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Posted 12 Oct 2004

An All VB.NET Explorer Tree Control with ImageList Management

, 17 May 2012 CPOL
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Explorer TreeView control with Shell Folder access class and Icon management.

VB.NET Explorer Tree Control


The ExpTree control is a Windows Explorer-like TreeView control. It displays all proper icons, with overlays as appropriate. All Windows folders, including Virtual Folders like Desktop, My Computer, and History are properly displayed and made available to the containing form. The control is packaged with and uses an optimized image list management class that provides both Small and Large Icon image lists for application use. The control is just the visual aspect of a powerful Class Library(ExpTreeLib) that provides functionality over and above that of a combination of the DirectoryInfo and FileInfo classes. As pictured above, ExpTreeLib can easily be used to create a Windows Explorer-like ListView coupled with ExpTree.

Although .Net's FolderBrowserDialog is a useful substitute in many cases, ExpTree is a true control that may be manipulated like any other control on a Windows Form. It has a well defined interface which provides Selected Node change notification to the Form and allows both Design-time and Run-time manipulation of key aspects of the displayed Tree.

I distribute this code as a Visual Studio 2005 Solution which may be upgraded without error to VS2008 and/or VS2010 by the Visual Studio Upgrade Wizard. It targets Framework 2.0.

Version Overview

There are two supported versions of the overall Class Library ExpTreeLib. Version 2.12 which is described in and downloadable from this article, and Version 3.00. Version 2.12 provides a largely static view of the Windows Shell Namespace, including the File System. Version 2.12 is a enhanced version of the package referred to as the "Rollup" version as discussed in the forum.

Version 3.00, which will be described in a soon to be written article, provides a dynamic view of that Namespace and adds a number of features. It is an enhanced version of the package mentioned in the forum as the "unpublished" version. Both versions have developed a community of users over the years that they have been available. Version 2.12 is useful for those applications which do not require a dynamic view or the additional features of version 3.00 and is easier to understand and use. This article provides the basic documentation for either version.

This version (2.12) provides a current view of TreeNodes whenever they are expanded or selected, or changed via Drag and Drop to/from the control. Changes to the file system made outside of the control are not reflected until the changed node is expanded or selected. This version supports a version of Drag and Drop which is discussed in part 2 of this article, Adding Drag and Drop to an Explorer Tree Control. A fundamental difference between version 2.12 and version 3.00 is how Drag and Drop is implemented and how it is illustrated in that version's Demo Forms.

Relative to Version 2.11, Version 2.12 has changes required by Windows Vista/Window 7, other bug fixes, and additional optimization. Applications which reference large Folders on Remote systems, which gave acceptable performance on XP system could, in Version 2.11, become very slow on Vista/Windows7. Version 2.12 fixes that for most common applications. In some cases, Version 3.00 is required to restore performance.

All previously added features and bug fixes are included. See History for details of this and previous updates.

Intended Audience

I have written the article and the code with an audience of developers in mind. I expect that the audience will look at the code and try it out. I have attempted to keep the comments up to date. I am interested in any constructive comments that may lead to improvements in the library.


My design goals were to create a control that only needed one .dll (no auxiliary wrapper .dlls), showed the correct icons on any Windows system, would work with Virtual Folders as well as FileSystem folders, was quick, and used few resources. Since the rest of my code was to be in VB.NET, I wanted the control to be written in VB.NET. I could not find any code on this or any other site that met my requirements. Almost all other similar controls were written in C#, and none fully met the other requirements.

Controls based on DirectoryInfo and FileInfo classes will not handle Virtual Folders. Controls based on adding a reference to Shell32.dll require an extra .dll to wrap the COM interface and will not report hidden files and directories. Applications using either approach require additional classes to deal with icons since neither gets icon information. Since I had written Shell-accessing .dlls in C, I was familiar with the techniques, so I decided to attack the problem using the IShell Folder Interface with SHGetFileInfo providing the icon information.

Class Overview

The control, ExpTree, is packaged with several supporting classes into one library assembly and .dll (ExpTreeLib). ExpTreeLib contains these classes:

ShellDllAPI declarations, interfaces, structures, enumerations, and constants.
CShItemThe main class of this library.
SystemImageListManagerA class to manage Large and Small System image lists.
ExpTreeThe actual control.

