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Posted 13 Jan 2005

Adding Custom Controls to Visual Studio.Net Toolbox Programatically

, 13 Jan 2005
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The goal of this article is to simplify the process of programmatically adding custom controls to Visual Studio .Net control toolbox.


The goal of this article is to simplify the process of programmatically adding custom controls to Visual Studio .NET control toolbox.

The accompanying sample will be helpful for component developers, who want to deploy their custom controls to their customers in a package. There is also a sample console application, which demonstrates the techniques presented in this article. This console application can be run from the command line with parameters allowing it to be launched during installations.

Currently, the following VS.NET versions are supported:

  • VS.NET 2002
  • VS.NET 2003


Basic familiarity with Visual Studio .NET and C# is necessary for this article. Experience on DTE and Reflection is a plus.


There is one class in this code sample, which provides a single method called RegisterControls. It takes two parameters:

  • VS.NET version (using DTEVersion enum)
  • Controls to be added (using VSControl struct)

DTE stands for Design Time Environment; it is basically the extensibility object model of VS.NET.

DTEVersion is a flag's enum that specifies VS.NET versions to be used.

public enum DTEVersion
                                          None      = 0x0000,
    [Description("VisualStudio.DTE.7")]   VS2002    = 0x0001,  //VS.Net 2002
    [Description("VisualStudio.DTE.7.1")] VS2003    = 0x0002,  //VS.Net 2003

VSControl struct is used to specify which controls will be added.

// Defines the name of the toolbox tab on which controls
// are located. If IsToolBoxTab is set true, a new toolbox
// tab will be created with the value of this field.
public string TabName;

// The path of the assembly which has controls in it.
public string ControlPath;

// The developer can give the type of the control,
// so the assembly path can be taken automatically.
public Type Control;

// If it is necessary to create a new toolbox tab,
// set IsToolBoxTab to true.
public bool IsToolBoxTab;

This struct has three constructors for different purposes:

public VSControl(Type control, string tabName)

The control will be added to specified toolbox tab.

public VSControl(string assemblyPath, string tabName)

All controls in the assembly will be added to the specified toolbox tab.

public VSControl(string tabGroupName)

A new empty tab will be created in the toolbox.

RegisterControls method first determines the version of DTE and gets the instance of a suitable one.

if((dteVersion & DTEVersion.VS2002) > DTEVersion.None)
    // Vs.Net 2002 is available
    dte = GetDesignTimeEnvironment(DTEVersion.VS2002, ref alreadyCreated;
    if(dte != null)
        RegisterControls(dte, alreadyCreated, controls);
        return null;

GetDesignTimeEnvironment function returns an instance of either VS.NET 2002 or VS.NET 2003. If there is already an instance running, a reference to that instance is returned. If no instances are found, a new instance is created. When a running instance is found, the next step is to determine whether the toolbox is available. When VS.NET is running, it is not possible to add controls to the toolbox.

string progID = GetEnumDescription(dteVersion);
DTE result;
    // Determine if there is a running VS.Net instance
    result = (DTE) Marshal.GetActiveObject(progID);
    // Try to show properties window to see whether
    // Vs.Net is running a project
        // We have a running and usable Vs.Net instance
        result.ExecuteCommand("View.PropertiesWindow", "");
        alreadyCreated = true;
        // Running Vs.Net instance state is not usable
        // because it is running a project
        result = null;
    // No running instances of Vs.Net is found
    result = null;

If there is no running instance of Visual Studio .Net, or the existing one is unusable, we create a new one.

if(result == null)
    // Create a new VS.Net instance
    Type type = Type.GetTypeFromProgID(progID);
    if(type != null)
        result = (DTE) Activator.CreateInstance(type);

Once we have a suitable DTE, RegisterControls method is called with a reference to the selected DTE. In the RegisterControls method, we get the reference to the toolbox window, then retrieve the tabs collection.

Window toolbox = dte.Windows.Item(EnvDTE.Constants.vsWindowKindToolbox);
ToolBoxTabs tabs = ((ToolBox) toolbox.Object).ToolBoxTabs;

Depending on the developer’s selection, either a new tab is added, or an existing tab is used when creating the controls.

tab = GetToolBoxTab(tabs, control.TabName);

if(tab != null &&  !control.IsToolBoxTab)
    tab.ToolBoxItems.Add("MyControls", control.AssemblyPath, 

After we finish adding controls, we close the VS.NET instance only if we created it.


It is possible to build quickly a console application that uses the code in this article to add controls easily to the toolbox.

class Class1
    static void Main(string[] args)
        string assemblyPath = @ "C:\Controls\SampleControls.dll";
        string tabName = "Sample Controls";

        VSControl sampleTabGroup = new VSControl(tabName);
        VSControl sampleControl1 = 
                        new VSControl(typeof(SampleControl), tabName);
        VSControl sampleControl2 = new VSControl(controlPath, tabName);
        bool result = DevEnvironment.RegisterControls(
            DTEVersion.VS2002 | DTEVersion.VS2003, 
            Console.WriteLine("Controls added succesfully.");
                  "Controls couldn't be added. There is no VS.Net installed.");

        Console.WriteLine("Press any key to continue...");

It is possible to extend this sample console application to accept parameters from the command prompt, so that a setup project can run it to add specified controls during installation.


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


About the Author

Serkan Inci
Web Developer
Turkey Turkey
Serkan Inci
Software Developer
devBiz Business Solutions

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Comments and Discussions

GeneralCode reusability in VS 2005 toolbox Pin
Member 369928625-Jan-10 1:41
memberMember 369928625-Jan-10 1:41 
GeneralThere is a free tool to do that on VS2005 Pin
www.issoft.eu19-Aug-07 6:16
memberwww.issoft.eu19-Aug-07 6:16 
GeneralRe: There is a free tool to do that on VS2005 Pin
Rob Smiley1-Jul-08 23:48
memberRob Smiley1-Jul-08 23:48 
Generaladding a control in vs2005 toolbox Pin
JustALearner25-May-07 5:03
memberJustALearner25-May-07 5:03 
GeneralIssues for vs2005 Pin
OlanB18-Apr-07 7:13
memberOlanB18-Apr-07 7:13 
GeneralToolbox in Visual Studio 2005 Pin
Javier Aranda7-Sep-05 12:19
memberJavier Aranda7-Sep-05 12:19 
GeneralRe: Toolbox in Visual Studio 2005 Pin
wmmihaa3-Jul-06 3:49
memberwmmihaa3-Jul-06 3:49 
GeneralRe: Toolbox in Visual Studio 2005 Pin
ramasua17-Jan-07 5:43
memberramasua17-Jan-07 5:43 
GeneralStrange!!! Pin
Arash Sabet1-May-05 7:21
memberArash Sabet1-May-05 7:21 
GeneralIssues with sample code Pin
steven-fowler14-Mar-05 9:00
membersteven-fowler14-Mar-05 9:00 
GeneralAdding a single control to a toolbox tab Pin
bobdupuy_fr18-Jan-05 23:08
memberbobdupuy_fr18-Jan-05 23:08 
GeneralRe: Adding a single control to a toolbox tab Pin
Serkan Inci19-Jan-05 0:28
memberSerkan Inci19-Jan-05 0:28 
GeneralRe: Adding a single control to a toolbox tab Pin
bobdupuy_fr19-Jan-05 5:34
memberbobdupuy_fr19-Jan-05 5:34 

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