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Posted 28 Jun 2003


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Console Enhancements

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4.87/5 (103 votes)
2 Jul 2003CPOL7 min read
This article enhances console support in .NET such as clearing, colored text, and more; enables console support in Windows apps as well as DOS apps; and also eases testing and debugging of .NET applications.


System.Console is a class provided by the framework to handle console I/O and redirection. The Win32 API also supports a set of console APIs. Win32 supports a single console for each application (process), even a Windows Forms Application. Consoles support a number of features such as buffering, full-screen mode, colors, and so on. You can call another process and capture its output into your own console. With console applications, the console is inherited from the calling process; however, Windows application are detached from any console.

Unfortunately, the Console class does not take advantage of most of the features supported in the console APIs.  So, I introduced a new class called WinConsole, that provides more of the functionality offered by the Win32 class. It provides some of the more popular console functions, but not yet all of them. It can be used in both Console and Windows Applications and probably Class Libraries as well. I plan to add the full range of functionality sometime in the future.

I initially intended to use it for debugging purposes and was going to call it DebugConsole, but it is also used as a replacement or extension for the existing Console class. I found that testing a low-level UI-less, data structure or class in a full-fledged Windows Application can be very difficult. Standard I/O no longer work. The Debugger Output Window is just a poor substitute for the console. It has fewer capabilities than the console and requires flipping between the application and the debugger. Now, with WinConsole, Console.WriteLine() and Console.ReadLine() are both available for WinForms apps.

Web applications are still out of luck. Sorry.

WinConsole in Console Application

In Console applications, WinConsole provides additional features such as the following:

1) Hiding and showing the console window (WinConsole.Visible = false)
2) Clearing the console window (WinConsole.Clear())
3) Getting or setting the cursor location
4) Changing the color of text to one of 16 different console colors (WinConsole.Color = ConsoleColor.Red)

<Sample image

5) Having standard error output written with a different color as demonstrated above.
6) Automatically flashing window and beeping when an error message is written out. (WinConsole.Beep())
7) Capturing asserts and traces to standard error each with a different color scheme

To read input and write output, you can use Console.WriteLine and Console.ReadLine. You can also use WinConsole.WriteLine or WinConsole.ReadLine, but it always defers to the Console functions.


WinConsole in Windows Application

WinConsole truly shines in a Windows application environment. It enables the use of an additional console window alongside the main application window, which can be hidden and shown anytime. It contains all the additional enhancements, listed above for Console applications, and more.

WinConsole is especially useful for debugging and tracing. Testing data structures becomes a lot harder when moving from a console app to a windows application, because of the omission of console window to report interesting messages. The standard Debug.Write, Trace.Write call OutputDebugString, which sends data to the limited Debugger's output window.

With WinConsole, calls from Debug.Write(Line), Trace.Write(Line), and even Console.Write(Line) and Console.Error.Write(Line) can output to the application console window, each in its own independent color. In addition to coloring, there is a flashing mode that can be selected (flash once, flash until response) to alert the developer/tester to warning and error messages.

Input can also be read from the console window through Console.Read(Line). This allows the application to easily receive input from the user in a simple synchronous model instead of a more complex event-driven model. In this way, an entire command-line system can be developed for the application while it is running for performing various tests.

The best part is that the console window is owned and painted separately by the operating system in a separate thread, so that it is always viewable while debugging even after entering break mode or flipping back and forth between the debugger and the application. In contrast, normal application windows are frozen--they cannot be redrawn since event processing is suspended after a break.

WinConsole API

To use the WinConsole in a Windows application, WinConsole.Visible should be assigned at some point before the console is used. Of course, the assignment needs to be true in order to see any contents. Alternatively, WinConsole.Initialize() can be called, but the console may not be visible.

In console applications, WinConsole.Initialize() is sufficient. Most of the properties and methods in WinConsole will cause an initialization to occur as well, if it has not already occurred.

Below is a list of properties.

