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Posted 28 Nov 2002


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Native Win32 Theme aware Owner-draw Controls without MFC

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14 Dec 20025 min read
How to apply themes to owner draw controls in a native Win32 project

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With the advent of XP, Microsoft have attempted to ensure that a lot of the responsibility for rendering the user interface now lies with the operating system rather than the programmer. Fine in most cases, but there are still some situations when you want to be able to draw the control yourself. One of the most common situations is a button with an image on it, and in this article we discuss implementing such a control using the native Win32 API. Although the discussion concerns owner-draw buttons specifically, the topics covered here will apply to all owner-draw controls. In this article we discuss how to implement a simple native Win32 application which contains a theme-aware owner-draw button that will run on both themed and non-themed Microsoft Windows 32-bit operating systems.


The Dialog Template

Open up the sample project (OwnerDraw.dsp) and have a look at IDD_MAIN_DLG. You will see that the UI comprises a dialog box with two buttons, one an owner-draw control button and one a normal push button (for reference). Open up the resource script (OwnerDraw.rc) as text and see that our owner-draw button is a normal system button but with the BS_OWNERDRAW button style flag set.

// Dialog

CAPTION "Owner Draw Sample"
FONT 8, "MS Sans Serif"
    CONTROL         "Owner Draw",IDC_OWNERDRAW_BTN,"Button",BS_OWNERDRAW | 
    PUSHBUTTON      "Normal",IDC_NORMAL_BTN,80,60,105,35
    PUSHBUTTON      "OK",IDOK,250,5,50,14
    PUSHBUTTON      "Cancel",IDCANCEL,250,22,50,14

With this flag set we are telling Windows that it is the responsibility of the button's owner (the dialog) to draw the button. You will find the implementation for the dialog in MainDlg.cpp.

What A State!

What a control looks like on the screen is a reflection of its state. A button, for example, could be pressed or focused. The pre-defined states that Windows can tell us about are :-

  • ODS_CHECKED The menu item is to be checked. This bit is used only in a menu.
  • ODS_COMBOBOXEDIT The drawing takes place in the selection field (edit control) of an owner-drawn combo box.
  • ODS_DEFAULT The item is the default item.
  • ODS_DISABLED The item is to be drawn as disabled.
  • ODS_FOCUS The item has the keyboard focus.
  • ODS_GRAYED The item is to be grayed. This bit is used only in a menu.
  • ODS_HOTLIGHT Windows 98/Me, Windows 2000/XP: The item is being hot-tracked, that is, the item will be highlighted when the mouse is on the item.
  • ODS_INACTIVE Windows 98/Me, Windows 2000/XP: The item is inactive and the window associated with the menu is inactive.
  • ODS_NOACCEL Windows 2000/XP: The control is drawn without the keyboard accelerator cues.
  • ODS_NOFOCUSRECT Windows 2000/XP: The control is drawn without focus indicator cues.
  • ODS_SELECTED The menu item's status is selected.

But obviously not all of these apply to our button. Although Windows will notify us if any of the relevant states listed above change, in our example we only redraw the button in the following situations :-

  • It gains the focus
  • It looses the focus
  • It is pressed
  • It is released
  • (specially for XP) If it is "hot".

Hot Tracking

XP users may have noticed that system buttons are highlighted (or tracked) when the mouse is over the button. However, we don't receive any special notification from Windows when a system button is being hot-tracked. For that we need to determine if the mouse has moved over the button. In our example, we have used the old 16-bit technique of sub-classing - basically we have replaced the windows procedure of the owner-draw button with our own procedure so that we can listen out for WM_MOUSEMOVE messages. When the mouse moves over the button the procedure will receive the WM_MOUSEMOVE message and then we can redraw the button highlighted.

Getting The Message

It is the WM_DRAWITEM notification from the operating system that will prompt us to redraw the button. See that provided with the notification is information on the current state of the button according to Windows. Coupled with the extra state information gleaned from sub-classing we now have enough information at hand in order to render the button.

