Like so many others, our developers were taken in with the look and feel of the
ReadOnly property. Compared to a disabled
TextBox, it is legible yet conveys a change in the state of the control. You cannot change its value but if needed you can copy the text out of it. Since the
ComboBox is an enhanced
TextBox, it was natural to look for a
ReadOnly property, but as you all know, it's not there. Oh, but it is there. It's not exposed in the Framework but it lies underneath and can be accessed with a single line of code. Well... sort of.
The essence of giving the look and feel of the
ReadOnly property does take one line of code, but plugging the holes around it takes a few more. There are a couple of other articles here on The Code Project by Dan Anatoli and Claudio Grazioli that create the look of a
ReadOnly state and some of its feel, but their solutions didn't give me what I expected in a read only
ComboBox. What I expected was that it should still present the dropdown list in case the user wanted to see what the other selections were. It should allow copying text out of the box either with a Ctrl+C key press or by using a right click context menu. Of course, when in
ReadOnly mode, it should not allow a change.
A Single Line of Code
Searching in Google has become a job requirement. I began the hunt for that magic combination of keywords that would lead me to a post where someone would give me a little known property or method that would solve my problem. Hopefully it would be a single line of code. In this case, it started out looking like it might be that simple.
SendMessage(GetWindow(Me.Handle, GW_CHILD), _
EM_SETREADONLY, Value, 0)
You can interact with Windows controls by sending messages to them. These messages are documented on MSDN. In the case of the
ComboBox, you can send it the
EM_SETREADONLY message. As soon as you do, the
TextBox portion of the control looks and acts just like you'd expect; the color changes, you can't type in the box anymore, you can't paste into it, you can't use any of the editing keys, but... (and this is a big but) the
ListBox portion of the control doesn't know a thing about what you have just done. It still allows you to select new values, changing the text in the box and the selected index of the list. This is where you have to start plugging the holes.
Plugging the Holes
There are four holes that are left after the
TextBox within the combo has been placed in the
ReadOnly state. They are:
- Drop down list mouse selections
- Undo in the right mouse button context menu
- Using cursor keys to select from the list
- Bringing up the list with repeated F4 presses
Drop Down List Mouse Selections
I wanted the user to be able to view the list even if she or he could not change the selection. There were two things that happen when you click on an item in the list. It changes the text in the text box and it changes the
SelectedIndex. To stop the text from being changed I found that if I intercepted Windows message 273 when in a dropped down state, that would keep the text from changing. Message 273 also caused the list to be pulled up. So I had to send a message to the combo to tell it to bring up the list.
Protected Overrides Sub WndProc(_
ByRef m As System.Windows.Forms.Message)
If _ReadOnly AndAlso _DroppedDown Then
If m.Msg = 273 Then
_DroppedDown = False
SendMessage(Me.Handle, CB_SHOWDROPDOWN, _
That stopped the text from changing but not the
SelectedIndex. To handle that, I had to take control of the
SelectedIndex property. When message 273 is absorbed in the
WndProc override the
OnSelectedIndexChanged method is not called. By saving the value of
SelectedIndex locally, I can have the last selected value to pass back in a shadowed
SelectedIndex property. I had to shadow the property or else the
OnSelectedIndexChanged method would not get called.
Protected Overrides Sub OnSelectedIndexChanged(_
ByVal e As System.EventArgs)
_SelectedIndex = MyBase.SelectedIndex
Public Shadows Property SelectedIndex() As Integer
Set(ByVal Value As Integer)
_SelectedIndex = Value
MyBase.SelectedIndex = Value
Undo in the Right Mouse Button Context Menu
The right click context menu of the
TextBox has an undo option. If the user were to paste in a value or hand type a change, the undo option will be enabled in the context menu. If there was an undo in progress when the control was placed in a
ReadOnly state, it would be possible to get around the
ReadOnly and revert to the previous value. But luckily this was one of those one line wonders.
GW_CHILD), EM_EMPTYUNDOBUFFER, Value, 0)
SendMessage function causes the text box in the control to empty its undo buffer and disable the undo context menu selection. Next was the cursor keys.