<FONT size=2>Buffer</FONT>(<FONT size=2>IntPtr</FONT>) Get the current Win32 buffer handle
<FONT size=2>BufferSize</FONT>(<FONT size=2>Coord</FONT>) Returns the size of buffer
<FONT size=2>Color</FONT>(<FONT size=2>ConsoleColor</FONT>) Gets or sets the current text and background color and other attributes of text
<FONT size=2>CtrlBreakPressed</FONT>(<FONT size=2>bool</FONT>) indicates whether control break was pressed. Value is automatically cleared after reading.
<FONT size=2>CursorPosition</FONT>(<FONT size=2>Coord)</FONT> Gets and sets the current position of the cursor
<FONT size=2>Handle</FONT>(IntPtr) Get the HWND of the console window
<FONT size=2>MaximumScreenSize</FONT>(<FONT size=2>Coord</FONT>) Returns the maximum size of the screen given the desktop dimensions
<FONT size=2>ParentHandle</FONT>Gets and sets a new parent <FONT size=2>hwnd</FONT> to the console window
<FONT size=2>ScreenSize</FONT>(<FONT size=2>Coord</FONT>) Returns a coordinates of visible window of the buffer
<FONT size=2>Title</FONT>Gets or sets the title of the console window
<FONT size=2>Visible </FONT>Specifies whether the console window should be visible or hidden

To change the color of text, Color must be assigned a ConsoleColor.

ConsoleColor is an enum consist of flags Red, Blue, Green, Intensified, RedBG, BlueBG, GreenBG, IntensifiedBG. The BG colors are for the background color. By using various combinations of each color flags, you can achieve 16 colors for text and 16 colors for the background. To produce white, Red|Green|Blue|Intensified must be set. When the intensified flag is missing, the unintensified color is midway between black and the chosen color. So, white becomes gray, red becomes dark red, and so on.

Below is a list of properties.

<FONT size=2>Beep()</FONT>Produces a simple beep
<FONT size=2>Clear()</FONT>Clear the console window
<FONT size=2>Flash(bool)</FONT>Flashes the console window (Currently now working on my machine, if you can figure out why, I would be grateful)
<FONT size=2>GetWindowPosition(out int x, out int y, out int width, out int height)</FONT>Gets the Console Window location and size in pixels
<FONT size=2>Initialize()</FONT>Initializes <FONT size=2>WinConsole</FONT> -- should be called at the start of the program using it
<FONT size=2>LaunchNotepadDialog(string arguments)</FONT> 
<FONT size=2>RedirectDebugOutput(bool clear, ConsoleColor color, bool beep)</FONT>Redirects debug output to the console
clear - clear all other listeners first
color - color to use for display debug output
<FONT size=2>RedirectTraceOutput(bool clear, ConsoleColor color)<BR> </FONT>Redirects trace output to the console
<FONT size=2>SetWindowPosition(int x, int y, int width, int height)</FONT>Sets the console window location and size in pixels

In addition to these methods and properties, WinConsole also includes all the standard Console methods and properties, which it simply redirects to the Console class, so that there is exactly no difference between calling a Console method and its corresponding WinConsole method. For example, WinConsole.WriteLine calls Console.WriteLine.

Coloring Standard Error Output, Debug Output or Trace Output

I have also included a ConsoleWriter class, which can be used to provided colored output, flashing, and/or beeping to the console window.

ConsoleWriter is constructed by calling new on the ConsoleWriter(TextWriter writer, ConsoleColor color, ConsoleFlashingMode mode, bool beep) constructor.

Redirecting Standard Error:
    Console.Error = new ConsoleWriter(Console.Error, ConsoleColor.Red|ConsoleColor.Intensified, 0, true);

Redirecting Debug or Trace Output:
    Debug.Listeners.Remove("default"); // Debug.Listeners.Clear();<BR>    Debug.Listeners.Add( new TextWriterTraceListener( new ConsoleWriter(Console.Error, ...) ) );

You can also use the convenience function: WinConsole.RedirectDebugOutput(...).

Launch Notepad Dialog

At Microsoft, virtually every group uses a command-line environment for building, testing and so on; this can sometimes make it difficult to get a complex set of information from a user, because of the UI-less environment.

Thus, the infamous notepad dialog was invented. A command would start a notepad.exe with a filename argument and wait for it to exit. The file is prepopulated with help comments and default information. The user edits the file and indicates OK by exiting notepad. The suspended command, which was waiting for notepad to exit, is now resumed and ready to process the notepad file.

The image shows a typical notepad dialog.