Use of the SystemImageListManager class is optional, however, ExpTree initializes and uses it. If the application needs to display FileSystem icons, the class will provide them. See the SystemImageList Manager Class section below, for details.

Details of the CShItem class are discussed below. It wraps a collection of information that describes one folder or file. In use, it is similar to a DirectoryInfo or FileInfo instance. However, it is built using the Shell's IShellFolder interface, and therefore, can represent all folder and file types available on the system.

The library also contains other classes solely for Drag and Drop support which will not be discussed here.

Using the Control

To use the control, add a reference to its .dll to your project, and then add the control to the ToolBox. To add the control to the ToolBox, right click on the ToolBox, click Customize ToolBox, and then browse for the DLL. Once you have done this, you may use it like any other control. In addition to the normal UserControl properties, the ExpTree control exposes several Properties:

AllowDropDesign and Run Time Allow/Disallow Drop on Tree
ShowHiddenFoldersDesign and Run Time Show/Hide hidden folders
ShowRootLinesDesign and Run Time Allow/Disallow collapse of TreeRoot
StartupDirectoryDesign and Run Time Select root directory of Tree
RootItemRun-Time onlySet root to a specific CShItem
SelectedItemRun-Time onlyGets the currently selected CShItem

StartupDirectory sets the root of the TreeView. It will only accept a SystemFolder as a startup directory. The most useful ones are Desktop and My Computer. Change the StartUpDirectory at design time to see, in the IDE, what the initial display will be.

RootItem is a run-time only property which is used to reset the tree root to another folder which may be any folder available in the TreeView.


To set an ExpTree to appear to start Rooted in some non-System Folder:

  1. In the IDE, set the StartupDirectory to the Desktop.
  2. In the Form's Load event, set the RootItem to the desired Folder, as in:
  3. ExpTree1.RootItem = CShItem.GetCShItem("C:\MyAppData")

ExpTree Methods

RefreshTreeN/ARebuild tree through SelectedNode
ExpandANodeBooleanExpands tree through input Path or CShItem

The methods RefreshTree and ExpandANode are not needed for basic usage and are discussed later.

ExpTree Events

StartUpDirectoryChangedUsed for design-time interaction
ExpTreeNodeSelectedRaised when TreeNode is selected

The EventArgs for ExpTreeNodeSelected are a string containing the full path of the underlying folder and the CShItem representing the SelectedNode.

Assume you have a form with an ExpTree named ExpTree1, a ListView named lv1, and a StatusBar named sbr1. To use the control, you must Import a few items:

Imports ExpTreeLib
Imports ExpTreeLib.CShItem
Imports ExpTreeLib.SystemImageListManager

Public Class frmExplorerLike
   Inherits System.Windows.Forms.Form

In the Form New routine, set up to use the image lists:

'Add any initialization after the InitializeComponent() call
SystemImageListManager.SetListViewImageList(lv1, True, False)
SystemImageListManager.SetListViewImageList(lv1, False, False)

The SetListViewImageList statements set the ListView's LargeImageList and SmallImageList to be the corresponding System image lists.

Add the following event handler:

Private Sub lv1_VisibleChanged(ByVal sender As Object, _
        ByVal e As System.EventArgs) Handles lv1.VisibleChanged
    If lv1.Visible Then
        SystemImageListManager.SetListViewImageList(lv1, True, False)
        SystemImageListManager.SetListViewImageList(lv1, False, False)
    End If
End Sub

To change the contents of the ListView when a node is selected in ExpTree1, declare an event handler as follows:

Private Sub AfterNodeSelect(ByVal pathName As String,
        _ ByVal CSI As CShItem) Handles
    ExpTree1.ExpTreeNodeSelected Dim dirList As New
    ArrayList() Dim fileList As New
    ArrayList() Dim TotalItems As
    Integer If CSI.DisplayName.Equals(CShItem.strMyComputer) Then
        'avoid re-query since only has dirs
        dirList = CSI.GetDirectories 
        dirList = CSI.GetDirectories
        fileList = CSI.GetFiles
    End If
    TotalItems = dirList.Count + fileList.Count
    If TotalItems > 0 Then
        Dim item As CShItem
        Me.Text = pathName
        sbr1.Text = pathName & "                 " & _
                    dirList.Count & " Directories " & _
                    fileList.Count & " Files"
        Dim combList As New ArrayList(TotalItems)

