Implementing the Basic Folder Object Interfaces

The procedure for implementing a namespace extension is similar to that for any other in-process Component Object Model (COM) object. All extensions must support three primary interfaces that provide Microsoft Windows Explorer with the basic information needed to display the extension's folders in the tree view. However, to make full use of the capabilities of Windows Explorer, your extension must also expose one or more optional interfaces that support more sophisticated features, such as shortcut menus or drag-and-drop, and provide a folder view.

This document discusses how to implement the primary and optional interfaces that Windows Explorer calls for information about the contents of your extension. For a discussion of how to implement a folder view and how to customize Windows Explorer, see Implementing a Folder View.

Basic Implementation and Registration

As an in-process COM server, your DLL must expose several standard functions and interfaces:

These functions and interfaces are implemented in the same way as they are for most other COM objects. For details, see the COM documentation.

Registering an Extension

As with all COM objects, you must create a class identifier (CLSID) GUID for your extension. Register the object by creating a subkey of HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID named for the CLSID of your extension. The DLL should be registered as an in-process server and should specify the apartment threading model. You can customize the behavior of an extension's root folder by adding a variety of subkeys and values to the extension's CLSID key.

Several of these values apply only to extensions with virtual junction points. These values do not apply to extensions whose junction points are file system folders. For further discussion, see Specifying a Namespace Extension's Location. To modify the behavior of an extension with a virtual junction point, add one or more of the following values to the extension's CLSID key:

  • WantsFORPARSING. The parsing name for an extension with a virtual junction point will normally have the form ::{GUID}. Extensions of this type normally contain virtual items. However, some extensions, such as My Documents, actually correspond to file system folders, even though they have virtual junction points. If your extension represents file system objects in this way, you can set the WantsFORPARSING value. Windows Explorer will then request your root folder's parsing name by calling the folder object's IShellFolder::GetDisplayNameOf method with uFlags set to SHGDN_FORPARSING and pidl set to a single empty pointer to an item identifier list (PIDL). An empty PIDL contains only a terminator. Your method should then return the root folder's ::{GUID} parsing name.
  • HideFolderVerbs. The verbs registered under HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Folder normally are associated with all extensions. They appear on the extension's shortcut menu and can be invoked by ShellExecute. To prevent any of these verbs from being associated with your extension, set the HideFolderVerbs value.
  • HideAsDelete. If a user attempts to delete your extension, Windows Explorer will instead hide the extension.
  • HideAsDeletePerUser. This value has the same effect as HideAsDelete but on a per-user basis. The extension is hidden only for those users who have attempted to delete it. The extension is visible to all other users.
  • QueryForOverlay. Set this value to indicate that the root folder's icon can have an icon overlay. The folder object must support the IShellIconOverlay interface. Before Windows Explorer displays the root folder's icon, it will request an overlay icon by calling one of the two IShellIconOverlay methods with pidlItem set to an empty PIDL.

The remaining values and subkeys apply to all extensions:

  • To specify the display name of the extension's junction point folder, set the default value of the extension's CLSID subkey to an appropriate string.
  • When the cursor hovers over a folder, an infotip is typically displayed that describes the contents of the folder. To provide an infotip for your extension's root folder, create an InfoTip REG_SZ value for the extension's CLSID key, and set it to an appropriate string.
  • To specify a custom icon for your extension's root folder, create a subkey of the extension's CLSID subkey named DefaultIcon . Set the default value of DefaultIcon to a REG_SZ value containing the name of the file that contains the icon, followed by a comma, followed by the zero-based index of the icon in that file.
  • By default, the shortcut menu of your extension's root folder will contain the items defined under HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Folder . The Delete, Rename, and Properties items are added if you have set the appropriate SFGAO_XXX flags. You can add other items to the root folder's shortcut menu, or override existing items, much as you would for a file class. Create a Shell subkey under the extension's CLSID key, and define commands as discussed in Extending Shortcut Menus.
  • If you need a more flexible way to handle the root folder's shortcut menu, you can implement a shortcut menu handler. To register the shortcut menu handler, create a ShellEx key under the extension's CLSID key. Register the handler's CLSID as you would for a conventional Creating Shell Extension Handlers.
  • To add a page to the root folder's Properties property sheet, give the folder the SFGAO_HASPROPSHEET attribute and implement a property sheet handler. To register the property sheet handler, create a ShellEx key under the extension's CLSID key. Register the handler's CLSID as you would for a conventional Creating Shell Extension Handlers.
  • To specify the attributes of the root folder, add a ShellFolder subkey to the extension's CLSID subkey. Create an Attributes value, and set it to the appropriate combination of SFGAO_XXX flags.