Sample image

WinConsole.LaunchNotepadDialog takes a filename argument, and launches a notepad dialog, in which the user can modified the specified file.


This represents just one of my articles in the debugging series. There will be others.

I'd appreciate your vote; it is a powerful motivating force for me.

Version History

  • June 28, 2003 - Original article.


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

Written By
CEO SoftPerson; previously, Microsoft
United States United States
I am a software entrepreneur and former Microsoft Excel developer

I founded SoftPerson LLC ( to build software using artificial intelligence to perform tasks associated with people. My business plan was a finalist in a national competition.

I helped develop Microsoft Excel 97, 2000 and XP. I received a BA from Harvard College in Applied Mathematics/Computer Science and an MBA from UCLA in technology entrepreneurship. I also obtained an MCSE/MCSD certification in 1997. My IQ is in the 99.9 percentile. I received a Microsoft MVP award in 2006.

My technical blog on .NET technologies is
My personal website is
My company website is

Comments and Discussions

GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
Sly666x666x66614-Aug-10 2:59
Sly666x666x66614-Aug-10 2:59 
QuestionHow could i scroll the WinConsole window in WinAPP? Pin
liaokobe6-May-08 22:01
liaokobe6-May-08 22:01 
AnswerRe: How could i scroll the WinConsole window in WinAPP? Pin
Fiwel30-Jun-08 9:24
Fiwel30-Jun-08 9:24 
AnswerRe: How could i scroll the WinConsole window in WinAPP? Pin
Fiwel30-Jun-08 9:38
Fiwel30-Jun-08 9:38 
QuestionHow to use Pin
aamir ali6-Nov-07 0:16
aamir ali6-Nov-07 0:16 
GeneralConsole for a Win App started from command line Pin
Bertrand Boichon13-Sep-06 4:22
Bertrand Boichon13-Sep-06 4:22 
GeneralRe: Console for a Win App started from command line Pin
EverythingsTaken16-Aug-07 6:18
EverythingsTaken16-Aug-07 6:18 
AnswerRe: Console for a Win App started from command line Pin
EverythingsTaken16-Aug-07 15:04
EverythingsTaken16-Aug-07 15:04 
GeneralEnhancement - Activate a buffer by code Pin
Jordi Ceballos16-Jun-06 4:35
Jordi Ceballos16-Jun-06 4:35 
AnswerRe: Enhancement - Activate a buffer by code Pin
Kermittt18-Oct-06 13:53
Kermittt18-Oct-06 13:53 
QuestionDetect how application was started Pin
gewe21-Apr-06 5:20
gewe21-Apr-06 5:20 
GeneralEnhancement - How to set the icon for the console window Pin
BruceN22-Feb-06 21:13
BruceN22-Feb-06 21:13 
Questionhow about a .ReadLine(string) that shows the message and exits after any pressed key? Pin
User 1791293-Jan-06 22:39
professionalUser 1791293-Jan-06 22:39 
AnswerRe: how about a .ReadLine(string) that shows the message and exits after any pressed key? Pin
User 1791294-Jan-06 3:35
professionalUser 1791294-Jan-06 3:35 
GeneralBug In ctrl-break-handler Pin
frankgthw22-Aug-05 6:42
frankgthw22-Aug-05 6:42 
GeneralClear the screen with attributes Pin
frankgthw22-Aug-05 6:01
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GeneralRe: Clear the screen with attributes Pin
Simplicio Jison Jr10-May-06 13:29
Simplicio Jison Jr10-May-06 13:29 
GeneralRe: Clear the screen with attributes Pin
frankgthw10-May-06 22:29
frankgthw10-May-06 22:29 
GeneralSince this is so good Pin
xlar5418-Aug-05 11:55
xlar5418-Aug-05 11:55 
GeneralFlashInfo not passing hwind Pin
microsci12-May-05 16:29
microsci12-May-05 16:29 
Questionhow to include in cpp soln Pin
amolaggarwal4-Apr-05 8:00
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GeneralMultiple Monitors Pin
BruceN11-Dec-04 5:25
BruceN11-Dec-04 5:25 
GeneralSingle Key From the Keyboard Pin
Member 84306627-Apr-04 15:04
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GeneralRe: Single Key From the Keyboard Pin
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AnswerRe: Single Key From the Keyboard Pin
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