        'Build the ListViewItems & add to lv1
        For Each item In combList
            Dim lvi As New ListViewItem(item.DisplayName)
            With lvi
              ' SubItem formatting and adding to lvi omitted from 
              '    article text
              'Set ListViewItem's IconIndex 
              '(and add Icon to lists if necessary)
                .ImageIndex = _
                 SystemImageListManager.GetIconIndex(item, False)
                .Tag = item
            End With
        sbr1.Text = pathName & "Has No Items"
    End If
End Sub

The test for "strMyComputer" at the beginning uses the local system string for "My Computer" to avoid the annoying re-query of the A: drive each time "My Computer" is selected. Some special handling is required in order to get the folders and files sorted as Windows Explorer does. That special handling is done in CShItem's IComparable.CompareTo routine which is called when we sort the Directory and File ArrayLists.

Icon fetching and adding to both image lists is handled by the call to GetIconIndex. GetIconIndex's second parameter is set to False to indicate that the "Open" IconIndex should not be fetched.

Note: the download demo obtains and sets the icon indices in a separate thread. The code shown above is a simplified, single thread approach.

SystemImageListManager Class

This class is based on System image lists. It accesses two System image lists, one containing small icons, and one with large icons. The lists are synchronized such that the same IconIndex refers to the same icon in each list. When queried for an IconIndex of a CShItem, it determines if the icon should have an overlay and, if so, adds the icon with overlay as an additional icon in the System image lists. Since the IconIndex reported by SHGetFileInfo is not necessarily the actual IconIndex for the folder or file (which may need to use the icon plus overlay version), I use a HashTable to store the actual IconIndex. The HashTable key is based on the reported IconIndex, modified to reflect any additional overlays. In actual practice, the number of icons stored in the System image lists and the size of the HashTable is fairly small.

The SystemImageListManager class contains only Shared properties and methods. Since it is managing an external resource (two System image lists), only Shared properties and methods are needed or appropriate. Do not modify these two System image lists in any fashion outside of SystemImageListManager.

Any of SystemImageListManager properties or methods will call the class' Initializer routine.

SystemImageListManager Initializer

Private Shared Sub Initializer()
    If m_Initialized Then
        Exit Sub
    End If
    Dim dwFlag As Integer = SHGFI.USEFILEATTRIBUTES Or _
                    SHGFI.SYSICONINDEX Or _
    Dim shfi As New SHFILEINFO()
    m_smImgList = SHGetFileInfo(".txt", _
                        FILE_ATTRIBUTE_NORMAL, _
                        shfi, _
                        cbFileInfo, _
    If m_smImgList.Equals(IntPtr.Zero) Then
        Throw New Exception("Failed to create Small ImageList")
    End If
    ' Identical code as above using SHGFI.LARGEICON 
    '   Omitted from Article text ... see source code
    m_Initialized = True
End Sub

Initializer checks that this is the first call. If not, it assumes all is set up. If the first call, it obtains the Handle of a small and a large System image list, checking for success each time.

SystemImageListManager Properties

SmallListThe Handle of the small ImageList
LargeListThe Handle of the large ImageList

These ReadOnly properties may be of use to the application. The demo makes no use of them except internal to the class.

SystemImageListManager Methods


Public Shared Function GetIconIndex(ByRef item As CShItem, _
                       Optional ByVal GetOpenIcon As Boolean = False, _
                       Optional ByVal GetSelectedIcon As Boolean = False _
                       ) As Integer

GetIconIndex returns the IconIndex in both System image lists of the icon needed for the CShItem item. The Optional parameter GetOpenIcon instructs GetIconIndex to return the "Open" icon for the CShItem rather than the "Normal" icon. The Optional parameter GetSelectedIcon requests the "Selected" icon.

