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Using the WebBrowser control, simplified

, 13 Feb 2012
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The SimpleBrowser class makes using the WebBrowser control easier in your MFC applications.

Introduction

SimpleBrowser is intended to make it easier to use the WebBrowser control in MFC applications. If you've ever tried this before, you know that doing simple things can be overly complicated. I wanted to do the following with the control:

  • Generate HTML in my code, and pass it to the control as a string.
  • Navigate to HTML documents that are resources in my program.
  • Catch events from the control.
  • Print the control's content.

The WebBrowser control exposes the IWebBrowser2 interface, which lets you control the browser. It signals events using the DWebBrowserEvents2 interface, which lets you know what the browser is doing. Unfortunately, neither of these give you a clear-cut and simple way to do the things I've listed.

The SimpleBrowser class

SimpleBrowser wraps the IWebBrowser2 interface with MFC-friendly methods. The methods convert arguments into the form required by the interface. Some of the IWebBrowser2 methods require BSTRs, others VARIANTs, and there's even the occasional SAFEARRAY, all of which can be awkward (or at least not intuitive) for casual MFC use.

How do you 'navigate' the WebBrowser to a document in memory? An obvious solution is to write the document to a temporary file, and then navigate the control to the file via a URL of the form file://c:\dir\filename.ext. This seems slow and cumbersome. You also need to delete the temporary file when you're done. The IWebBrowser2 interface lets you retrieve an interface pointer to the current HTML document (IHTMLDocument2), which then lets you manipulate the document directly without the need for temporary files. The problem is, the interface isn't available until the browser has completed navigating to a document. The interface does include a write() method, so if we can get a document, we can use this to write our data to the browser.

The WebBrowser supports the res: protocol, which lets you use program resources in your HTML pages using the URL syntax res://EXE/type/resource. EXE is the path to your executable. Type is either the string name of the resource type, or a string of the form #nnn, where nnn is the numerical value of one of the predefined resource types (RT_BITMAP, and so on). Resource is the string name of the resource, or a string of the form #nnn, where nnn is the resource ID. As long as you use the string form of the res: protocol, you can navigate to a URL directly. This requires that you use the following type of statement in your .RC file:

"MyPage"    "HTML"    "MyPage.html"

You could then navigate to this page using the URL res://MyProgram.Exe/HTML/MyPage. If you want to use the built-in RT_HTML resource type and integer resource identifiers,

IDR_MY_PAGE  HTML   "MyPage.html"

the URL becomes a problem. The WebBrowser control doesn't seem to like URLs with "#" characters, and using the replacement character "%23" is messy (since it's followed by a numeric value). The WebBrowser also does not seem to handle ANSI/UNICODE issues very well in either case.

The WebBrowser lets you print the current document using the ExecWB() method in the IWebBrowser2 interface. Unfortunately, ExecWB() is something of a catch-all, and requires several arcane arguments. It turns out, there is a way to specify header and footer formats for printing, but the mechanism is awkward. SimpleBrowser wraps this up in a single method.

SimpleBrowser exposes the DWebBrowserEvents2 events via virtual functions that you can override in a derived class. Event data is converted into MFC-friendly forms before being passed to the virtual functions. The base class versions of these functions send notifications to the parent window via the standard WM_NOTIFY mechanism.

Create(DWORD dwStyle, const RECT& rect, CWnd* pParentWnd,UINT nID)

Create is the standard window creation function. The noteworthy thing about the Create(...) function is what happens after it creates the browser. SimpleBrowser navigates to the predefined document about:blank. When that navigation completes, any text passed to the SimpleBrowser using the Write() function (see below) is then written to the browser.

CreateFromControl(CWnd *pParentWnd,UINT nID)

CreateFromControl() 'creates' the SimpleBrowser in a dialog by replacing another control. You can lay out your dialog, placing a static control where you want the browser window. pParentWnd in this case is a dialog box (this, for example), while nID identifies the static control. CreateFromControl() gets the location of the static control, destroys the static (since it won't be used), and then creates the browser in its place using Create(...). The browser uses the ID originally given to the static control (nID). You don't have to use a static control; any control type will do. I use a static control with the 'static edge' style set (that makes it easier to see the extent of the control).

