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Processing Global Mouse and Keyboard Hooks in C#

, 31 Aug 2011
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This class allows you to tap keyboard and mouse and/or to detect their activity even when an application runs in the background or does not have any user interface at all.

NEWS

This article was posted in 2004 and updated in 2006 and 2008. During all this time until now I receive a lot of positive feedback and recommendations. There where also many useful contributions which where usually posted as code snippets in forum. Now instead of publishing yet another version on my own I decided to ask you all to actively participate. So please be enthusiastic, feel free to join the project at globalmousekeyhook.codeplex.com

You can help by:
  • Contributing code.
  • Creating issue items requesting additional features or reporting defects.
  • Voting for features and fixes you are interested in.
  • Testing the component in different environments.
  • Writing developer documentation.

This will us also allow to keep this original article up to date.

Thank you all for all your great comments on CodeProject forum and looking forward for your brilliant contributions at globalmousekeyhook.codeplex.com

Introduction

This class allows you to tap keyboard and mouse and/or to detect their activity even when an application runs in the background or does not have any user interface at all. This class raises common .NET events with KeyEventArgs and MouseEventArgs, so you can easily retrieve any information you need.

Background

There are a number of applications that run in the background and detect user inactivity to change their mode. For example, MSN Messenger (or any other messenger). I was going to write such an application, so I searched MSDN and found "exactly" what I needed: 318804 - HOW TO: Set a Windows Hook in Visual C# .NET. This article describes how to tap the mouse movement, but it works only when an application is active. At the end of this article, I found this explanation: "Global hook is not supported in .NET Framework. You cannot implement global hooks in Microsoft .NET Framework...". Anyway, I continued my research and found out that there are exceptions. There are WH_KEYBOARD_LL and WH_MOUSE_LL hooks that can be installed globally. So, I have basically replaced WH_MOUSE with WH_MOUSE_LL in the MSDN example, and it works.

The second step was to extract the information received into a .NET EventArgs and raise the appropriate events.

I found a similar article in CodeProject, under Global System Hooks in .NET by Michael Kennedy, but what I dislike is, there is an unmanaged DLL in C++ that is a main part of this solution. This unmanaged DLL is in C++, and a number of classes make it complicated to integrate it in my own tiny application.

Revisions

This article was posted in 2004 and updated in 2006. During all this time until now I receive a lot of positive feedback and recommendations. There were also a number of technology improvements like .NET Framework 3.5 or Visual Studio 2008. So I have decided to update it once more.

I have refactored and improved the solution, made it more flexible, stable and efficient. But this refactoring also had some drawbacks:

  1. Number of code lines and files has grown.
  2. Backward compatibility to older .NETs is lost.

That's why I attend to leave the old version also to be available for download.

Using the Code [Version 2]

The Simple Way

If you are developing a Windows Forms application and prefer drag & drop programming, there is a component named GlobalEventProvider inside the assembly Gma.UserActivityMonitor.dll. Just drag and drop it to your form and create events using the property editor events tab.

The Alternative Way

Use events provided by the static class HookManager. Note that the sender object in events is always null.

For more usage hints, see the source code of the attached demo application.

Using the Code [Version 1]

To use this class in your application, you need to just create an instance of it and hang on events you would like to process. Hooks are automatically installed when the object is created, but you can stop and start listening using appropriate public methods.

UserActivityHook actHook;
void MainFormLoad(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
{
    actHook= new UserActivityHook(); // crate an instance

    // hang on events

    actHook.OnMouseActivity+=new MouseEventHandler(MouseMoved);
    actHook.KeyDown+=new KeyEventHandler(MyKeyDown);
    actHook.KeyPress+=new KeyPressEventHandler(MyKeyPress);
    actHook.KeyUp+=new KeyEventHandler(MyKeyUp);
}

Now, an example of how to process an event:

public void MouseMoved(object sender, MouseEventArgs e)
{
    labelMousePosition.Text=String.Format("x={0}  y={1}", e.X, e.Y);
    if (e.Clicks>0) LogWrite("MouseButton     - " + e.Button.ToString());
}

