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Walkthrough: Creating a WPF Toolbox Control

The WPF Toolbox Control template that is included in the Visual Studio 2010 SDK lets you create Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) controls that are automatically added to the Toolbox when the extension is installed. This walkthrough shows how to use the template to create a counter control that you can distribute to other users.

To complete this walkthrough, you must install the Visual Studio 2010 SDK.


For more information about the Visual Studio SDK, see Visual Studio Integration SDK. To find out how to download the Visual Studio SDK, see Visual Studio Extensibility Developer Center on the MSDN Web site.

The WPF Toolbox Control template is available in the New Project dialog box, under Installed Templates, in these locations:

  • Visual Basic, Extensibility. The language of the project is Visual Basic.

  • Visual C#, Extensibility. The language of the project is C#.

The WPF Toolbox Control template creates an undefined user control and provides all of the functionality that is required to add the control to the Toolbox.

To create the project

  1. On the File menu, click New, and then click Project.

  2. In the New Project dialog box, under Installed Templates, click the node for your preferred programming language and then select Extensibility. In the list of project types, select WPF Toolbox Control.

  3. In the Name box, type the name you want to use for the project. (This walkthrough uses the name Counter.) Click OK.

    This creates a solution that contains a user control, an attribute to place the control in the Toolbox, and a VSIX manifest for deployment. The Name box sets the name of the solution and the name of the namespace, but it does not set the name of the control as it appears in the Toolbox. You will set that later in the walkthrough.

Building a User Interface for the Control

The Counter control requires three child controls: Two Label controls to display the text and the current count, and a Button control to reset the count to 0. No other child controls are required, because hosting applications will increment the counter programmatically.

To build the user interface

  1. In Solution Explorer, double-click ToolboxControl.cs to open it in the designer.

    The designer shows a Grid control that contains a Button control.

  2. Select the Grid control and then click the blue bars that appear on the top and left sides of the grid to divide it into two rows and two columns.

  3. From the Toolbox, drag a Label control to each of the cells in the top row of the grid.

    At this point, you could set the layout of the control by arranging the elements on the grid. Instead, you can edit the Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) directly so that the control will resize dynamically to fit the text.

  4. In the XAML pane, set the height of the RowDefinition elements and the width of the ColumnDefinition elements to "auto".

  5. Edit the markup for the button and the two labels to resemble the following example.

    <Button Content="Reset" Name="button1" Click="button1_Click" Grid.Row="1" Grid.ColumnSpan="2" />
    <Label Content="{Binding Text}" Grid.Row="0" Grid.Column="0" Name="label1" />
    <Label Content="{Binding Count}" Grid.Row="0" Grid.Column="1" Name="label2" />

    The Grid.Row and Grid.Column attributes set the position of the elements on the grid. The Grid.ColumnSpan attribute on the button enables the first column to be resized independently of the width of the button.

    The Content attributes of the labels use a {Binding} syntax to bind to properties that you will define later in the walkthrough.

Coding the User Control

The Counter control will expose a method to increment the counter, an event to be raised whenever the counter is incremented, a Reset button, and three properties to store the current count, the display text, and whether to show or hide the Reset button. The ProvideTolboxControl attribute determines where in the Toolbox the Counter control will appear.

You could write this control in the same manner you would write a Windows Forms control, that is, by using event handlers and public methods to set the content of the labels. However, in WPF you can set a data context for the control so that you can bind XAML element attributes directly to properties in code. This model also provides a layer of abstraction to separate the core functionality from the user interface (UI) of the control.

This walkthrough shows how to create a data model class, and then bind the data context of the control to the data model.

To create a data model

  1. Double-click the button to open the code window.

  2. At the top of the file, add a using directive for the System.ComponentModel namespace.

  3. After the generated class, create a public class to define the data context.

    public class MyDataModel : INotifyPropertyChanged

    This class implements the INotifyPropertyChanged interface, which enables the XAML elements to bind to defined properties.

  4. Right-click the INotifyPropertyChanged interface declaration, click Implement Interface, and then click Implement Interface again.

    Visual Studio declares a PropertyChanged event.

