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Posted 4 Jan 2006


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Loading and Saving XML to and from a TreeView Control

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4.51/5 (33 votes)
4 Jan 2006CPOL2 min read
Details of how to load XML into a TreeView, and how to save XML to disk from a TreeView.


This article will demonstrate how to populate a Windows Forms TreeView control from an XML file, as well as provides two methods to serialize the TreeView back to XML.


There are probably a thousand ways out on the 'net to do this. I know I've downloaded control after control, and I've seen hundreds of different techniques for doing this. This is, to date, the simplest way of doing this I've come across, and it doesn't require adding any controls to your project. You only need a couple of methods, and you're ready to go. Since there tend to be discrepancies on "best practices" with regards to XML serialization, I've included two common, and efficient methods for doing so.

Getting Started

If you download the working sample, you'll be able to immediately run the application and see how the methods work. I've included an examples.xml file for use in testing the application. Keep in mind that I've only done the barest of exception handling in the demo project. You'll want to ensure you include the following references in your application:

using System.Xml;
using System.Text;
using System.IO;

De-Serializing XML

XML is a great format. I mean, it's just text, after all, put together in a hierarchical fashion. .NET has been helpful (albeit a bit over-heady) in providing methods for loading and iterating through XML documents. The following methods will open an XML file, and populate each node into a TreeView control:

//Open the XML file, and start to populate the treeview
private void populateTreeview()
    OpenFileDialog dlg = new OpenFileDialog();
    dlg.Title = "Open XML Document";
    dlg.Filter = "XML Files (*.xml)|*.xml";
    dlg.FileName = Application.StartupPath + "\\..\\..\\example.xml";
    if (dlg.ShowDialog() == DialogResult.OK)
            //Just a good practice -- change the cursor to a 
            //wait cursor while the nodes populate
            this.Cursor = Cursors.WaitCursor;
            //First, we'll load the Xml document
            XmlDocument xDoc = new XmlDocument();
            //Now, clear out the treeview, 
            //and add the first (root) node
            TreeNode tNode = new TreeNode();
            tNode = (TreeNode)treeView1.Nodes[0];
            //We make a call to addTreeNode, 
            //where we'll add all of our nodes
            addTreeNode(xDoc.DocumentElement, tNode);
            //Expand the treeview to show all nodes
        catch(XmlException xExc) 
          //Exception is thrown is there is an error in the Xml
        catch(Exception ex) //General exception
            this.Cursor = Cursors.Default; //Change the cursor back
//This function is called recursively until all nodes are loaded
private void addTreeNode(XmlNode xmlNode, TreeNode treeNode)
    XmlNode xNode;
    TreeNode tNode;
    XmlNodeList xNodeList;
    if (xmlNode.HasChildNodes) //The current node has children
        xNodeList = xmlNode.ChildNodes;
        for(int x=0; x<=xNodeList.Count-1; x++) 
          //Loop through the child nodes
            xNode = xmlNode.ChildNodes[x];
            treeNode.Nodes.Add(new TreeNode(xNode.Name));
            tNode = treeNode.Nodes[x];
            addTreeNode(xNode, tNode);
    else //No children, so add the outer xml (trimming off whitespace)
        treeNode.Text = xmlNode.OuterXml.Trim();

That's all it takes to load an XML file into a TreeView. The form will look something like this:

Image 1

While I'd like to take full credit for it, I can't, since MSDN has a similar example that does the same thing. However, the two methods below for serializing the XML back to file format are all mine.

Serializing the TreeView

Using a StreamWriter

There are purists out there who won't want to use this method. .NET provides developers with an XmlTextWriter which has methods inside that will dump formatted XML tags to a file. The bottom line is, it's all text, folks. How it gets there isn't as important as the fact that it got there. So, that in mind, I've provided methods for using a Streamwriter here, and below, methods for using an XmlTextWriter. Honestly, there is probably less actual code required to use the XmlTextWriter, so I suggest using whichever you're most comfortable with.

//We use this in the export and the saveNode 
//functions, though it's only instantiated once.
private StreamWriter sr;

public void exportToXml(TreeView tv, string filename) 
    sr = new StreamWriter(filename, false, System.Text.Encoding.UTF8);
    //Write the header
    sr.WriteLine("<?xml version=\"1.0\" encoding=\"utf-8\" ?>");
    //Write our root node
    sr.WriteLine("<" + treeView1.Nodes[0].Text + ">");
    foreach (TreeNode node in tv.Nodes)
    //Close the root node
    sr.WriteLine("</" + treeView1.Nodes[0].Text + ">");

private void saveNode(TreeNodeCollection tnc)
    foreach (TreeNode node in tnc)
        //If we have child nodes, we'll write 
        //a parent node, then iterrate through
        //the children
        if (node.Nodes.Count > 0)
            sr.WriteLine("<" + node.Text + ">");
            sr.WriteLine("</" + node.Text + ">");
        else //No child nodes, so we just write the text