IHTMLDocument2 *GetDocument()

GetDocument() returns an interface pointer to the IHTMLDocument2 interface for the current HTML document loaded in the browser control. This interface pointer can be used to manipulate the document directly, in case you've got something special in mind that's not supported by the direct methods supplied by SimpleBrowser. GetDocument() returns NULL in case you've navigated the control to something other than an HTML document. For example, the WebBrowser control is perfectly happy to let you navigate to a Microsoft Word document, which will be hosted by the control.

Write(LPCTSTR string)

Write(...) lets you create an HTML document in a string, and display it in a browser window in your application. This is useful for creating displays or reports that don't lend themselves to a fixed set of Windows controls, or information that needs special formatting. HTML is easy to generate, and you get printing 'for free' (see the Print() and PrintPreview() methods below).

SimpleBrowser writes the string to the WebBrowser control using something like the following:

// get document interface
IHTMLDocument2 *document = GetDocument();

if (document != NULL) {

  // construct text to be written to browser as SAFEARRAY
  SAFEARRAY *safe_array = SafeArrayCreateVector(VT_VARIANT,0,1);
 
  VARIANT *variant;
  
  SafeArrayAccessData(safe_array,(LPVOID *)&variant);
  
  variant->vt      = VT_BSTR;
  variant->bstrVal = CString(string).AllocSysString();
  
  SafeArrayUnaccessData(safe_array);

  // write SAFEARRAY to browser document

  document->write(safe_array);
  
  document->Release();
  document = NULL;

}

The Write(...) method appends the string to the current document. One nicety is that the WebBrowser control is tolerant of HTML documents that are not 'well-formed':

<html><body>.... No trailing </body> or </html> tags.

<html><body>...</body></html>

<html><body>...</body></html>

Multiple complete documents.
Simple text with <b>tags</b>... No <html>...</html> or <body>...</body> tags at all.

This lets you construct your document using several Write(...) calls. You can also update the browser contents as needed, without having to rebuild the whole document every time.

Clear()

Clear() deletes any existing content in the WebBrowser control. If you've got an HTML document in the control, Clear() empties the display by closing and re-opening the current document, and then refreshing the display. This appears to be faster than navigating to about:blank, which is used when you don't have an HTML document in the control.

NavigateResource(int resource_ID)

The res: protocol lets you use resources in your executable, in your HTML pages. As I mentioned earlier, the res: protocol isn't terribly friendly for URLs that you pass to the WebBrowser, especially when using numeric resource IDs. My solution is to load the HTML resource into a string and use the Write(...) approach. NavigateResource() expects the resource to be defined in the .RC file as follows:

IDR_MY_PAGE  HTML   "MyPage.html"

HTML is the resource type used when you insert an HTML resource using the IDE.

NavigateResource() gets interesting when it comes to loading UNICODE HTML resources in an application compiled for MBCS (ANSI), or vice versa. My method is to convert the document to match the application. This works well until you have a UNICODE resource containing characters not in the ANSI character set (Japanese Kanji, for example) and an MBCS application. In this case, the conversion does not work. This shouldn't hurt too much, because you probably wouldn't be trying to display a Far Eastern HTML document in an ANSI application anyway.

Print(LPCTSTR header,LPCTSTR footer)

The IWebBrowser2 interface lets you print the current contents of the WebBrowser control using the ExecWB method. The Print(...) function I've supplied eliminates the cryptic arguments to ExecWB(), and adds a simple way to specify the header and footer for the printed page:

// construct two element SAFEARRAY;
// first element is header string,
// second element is footer string

HRESULT hr;

VARIANT     header_variant;
VariantInit(&header_variant);
V_VT(&header_variant)   = VT_BSTR;
V_BSTR(&header_variant) = 
  CString(header).AllocSysString();

VARIANT     footer_variant;
VariantInit(&footer_variant);
V_VT(&footer_variant)   = VT_BSTR;
V_BSTR(&footer_variant) = 
  CString(footer).AllocSysString();

long index;

SAFEARRAYBOUND  parameter_array_bound[1];
SAFEARRAY       *parameter_array = NULL;

parameter_array_bound[0].cElements = 2;
parameter_array_bound[0].lLbound   = 0;

parameter_array = SafeArrayCreate(VT_VARIANT,1,
                                  parameter_array_bound);

index = 0;
hr    = SafeArrayPutElement(parameter_array,
                            &index,
                            &header_variant);

index = 1;
hr    = SafeArrayPutElement(parameter_array,
                            &index,
                            &footer_variant);

VARIANT parameter;
VariantInit(¶meter);
V_VT(¶meter)    = VT_ARRAY | VT_BYREF;
V_ARRAY(¶meter) = parameter_array;