  5. After the event declaration, create the following private method to raise the event.

    public event PropertyChangedEventHandler PropertyChanged;
    private void RaisePropertyChanged(string propertyName)
        if (PropertyChanged != null)
                new PropertyChangedEventArgs(propertyName));
  6. Create the following private fields and public properties to hold the values of the two labels in the control.

    private string text = "Count:";
    public string Text
        get { return this.text; }
            this.text = value;
    private int count = 0;
    public int Count
        get { return this.count; }
            this.count = value;

    Raising the PropertyChanged event causes the XAML binding to update the content of the bound controls. Setting the properties as public makes them available to the designer, but not to other programs unless they bind to this data context.

Now that you have created the data model, you can implement the code-behind functionality of the control.

To implement the control

  1. At the definition of the partial class that implements the control, right-click the class name, click Refactor, click Rename, and then change the name of the class to Counter. This is the name that will be displayed in the Toolbox when the extension is installed.

  2. Immediately above the class definition, in the ProvideToolboxControl attribute declaration, change the value of the first parameter from "Counter" to "General". This sets the name of the item group that will host the control in the Toolbox.

    The following example shows the ProvideToolboxControl attribute and the adjusted class definition.

    [ProvideToolboxControl("General", true)]
    public partial class Counter : UserControl
  3. Create a private field to hold the data context for the control, and then in the constructor, assign the data context to the MyDataModel class, as shown in the following example.

    private MyDataModel dm;
    public Counter()
        this.DataContext = new MyDataModel();
        dm = (MyDataModel)DataContext;
  4. Create the following public properties to mirror the Text and Count properties from the data context.

    public string Text
        get { return dm.Text; }
        set { dm.Text = value; }
    public int Count { get { return dm.Count; } }

    These properties make the content from the data context available to any application that includes the control.

  5. Create the following public method to increment the counter, and an event to notify the hosting application.

    public event EventHandler Incremented;
    public void Increment()
        dm.Count ++;
        if (Incremented != null)
            Incremented(this, EventArgs.Empty);
  6. Implement the click handler for the Reset button as follows.

    private void button1_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
        dm.Count = 0;
  7. Add the following public property to show or hide the Reset button.

    public Visibility ShowReset
        get { return button1.Visibility; }
        set { button1.Visibility = value; }

To test a Toolbox control, first test it in the development environment and then test it in a hosting application.

To test the control

  1. Press F5.

    This builds the project and opens a second instance of Visual Studio that has the control installed.

  2. In the new instance of Visual Studio, create a WPF Application project.

  3. In Solution Explorer, double-click MainWindow.xaml to open it in the designer.

  4. From the General section of the Toolbox, drag a Counter control to your form, and then select it.

    The Text and ShowReset properties should be displayed in the Properties window, together with the other properties inherited from UserControl. The Count property should not be displayed because it is read-only.

  5. Change the value of the Text property.

    The label text that is displayed in the designer should change.

  6. Set the ShowReset property to Hidden, and then set it back to Visible.

    The Reset button on the control should disappear and then re-appear.

  7. Drag a Button control to the form, set its Contentattribute to Test, and then double-click the button to open its click handler in code view.

  8. Implement the click handler to call the Increment method of the control.

    private void button1_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
  9. In the constructor function, after the call to InitializeComponent, type counter1.Implemented +=, and then press the TAB key twice to generate a handler for the Counter.Incremented event.

  10. Implement the new handler as shown in the following example.

    public MainWindow()
        counter1.Incremented += new EventHandler(counter1_Incremented);
    void counter1_Incremented(object sender, EventArgs e)
        button1.Opacity -= .2;
  11. Press F5.

    The WPF application should open.

  12. Click Test.

    The counter should increment and the button should fade slightly.

  13. Click Test four more times.

    The counter should increment and the button should continue to fade until it disappears. If you continue to click where the button was, the counter should continue to increment.

  14. Click Reset.

    The counter should reset to 0.

When you build a Toolbox control, Visual Studio creates a file named ProjectName.vsix in the \bin\debug\ folder of your project. You can deploy the control by uploading the .vsix file to a network or to a Web site. When a user opens the .vsix file, the control is installed and added to the Visual Studio Toolbox. Alternatively, if you upload the .vsix file to the Visual Studio Gallery Web site so that users can find it by browsing in Extension Manager.