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Posted 18 May 2008
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Custom controls with MonoDevelop and GTK#

, 18 May 2008
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Movable controls with customized rendering on Linux with Mono.


Custom controls for Mono and GTK are usually done using basic Widgets. Sometimes, a custom rendering is preferred to achieve more advanced GUIs. This article presents a basic implementation of movable objects within a panel, with a popup menu to modify each object and their appearance.


I recently made the switch to Ubuntu, and I am quite delighted with it. I develop mainly on .NET, and my dependence on some Windows tools was the sticky point that made me wait this long. This is now not really an issue, thanks to the great work of the Mono and MonoDevelop teams, and the related libraries like GTK#, Cairo, and Pango.

Mono brings the .NET platform to Linux, and MonoDevelop offers a good alternative to Visual Studio, making the development of GUI applications on the GTK desktop almost painless.

I wrote a cooperation tool that I use on a daily basis, and my first goal after the switch was to port it over with Mono and GTK#. After a few adjustments caused by the fundamental differences between Windows Forms and GTK#, I have to admit that the port of the application was a lot easier than I initially thought; I replaced the UI controls by widgets, set the various forms to use the GTK# layout, and that is pretty much it. The rest of the non-UI code worked as expected, with an overall good performance.

An area that gave me the most difficulty was the usage of custom controls with a behavior that is different from the base GTK components. This is the focus of this article.


  • Visual representation of elements as a graph
  • Each element has a title and some properties represented on the rendering
  • Each element can be freely moved in the defined panel
  • Each element has its own popup menu to change its properties


After spending some time with the GTK documentation, the Fixed and DrawingArea widgets seem to be the obvious choice. The Fixed panel allows the placement of controls in absolute position. Although it is usually not recommended for most of the forms, it does pretty well in this case.

MVPanel is the inherited Fixed container that contains the movable object. It can be dropped in any form as a regular GTK widget. It contains the following methods:

  • AddMovingObject(string name,string caption, int x, int y) to add a new movable object.
  • RefreshChildren() to force the controls to redraw.

MVObject is a basic implementation of the custom control that will be movable within the MVPanel. It inherits from DrawingArea.

It contains the following methods/properties:

  • ShowMenu() to present to the user the options on that particular control.
  • Edit() to set the mode of the control in edit mode.
  • Redraw() to force the control to redraw.
  • Caption to get a basic property of the control.

Rendering a custom control

The rendering of a DrawingArea widget has to be fully specified. That is the drawback of being custom, but that is sometimes what is needed. The libraries Cairo, for graphics, and Pango, for text, seems to be recommended to render a consistent and contemporary look. Pango is used in this sample but not Cairo, since the rendering is quite simple.

The overridden method OnExposeEvent is where all the rendering is done. Here, the area is painted with dark gray and light gray, with some black lines to separate the two. Some text is also added in each colored area.

using System;
using Gtk;

namespace GtkControl.Control
    public class MVObject : Gtk.DrawingArea 
        public MVObject(string pName, string cap)
        public void Redraw()

               private Pango.Layout GetLayout(string text)
            Pango.Layout layout = new Pango.Layout(this.PangoContext);
            layout.FontDescription = Pango.FontDescription.FromString("monospace 8");
            layout.SetMarkup(&quot;<span color=\&quot;black\&quot;>&quot; + text + &quot;</span>&quot;);
            return layout;
        protected override bool OnExposeEvent (Gdk.EventExpose args)
            Gdk.Window win = args.Window;
            Gdk.Rectangle area = args.Area;
            win.DrawRectangle(Style.DarkGC(StateType.Normal), true, area);

            if (!string.IsNullOrEmpty(body))
            return true;

The QueueDraw method is a call to GTK to indicate that the control has to be redrawn.

Moving a control

A control cannot be moved, by default. But, the Fixed widget allows to put or move a control at a specified position. Also, the control needs to respond to the click of the mouse, the drag, and the release of the button.

using System;
using Gtk;

namespace GtkControl.Control
    public partial class MVPanel : Gtk.Bin
               private Widget currCtrl = null;
        private Widget currClone = null;
        private int origX = 0;
        private int origY = 0;
        private int pointX = 0;
        private int pointY = 0;

        //Mouse click on the controls of the panel  
        protected void OnButtonPressed(object sender, ButtonPressEventArgs a)
            //Save the origin of the move in origX and origY
            currCtrl = sender as Widget;
            currCtrl.TranslateCoordinates(this.fixed1,0,0,out origX, out origY);
                      //Save the pointer position relative the origin of the move
            fixed1.GetPointer(out pointX,out pointY);

        protected void OnButtonReleased(object sender, ButtonReleaseEventArgs a)
            //Final destination of the control
            MoveControl(currCtrl, a.Event.X,a.Event.Y,false);
            currCtrl = null;
            if (currClone!=null)
                currClone = null;

        //Called whenever a control is moved
        protected virtual void OnFixed1MotionNotifyEvent (object o, 
                               Gtk.MotionNotifyEventArgs args)
            //Rendering of a clone at the desired location
            if (currCtrl!=null)
                MoveClone(ref currClone, args.Event.X,args.Event.Y);

TranslateCoordinates is a GTK method, and gives back the relative position of a control in a container, here fixed1.

GetPointer is also a GTK method, and gives back the position of the cursor relative to a control.

