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Posted 3 Mar 2004

Tabbed Dialog without Property Sheets

, 3 Mar 2004
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How to use CDialog pointers to make a tab-controlled window


Have you ever wanted to create a "tabbed window" effect, but found the amount of information on the web lacking? Or, did you find out how to use "property sheets", but thought that method was too complicated?


I was in both of those situations for years, and it seemed like I would never be able to use tabs how I wanted. That I couldn't "get" property sheets may be a testament of my programming ability. Yet, it may have been a more mature programmer who was able to create a different, simpler method. I submit this method in the hope that it's usefulness outweighs any criticisms.

How It Works

Uses normal dialogs, along with some positioning and hiding. Child windows are placed on top of a tab control in the main window.

Getting Started

There are 3 major steps to getting this to work:

  • Prepare the dialogs
  • Set up main dialog's header file
  • Code main dialog's methods

Prepare the Dialogs

Make a tab control on the main window. This is the style I used, but it shouldn't be important:

Create four standard blank dialogs, one for each tab, with these settings (style is important):

Check "Control parent" in "Extended Styles" if you want to be able to tab in and out from the tab control and the child windows. Create the classes for each child dialog as you normally would in ClassWizard, and that's all you need to set up for them! I put a simple, appropriately labeled Static Text control on each one just so I knew that it worked. You can resize the dialogs to the planned run-time size for easier arrangement of their controls, but that will be handled programmatically when the child window is shown.

Set Up Main Dialog's Header File

Include child window header files:

#include "GeneralDlg.h"
#include "DisplayDlg.h"
#include "SoundsDlg.h"
#include "AdvancedDlg.h"

// CSettingsDlg dialog

Create instances of the child window classes and the method for switching the child windows:

     CSettingsDlg(CWnd* pParent = NULL); // standard constructor

     CGeneralDlg m_dGeneralDlg;
     CDisplayDlg m_dDisplayDlg;
     CSoundsDlg m_dSoundsDlg;
     CAdvancedDlg m_dAdvancedDlg;

     void ShowWindowNumber(int number);

Create a CRect structure to hold the position of the child windows:

     CRect m_rSettingsRect;

Using ClassWizard, add a WM_SHOWWINDOW message to the main dialog, and a TCN_SELCHANGE message to the tab control.

Code Main Dialog's Methods

Method for showing and hiding child windows:

void CSettingsDlg::ShowWindowNumber(int number)
     // This example uses four windows
     int windowCount = 4;

     // Validate the parameter
     if ((number >= 0) && (number < windowCount))
          // Create and assign pointers to each window
          CDialog *m_dPointer[4];

          m_dPointer[0] = &m_dGeneralDlg;
          m_dPointer[1] = &m_dDisplayDlg;
          m_dPointer[2] = &m_dSoundsDlg;
          m_dPointer[3] = &m_dAdvancedDlg;

          // Hide every window except for the chosen one
          for (int count = 0; count < windowCount; count++)
               if (count != number)
               else if (count == number)
                    // Show the chosen window and set it's location
                    m_dPointer[count]->SetWindowPos(&wndTop, m_rSettingsRect.left,
               , m_rSettingsRect.right,
                         m_rSettingsRect.bottom, SWP_SHOWWINDOW);


Whenever the main window is shown, show the first child window:

void CSettingsDlg::OnShowWindow(BOOL bShow, UINT nStatus) 
     CDialog::OnShowWindow(bShow, nStatus);

     // When the dialog is shown, display the first window
     if (bShow)

When a tab is selected, show the right child window:

void CSettingsDlg::OnSelchangeTab(NMHDR* pNMHDR, LRESULT* pResult) 
     // Get the number of the currently selected tab, and show its window

     // Do something with the "formal parameters" so 
     // the compiler is happy in warning level 4
     pNMHDR = NULL;
     pResult = NULL;

Fill out OnInitDialog:

BOOL CSettingsDlg::OnInitDialog()

     // Set the icon for this dialog.  The framework does this automatically
     //  when the application's main window is not a dialog
     SetIcon(m_hIcon, TRUE);  // Set big icon
     SetIcon(m_hIcon, FALSE); // Set small icon

     CRect tabRect;


     // Set the size and location of the child windows based on the tab control
     m_rSettingsRect.left = 13; = 44;
     m_rSettingsRect.right = tabRect.Width() - 7;
     m_rSettingsRect.bottom = tabRect.Height() - 38;

     // Create the child windows for the main window class
     m_dGeneralDlg.Create(IDD_GENERAL, this);
     m_dDisplayDlg.Create(IDD_DISPLAY, this);
     m_dSoundsDlg.Create(IDD_SOUNDS, this);
     m_dAdvancedDlg.Create(IDD_ADVANCED, this);

     // This is redundant with the default value, considering what OnShowWindow does

     // Set the titles for each tab
     TCITEM tabItem;
     tabItem.mask = TCIF_TEXT;

     tabItem.pszText = _T("  &General   ");
     m_cTab.InsertItem(0, &tabItem);

     tabItem.pszText = _T("  Display   ");
     m_cTab.InsertItem(1, &tabItem);

     tabItem.pszText = _T("  Sounds    ");
     m_cTab.InsertItem(2, &tabItem);

     tabItem.pszText = _T("  Advanced  ");
     m_cTab.InsertItem(3, &tabItem);
     return TRUE;  // return TRUE  unless you set the focus to a control

Now you can build it and see if it works!