// start printing browser contents

hr = _Browser->ExecWB(OLECMDID_PRINT,
                      OLECMDEXECOPT_DODEFAULT,
                      ¶meter,
                      NULL);

// release SAFEARRAY

if (!SUCCEEDED(hr)) {
  VariantClear(&header_variant);
  VariantClear(&footer_variant);
  if (parameter_array != NULL) {
    SafeArrayDestroy(parameter_array);
  }
}

There is one caveat with using the Print(...) function, caused by the way the WebBrowser control handles printing. The ExecWB() method passes a copy of the document to a separate thread, which then performs the actual printing. The ExecWB() method returns immediately, without waiting for the thread to finish. For this reason, there is no simple way to determine that printing has completed. In fact, if the browser is destroyed while printing is still in progress, only part of the contents will be printed. The WebBrowser control does issue the print template teardown event (see below), which is issued when printing has completed.

PrintPreview()

Displays the Print Preview for the current content loaded in the control.

Handling events

SimpleBrowser is actually a basic CWnd that is a container for the actual WebBrowser control. Using MFC, the WebBrowser control signals events to its container via an 'event sink map'. The events that may be 'sunk' are described by the DWebBrowserEvents2 interface. SimpleBrowser forwards these events to the outside world by converting event information into MFC-friendly forms (CString's and so on) and calling a virtual function. The base class implementations of these functions send the events to the parent window using the WM_NOTIFY mechanism.

SimpleBrowser supports these events:

Event (virtual function) NotificationType Description
OnBeforeNavigate2(CString URL, CString frame, void *post_data, int post_data_size, CString headers) BeforeNavigate2 Called before navigation begins; URL is the destination, frame is the frame name ("" if none). The post_data value will be NULL if there is no POST data. The headers value contains the headers to be sent to the server. Return true to cancel the navigation, false to continue.
OnDocumentComplete(CString URL) DocumentComplete Navigation to the document has completed; URL is the location.
OnDownloadBegin() DownloadBegin Signals the beginning of a navigation operation.
OnProgressChange(int progress, int progress_max) ProgressChange Navigation progress update. I've seen the WebBrowser signal ProgressChange events where progress > progress_max, so keep that in mind.
OnDownloadComplete() DownloadComplete Navigation operation completed.
OnNavigateComplete2(CString URL) NavigateComplete2 Navigation to a hyperlink has completed. URL is the location (URL = "about:blank" if Write() or NavigateResource() are used).
OnStatusTextChange(CString text) StatusTextChange Status text has changed.
OnTitleChange(CString text) TitleChange Title text has changed.
OnPrintTemplateInstantiation() PrintTemplateInstantiation Printing has begun.
OnPrintTemplateTeardown() PrintTemplateTeardown Printing has completed.

If you derive your own class from SimpleBrowser, your event handlers can choose whether or not to inform the parent window of the event, by whether or not they call the base class function.

Notification functions in the parent require an entry in the message map like this:

ON_NOTIFY(SimpleBrowser::NotificationType,control ID,OnNotificationType)

The functions themselves look like the following:

afx_msg void OnNotificationType(NMHDR *pNMHDR,LRESULT *pResult);

...

void MyDialog::OnNotificationType(NMHDR *pNMHDR,LRESULT *pResult)
{
  SimpleBrowser::Notification
    *notification = (SimpleBrowser::Notification *)pNMHDR;

  ...

  *pResult = 0;
}

The Notification structure is used to pass the information that describes the event:

Element Applies to NotificationTypes Description
NMHDR hdr All Standard notification header. hdr.hwndFrom = SimpleBrowser's window handle, hdr.idFrom = SimpleBrowser's control ID, and hdr.code = NavigationType for the notification.
CString URL

BeforeNavigate2,

DocumentComplete,

NavigateComplete2

URL of the navigation/document.
CString frame BeforeNavigate2 The destination frame.
void *post_data BeforeNavigate2 If the navigation includes POST data, post_data will point to a buffer containing the data. Note that the data is only valid for the duration of the call. If the event handler needs to save the data, it should make a copy. If there is no POST data, post_data will be NULL.
int post_data_size BeforeNavigate2 Size of the POST data; 0 if none.
CString headers BeforeNavigate2 Headers to be sent to the server.
int progress ProgressChange Current progress value.
int progress_max ProgressChange Limit of the current progress value.
CString text

StatusTextChange,

TitleChange

The text to be displayed in the status area or title.

