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Posted 24 Apr 2008


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A class to load and use file associated icons

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24 Apr 2008CPOL5 min read
An article about using SHGetFileInfo in C# (a simple class and demo are included).

Image 1


Everyone knows the classical linkage of the two members of Windows Common Controls – ListView/ImageList or TreeView/ImageList. The left part represents data in several formats, and the right provides the list of images for a better look. In almost all cases, it is your or your designer's job to create and load images that you need. But, what if you need to implement an app with the Windows Explorer interface which should show disk folders, files, shortcuts etc. with the same icons as Explorer does? There is a function System.Driwing.Icon. ExtractAssociatedIcon which returns an icon associated with a given file. This is the simplest way, but unfortunately, there is no overloaded version where you can specify the size of the icons you want to get – it always returns 32x32 icons (Note: MSDN doesn’t explain what size will be returned, so my assumption is it would be the system defined size for large icons, which can be checked by SystemInformation.IconSize). Alternatively, you can use a special Windows API function and .NET PInvoke to bring it into your code. To make it reusable, I decided to create a class to utilize this functionality.

About the SHGetFileInfo function

This function is part of the system shell, and is available in every Microsoft OS beginning from Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0, and can give you a lot of information about objects in file the system, such as files, folders etc. A complete description can be obtained from MSDN. But since we don’t need all this functionality, let’s focus on getting the file icons for our app.

Using the code

As I said, I created a class that you can find in the archive on the top of this article – SystemIconsImageList. This class is derived from Object, not from ImageList or Component. Thus, you have to declare, create, and initialize it manually in the code-behind of your form. I will get back to you later with an explanation of why I did it this way. Let’s take a close look at it:


First of all, we need to perform Platform Invoke for the SHGetFileInfo function:

public static extern IntPtr SHGetFileInfo(string pszPath, uint dwFileAttributes, 
                     ref SHFILEINFO psfi, uint cbSizeFileInfo, uint uFlags);

and predefine some system constants and structures that this function uses:

private const uint SHGFI_ICON = 0x100;
private const uint SHGFI_LARGEICON = 0x0;
private const uint SHGFI_SMALLICON = 0x1;

public struct SHFILEINFO
    public IntPtr hIcon;
    public IntPtr iIcon;
    public uint dwAttributes;
    [MarshalAs(UnmanagedType.ByValTStr, SizeConst = 260)]
    public string szDisplayName;
    [MarshalAs(UnmanagedType.ByValTStr, SizeConst = 80)]
    public string szTypeName;

Also, this class contains two System.Windows.Forms.ImageList controls to store system icons: one for small and one for large icons. Although ImageList is a managed control, it holds unmanaged resources – icons or images. That’s the reason why ImageList implements the IDisposable interface which enforces us to implement IDisposable for our class as well. Now, let’s see how to use this class. First of all, let’s declare and create an instance:

private SystemIconsImageList sysIcons = new SystemIconsImageList();

Basically, this constructor just creates ImageList objects, and initializes their ImageSize properties to the current system values:

_smallImageList.ColorDepth = ColorDepth.Depth32Bit;
_smallImageList.ImageSize = SystemInformation.SmallIconSize;
_largeImageList.ColorDepth = ColorDepth.Depth32Bit;
_largeImageList.ImageSize = SystemInformation.IconSize;

Now, we can attach properties that represent the actual ImageList objects to the corresponding ListView (or TreeView) properties in our form's code-behind:

listView1.SmallImageList = sysIcons.SmallIconsImageList;
listView1.LargeImageList = sysIcons.LargeIconsImageList;

Beside that, this class has a function which loads icons and returns their indexes, which we need to specify in a ListViewItem.ImageIndex:

public int GetIconIndex(string FileName);

It has only one input parameter – FileName, which is the full path to a folder or file, including its name, used to get the icon associated with it. This file or folder should exist; otherwise, an exception will be raised.

The first trick is to not load all the registered icons for all the file types at ones, but only when we need to show a particular icon. The second is to not load and store the same icons more than once; otherwise, we will have a bunch of duplicates, for example, folder icons, and waste memory for nothing. To make this possible, we will use the file extension as the icon index and check if we already have an icon for this file type or not.

But, wait a minute! This works only for non-executable files, but what about folders, executables which have their own icons with the same “.exe” at the end, shortcuts which should be represented by parent icons, and files without any extensions? We have to take care of all these cases, but differently. For example, the best way for executables and shortcuts probably is to use their names as icon indexes (to reduce memory usage, I decided to use just the name without the full path); for folders and files with no extension, we are going to use GUIDs as a unique key since they should be represented by an icon each.