The following table lists some commonly used attributes for root folders.

Flag Value Description
SFGAO_FOLDER 0x20000000 The extension's root folder contains one or more items.
SFGAO_HASSUBFOLDER 0x80000000 The extension's root folder contains one or more subfolders. Windows Explorer will place a plus sign ( + ) next to the folder icon.
SFGAO_CANDELETE 0x00000020 The extension's root folder can be deleted by the user. The folder's shortcut menu will have a Delete item. This flag should be set for junction points that are placed under one of the virtual folders.
SFGAO_CANRENAME 0x00000010 The extension's root folder can be renamed by the user. The folder's shortcut menu will have a Rename item.
SFGAO_HASPROPSHEET 0x00000040 The extension's root folder has a Properties property sheet. The folder's shortcut menu will have a Properties item. To provide the property sheet, you must implement a property sheet handler. Register the handler under the extension's CLSID key, as discussed previously.

The following example shows the CLSID registry entry for an extension with a display name of MyExtension. The extension has a custom icon that is contained in the extension's DLL with an index of 1. The SFGAO_FOLDER, SFGAO_HASSUBFOLDER, and SFGAO_CANDELETE attributes are set.

    • CLSID
      • {Extension CLSID}

      • (Default) = MyExtension
        InfoTip = Some appropriate text
      • InProcServer32

      • (Default) = c:\MyDir\MyExtension.dll"
        ThreadingModel = Apartment
      • ShellFolder

      • Attributes = 0xA00000020
        DefaultIcon = c:\MyDir\MyExtension.dll"/>,1

For Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 and later systems, all extensions must be on the Shell's list of approved extensions. However, you should add your extension to the approved list for all systems. Doing so will ensure compatibility with later systems and have no effect on systems that do not support such a list. To add your extension to the approved list, create a value of the Approved subkey, named for the extension's CLSID. Although not required, you should assign a string to this value to identify your extension, as in the following:

    • Software
      • Microsoft
        • Windows
          • CurrentVersion
            • ShellExtensions
              • Approved

              • {Your Extension's CLSID} = MyExtension

Handling PIDLs

Every item in the Shell namespace must have a unique PIDL. Windows Explorer assigns a PIDL to your root folder and passes the value to your extension during initialization. Your extension is then responsible for assigning a properly constructed PIDL to each of its objects and providing those PIDLs to Windows Explorer on request. When the Shell uses a PIDL to identify one of your extension's objects, your extension must be able to interpret the PIDL and identify the particular object. Your extension must also assign a display name and a parsing name to each object. Because PIDLs are used by virtually every folder interface, extensions commonly implement a single PIDL manager to handle all these tasks.

The term PIDL is short for an ITEMIDLIST structure or a pointer to such a structure, depending on context. As declared, an ITEMIDLIST structure has a single member, an SHITEMID structure. An object's ITEMIDLIST structure is actually a packed array of two or more SHITEMID structures. The order of these structures defines a path through the namespace, in much the same way that c:\MyDirectory\MyFile defines a path through the file system. Typically, an object's PIDL will consist of a series of SHITEMID structures that correspond to the folders that define the namespace path, followed by the object's SHITEMID structure, followed by a terminator.

