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Posted 10 Jul 2009


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ListBox with Disableable Items

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3.50/5 (4 votes)
29 Jul 2009CPOL4 min read
Provides code for a ListBox with items that can be disabled
Demo project in action.


Recently I needed to create an application where certain features were turned on or off depending on the customer. A group of these features were contained in a pair of ListBoxes, but I couldn't find any way to disable certain items in the lists. I decided to make my own class which derives from ListBox and here's what I ended up with.

Now with databinding! It actually wasn't as complicated as I thought it would be. More information below.

Using the Code

The DisableListBox contains a list of booleans, ListEnables, which defines which items (in Items) are enabled and disabled. ListEnables[i] being true meaning Items[i] is enabled. I've provided functions to add/insert/remove/removeAt and clear items, so you don't have to worry about keeping the two lists synchronized.

public void AddItem(object item, bool enabled);

public void InsertItem(int index, object item, bool enabled);

public void RemoveItem(object item);

public void RemoveItemAt(int index);

public void ClearItems();

Now if you want to enable or disable items after adding them, I created a few simple methods for that:

public void EnableItem(object item);

public void EnableItemAt(int index);

public void DisableItem(object item);

public void DisableItemAt(int index);

I've also left ItemEnables exposed in case you want to mess around with the Items and ItemEnables lists yourself.

Now for the fun part. Version 1.1 allows databinding. The control exposes a property EnableMember which works just like DisplayMember and ValueMember. EnableMember will take the value in the property and use it to determine whether the item is enabled. It uses Convert.ToBoolean so it can handle numeric types and strings. If you don't set EnableMember when databinding, all of the items will default to enabled. Here's the code which runs when EnableMember or DataSource change:

private void RefreshItemEnables()
    // Get enable property

    // Clear enable list

    // Fill enable list
    for (int i = 0; i < Items.Count; i++)

    // Ensure disabled items are not selected
    for (int i = SelectedItems.Count - 1; i >= 0; i--)
        if (!ItemEnables[SelectedIndices[i]])

private void GetEnableProperty()
    // If it should be bound to a property
    if (DataSource != null && EnableMember != string.Empty)
        // Clear property
        enableProperty = null;

        // Find property
        foreach (PropertyDescriptor property in DataManager.GetItemProperties())
            if (property.Name == enableMember)
                enableProperty = property;

private bool ProduceEnable(int i)
    // If databound and enable property is set
    if (DataSource != null && enableProperty != null)
            // Convert property to boolean
            return Convert.ToBoolean(enableProperty.GetValue(Items[i]));
        // Object couldn't be converted to boolean
        catch (InvalidCastException)
            return false;
        return true;

I also had to handle when items in the data source changed, which is done by registering some of the ListBox's DataManager (which is actually a CurrencyManager) events.

void DataManager_ListChanged(object sender, ListChangedEventArgs e)
    switch (e.ListChangedType)
        // Handle items being added
        case ListChangedType.ItemAdded:
            ItemEnables.Insert(e.NewIndex, ProduceEnable(e.NewIndex));
        // Handle items being deleted
        case ListChangedType.ItemDeleted:

void DataManager_ItemChanged(object sender, ItemChangedEventArgs e)
    // Handle items changing
    if (e.Index > -1)
        SetEnabledAt(e.Index, ProduceEnable(e.Index));

A lot of the work went into making sure the disabled items couldn't be selected. For this I had to override WndProc and catch the following messages:

// Page Up/Down
private const int VK_PRIOR = 0x21;
private const int VK_NEXT = 0x22;

// End/Home
private const int VK_END = 0x23;
private const int VK_HOME = 0x24;

// Arrow keys
private const int VK_LEFT = 0x25;
private const int VK_UP = 0x26;
private const int VK_RIGHT = 0x27;
private const int VK_DOWN = 0x28;

private const int WM_KEYDOWN = 0x100;
private const int WM_MOUSEMOVE = 0x200;
private const int WM_LBUTTONDOWN = 0x201;

First I handled mouse selection:

// Intercept mouse selection
if (m.Msg == WM_MOUSEMOVE || m.Msg == WM_LBUTTONDOWN)
    // Get mouse location
    Point clickedPt = new Point();
    clickedPt.X = lParam & 0x0000FFFF;
    clickedPt.Y = lParam >> 16;

    // If point is on a disabled item, ignore mouse
    for (int i = 0; i < Items.Count; i++)
        if (!ItemEnables[i] && GetItemRectangle(i).Contains(clickedPt))