Please note that, even though I've used the standard WM_NOTIFY mechanism and the NMHDR notification header, SimpleBrowser doesn't support the common notifications like NM_CLICK, since these events are handled internally by the WebBrowser control.

About the code

SimpleBrowser is compatible with the WebBrowser control supplied by Internet Explorer version 5.0 and greater.

The demo program illustrates using SimpleBrowser in a dialog application. Enter text into the edit control at the top, and click on the Write button to invoke Write(...) with the contents of the edit control. The Resource (ANSI) and Resource (UNICODE) buttons use NavigateResource(...) to display HTML documents in the program's resources, encoded as ANSI and UNICODE respectively.

The demo program uses a class derived from SimpleBrowser (SimpleBrowser_Example) to show how events are handled. SimpleBrowser_Example constructs a string describing the event and passes the string on to the dialog, which then displays the string in the edit control at the bottom left of the dialog. The edit control at the bottom center of the dialog displays the same information as handled via the notification mechanism in the dialog itself.

I've included Visual C++ 6.0 workspace/project, Visual Studio .NET, Visual Studio 2005, and Visual Studio 2008 solution/project files. The project compiles for either MBCS (e.g., ANSI) or UNICODE through a #define found in stdafx.h.

Credits and references

I'd like to credit the following sources for information I used in developing the SimpleBrowser class:

History

  • April 6, 2003
    • Initial version.
  • April 11, 2003
    • Replaced the original NavigateString() method with Write(...) and Clear().
    • Added GetDocument() method.
    • Added notifications.
    • Modified Create() to wait for document available.
    • Expanded the BeforeNavigate2 event handling to include the POST data and headers.
    • Revised article text as appropriate.
  • December 31, 2011
    • Updated links in article text.
    • The original code used a poor approach to handle the requirement that a document be completely loaded into the WebBrowser control prior to writing its own text. In an early version it used a 'private' message pump, and the final version used a busy-wait loop with a Sleep(0) call in the Create() function to wait for the document to be available. The new code removes the busy-wait loop. Instead, if the document is not ready, the code simply saves the text to be written. When the document becomes ready, any text that has been deferred is then written to the browser.
    • Bug fix: Corrected a memory leak in the SimpleBrowser::Notification class. The class did not provide a destructor, which meant that any POST data passed in the notification would leak.
    • Added a new ParsePostData() function to aid in handling POST data.
    • Bug fix: The OnBeforeNavigate2() handler was not including the headers. Thanks to Vic Mackey catching the error and providing the fix.
    • Bug fix: Added keyboard translation (tab, delete, etc.) per a suggestion by cwswpl (Stephen). Stephen also noticed the dodgy approach to handling the initial 'document ready' problem and suggested a solution very similar to the one I used. I didn't use his suggestion for disabling the WebBrowser context menu, as the control includes an interface for customizing the context menu or eliminating it entirely.
    • Enhancements: Made the IWebBrowser2 *_Browser member protected rather than private based on a suggestion by Davide Calabro. Also modified the CreateFromControl() function to include a style argument, per another suggestion by Davide.
    • Enhancement: Per code provided by Toni Bauer, added handling for the "print template instantiation" and "print template teardown" events. The teardown event is especially useful, since it is triggered when printing has completed.
  • February 12, 2011
    • Bug fix: Corrected double-delete of post data in notification structure, found by qmcock.

License

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

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About the Author

Gary R. Wheeler

United States United States
I'm a Visual C++ / MFC / COM developer, now reformed and learning C# and WPF (which rocks!). In my day job, I'm a mild-mannered engineer (unless I haven't had my coffee), helping make control software for large, high speed ink jet printing systems. After hours, I'm a bloodthirsty mercenary, selling my skills to the highest bidder. And yes, that sentence pretty much defines the extent of my marketing ability.
 
In my spare time (whazzat?) I run (slowly), bike (the kind you pedal), lift weights (not very big ones), and try to figure out how to pay for my daughter's college education.

Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionMy vote of 5 Pinprotectorthatraja10-Jun-14 4:36 
QuestionCSS background-size in SimpleBrowser [modified] Pinmemberdhclark3-Apr-14 13:00 
QuestionHow to get HTML5 Code support in this WebBrowserControl PinmemberMember 1021656818-Aug-13 6:44 
AnswerRe: How to get HTML5 Code support in this WebBrowserControl Pinmemberdexmix3-Sep-13 6:02 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinmembermax_nowak3-Jul-13 23:18 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmemberGary R. Wheeler4-Jul-13 0:59 
QuestionFew of the links do not get open but blank page Pinmemberiampradeepsharma9-May-13 19:58 
QuestionURL versus link PinmemberFranc Morales9-May-13 18:30 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberFranc Morales9-Apr-13 14:02 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmemberGary R. Wheeler11-Apr-13 12:20 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmemberFranc Morales11-Apr-13 13:10 
QuestionHow to enable javascript in the browser Pinmemberiampradeepsharma14-Mar-13 22:50 
AnswerRe: How to enable javascript in the browser PinmemberGary R. Wheeler15-Mar-13 11:54 
QuestionHow to get tab keys to navigate HTML form PinmemberEitan2214-Mar-13 11:07 
AnswerRe: How to get tab keys to navigate HTML form PinmemberGary R. Wheeler15-Mar-13 11:53 
Questionprinting to a specific (non-default) printer PinmemberDave Calkins5-Mar-13 10:36 
AnswerRe: printing to a specific (non-default) printer PinmemberGary R. Wheeler5-Mar-13 11:11 
GeneralRe: printing to a specific (non-default) printer PinmemberDave Calkins5-Mar-13 13:15 
AnswerRe: printing to a specific (non-default) printer [modified] PinmemberDave Calkins6-Mar-13 2:59 
GeneralRe: printing to a specific (non-default) printer PinmemberDave Calkins6-Mar-13 10:05 
QuestionPrinting PinmemberDave Calkins4-Mar-13 8:02 
AnswerRe: Printing PinmemberDave Calkins4-Mar-13 8:15 
GeneralRe: Printing PinmemberGary R. Wheeler4-Mar-13 12:54 
GeneralRe: Printing PinmemberDave Calkins4-Mar-13 17:05 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberFranc Morales13-Feb-13 0:14 
Generalinteresting refresh issue PinmemberDave Calkins11-Feb-13 11:37 
GeneralRe: interesting refresh issue PinmemberGary R. Wheeler11-Feb-13 11:47 
GeneralRe: interesting refresh issue PinmemberDave Calkins11-Feb-13 12:48 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberDave Calkins8-Feb-13 4:49 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmemberGary R. Wheeler8-Feb-13 11:52 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmemberDave Calkins20-Feb-13 7:42 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 PinmemberGary R. Wheeler20-Feb-13 10:47 
QuestionVery important question! Pinmemberdimas19717-Feb-13 2:38 
AnswerRe: Very important question! PinmemberGary R. Wheeler7-Feb-13 11:05 
QuestionThanks Pinmembersupermyers5-Feb-13 10:29 
AnswerRe: Thanks PinmemberGary R. Wheeler7-Feb-13 11:03 
QuestionWrite REPEAT the code... Pinmemberdomgom25-Dec-12 2:16 
QuestionSimpleBrowser displays html as straight text rather than formatted html Pinmemberwaynejyee8-Oct-12 14:28 
AnswerRe: SimpleBrowser displays html as straight text rather than formatted html Pinmemberwaynejyee10-Oct-12 7:35 
GeneralRe: SimpleBrowser displays html as straight text rather than formatted html PinmemberGary R. Wheeler10-Oct-12 11:06 
QuestionWhat is the Status on Memory Leaks? PinmemberBojan Hrnkas12-Sep-12 2:40 
QuestionGetting rid of scrollbars Pinmembercolinbr27-Jul-12 6:28 
AnswerRe: Getting rid of scrollbars Pinmemberandycarr15-Oct-12 14:22 
GeneralRe: Getting rid of scrollbars Pinmembercolinbr7-Oct-12 13:25 
Generalwrite() does not seem to parse remote scripts [modified] Pinmembercolinbr10-Jul-12 4:26 
GeneralRe: write() does not seem to parse remote scripts PinmemberGary R. Wheeler10-Jul-12 12:07 
Questionhow to show iframe content by "write" function Pinmemberlsupper11-Apr-12 21:33 
AnswerRe: how to show iframe content by "write" function PinmemberGary R. Wheeler12-Apr-12 13:26 
QuestionPorted to Visual Studio 11 Beta PinmemberJCrane213-Mar-12 9:26 
AnswerRe: Ported to Visual Studio 11 Beta PinmemberGary R. Wheeler13-Mar-12 11:39 

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