Internally, SystemImageListManager maintains a HashTable whose Key is based on the System imagelist IconIndex, the Link and Shared states of the referenced CShItem, and the "Open" or "Selected" state of the icon. The Value stored in the HashTable is the IconIndex of the icon in the System image lists.

If the IconIndex is already known (in the HashTable), the function simply returns the HashTable Value as the function value.

If the desired icon is not known (in the HashTable) and if the icon will contain overlays, the function obtains the icon using SHGetFileInfo, stores it in the System image lists, enters the IconIndex into the HashTable, and returns the IconIndex and returns it as the function value.

If the desired icon does not have overlays, then the IconIndex already stored in the CShItem is the correct IconIndex. In this case, the function stores the IconIndex into the HashTable, and returns it as the function value.


Public Shared Function GetIcon(ByVal Index As Integer, _
       Optional ByVal smallIcon As Boolean = False) _
       As Icon

Returns a GDI+ copy of the Large (default) or Small icon from the imagelist at the specified Index.


Public Shared Sub SetListViewImageList( _
      ByVal listView As ListView, _
      ByVal forLargeIcons As Boolean, _
      ByVal forStateImages As Boolean)

This method attaches the appropriate System image list to the ImageList of a ListView. The forLargeIcons parameter selects which list to attach to which (True for large, False for small). I have not done anything with the forStateImages parameter except to pass it as False, always.


Public Shared Sub SetTreeViewImageList( _
    ByVal treeView As TreeView, _
    ByVal forStateImages As Boolean)

This method attaches the appropriate System image list to the ImageList of a TreeView. I have never tested or used the forStateImages parameter, except to set it to False.

Both of these methods use the SendMessage API to send a message to the control, attaching the System image list as the control's ImageList. See the source code for details. Note that .NET is not aware of this attachment. If the control is hidden and then shown, the attachment must be reestablished in a VisibleChanged event handler.

CShItem Class

Version 2 Changes

The CShItem class is the main class of the ExpTree library. Additions to any part of the library generally require changes to it. The major change between version 2 and previous versions actually occur in CShItem. Each CShItem that represents a folder maintains an ArrayList of CShItems representing the sub-folders that it contains. In versions prior to version 2, that ArrayList was never updated. If the method GetDirectories was called with the parameter Optional Refresh As Boolean = False set to True, the entire ArrayList was discarded and recreated. In version 2, the parameter Optional doRefresh As Boolean = True instructs GetDirectories to call a new function, RefreshDirectories. RefreshDirectories checks for changes and creates new CShItems for added directories, and deletes the CShItem representing directories that no longer exist. This process, implemented by other new code, is done in a low-cost fashion, so that this directory refresh can be done frequently. In ExpTree, it is done at every TreeNode expand, every select, and in several other cases relating to Drag and Drop.

Note that CShItems representing Files are not kept, but regenerated at each GetFiles or GetItems request. A potential line of study is to look at the memory versus processor time tradeoffs involved in treating file CShItems similar to directory items.

Version 3.00 of this class is completely different in its approach.


Version 2 depreciates the use of New as a method of obtaining CShItems.

In version 2, the Sub New(ID As CSIDL) and Sub New(path As String) routines are still supported. However, Version 3.00 does not support any Public Sub New. For Version 2, the preferred replacement functionality is provided by the GetCShItem routines described here:

  • GetCShItem(ByVal ID As CSIDL) As CShItem

    CSIDL is an Enum representing System Special Folders, declared in the ShellDll class. ExpTree defines a subset of those as valid for its purposes. Unlike the equivalent Sub New, there is no restriction on which CSIDL may be used, beyond that of simple availability on a particular OS. Usage is illustrated by this code fragment which obtains the CShItem for My Computer.