The method MoveControl calls the fixed1.Move method and makes sure that the control stays within the panel. It also takes care of redrawing the control after it has been moved.

The method MoveClone calls MoveControl on a clone of the selected widget. This ensures that the user sees the control in both places (origin and destination). The clone is generated when the button is pressed, and follows the mouse movement until the button is released. The event MotionNotifyEvent can be dropped if the intermediate state is not desired.

A DrawingArea object does rendering, but doesn't respond to events. That is why the MVObject is embedded in an EventBox where all the mouse events are controlled. This is done in the GetMovingBox method:

//Create the event box for the custom control
private EventBox GetMovingBox(string name, string caption)
    MVObject ctrl = new MVObject(name,caption);
    EventBox rev = new EventBox();
    rev.Name = name;
    Console.WriteLine(&quot;Creating new moving object&quot;+rev.Name);
    return rev;

Using the MVPanel

The public method AddMovingObject(string name,string caption, int x, int y) is how an object is added to the panel, with the caption being the title, and the name the identification of the object.

//Add a movable control to the panel
public void AddMovingObject(string name,string caption, int x, int y)
    //Prevent the object to be displayed outside the panel
    if (x<0)
        x = 0;
    if (y<0)
        y = 0;
    //Create the box where the custom object is rendered
    EventBox ev = GetMovingBox(name,caption);
    //Add the events to control the movement of the box
    ev.ButtonPressEvent+=new ButtonPressEventHandler(OnButtonPressed);
    ev.ButtonReleaseEvent+=new ButtonReleaseEventHandler(OnButtonReleased);
    //Add the control to the panel

For the above screenshot, that translates to:

this.mvpanel1.AddMovingObject(&quot;mv1&quot;,&quot;Moving Object 1&quot;,10,10);
this.mvpanel1.AddMovingObject(&quot;mv2&quot;,&quot;Moving Object 2&quot;,10,55);

Showing a context menu on the control

The final piece of the sample, the context menu for the control.

The MVObject implements a public method ShowMenu that simply calls the Popup method of a predefined Gtk.Menu on the control.

Gtk.Menu popup = new Gtk.Menu();
Gtk.MenuItem text1 = new MenuItem(&quot;Test1&quot;);
text1.Activated+=new EventHandler(Menu1Clicked);
Gtk.MenuItem text2 = new MenuItem(&quot;Test2&quot;);
text2.Activated+=new EventHandler(Menu2Clicked);

Menu1Clicked changes the body property on the control and forces a redrawing. This alters its appearance through the OnExposedEvent method.

protected void Menu1Clicked(object sender, EventArgs args)
    body = &quot;Test1&quot;;

The call to the menu is defined by the mouse right click in MVPanel.OnButtonPress:

//Mouse click on the controls of the panel  
protected void OnButtonPressed(object sender, ButtonPressEventArgs a)
    //Right click
    if (a.Event.Button==3)
        if (sender is EventBox)
            ((sender as EventBox).Child as MVObject).ShowMenu();
    //Left click
    else if (a.Event.Button==1)
        if (a.Event.Type==Gdk.EventType.TwoButtonPress)
            if (sender is EventBox)
                //Calling the edit method of the control
                ((sender as EventBox).Child as MVObject).Edit();
            //Setup the origin of the move
            currCtrl = sender as Widget;
            currCtrl.TranslateCoordinates(this.fixed1,0,0,out origX, out origY);
            fixed1.GetPointer(out pointX,out pointY);

Points of interest

This implementation was easier than I thought it would be. Of course, this is not that useful in its current state, but gave me a good idea on the possibility of using GTK and Mono outside the regular widgets. I could well extend it as a small graphing framework for myself, but I am sure that it already exists as separate projects with a more robust design. However, this will definitely suit more than my needs, with a few additional adjustments.

I wanted to share this code as I didn't find a lot of existing documentation on custom rendering implementations, with complete code, on Mono.

There is, however, a lot of documentation on the base libraries, that I use as references:


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The GNU General Public License (GPLv3)


About the Author

Olivier Lecointre
Software Developer
United States United States
No Biography provided

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Comments and Discussions

GeneralPrint and Print Preview Pin
Anubhava Dimri20-Nov-10 1:30
memberAnubhava Dimri20-Nov-10 1:30 
Hello Sir,

I want to generate print and Print Privew with Mono and GTK.
So please help me.

If you can think then I Can.

Generaladvantages of gtk# over winforms Pin
Leblanc Meneses13-Jun-08 21:49
memberLeblanc Meneses13-Jun-08 21:49 
GeneralRe: advantages of gtk# over winforms Pin
Olivier Lecointre28-Jun-08 4:19
memberOlivier Lecointre28-Jun-08 4:19 
GeneralLunar eclipse Pin
Baimey4-Jun-08 19:43
memberBaimey4-Jun-08 19:43 
GeneralMonoDevelop Pin
thund3rstruck19-May-08 3:40
memberthund3rstruck19-May-08 3:40 
GeneralRe: MonoDevelop Pin
Adam Tauno Williams19-May-08 4:53
memberAdam Tauno Williams19-May-08 4:53 
GeneralRe: MonoDevelop Pin
Olivier Lecointre19-May-08 11:31
memberOlivier Lecointre19-May-08 11:31 

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