information for the predefined dialog box class, and passing it to the GetClassInfo function, which fills a WNDCLASS structure with the information. The application modifies individual members of the structure, such as the class name, brush, and icon, then registers the new class by using the RegisterClass function. If an application fills the WNDCLASS structure on its own, it must set the cbWndExtra member to the DLGWINDOWEXTRA, which is the number of extra bytes the system requires for each dialog box. If an application also uses extra bytes for each dialog box, they must be beyond the extra bytes required by the system.

The window procedure for the custom dialog box has the same parameters and requirements as any other window procedure. Unlike other window procedures, however, the window procedure for this dialog box should call the DefDlgProc function instead of the DefWindowProc function for any messages it does not process. DefDlgProc carries out the same default message processing as the window procedure for the predefined dialog box, which includes calling the dialog box procedure.

An application can also create custom dialog boxes by subclassing the window procedure of the predefined dialog box. The SetWindowLong function lets an application specify the window procedure for a specified window. The application may also attempt to subclass by using the SetClassLong function, but doing so affects all dialog boxes in the system, not just those belonging to the application.

Applications that create custom dialog boxes sometimes provide an alternate keyboard interface for the dialog boxes. For modeless dialog boxes, this may mean the application does not call the IsDialogMessage function and instead processes all keyboard input in the custom window procedure. In such cases, the application can use the WM_NEXTDLGCTL message to minimize the code needed to move the input focus from one control to another. This message, when passed to DefDlgProc, moves the input focus to a specified control and updates the appearance of the controls, such as moving the default push button border or setting an automatic radio button.

 

 

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