Changes and Updates from [Version 0] to [Version 1]

I'd like to thank you all for all the useful comments in the discussion forum. There were a lot of bugs and proposals posted after this article was published on 4th June, 2004. Over and over again came the same topics, and I had to refer to previous posts in the discussion, that is why I have decided to revise the code and publish a FAQ. Here is the list of the most important changes:

  • The project was converted into Visual Studio 2005
  • The problem with upper case characters is solved
  • Mouse wheel information is now included in event arguments
  • Better exception handling
  • Cancellation of keyboard events using the Handled property of event arguments
  • XML documentation of functions

FAQ [Version 1]

Question

The project cannot be run in Visual Studio .NET 2005 in debug mode because of an exception error caused by calling the SetWindowsHookEx. Why? Is it a problem of .NET 2.0?

Answer

The compiled release version works well so that cannot be a .NET 2.0 problem. To workaround, you just need to uncheck the check box in the project properties that says: "Enable Visual Studio hosting process". In the menu: Project -> Project Properties... -> Debug -> Enable the Visual Studio hosting process.

Question

I need to suppress some keystrokes after I have processed them.

Answer

Just set the e.Handled property to true in the key events you have processed. It prevents the keystrokes being processed by other applications.

Question:

Is it possible to convert your global hooks to application hooks which capture keystrokes and mouse movements only within the application?

Answer

Yes. Just use...

private const int WH_MOUSE = 7;
private const int WH_KEYBOARD = 2;

... everywhere, instead of:

private const int WH_MOUSE_LL = 14;
private const int WH_KEYBOARD_LL = 13;

Question

Does it work on Win98 (Windows ME, Windows 95)?

Answer

Yes and No. The global hooks WH_MOUSE_LL and WH_KEYBOARD_LL can be monitored only under Windows NT/2000/XP. In other cases, you can only use application hooks (WH_MOUSE and WH_KEYBOARD) which capture keystrokes and mouse movement only within the application.

Question

I have a long delay when closing applications using hooks by clicking the x button in the titlebar. If I close the application via another event (button click) for example, that works fine.

Answer

It's a known bug of Microsoft. It has to do with the Windows themes. If you disable the Windows themes, the problem goes away. Another choice is to have the hook code run in a secondary thread.

Question

How do I catch key combinations like Ctrl+Shift+A?

Answer

You'll have to track which keys have gone down but not up. Only the most recently pressed key keeps sending KeyDown messages, but the others will still send a KeyUp when released. So if you make three flags IsCtrlDown, IsShiftDown, and IsADown, and set them to true at KeyDown and false at KeyUp, the expression (IsCtrlDown && IsShiftDown && IsADown) will give you the required result.

Question

Does it works with .NET Framework 1.1 and Visual Studio 2003?

Answer

Yes. The file UserActivityHook.cs can be used without any changes, in a Visual Studio 2003 .NET 1.1 project.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

