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Hosting EXE Applications in a WinForm project

, 21 Dec 2004 273.3K 13.8K 150
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A custom control to launch and embed an EXE into a WinForm based application.

Sample Image


Though not a common task, recently I needed to take an existing executable application and embed it into an application I was building. Oddly enough, I did not need any interaction between my application and the existing EXE. As it ends up, this is not a difficult thing to do. To make it even easier, I created a custom C# control that allows you to specify the name of an executable you want embedded into your application. The control takes care of all the rest.

How does it work

In design time, the user can specify the name of the executable to embed. When the control is created in runtime, it launches the application as follows:

Process p = null; 
  // Start the process 
  p = System.Diagnostics.Process.Start(this.exeName); 

  // Wait for process to be created and enter idle condition 

  // Get the main handle
  appWin = p.MainWindowHandle; 
catch (Exception ex) 
  MessageBox.Show(this, ex.Message, "Error"); 

After launching, the code must then set the parent of the executable's main window to the control handle. It does this as follows:

// Put it into this form
SetParent(appWin, this.Handle);

// Remove border and whatnot
SetWindowLong(appWin, GWL_STYLE, WS_VISIBLE);

// Move the window to overlay it on this window
MoveWindow(appWin, 0, 0, this.Width, this.Height, true);

Any time the control is resized, it must also resize the executable window. To do so, it does this in the Resize function:

protected override void OnResize(EventArgs e)
  if (this.appWin != IntPtr.Zero)
    MoveWindow(appWin, 0, 0, this.Width, this.Height, true);
  base.OnResize (e);

Lastly, when the control is destroyed, it should shut down the executable. To do so, it does the following:

protected override void OnHandleDestroyed(EventArgs e)
  // Stop the application
  if (appWin != IntPtr.Zero)

    // Post a colse message
    PostMessage(appWin, WM_CLOSE, 0, 0);

    // Delay for it to get the message

    // Clear internal handle
    appWin = IntPtr.Zero;


  base.OnHandleDestroyed (e);


  • 12-20-2004: Released.


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

Jay Nelson
Web Developer
United States United States
I have been developing software professionaly since 1991 writing software in Automation and Manufacturing environments. For 14 years I worked for companies that built custom robotic automated equipment for the semiconductor, telecommunications, and other industies. Presently, I work for a medical device manufacturer developing applications for the compact framework.

My undergraduate degrees are in Mathematics and Philosopy. My graduate degree is in Management Information Systems. I am MCSD certified in Visual C++ 6.0 and MCSD.NET certified in C#.

I enjoy triathlons and reading.

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Comments and Discussions

QuestionRe: The EXE application is a separate window, not hosted by the control! Pin
pcm_it14-Mar-09 1:45
memberpcm_it14-Mar-09 1:45 
AnswerRe: The EXE application is a separate window, not hosted by the control! Pin
mbaocha6-May-09 16:43
membermbaocha6-May-09 16:43 
GeneralRe: The EXE application is a separate window, not hosted by the control! Pin
Blasterwurm10-Nov-09 3:37
memberBlasterwurm10-Nov-09 3:37 
QuestionAwesome!!! Pin
Member 440744029-Jan-09 5:30
memberMember 440744029-Jan-09 5:30 
This is sweet! Thanks for sharing it.

Here is one question I have:
I'm using this to open Textpad.exe on a panel (actually multiple instances of Textpad on separate panels -- one instance per panel) and everything works great (opening files, saving files, etc.) except in the case where I make changes to a file and don't save the changes before closing the form. Normally, Textpad asks the user if they want to save the changes if changes have been made. When running it through the C# app, the save changes message pops up and quickly disappears, and then it crashes ("SEND ERROR REPORT TO MICROSOFT" or "DON'T SEND") when I close the form. Everything closes just fine if there are no changes to save. Does anyone know what I can do to let the user answer the save changes question before the form actually closes?
QuestionRe: Awesome!!! Pin
Krishna01 Valluri5-Mar-10 0:20
memberKrishna01 Valluri5-Mar-10 0:20 
AnswerRe: Awesome!!! Pin
cs_can3-Apr-10 5:54
membercs_can3-Apr-10 5:54 
GeneralWorks great but... Pin
Member 447052825-Jan-09 8:31
memberMember 447052825-Jan-09 8:31 
QuestionRewritten with bug fix? Pin
Thord Johansson9-Dec-08 22:07
memberThord Johansson9-Dec-08 22:07 
Generalnice article Pin
Member 237557729-Oct-08 9:59
memberMember 237557729-Oct-08 9:59 
GeneralWow... Excellent Pin
MrWolfy14-Sep-08 8:53
memberMrWolfy14-Sep-08 8:53 

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