The terminator is an SHITEMID structure, with the cb member set to NULL. The terminator is necessary because the number of SHITEMID structures in an object's PIDL depends on the location of the object in the Shell namespace, and the starting point of the path. In addition, the size of the various SHITEMID structures can vary. When you receive a PIDL, you have no simple way of determining its size or even the total number of SHITEMID structures. Instead, you must "walk" the packed array, structure by structure, until you reach the terminator.

To create a PIDL, your application needs to:

  1. Create an SHITEMID structure for each of its objects.
  2. Assemble the relevant SHITEMID structures into a PIDL.

Creating an SHITEMID Structure

An object's SHITEMID structure uniquely identifies the object within its folder. In fact, a type of PIDL used by many of the IShellFolder methods consists of just the object's SHITEMID structure, followed by a terminator. The definition of an SHITEMID structure is:

typedef struct _SHITEMID { 
    USHORT cb; 
    BYTE   abID[1]; 

The abID member is the object's identifier. Because the length of abID is not defined and can vary, the cb member is set to the size of the SHITEMID structure, in bytes.

Because neither the length nor the content of abID is standardized, you can use any scheme you want to assign abID values to your objects. The only requirement is that you cannot have two objects in the same folder with identical values. However, for performance reasons, your SHITEMID structure should be DWORD-aligned. In other words, you should construct your abID values such that cb is an integral multiple of 32.

Typically, abID points to an extension-defined structure. In addition to the object's ID, this structure is often used to hold a variety of related information, such as the object's type or attributes. Your extension's folder objects can then quickly extract the information from the PIDL instead of having to query for it.

Note   One of the most important aspects of designing a data structure for a PIDL is to make the structure persistable and transportable. In the context of PIDLs, the meaning of these terms is:
  • Persistable. The system frequently places PIDLs in various types of long-term storage, such as shortcut files. It can then recover these PIDLs from storage later, possibly after the system has been rebooted. A PIDL that has been recovered from storage must still be valid and meaningful to your extension. This requirement means, for instance, that you should not use pointers or handles in your PIDL structure. PIDLs containing this type of data will normally be meaningless when the system later recovers them from storage.
  • Transportable. A PIDL must remain meaningful when transported from one computer to another. For example, a PIDL can be written to a shortcut file, copied to a floppy disk, and transported to another computer. That PIDL should still be meaningful to your extension running on the second computer. For instance, to ensure that your PIDLs are transportable, use either ANSI or Unicode characters explicitly. Avoid data types such as TCHAR or LPTSTR. If you use those data types, a PIDL created on a computer running a Unicode version of your extension will not be readable by an ANSI version of that extension running on a different computer.

The following declaration shows a simple example of a data structure.

typedef struct tagMYPIDLDATA {
  USHORT cb;
  DWORD dwType;
  WCHAR wszDisplayName[40];

The cb member is set to the size of the MYPIDLDATA structure. This member makes MYPIDLDATA a valid SHITEMID structure, in and of itself. The rest of the members are equivalent to the abID member of an SHITEMID structure and hold private data. The dwType member is an extension-defined value that indicates the type of object. For this example, dwType is set to TRUE for folders and FALSE otherwise. This member allows you, for instance, to quickly determine whether the object is a folder or not. The wszDisplayName member contains the object's display name. Since you would not assign the same display name to two different objects in the same folder, the display name also serves as the object ID. In this example, wszDisplayName is set to 40 characters to guarantee that the SHITEMID structure will be DWORD-aligned. To limit the size of your PIDLs, you can instead use a variable-length character array and adjust the value of cb accordingly. Pad the display string with enough '\0' characters to maintain the structure's DWORD alignment. Other members that might be useful to put in the structure include the object's size, attributes, or parsing name.

Constructing a PIDL

Once you have defined SHITEMID structures for your objects, you can then use them to construct a PIDL. PIDLs can be constructed for a variety of purposes, but most tasks use one of two types of PIDL. The simplest, a single-level PIDL, identifies the object relative to its parent folder. This type of PIDL is used by many of the IShellFolder methods. A single-level PIDL contains the object's SHITEMID structure, followed by a terminator. A fully qualified PIDL defines a path through the namespace hierarchy from the desktop to the object. This type of PIDL starts at the desktop and contains one SHITEMID structure for each folder in the path, followed by the object and the terminator. A fully qualified PIDL uniquely identifies the object within the entire Shell namespace.