Points of Interest

I didn't realize the current code in ShowWindowNumber right away. It had a lot of if/else if/../else conditions with essentially the same code in each. I would not have shared this code if I had not found a better way to switch the windows. Thus, ShowWindowNumber is the most important and interesting part of this article.

Where Can You Go From Here?

You can use this idea to make a settings dialog in your application.

The members of each tab window can be accessed like this:

// m_dSettingsDlg is the instance of the settings dialog
// m_sString is attached to an EditBox in the General dialog

CString string = m_dSettingsDlg.m_dGeneralDlg.m_sString;

There is a lot of room for improvement if used in an actual application, but this shows the basic implementation.


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

Andrew Lawrence
Software Developer
United States United States
Programmer, artist, philosopher.

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Comments and Discussions

Questionprogrammatically select a different tab Pin
victoria195020-Oct-13 20:21
membervictoria195020-Oct-13 20:21 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
TAKS_8925-Mar-13 9:19
memberTAKS_8925-Mar-13 9:19 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
Laxmikant_Yadav19-Apr-12 0:23
memberLaxmikant_Yadav19-Apr-12 0:23 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
breesknees27-Mar-12 23:00
memberbreesknees27-Mar-12 23:00 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
netprotector30-Nov-11 20:10
membernetprotector30-Nov-11 20:10 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
YASER RAMDAN12-Jan-11 18:50
memberYASER RAMDAN12-Jan-11 18:50 
GeneralLove you! Pin
maxpaper22-Dec-10 13:55
membermaxpaper22-Dec-10 13:55 
Generalvery usefull ... THANKS VERY MUCH!!! Pin
javikf2t17-Jan-10 9:36
memberjavikf2t17-Jan-10 9:36 
GeneralNeeds urgent help Pin
RoshniRose3-Mar-08 22:22
memberRoshniRose3-Mar-08 22:22 
Questionpositioning of child windows Pin
Marcia R18-Dec-06 22:24
memberMarcia R18-Dec-06 22:24 
AnswerRe: positioning of child windows Pin
ScotDolan20-Feb-07 8:12
memberScotDolan20-Feb-07 8:12 
AnswerRe: positioning of child windows Pin
Sarwar Erfan27-Nov-07 23:22
memberSarwar Erfan27-Nov-07 23:22 
QuestionHow can we access the variables in one dialog from other dialog. Pin
sheshidar22-Aug-06 23:45
membersheshidar22-Aug-06 23:45 
Questionwhat is the limit on the number of tabs Pin
amber_jalan2-Apr-06 15:28
memberamber_jalan2-Apr-06 15:28 
AnswerRe: what is the limit on the number of tabs Pin
binyo665-Jul-09 15:14
memberbinyo665-Jul-09 15:14 
QuestionResizing Pin
ScaleOvenStove3-Feb-06 9:38
memberScaleOvenStove3-Feb-06 9:38 
reza6666-Oct-05 3:10
memberreza6666-Oct-05 3:10 
GeneralAdding Buttons to a Child Window Pin
mortonca21-Oct-04 12:48
membermortonca21-Oct-04 12:48 
Thank you so much for this article! I'm using it to create a series of pages, each of which will have numerous checkboxes from which the user may chose. I would also like to add two buttons: "Check All" and "Clear All" to each page. However, on my first attempt, when I right-clicked on the Check All button, and went to the Class Wizard to add the event handler and code, it took me to the class constructor instead of an "OnCheckAll" function. Is there something special I have to do to add buttons to a child window?

GeneralRe: Adding Buttons to a Child Window Pin
mortonca22-Oct-04 7:17
membermortonca22-Oct-04 7:17 
GeneralA tip Pin
Fred Koestner11-Mar-04 3:02
memberFred Koestner11-Mar-04 3:02 
GeneralRe: A tip Pin
Andrew Lawrence11-Mar-04 19:35
memberAndrew Lawrence11-Mar-04 19:35 
GeneralActually... Pin
Andrew Lawrence12-Mar-04 2:09
memberAndrew Lawrence12-Mar-04 2:09 
QuestionDoes it handle the tab key to move between child controls properly? Pin
RancidCrabtree10-Mar-04 4:22
memberRancidCrabtree10-Mar-04 4:22 
AnswerRe: Does it handle the tab key to move between child controls properly? Pin
Andrew Lawrence10-Mar-04 21:51
memberAndrew Lawrence10-Mar-04 21:51 

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