    Dim special As CShItem
       special = GetCShItem(CSIDL.DRIVES)
  • GetCShItem(ByVal path As String) As CShItem

    path is a valid directory path (for example, "C:\ "). Path can be any CShItem.Path property, including GUIDs. A simple use is illustrated by this code fragment which obtains the CShItem for a specific Directory:

    Dim special As CShItem
       special = GetCShItem("C:\Temp\Test")


DisplayNameStringDisplay name
PathStringFull path (see note 1)
TypeNameStringType of item (see note 2)
FullNameStringFull name of items (see note 3)
IconIndexNormalIntegerIndex into SystemImageList
IconIndexOpenIntegerIndex into SystemImageList
HasSubFoldersBooleanMay have sub-folders
IsBrowsableBooleanCan be browsed in place
IsDropTargetBooleanItems can be dropped here
IsFileSystemBooleanIs part of file system
IsFolderBooleanIs a folder
IsDiskBooleanIs a disk
IsLinkBooleanIs a shortcut
IsRemovableBooleanIs a removable device
IsReadOnlyBooleanIs ReadOnly
IsSharedBooleanIs Shared
IsSystemBooleanIs a System file
LastWriteTimeDateTimeSee FileInfo documentation
LastAccessTimeDateTimeSee FileInfo documentation
CreationTimeDateTimeSee FileInfo documentation
LengthLongSize in bytes of a file
CanCopyBooleanItem can be copied
CanDeleteBooleanItem can be deleted
CanLinkBooleanItem can have a link created for it
CanMoveBooleanItem can be moved
PIDLIntPtrUsable in SHGetFileInfo
clsPidlcPidlA class for manipulating PIDLs as Byte()
strMyComputerString"My Computer" on this computer
strSystemFolderString"System Folder" on this computer
DesktopDirectoryPathStringThe path of user's Desktop directory

All properties are ReadOnly.

Note 1: For File System objects, the FullPath property is just that, the full path. For non-File System objects, the full path may be a GUID.

Note 2: TypeName is the type name reported by SHGetFileInfo.

Note 3: FullName is usually the same as DisplayName. However, in the case of .lnk files, DisplayName does not include the .lnk extension. Fullname does. Given a link file whose Path is "C:\Temp\ABC.txt.lnk", Displayname will return "ABC.txt", FullName will return "ABC.txt.lnk".

The IconIndex... properties report the base IconIndex into the System image list. This is not directly useful to applications unless only non-overlay icons are desired.

In almost all cases, PIDL should not be used. It is visible only because SystemImageListManager needs to refer to it. PIDL may be useful if the application needs to call certain Shell .dlls. The clsPidl property is an instance of the cPidl class. It exposes methods of examining the PIDL as a Byte(). See the source code for further information.

The ...Time properties and the Length property are exactly the same as returned by the FileInfo class. I cheat and create a FileInfo instance to retrieve these values when any one of them is requested.

The str... properties provide the strings that represent "My Computer" and "System Folder" on the computer running the application. This provides a Locale neutral method of testing for these special names. The special name "Desktop" is provided by the DisplayName of the CShItem returned by GetDeskTop and is also Locale neutral.


MethodReturn TypeReturn Value
Shared Method  
GetCShItemCShItemSee above for description
GetDeskTopCShItemThe Desktop
Instance Methods  
GetDirectoriesArrayList of CShItemsAll folders in a CShItem
GetFilesArrayList of CShItemsAll files in a CShItem
GetItemsArrayList of CShItemsAll files and folders in a CShItem
RefreshDirectoriesBooleanTrue if any changes were made.
DebugDumpNoneWrites info to the Debug console

GetDeskTop returns the one and only CShItem of the Desktop. The class maintains this CShItem internally, building it when the class is first accessed in any way. GetDeskTop returns the actual CShItem, not a clone.

GetDirectories, GetFiles, and GetItems return an ArrayList of CShItems as requested. If there are none of the requested types in a folder, they return an empty ArrayList. If the CShItem represents a file, an empty ArrayList is returned. An empty ArrayList is also returned on common error conditions, for example, a Not Ready disk (an empty CD drive, for example). Unlike Windows Explorer, the class does not post an Abort-Retry message box in those cases. Previous versions, before version 2, would throw an exception for unexpected errors occurring in the internal routine called by these methods, only when compiled in Debug mode. Version 2 and above will no longer throw an exception, returning an empty ArrayList on any error condition.

RefreshDirectories ensures that the ArrayList returned by GetDirectories reflects the current state of the file system. It returns True if there were any changes. RefreshDirectories is called by GetDirectories (unless specifically instructed not to by an Optional parameter), so there is seldom a need to call it directly.