The simplest way to construct a PIDL is to work directly with the ITEMIDLIST structure itself. Create an ITEMIDLIST structure, but allocate enough memory to hold all the SHITEMID structures. The address of this structure will point to the initial SHITEMID structure. Define values for the members of this initial structure, and then append as many additional SHITEMID structures as you need, in the appropriate order. The following procedure outlines how to create a single-level PIDL. It contains two SHITEMID structures—a MYPIDLDATA structure followed by a terminator:

  1. Use the CoTaskMemAlloc function to allocate memory for the PIDL. Allocate enough memory for your private data plus a USHORT(two bytes) for the terminator. Cast the result to LPMYPIDLDATA.
  2. Set the cb member of the first MYPIDLDATA structure to the size of that structure. For this example, you would set cb to sizeof(MYPIDLDATA). If you want to use a variable-length structure, you will have to calculate the value of cb.
  3. Assign appropriate values to the private data members.
  4. Calculate the address of the next SHITEMID structure. Cast the address of the current MYPIDLDATA structure to LPBYTE, and add that value to the value of cb determined in step 3.
  5. In this case, the next SHITEMID structure is the terminator. Set the structure's cb member to zero.

For longer PIDLs, allocate sufficient memory and repeat steps 3-5 for each additional SHITEMID structure.

The following sample function takes an object's type and display name and returns the object's single-level PIDL. The function assumes that the display name, including its terminating null character, does not exceed the number of characters declared for the MYPIDLDATA structure. If that assumption turns out to be erroneous, the StringCbCopyW function will truncate the display name. The g_pMalloc variable is an IMalloc pointer created elsewhere and stored in a global variable.

    LPMYPIDLDATA   pidlOut;
    USHORT         uSize;

    pidlOut = NULL;

    //Calculate the size of the MYPIDLDATA structure.
    uSize = sizeof(MYPIDLDATA);

    // Allocate enough memory for the PIDL to hold a MYPIDLDATA structure 
    // plus the terminator
    pidlOut = (LPMYPIDLDATA)m_pMalloc->Alloc(uSize + sizeof(USHORT));

       //Assign values to the members of the MYPIDLDATA structure
       //that is the PIDL's first SHITEMID structure
       pidlOut->cb = uSize;
       pidlOut->dwType = dwType;
       hr = StringCbCopyW(pidlOut->wszDisplayName, 
                          sizeof(pidlOut->wszDisplayName), pwszDisplayName);
       // TODO: Add error handling here to verify the HRESULT returned 
       // by StringCbCopyW.

       //Advance the pointer to the start of the next SHITEMID structure.
       pidlOut = (LPMYPIDLDATA)((LPBYTE)pidlOut + pidlOut->cb);

       //Create the terminating null character by setting cb to 0.
       pidlOut->cb = 0;

    return pidlOut;

A fully qualified PIDL must have SHITEMID structures for every object from the desktop to your object. Your extension receives a fully qualified PIDL for your root folder when the Shell calls IPersistFolder::Initialize. To construct a fully qualified PIDL for an object, take the PIDL that the Shell has assigned to your root folder, and append the SHITEMID structures that are needed to take you from the root folder to the object.

Interpreting PIDLs

When the Shell or an application calls one of your extension's interfaces to request information about an object, it will usually identify the object by a PIDL. Some methods, such as IShellFolder::GetUIObjectOf, use PIDLs that are relative to the parent folder and are straightforward to interpret. However, your extension will probably also receive fully qualified PIDLs. Your PIDL manager must then determine which of your objects that PIDL is referring to.

What complicates the task of associating an object with a fully qualified PIDL is that one or more of the initial SHITEMID structures in the PIDL might belong to objects that lie outside your extension in the Shell namespace. You have no way of interpreting the meaning of the abID member of those structures. What your extension must do is to "walk" the list of SHITEMID structures, until you reach the structure that corresponds to your root folder. From then on, you will know how to interpret the information in the SHITEMID structures.