About the Author

George Mamaladze
Software Developer
Germany Germany
Tweeter: @gmamaladze
Google+: gmamaladze
Blog: gmamaladze.wordpress.com
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Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionDoesn't work for simulation e.g. SendKeys.Send() method PinmemberRizwanAkram25-Jun-14 0:00 
QuestionError while registering event handler Pinmembersachin Bhosale @ code5-Jun-14 19:27 
QuestionUpdated to .NET Framework 4.0 Pinmemberhomi54319-May-14 6:33 
AnswerRe: Updated to .NET Framework 4.0 Pinmemberdirend30-May-14 3:29 
GeneralGetting error while registering my form event handler Pinmemberm.kashif.ashraf6-May-14 22:23 
Questionuser controlled key to hook PinmemberMember 1074046525-Apr-14 6:04 
Questionvb PinmemberNoel Buenaventura22-Apr-14 5:36 
QuestionDisabling keyboard [modified] PinmemberDr. Tepster24-Mar-14 22:08 
QuestionAfter minimize remote desktop screen, Keyboard Hook Procedure is not working in C# Window Application PinmemberMr Tin Linn Soe24-Mar-14 0:40 
AnswerRe: After minimize remote desktop screen, Keyboard Hook Procedure is not working in C# Window Application PinpremiumGeorge Mamaladze24-Mar-14 1:36 
QuestionLost hooks during debugging PinmemberMember 443327412-Mar-14 7:10 
AnswerRe: Lost hooks during debugging PinpremiumGeorge Mamaladze24-Mar-14 1:31 
GeneralGreat work PinmemberMichaelMena28-Feb-14 2:57 
QuestionPower physical button Pinmemberosamaworx10-Feb-14 7:21 
Questionhow to disable mouse right click event PinmemberAnsariAzam6-Feb-14 0:41 
Questiondemo version 2 crashes in Win 8/64 PinmemberBillWoodruff19-Jan-14 1:12 
GeneralRe: demo version 2 crashes in Win 8/64 Pinmembersonu verma s27-Jan-14 18:07 
QuestionHi problem is coming Pinmemberamit_8318-Dec-13 6:53 
AnswerRe: Hi problem is coming Pinmemberamit_8318-Dec-13 7:14 
GeneralRe: Hi problem is coming [modified] PinmemberMember 1049498730-Dec-13 12:42 
QuestionThreading PinmemberNicke Da Silva Manarin28-Nov-13 4:40 
AnswerRe: Threading PinmemberIGood10-Feb-14 15:35 
GeneralRe: Threading PinmemberNicke Da Silva Manarin11-Feb-14 10:03 
GeneralRe: Threading PinmemberIGood12-Feb-14 13:11 
Question.NET 2.0 version? PinmemberOnur Guzel10-Nov-13 11:17 
QuestionUse Mouse hook to make a Mouse Clicker??? PinmemberMember 102879151-Nov-13 12:43 
Questionwindows 8 Pinmemberppdjango14-Oct-13 21:13 
Question5 star vote PinmemberMember 101408338-Oct-13 6:28 
QuestionExcessive Lag Time [modified] PinmemberMDLEIDE3-Oct-13 8:48 
QuestionUnicode? PinmemberMember 1029995326-Sep-13 7:41 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberAlistair Tudor23-Aug-13 3:03 
Questionwhen i used your class in window service then it gives eroor "Win32Exception" PinmemberJayesh Goyani11-Aug-13 22:56 
QuestionHello Pinmemberbgsjust10-Jul-13 22:35 
Questionsmall quibble Pinmembersbarnes5-Jul-13 8:30 
SuggestionRe: small quibble PinmemberGeorge Mamaladze5-Jul-13 9:57 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberMrMias30-Jun-13 21:53 
AnswerHow do I catch key combinations like Ctrl+Shift+A? PinmembergNapoleonis6-Jun-13 7:58 
QuestionHandling events in a Remote Desktop Session PinmemberJeeeJay14-May-13 12:57 
QuestionDoes it need any independent Thread to work? PinmemberSoroosh Mortezapoor10-May-13 11:35 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberMember 999405817-Apr-13 1:55 
Questionin my game it is not working ! PinmemberPhoenix-300031-Mar-13 21:50 
QuestionNot working on ie7 windows xp Pinmemberparag_117-Mar-13 21:56 
Buge.Control, e.Shift, e.Alt in KeyUp and KeyDown don't seem to work PinmemberLogslava8-Mar-13 9:08 
GeneralRe: e.Control, e.Shift, e.Alt in KeyUp and KeyDown don't seem to work Pinmemberfecaleagle14-Aug-13 8:35 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinmembersadmonew6-Mar-13 13:09 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberAsad Naeem25-Feb-13 20:39 
QuestionI am getting Win32Exception was unhandled [modified] PinmemberMember 770255323-Feb-13 9:19 
AnswerRe: I am getting Win32Exception was unhandled PinmemberMember 841830111-Mar-13 1:59 
QuestionCannot get this to run despite "using gma.XXXX;" and having the DLL referenced PinmemberMember 976603518-Jan-13 14:47 
AnswerRe: Cannot get this to run despite "using gma.XXXX;" and having the DLL referenced PinmemberMember 976603519-Jan-13 1:59 

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