Then keyboard selection (for brevity I've only shown half the code):

// Intercept keyboard selection
if (m.Msg == WM_KEYDOWN)
    // Handle single down
    if (wParam == VK_DOWN || wParam == VK_RIGHT)
        // Select next enabled item
        for (int i = SelectedIndex + 1; i < Items.Count; i++)
            if (ItemEnables[i])
                SelectedIndex = i;

    // Handle single up
    else if (wParam == VK_UP || wParam == VK_LEFT)
    // Handle page up
    else if (wParam == VK_PRIOR)
        // Ignore if empty
        if (ItemEnables.Count == 0)

        // Get current selected index
        int currentIndex = Math.Max(0, SelectedIndex);

        // Get number of items to jump
        int toJump = NumVisibleItems() - 1;

        // Check if there are enough items to jump a full page
        if (currentIndex >= toJump)
            // Jump at least a full page if possible
            for (int i = currentIndex - toJump; i >= 0; i--)
                if (ItemEnables[i])
                    SelectedIndex = i;
        // If there aren't enough items, try to jump as far as possible
            toJump = currentIndex;

        // Jump as far as possible without ending on a disabled item
        for (int i = currentIndex - toJump; i <= currentIndex; i++)
            if (ItemEnables[i])
                SelectedIndex = i;

    // Handle page down
    else if (wParam == VK_NEXT)
    // Handle end
    else if (wParam == VK_END)
        // Select closest enabled item to end
        for (int i = ItemEnables.Count - 1; i >= 0; i--)
            if (ItemEnables[i])
                SelectedIndex = i;

    // Handle home
    else if (wParam == VK_HOME)

The final task was to handle the drawing of the disabled items. This was done by overriding OnDrawItem after first setting DrawMode = DrawMode.OwnerDrawFixed; in the constructor. I decided to expose two properties, EnabledItemColor and DisabledItemColor to set the text color of the items. These are defaulted to Black and Gray respectively in the constructor. I also added code to handle RightToLeft being set and making sure it displays exactly like a ListBox.

protected override void OnDrawItem(DrawItemEventArgs e)
    // Stops control from throwing errors if empty or in design mode
    if (e.Index > -1 && !suspendDraw && !IsDesignMode())
        // Draw the background

        // Select color to use
        Color color;
        if (Enabled && ItemEnables[e.Index])
            if ((e.State & DrawItemState.Selected) == DrawItemState.Selected)
                color = Color.White;
                color = EnabledItemColor;
            color = DisabledItemColor;

        // Align text
        Rectangle shiftedBounds;
        TextFormatFlags alignment;
        if (base.RightToLeft == RightToLeft.No)
            // To look the same as ListBox, the bounds have to be shifted
            shiftedBounds = new Rectangle(e.Bounds.X - 1, e.Bounds.Y, e.Bounds.Width,
            alignment = TextFormatFlags.Left;
            // To look the same as ListBox, the bounds have to be shifted
            shiftedBounds = new Rectangle(e.Bounds.X + 2, e.Bounds.Y, e.Bounds.Width,
            alignment = TextFormatFlags.Right;

        // Get string to display
        string displayString = GetItemText(Items[e.Index]);

        // Draw the string
        TextRenderer.DrawText(e.Graphics, displayString, e.Font, shiftedBounds, color,

        // Draw the focus rectangle

    // Call base OnDrawItem

Points of Interest

I had a fun time trying to get the name of the DisableListBox to show up in design mode, just like ListBox does it. Basically what this entailed was having the DrawMode set to Normal in the designer but OwnerDrawFixed otherwise. Here's all the code that handles this:

// Set to normal so name shows up in design mode
private DrawMode drawMode = DrawMode.Normal;

/// <summary>
/// Gets or sets the drawing mode for the control.
/// </summary>
[Browsable(false), EditorBrowsable(EditorBrowsableState.Never)]
public override DrawMode DrawMode
    get { return drawMode; }
        drawMode = value;

        // Keeps base.DrawMode set to Normal so name shows up in the designer
        if (!IsDesignMode()) base.DrawMode = value;

/// <summary>
/// Initializes a new instance of the DisableListBox class.
/// </summary>
public DisableListBox()
    DrawMode = DrawMode.OwnerDrawFixed;

private bool IsDesignMode()
    return DesignMode || LicenseManager.UsageMode == LicenseUsageMode.Designtime;

The IsDesignMode() method is there because DesignMode doesn't like to work all the time. You can read more about that here.