To walk the PIDL, take the first cb value and add it to the address of the PIDL to advance the pointer to the start of the next SHITEMID structure. It then will be pointing to that structure's cb member, which you can use to advance the pointer to the start of the next SHITEMID structure, and so on. Each time you advance the pointer, examine the SHITEMID structure to determine whether you have reached the root of your extension's namespace.

Implementing the Primary Interfaces

As with all COM objects, implementing an extension is largely a matter of implementing a collection of interfaces. This section discusses the three primary interfaces that must be implemented by all extensions. They are used for initialization and to provide Windows Explorer with basic information about the contents of the extension. These interfaces, plus a folder view, are all that is required for a functional extension. However, to fully exploit the features of Windows Explorer, most extensions also implement one or more of the optional interfaces.

IPersistFolder Interface

The IPersistFolder interface is called to initialize a new folder object. The IPersistFolder::Initialize method assigns a fully qualified PIDL to the new object. Store this PIDL for later use. For instance, a folder object must use this PIDL to construct fully qualified PIDLs for the object's children. The folder object's creator can also call IPersist::GetClassID to request the object's CLSID.

Typically, a folder object is created and initialized by its parent folder's IShellFolder::BindToObject method. However, when a user browses into your extension, Windows Explorer creates and initializes the extension's root folder object. The PIDL that the root folder object receives through IPersistFolder::Initialize contains the path from the desktop to the root folder that you will need to construct fully qualified PIDLs for your extension.

IShellFolder Interface

The Shell treats an extension as a hierarchically ordered collection of folder objects. The IShellFolder interface is the core of any extension implementation. It represents a folder object and provides Windows Explorer with much of the information needed to display the contents of the folder.

IShellFolder is typically the only folder interface other than IPersistFolder that is directly exposed by a folder object. While Windows Explorer uses a variety of required and optional interfaces to obtain information about the contents of the folder, it obtains pointers to those interfaces through IShellFolder.

Windows Explorer obtains the CLSID of your extension's root folder in a variety of ways. For details, see Specifying a Namespace Extension's Location or Displaying a Self-Contained View of a Namespace Extension. Windows Explorer then uses that CLSID to create and initialize an instance of the root folder and query for an IShellFolder interface. Your extension creates a folder object to represent the root folder and returns the object's IShellFolder interface. Much of the remainder of the interaction between your extension and Windows Explorer then takes place through IShellFolder. Windows Explorer calls IShellFolder to:

  • Request an object that can enumerate the contents of the root folder.
  • Obtain various types of information about the contents of the root folder.
  • Request an object that exposes one of the optional interfaces. Those interfaces can then be queried for additional information, such as icons or shortcut menus.
  • Request a folder object that represents a subfolder of the root folder.

When a user opens a subfolder of the root folder, Windows Explorer calls IShellFolder::BindToObject. Your extension creates and initializes a new folder object to represent the subfolder and returns its IShellFolder interface. Windows Explorer then calls this interface for various types of information, and so on until the user decides to navigate elsewhere in the Shell namespace or close Windows Explorer.

The remainder of this section briefly discusses the more important IShellFolder methods and how to implement them.


Before displaying the contents of a folder in the tree view, Windows Explorer must first determine what the folder contains by calling the IShellFolder::EnumObjects method. This method creates a standard OLE enumeration object that exposes an IEnumIDList interface and returns that interface pointer. The IEnumIDList interface allows Windows Explorer to obtain the PIDLs of all the objects contained by the folder. These PIDLs are then used to obtain information about the objects contained by the folder. For further details, see IEnumIDList Interface.

Note   The IEnumIDList::Next method should only return PIDLs that are relative to the parent folder. The PIDL should contain only the object's SHITEMID structure, followed by a terminator.


Before the contents of a folder are displayed, Windows Explorer calls this method to request a pointer to an IShellView interface. This interface is used by Windows Explorer to manage the folder view. Create a folder view object and return its IShellView interface.