FileInfo info = new FileInfo(FileName);
string ext = info.Extension;
if (String.IsNullOrEmpty(ext))
    if ((info.Attributes & FileAttributes.Directory) != 0)
            ext = "5EEB255733234c4dBECF9A128E896A1E";
            // for directories
             ext = "F9EB930C78D2477c80A51945D505E9C4";
             // for files without extension
    if (ext.Equals(".exe", StringComparison.InvariantCultureIgnoreCase) ||
            ext.Equals(".lnk", StringComparison.InvariantCultureIgnoreCase))
                ext = info.Name;

Then, we just need to check if we have an icon for this file type, or we have to load a new one and add it the to internal ImageList:

if (_smallImageList.Images.ContainsKey(ext))
       return _smallImageList.Images.IndexOfKey(ext);
    SHGetFileInfo(FileName, 0, ref shinfo, 
       (uint)Marshal.SizeOf(shinfo), SHGFI_ICON | SHGFI_SMALLICON);
    Icon smallIcon;
        smallIcon = Icon.FromHandle(shinfo.hIcon);
    catch (ArgumentException ex)
        throw new ArgumentException(String.Format("File \"{0}\" does" + 
                                    " not exist!", FileName), ex);
    _smallImageList.Images.Add(ext, smallIcon);

    SHGetFileInfo(FileName, 0, ref shinfo, 
      (uint)Marshal.SizeOf(shinfo), SHGFI_ICON | SHGFI_LARGEICON);
    Icon largeIcon = Icon.FromHandle(shinfo.hIcon);
    _largeImageList.Images.Add(ext, largeIcon);

    return _smallImageList.Images.Count - 1;

...and we are done!

Why didn’t we implement this functionality based on Component? In this case, we will be able to put these into the Visual Studio Toolbox and set the required properties at design time.

First of all, Microsoft made ImageList as sealed, so no child components could be derived from it. Plus, I wanted to load both small and large icons at the same time, so I needed two ImageList objects inside. Since my component cannot be derived from ImageList, I won’t be able to assign the SmallImageList and LargeImageList properties of ListView/TreeView at design time, so some small manipulations in code were required any way.

And one last thing: I feel much comfortable creating non-visual components manually in the code-behind than looking for them in the Visual Studio Toolbox :)



  • 1 May 2008 - Minor update.
  • 24 April 2008 - Initial version.


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


About the Author

Vitaly Zayko
Software Developer (Senior)
Russian Federation Russian Federation
More than 15 years in the industry.
Delphi, C# (Win/WebForms), MS SQL

Comments and Discussions

QuestionGreat code! Pin
Giovanni S.26-Jun-22 0:44
MemberGiovanni S.26-Jun-22 0:44 
QuestionChange to SHFileInfo declaration Pin
Member 121244586-Oct-20 17:35
MemberMember 121244586-Oct-20 17:35 
GeneralGet Icon Location from SHGetFileInfo Pin
fer_cyberlinklabs17-Dec-08 13:20
Memberfer_cyberlinklabs17-Dec-08 13:20 
GeneralNice One, but if you want to speed up your app, try this [modified] Pin
Paw Jershauge15-Oct-08 10:52
MemberPaw Jershauge15-Oct-08 10:52 
GeneralWow! Pin
hannahb4-Oct-08 10:07
Memberhannahb4-Oct-08 10:07 
GeneralStateImageList Pin
Jan.Seiffert10-Jun-08 2:13
MemberJan.Seiffert10-Jun-08 2:13 
GeneralNon existing files Pin
Member 192027425-Apr-08 1:53
MemberMember 192027425-Apr-08 1:53 
GeneralRe: Non existing files Pin
Vitaly Zayko25-Apr-08 3:59
MemberVitaly Zayko25-Apr-08 3:59 
GeneralRe: Non existing files Pin
Leung Yat Chun7-Nov-09 5:43
professionalLeung Yat Chun7-Nov-09 5:43 
GeneralErr.. Pin
The_Mega_ZZTer24-Apr-08 17:47
MemberThe_Mega_ZZTer24-Apr-08 17:47 
GeneralRe: Err.. Pin
Vitaly Zayko24-Apr-08 19:31
MemberVitaly Zayko24-Apr-08 19:31 

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