Using an XmlTextWriter

The following methods do exactly the same thing as above, only using an XmlTextWriter instead of a StreamWriter:

//We use this in the exportToXml2 and the saveNode2 
//functions, though it's only instantiated once.
private XmlTextWriter xr;

public void exportToXml2(TreeView tv, string filename) 
    xr = new XmlTextWriter(filename, System.Text.Encoding.UTF8);
    //Write our root node
    foreach (TreeNode node in tv.Nodes)
    //Close the root node

private void saveNode2(TreeNodeCollection tnc)
    foreach (TreeNode node in tnc)
        //If we have child nodes, we'll write 
        //a parent node, then iterrate through
        //the children
        if (node.Nodes.Count > 0)
        else //No child nodes, so we just write the text

That's all there is to it.

Points of Interest

The methods I used above are barebones. What I mean by this is that no attributes will be saved during serialization, only node names and text. This is rather easy to overcome, but you'll need to modify the serialization a bit to allow it to do so. This is probably most easily done using the XmlTextWriter serialization methods.


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


About the Author

Software Developer (Senior) CentralReach
United States United States
I have worked professionally in IT since 2004, and as a software architect since 2008, specializing in user interface design and experience, something I am still extremely passionate about. In 2013 I moved into management, and since then I've held positions as Director of Product Development, Director of Engineering, and Practice Director.

Comments and Discussions

QuestionThank You! Pin
Member 134619927-Nov-17 4:31
MemberMember 134619927-Nov-17 4:31 
Bugsmall error in exportToXml2 Pin
Andreas Lumpp29-Aug-17 21:15
MemberAndreas Lumpp29-Aug-17 21:15 
QuestionThank you for your contribution Pin
Adrián Cuéllar6-Jun-17 4:19
MemberAdrián Cuéllar6-Jun-17 4:19 
GeneralThanks Pin
mariusdumi339-Jul-15 22:13
Membermariusdumi339-Jul-15 22:13 
GeneralMy vote of 3 Pin
VanShiyi10-Oct-12 16:06
MemberVanShiyi10-Oct-12 16:06 
GeneralWorks really good, shows the basics. Pin
Phix196429-Mar-12 12:08
MemberPhix196429-Mar-12 12:08 
SuggestionA little change for Web Pin
hectorea9-Aug-11 9:06
Memberhectorea9-Aug-11 9:06 
Generalthanks, I made a few changes with given code to make it work for me..check if anyone finds it helpful :) Pin
Baba Deep19-Jul-09 16:34
MemberBaba Deep19-Jul-09 16:34 
GeneralA question... if I have attribute in parent, the tree cannot show the attribute Pin
kwokkiu23-Mar-09 19:45
Memberkwokkiu23-Mar-09 19:45 
Generaldon't display "state" Pin
mquiz1-Mar-09 22:34
Membermquiz1-Mar-09 22:34 
GeneralNice Pin
hairy_hats18-Feb-08 0:44
Memberhairy_hats18-Feb-08 0:44 
QuestionXML help *simple Pin
Kanedogg0831-Jan-08 13:33
MemberKanedogg0831-Jan-08 13:33 
GeneralRe: XML help *simple Pin
DreamInHex31-Jan-08 17:11
MemberDreamInHex31-Jan-08 17:11 
GeneralClean and Nice Pin
James S. Taylor12-Dec-07 3:48
MemberJames S. Taylor12-Dec-07 3:48 
QuestionAttributes? Pin
lizard king6921-Nov-07 15:41
Memberlizard king6921-Nov-07 15:41 
GeneralHelp a lot Pin
felix990200216-Oct-07 22:15
Memberfelix990200216-Oct-07 22:15 
Questionhow do I list this xml? Pin
kris kumar9-Oct-07 13:29
Memberkris kumar9-Oct-07 13:29 
GeneralPerformance improvement... Pin
berghain30-Jul-07 3:46
Memberberghain30-Jul-07 3:46 
GeneralRe: Performance improvement... Pin
Sanjeevg775-Jun-09 0:45
MemberSanjeevg775-Jun-09 0:45 
GeneralRe: Performance improvement... Pin
Phix196429-Mar-12 12:13
MemberPhix196429-Mar-12 12:13 
Generalin case of empty element [modified] Pin
diees19-Apr-07 20:05
Memberdiees19-Apr-07 20:05 
GeneralRe: in case of empty element Pin
DreamInHex23-Apr-07 4:02
MemberDreamInHex23-Apr-07 4:02 
GeneralRe: Example code Pin
Ozitraveller21-Mar-06 14:40
MemberOzitraveller21-Mar-06 14:40 
GeneralGood work Pin
Alessio Saltarin8-Feb-06 3:11
MemberAlessio Saltarin8-Feb-06 3:11 

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