The IShellFolder::CreateViewObject method is also called to request one of the optional interfaces, such as IContextMenu, for the folder itself. Your implementation of this method should create an object that exposes the requested interface and returns the interface pointer. If Windows Explorer needs an optional interface for one of the objects contained by the folder, it will call IShellFolder::GetUIObjectOf.


While basic information about the contents of a folder is available through the IShellFolder methods, your extension can also provide Windows Explorer with various kinds of additional information. For instance, you can specify icons for the contents of a folder or an object's shortcut menu. Windows Explorer calls the IShellFolder::GetUIObjectOf method to attempt to retrieve additional information about an object that is contained by a folder. Windows Explorer specifies which object it wants the information for, and the IID of the relevant interface. The folder object then creates an object that exposes the requested interface and returns the interface pointer.

If your extension allows users to transfer objects with drag-and-drop or the clipboard, Windows Explorer will call IShellFolder::GetUIObjectOf to request an IDataObject or IDropTarget interface. For details, see Transferring Shell Objects with Drag-and-Drop and the Clipboard.

Windows Explorer calls IShellFolder::CreateViewObject when it wants the same sort of information about the folder itself.


Windows Explorer calls the IShellFolder::BindToObject method when a user attempts to open one of your extension's subfolders. If riid is set to IID_IShellFolder, you should create and initialize a folder object that represents the subfolder and return the object's IShellFolder interface.

Note   At present, Windows Explorer calls this method only to request an IShellFolder interface. However, do not assume that this will always be the case. You should always check the value of riid before proceeding.


Windows Explorer calls the IShellFolder::GetDisplayNameOf method to convert the PIDL of one of the folder's objects into a name. That PIDL must be relative to the object's parent folder. In other words, it must contain a single non-NULLSHITEMID structure. Because there is more than one possible way to name objects, Windows Explorer specifies the type of name by setting one or more SHGNO flags in the uFlags parameter. One of two values, SHGDN_NORMAL or SHGDN_INFOLDER, will be set to specify whether the name should be relative to the folder or relative to the desktop. One of the other three values, SHGDN_FOREDITING, SHGDN_FORADDRESSBAR, or SHGDN_FORPARSING, can be set to specify what the name will be used for.

You must return the name in the form of an STRRET structure. If SHGDN_FOREDITING, SHGDN_FORADDRESSBAR, and SHGDN_FORPARSING are not set, return the object's display name. If the SHGDN_FORPARSING flag is set, Windows Explorer is requesting a parsing name. Parsing names are passed to IShellFolder::ParseDisplayName to obtain an object's PIDL, even though it might be located one or more levels below the current folder in the namespace hierarchy. For example, the parsing name of a file system object is its path. You can pass the fully qualified path of any object in the file system to the desktop's IShellFolder::ParseDisplayName method, and it will return the object's fully qualified PIDL.

While parsing names are text strings, they don't necessarily have to include the display name. You should assign parsing names based on what will work most efficiently when IShellFolder::ParseDisplayName is called. For instance, many of the Shell's virtual folders are not part of the file system and do not have a fully qualified path. Instead, each folder is assigned a GUID and the parsing name takes the form ::{GUID}. Regardless of what scheme you use, it should be able to reliably "round trip." For instance, if a caller passes a parsing name to IShellFolder::ParseDisplayName to retrieve an object's PIDL, and then passes that PIDL to IShellFolder::GetDisplayNameOf with the SHGDN_FORPARSING flag set, the caller should recover the original parsing name.


Windows Explorer calls the IShellFolder::GetAttributesOf method to determine the attributes of one or more items contained by a folder object. The value of cidl gives the number of items in the query, and aPidl points to a list of their PIDLs.

Because testing for some attributes can be time consuming, Windows Explorer typically restricts the query to a subset of the available flags by setting their values in rfgInOut. Your method should test for only those attributes whose flags are set in rfgInOut. Leave the valid flags set and clear the remainder. If more than one item is included in the query, set only those flags that apply to all items.