ExpTree Control

Finally, we get to the control itself. Given the CShItem and SystemImageListManager classes, the control is fairly simple.

ExpTree Properties and Events

AllowDropAllows (True) or Prevents (False) Drops onto the Tree.
StartUpDirectoryMust be a CSIDL for a special folder.
RootItemSets the root of the Tree to a CShItem.
SelectedItemReturns CShItem of current SelectedNode.
ShowHiddenAllows/Disallows the showing of hidden directories in the TreeView.
ShowRootLinesAllows/Disallows a line and expansion/compression box to be shown in the TreeView.
ExpTreeNodeSelectedRaised when a TreeNode is selected.
StartUpDirectoryChangedRaised when the StartUpDirectory property is set.
ExpandANodeExpands tree through the node representing the input CShItem. Returns False on failure to expand.
RefreshTreeReinitializes tree and expands it through the previously selected node.

StartUpDirectory is a CSIDL representing a System Special Folder. The list of folders that the control can deal with is available to the IDE via ExpTree's Property Sheet.

RootItem is a Run-Time only property. Setting this Item via a run-time call results in re-setting the entire tree to be rooted in the input CShItem. The CShItem must be a valid CShItem of some kind of folder (File Folder or System Folder). Attempts to set it using a non-folder CShItem are ignored. Usage of this property is illustrated in the demo in the ListView's MouseUp event and in the code behind the "C:\ Test" button.

ExpTreeNodeSelected is the event fired when the TreeView's AfterSelect event occurs. This notifies the containing Form of the event. The Event signature is:

Public Event ExpTreeNodeSelected(ByVal SelPath As String, _
             ByVal Item As CShItem)

where Item is the CShItem representing the selected node, and SelPath is the path of that CShItem. In the case of Virtual Folders, where the path is a GUID, SelPath contains the DisplayName of the CShItem.

StartUpDirectoryChanged is the event fired when the initial directory is set. It is Public in case the containing Form needs notification of this event. Normally, this is not needed since a change to the root of the Tree always selects the new root and thus fires the ExpTreeNodeSelected event.

ExpandANode is a revision of the ExpandANode originally presented in the forum for this article. Internally, this method is very different from the original and is not limited to File System directories as was the original. Any CShItem may be used as the input path. Unlike the original, this version will not force the Tree to be rooted on either the Desktop or My Computer. This version leaves the original Tree root in place. The method expands the tree from the tree root, expanding nodes as necessary through the input CShItem. Its signature is:

Public Function ExpandANode(ByVal newItem As CShItem) As Boolean

The method returns True if the expansion was successful, False otherwise. The class provides an alternate ExpandANode which takes a Path as its argument. The alternate signature method calls GetCShItem, checks the return, and calls the other ExpandANode with the returned CShItem.

RefreshTree is a method which causes the entire tree to be recreated and then expanded down to the original (prior to RefreshTree call) selected node. This allows the Tree to reflect changes made to the directory structure external to the control. If the originally selected node is no longer valid, for example, it and/or some earlier part of its path were deleted or renamed, the tree is expanded through the lowest valid point in its original path. This method's code is almost identical to the code presented by Calum McLellan in the forum. One difference is that it now defaults to rooting the Tree in the original Tree root rather than defaulting to the Desktop. Another difference is that it suppresses the raising of ExpTreeNodeSelected events until the refresh has completed. This method benefits from the new version of ExpandANode in that it is no longer limited to dealing only with File System directories.

The signature of this method is:

Public Sub RefreshTree(Optional ByVal root As CShItem = Nothing)

The optional parameter root allows for dynamic resetting of the Tree root as part of the refresh operation.

ExpTree Code

In the initialization of ExpTree, we set the TreeView's ImageList and add the control's handler for changes to StartUpDirectory.