Double Clicks

When the owner-draw button is double-clicked it sends out a BN_DBLCLK notification rather than responding as if it had been pressed and released twice over. In order to change this behaviour we can make our owner-draw button post the WM_LBUTTONDOWN notification back to itself when it receives a WM_LBUTTONDBLCLK message.


So far, so good. The next problem is deciding what the button should look like. The first step is to determine if the operating system supports themes. The function InitThemes() attempts to load UXTHEME.DLL dynamically. Don't try and statically link to the UXTHEME library as the application will fail to run on systems that don't ship with the dll. We load the following functions: - OpenThemeData,

GetThemeBackgroundContentRect, DrawThemeBackground, DrawThemeText, 
and CloseThemeData.

Drawing The Button

Drawing the button is then a four stage process: -

  • Stage 1 - draw the background (including the frame).
  • Stage 2 - draw the icon.
  • Stage 3 - write on the text.
  • Stage 4 - draw the focus rectangle.

A Change Of Theme

When the user has changed the theme the operating system posts a WM_THEMECHANGED message. It is then a simple matter of unloading and then reloading the theme library to ensure the button is rendered correctly.

Reusing the Sample Code

To add basic support of themes to your application copy lines 27 to 82 (inclusive) from MainDlg.cpp. You must include the headers UXTHEME.H and TMSCHEMA.H. Remember also to include a manifest and to call InitCommonControls when your application is first launched. The functions PrepareImageRect and DrawTheIcon are used to put the icon on the button. The WM_DRAWITEM handler demonstrates how to draw a themed and non-themed button, depending on the operating system.


The functions PrepareImageRect and DrawTheIcon() are taken from the CButtonST class by Davide Calabro.


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

Ewan Ward
Web Developer
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Having been a jobbing programmer for longer than he cares to remember, he has finally bitten the bullet to seek his fortune with a (fairly recent) start up called "Heavy Horse". They have been doing consultancy for some time, but Ewan has joined them as they make their move into product development. So much for the plug (does this mean a pay rise guys?) He spends far too much time at the keyboard and not enough time with his young family. His favourite things in life are reading, rambling, taking in big gulps of fresh country air, and (last but by no means least!) being a family man.

Comments and Discussions

GeneralReally? SfaeJ Guess You Cant Read Pin
xox_c0bra_xox21-Feb-11 14:53
Memberxox_c0bra_xox21-Feb-11 14:53 
GeneralThis is the WRONG way to do it -- use NM_CUSTOMDRAW instead Pin
SfaeJ18-Jul-05 13:10
MemberSfaeJ18-Jul-05 13:10 
GeneralRe: This is the WRONG way to do it -- use NM_CUSTOMDRAW instead Pin
Jon Feider21-Oct-05 7:00
MemberJon Feider21-Oct-05 7:00 
AnswerRe: This is the WRONG way to do it -- use NM_CUSTOMDRAW instead Pin
Stephen C. Steel24-Nov-05 7:41
MemberStephen C. Steel24-Nov-05 7:41 
GeneralButton does not go back up if mouse drags off button while clicked Pin
skst16-Jun-03 10:00
Memberskst16-Jun-03 10:00 
Generalfew drawing problems Pin
Tibor Blazko26-Mar-03 22:32
MemberTibor Blazko26-Mar-03 22:32 
GeneralCompiler errors (Win9x) Pin
Moak22-Jan-03 0:22
MemberMoak22-Jan-03 0:22 
GeneralRe: Compiler errors (Win9x) Pin
Christian Graus22-Jan-03 0:27
mveChristian Graus22-Jan-03 0:27 
GeneralRe: Compiler errors (Win9x) Pin
Moak22-Jan-03 1:22
MemberMoak22-Jan-03 1:22 
GeneralRe: Compiler errors (Win9x) Pin
funkycochise15-Mar-04 22:48
Memberfunkycochise15-Mar-04 22:48 
GeneralNice Work Pin
Jeremy Falcon15-Jan-03 3:34
professionalJeremy Falcon15-Jan-03 3:34 
GeneralApologies to Davide Calabro Pin
Ewan Ward10-Dec-02 21:57
MemberEwan Ward10-Dec-02 21:57 

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