Note   The attributes must be properly set for an item to be correctly displayed. For instance, if an item is a folder that contains subfolders, you must set the SFGAO_HASSUBFOLDER flag. Otherwise, Windows Explorer will not display a + next to the item's icon in the tree view.


The IShellFolder::ParseDisplayName method is in some sense a mirror image of IShellFolder::GetDisplayNameOf. The most common use of this method is to convert an object's parsing name into the associated PIDL. The parsing name can refer to any object that lies below the folder in the namespace hierarchy. The returned PIDL is relative to the folder object that exposes the method and is usually not fully qualified. In other words, although the PIDL can contain several SHITEMID structures, the first will either be that of the object itself or the first subfolder in the path from the folder to the object. The caller will have to append this PIDL to the folder's fully qualified PIDL to obtain a fully qualified PIDL for the object.

IShellFolder::ParseDisplayName can also be called to request an object's attributes. Because determining all the applicable attributes can be time consuming, the caller will set only those SFGAO_XXX flags that represent information that the caller is interested in. You should determine which of those attributes are true for the object, and clear the remaining flags.

IEnumIDList Interface

When Windows Explorer needs to enumerate the objects that are contained by a folder, it calls IShellFolder::EnumObjects. The folder object must create an enumeration object that exposes the IEnumIDList interface and return that interface pointer. Windows Explorer will then typically use IEnumIDList to enumerate the PIDLs of all the objects contained by the folder.

IEnumIDList is a standard OLE enumeration interface and is implemented in the usual way. Remember, however, that the PIDLs that you return must be relative to the folder and contain only the object's SHITEMID structure and a terminator.

Implementing the Optional Interfaces

There are a number of optional Shell interfaces that your extension's folder objects can support. Many of them, such as IExtractIcon, allow you to customize various aspects of the way the user views your extension. Others, such as IDataObject, allow your extension to support features such as drag-and-drop.

None of the optional interfaces are exposed directly by a folder object. Instead, Windows Explorer calls one of two IShellFolder methods to request an interface:

  • Windows Explorer calls a folder object's IShellFolder::GetUIObjectOf to request an interface for one of the objects contained by the folder.
  • Windows Explorer calls a folder object's IShellFolder::CreateViewObject to request an interface for the folder itself.

To provide the information, the folder object creates an object that exposes the requested interface and returns the interface pointer. Windows Explorer then calls that interface to retrieve the needed information. This section discusses the most commonly used optional interfaces.


Windows Explorer requests an IExtractIcon interface before it displays the contents of a folder. The interface allows your extension to specify custom icons for the objects that are contained by the folder. Otherwise, the standard file and folder icons will be used. To provide a custom icon, create an icon extraction object that exposes IExtractIcon and return a pointer to that interface. For further discussion, see the IExtractIcon reference documentation or Creating Icon Handlers.


When a user right-clicks an object, Windows Explorer requests an IContextMenu interface. To provide shortcut menus for your objects, create a menu handler object and return its IContextMenu interface.

The procedures for creating a menu handler object are very similar to those used to create a menu handler Shell extension. For details, see Creating Context Menu Handlers or the IContextMenu, IContextMenu2, or IContextMenu3 reference.


Windows Explorer calls the IQueryInfo interface to retrieve an infotip text string.

IDataObject and IDropTarget

When your objects are displayed by Windows Explorer, a folder object has no direct way to know when a user is attempting to cut, copy, or drag an object. Instead, Windows Explorer requests an IDataObject interface. To allow the object to be transferred, create a data object and return a pointer to its IDataObject interface.

Similarly, a user might attempt to drop a data object on a Windows Explorer representation of one of your objects, such as an icon or address bar path. Windows Explorer then requests an IDropTarget interface. To allow the data object to be dropped, create an object that exposes an IDropTarget interface and return the interface pointer.

Handling data transfer is one of the trickier aspects of writing namespace extensions. For a detailed discussion, see Transferring Shell Objects with Drag-and-Drop and the Clipboard.

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