Using Cursor Keys to Select from the List
Whether the list is dropped down or not, both the up and down cursor keys and the page up and down keys will allow you to change the selected value. This can be handled with a little override of the
OnKeyDown method. Note that the Alt + Cursor Down key is allowed as it can be used to drop the list box.
Protected Overrides Sub OnKeyDown(_
ByVal e As System.Windows.Forms.KeyEventArgs)
If _ReadOnly Then
If e.KeyCode = Keys.Up OrElse _
e.KeyCode = Keys.PageUp OrElse _
e.KeyCode = Keys.PageDown OrElse _
(e.KeyCode = Keys.Down And _
((Me.ModifierKeys And Keys.Alt) <> Keys.Alt)) Then
e.Handled = True
Bringing up the List with Repeated F4 Presses
Last was an odd bug in the
ComboBox itself. If you press F4 the list will drop. If you press it again, it will bring up the list and fire the
OnSelectedChangeCommitted event even though nothing has changed. Putting in the following code stops the event when the control is in the
ReadOnly state. This does nothing for the inappropriate firing of the event when the control is writable.
Protected Overrides Sub OnSelectionChangeCommitted(_
ByVal e As System.EventArgs)
If _ReadOnly Then
Using the Code
The code was written as a class that can be added into a class library, compiled, and added to the toolbox. When I first tried this class out on the other developers where I work, I named the control
ReadOnlyComboBox. I was immediately assaulted with comments such as "Why would you want a
ComboBox that can only be read?" and "What's the point of giving them a list if they can never change the value?" OK, so it's not a
ComboBox that is
ReadOnly. It's a
ComboBox with a
ReadOnly property. I resorted to the time honored technique of adding an "X" to the inherited class name. In the sample project it is named
xboXComboBox. All of our controls are prefixed with a three character designation, then a significant name after that.
By the way, the ZIP file contains the source and a test project. You may need to build the solution before you can view the test form in the designer.
As we've used the control on my team and as Code Project users have submitted comments there have been various fixes and enhancements. When this article was written the current version of the .Net framework didn't include an auto complete feature in the
ComboBox. It came as a surprise that
AutoCompleteMode opened a hole where the control could be changed when
ReadOnly. The fix was simple by just setting
AutoCompleteMode to None when going to
ReadOnly and then restoring the previous value when coming back out.
There were several issues related to clearing the selection. The most complicated case came when the control was bound to a numeric property in a class. Clearing the control would place a -1 in
SelectedIndex. The control would require the user to select an item from the list before they would be allowed to exit. The fix was to override the -1 with a zero so that the first item in the list is selected. This means that when binding to a numeric property it is not possible to clear the selection. Another option is to use a
Nullable(Of) numeric property. This will allow the
ComboBox to properly handle clearing the selection.
In putting this class together I thought I had something special. It wasn't large or complex but I did have to define a call to user32.dll and I did have to intercept and handle Windows messages. My understanding of Windows messages came from watching them and seeing what happened if I didn't pass them along. Does that make the code vulnerable? I don't think so. I look forward to your thoughts. So far our implementation has been successful and we are very pleased. It was great to find a way to interact with the underlying control and pull a few more horsepower out of it. For me, this was a more complete solution, handling all of the look and behavior that I expected from a
ReadOnly property of a
- Ported from Visual Studio 2003 to Visual Studio 2005
- Added support for
DropDownStyle = DropDownList
- Added workaround for setting
-1 when data-bound, see KB327244
- Fixed bug which lost
ReadOnly set to
true two times in a row
ReadOnly to prevent updates via the keyboard
FormattingEnabled to prevent selection of the first item in the list after clearing
- Fixed roach motel behavior after clearing when control bound to a numeric property
- Converted comments to XML Summary and Remarks
Tom works for the DOT as a developer and project leader. Besides designing VB.Net SQL Server applications he specializes in creating tools, classes, and controls for the development team where he works.