Special thanks go to Hans Passant (nobugz) and Nishant Sivakumar on the MSDN forums for helping me out with this.

Known Bug(s)

Changing the EnableMember while data is bound causes enabled items to become disabled. If a previously enabled item was the selected item, it is unselected. Unfortunately, CurrencyManager (which handles data binding) has no "unselected" position. If the data source changes before you select something else, the list will refresh and the disabled item will now be selected.

I don't know how to solve this because there's always the case where all the items are disabled so I can't just set it to another item instead of removing the selection. Also, in this case the OnSelectedIndexChanged event doesn't even fire when the item is reselected. I'm clueless how to fix this so any suggestions are welcome.

The other "bugs" are that the DrawMode, SelectionMode and Sorted properties have been hidden. DrawMode has been hidden because changing it to Normal doesn't show the disabled items, and if you're going to change it to OwnerDrawVariable you'll have to change the OnDrawItem code anyways, so at that point you can unhide it if you want to be able to switch between OwnerDrawFixed and OwnerDrawVariable.

Sorted isn't implemented because to keep the two lists (Items and ItemEnables) synchronized I'll have to write a custom sort in the class, which just seems kind of wasteful. Plus I doubt anyone would use it all that much. If anyone would like to see it added just comment and we'll see.

SelectionMode is hidden because the multi-select options really screw things up. I don't know how to handle shift-clicking when there are disabled items in the middle, so like Sorted I won't be implementing this unless I get a request for it.


  • July 29, 2009
    • Updated to v1.2
    • Added EnableMemberError event which fires if an EnableMember value can't be converted to boolean, giving the exception and the index of the item
    • Bug Fix: Adding empty data source after the constructor threw an exception
    • Bug Fix: Updating bound data source threw an exception
    • Bug Fix: Page Up/Down and Home/End would let you select disabled items
    • Bug Prevention: Disallows changing SelectionMode and Sorted until those features are implemented
  • July 17, 2009
    • Updated to v1.1
    • Added data binding and better drawing
  • July 10, 2009
    • Submitted article


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


About the Author

Scott Sherin
Canada Canada
No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

Generalin fact, the item can be selected in a special case... Pin
jtxd9-May-11 0:38
Memberjtxd9-May-11 0:38 
GeneralError when setting datasource Pin
janniebun26-Jul-09 23:43
Memberjanniebun26-Jul-09 23:43 
GeneralRe: Error when setting datasource Pin
Scott Sherin27-Jul-09 9:30
MemberScott Sherin27-Jul-09 9:30 
GeneralRe: Error when setting datasource Pin
janniebun27-Jul-09 9:41
Memberjanniebun27-Jul-09 9:41 
GeneralRe: Error when setting datasource Pin
Scott Sherin29-Jul-09 18:32
MemberScott Sherin29-Jul-09 18:32 
JokeRe: Error when setting datasource Pin
janniebun30-Jul-09 23:19
Memberjanniebun30-Jul-09 23:19 
GeneralI think DataGridView would be better. Pin
Joe Sonderegger20-Jul-09 19:11
MemberJoe Sonderegger20-Jul-09 19:11 
GeneralData Binding Pin
Jalapeno Bob15-Jul-09 6:16
professionalJalapeno Bob15-Jul-09 6:16 
GeneralNow, With Data Binding Pin
Jalapeno Bob22-Jul-09 18:24
professionalJalapeno Bob22-Jul-09 18:24 
GeneralAlternatives Pin
RTate14-Jul-09 7:01
MemberRTate14-Jul-09 7:01 
You might be able to disable items by prepending \ or \] (backslash or backslash open-brace) to the beginning of text strings that you add to the listbox. This may even work for combo boxes ... It has been a while since I wrote any native Win32 dialog code.
GeneralRe: Alternatives Pin
Fiwel14-Jul-09 11:03
MemberFiwel14-Jul-09 11:03 
GeneralGood one Pin
Md. Marufuzzaman11-Jul-09 6:38
professionalMd. Marufuzzaman11-Jul-09 6:38 
JokeWord of the day: disableable Pin
Simpzon10-Jul-09 23:48
MemberSimpzon10-Jul-09 23:48 
GeneralRe: Word of the day: disableable Pin
Scott Sherin11-Jul-09 7:39
MemberScott Sherin11-Jul-09 7:39 

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