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How to Browse for a Folder

, 16 Feb 2006
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This article presents a 'cut-n-paste' solution for getting the path to a directory.


This article presents a no-frills, cut-n-paste solution to the age-old problem of browsing for a folder. There are several classes out here that offer much more customization and a plethora of features, but I'm sure one more example won't hurt.

When to use this solution

The benefit of this approach over some of the others here is that this implementation is a direct wrapper function for SHBrowseForFolder. As such, you can use it in console applications that don't use MFC, such as unit-testing applications that could benefit from not hard-coding an output location for test results.

So, in short, if you're looking for eye candy, check out XFolderDialog or some of the other folder dialogs here. Otherwise, read on.

Using the code

To use this code, you need to include the following standard files:

#include "shlobj.h"
#include <string>

The GetFolder function


  • folderpath - A reference to the string that will contain the folder path if successful.
  • szCaption - An optional message for the dialog.
  • hOwner - An optional handle to the parent window.


  • true if successful, false if cancelled or an error occurs.
bool GetFolder(std::string& folderpath, 
               const char* szCaption = NULL, 
               HWND hOwner = NULL)
   bool retVal = false;

   // The BROWSEINFO struct tells the shell 
   // how it should display the dialog.
   memset(&bi, 0, sizeof(bi));

   bi.ulFlags   = BIF_USENEWUI;
   bi.hwndOwner = hOwner;
   bi.lpszTitle = szCaption;

   // must call this if using BIF_USENEWUI

   // Show the dialog and get the itemIDList for the 
   // selected folder.
   LPITEMIDLIST pIDL = ::SHBrowseForFolder(&bi);

   if(pIDL != NULL)
      // Create a buffer to store the path, then 
      // get the path.
      char buffer[_MAX_PATH] = {'\0'};
      if(::SHGetPathFromIDList(pIDL, buffer) != 0)
         // Set the string value.
         folderpath = buffer;
         retVal = true;

      // free the item id list


   return retVal;


Well, that's really all there is to it. If this code saves time for even one person out here, then the few minutes spent writing this was well worth it. Enjoy!


This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

A list of licenses authors might use can be found here


About the Author

Software Developer (Senior) Lockheed Martin
United States United States
Walter Storm is currently a principal software engineer doing quantitative research for a private hedge fund. Originally from Tunkhannock, PA., he has a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University[^], and an M.S. in Systems Engineering from SMU[^]. He has been professionally developing software in some form or another since January of 2001.

View Walter Storm's profile on LinkedIn.[^]

Comments and Discussions

GeneralRe: Possible to preset a specific folder? Pin
Nishant Sivakumar21-Feb-06 14:15
staffNishant Sivakumar21-Feb-06 14:15 
GeneralRe: Possible to preset a specific folder? Pin
SBJ21-Feb-06 14:27
memberSBJ21-Feb-06 14:27 
AnswerRe: Possible to preset a specific folder? Pin
Nitron17-Feb-06 4:32
memberNitron17-Feb-06 4:32 
AnswerRe: Possible to preset a specific folder? Pin
Stephan Poirier21-Feb-06 19:12
memberStephan Poirier21-Feb-06 19:12 
I have something for what you are looking for. It's a wrapper class called CShellHelpers that execute all the commands needed to :

1 - Set the starting path of SHBrowseForFolder before opening of the dialog
2 - Then Retrieve the selected path when the dialog is closed

With this wrapper, you can go up from your starting location. It use the BFFM_INITIALIZED message in the BrowseCtrlCallback function to sets the startup folder location.

There are also some other functions like :
1 - Retrieve the icon belonging to the selected folder.
2 - Shell context menu for a given path.
3 - Retrieve volume serial number
4 - Shell About..

Whenever I need to browse for a folder, I use it!
I don't remember when I did this code. From what I can remember, I took some portion of code here and there and assembled it to make this wrapper. The class is still in constant devellopment and is not really ready for release to public but since I came across this discussion, I thought it would be kind from me to let you have my code. I included a small example that show how it work.

Email me if you want to have it. I can't find the damn button to "Add files" to this post! Big Grin | :-D

Have fun!


Programming looks like taking drugs...
I think I did an overdose. Poke tongue | ;-P
AnswerRe: Possible to preset a specific folder? Pin
brightatlantis16-Oct-07 5:26
memberbrightatlantis16-Oct-07 5:26 
GeneralLooks better than the previous version but ... Pin
Roland Pibinger16-Feb-06 11:27
memberRoland Pibinger16-Feb-06 11:27 
GeneralRe: Looks better than the previous version but ... Pin
Nitron16-Feb-06 11:32
memberNitron16-Feb-06 11:32 
GeneralRe: Looks better than the previous version but ... Pin
Nitron16-Feb-06 11:37
memberNitron16-Feb-06 11:37 
GeneralRe: Looks better than the previous version but ... Pin
Nishant Sivakumar16-Feb-06 11:49
staffNishant Sivakumar16-Feb-06 11:49 
GeneralRe: Looks better than the previous version but ... Pin
Nitron16-Feb-06 12:39
memberNitron16-Feb-06 12:39 

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