'Add any initialization after the InitializeComponent() call
  SystemImageListManager.SetTreeViewImageList(tv1, False)
  AddHandler StartUpDirectoryChanged, AddressOf OnStartUpDirectoryChanged

The Public Property StartUpDirectory starts the work when the StartUpDirectory is set or changed:

Private m_StartUpDirectory As StartDir = StartDir.Desktop

<Category("Options"), _
 Description("Sets the Initial Directory of the Tree"), _
 DefaultValue(StartDir.Desktop), Bindable(True)> _
   Public Property StartUpDirectory() As StartDir
           Return m_StartUpDirectory
        End Get
        Set(ByVal Value As StartDir)
        If Array.IndexOf(Value.GetValues(Value.GetType), _
         Value) >= 0 Then
            m_StartUpDirectory = Value
            RaiseEvent StartUpDirectoryChanged(Value)
            Throw New ApplicationException( _
            "Invalid Initial StartUpDirectory")
        End If
    End Set
End Property

The property attributes give the designer information. The code at If Array.IndexOf... compares the input Value with the Enum's allowable values and Throws an exception if not valid. If valid, the private version of the property is set and a StartUpDirectoryChanged Event is raised.

The real work is done in the OnStartUpDirectoryChanged event handler:

 Private Sub OnStartUpDirectoryChanged(ByVal newVal As StartDir)
   If Not IsNothing(Root) Then
   End If
   Dim L1 As ArrayList
   Dim special As CShItem
   special = GetCShItem(CType(Val(m_StartUpDirectory), ShellDll.CSIDL))
   Root = New TreeNode(special.DisplayName)
   Root.ImageIndex = SystemImageListManager.GetIconIndex(special, _
   Root.SelectedImageIndex = Root.ImageIndex
   Root.Tag = special
End Sub

Private Function BuildTree(ByVal L1 As ArrayList)
  Dim CSI As CShItem
  For Each CSI In L1
      If Not (CSI.IsHidden And Not m_showHiddenFolders) Then
      End If
End Function

Private Function MakeNode(ByVal fi As CShItem) As TreeNode
  Dim newNode As New TreeNode(item.DisplayName)
  newNode.Tag = item
  newNode.ImageIndex = SystemImageListManager.GetIconIndex(item, False)
  newNode.SelectedImageIndex = SystemImageListManager.GetIconIndex(item, True)
  If item.IsRemovable Then             
      newNode.Nodes.Add(New TreeNode(" : "))
  ElseIf item.HasSubFolders Then
      newNode.Nodes.Add(New TreeNode(" : "))
  ElseIf item.GetDirectories.Count > 0 Then   
      newNode.Nodes.Add(New TreeNode(" : "))  
  End If
  Return newNode
End Function

Private Sub ClearTree()
  Root = Nothing
End Sub

First, the folders of the base are fetched and sorted. For each folder in the base, we create a new TreeNode with the correct icons, and add it to the Root node. Note that each TreeNode's Tag is set to the CShItem that it belongs to. If the sub-folder may have sub-folders of its own, we create a dummy node and add it to the sub-node, so the Treeview will show a "+" and allow expansion.

The code in BuildTree that checks .IsHidden prevents Hidden directories from being shown in the TreeView if the ShowHiddenFolders property is False. The If ... ElseIf sequence in MakeNode avoids checking floppy drives so as to prevent the annoying floppy access. It also works around the fact that a directory with all hidden members will be reported by .HasSubFolders as False. Finally, we attach the Root node to the TreeView and Expand the root to get the final display.

The BeforeExpand Event of the Treeview is very similar to the code described above. The interesting part is:

Private Sub tv1_BeforeExpand(ByVal sender As Object, _
    ByVal e As System.Windows.Forms.TreeViewCancelEventArgs) _
    Handles tv1.BeforeExpand
    Dim oldCursor As Cursor = Cursor
    Cursor = Cursors.WaitCursor
    If e.Node.Nodes.Count = 1 AndAlso _
     e.Node.Nodes(0).Text.Equals(" : ") Then
        Dim CSI As CShItem = e.Node.Tag
        Dim D As ArrayList = CSI.GetDirectories(m_refresh)
        If D.Count > 0 Then
            '.... processing steps omitted
        End If
    End If
    Cursor = oldCursor
End Sub

If the node is a dummy node, then clear it and process it similar to the code described above.

Otherwise, assume that the sub-nodes have already been set up and call RefreshNode, ensuring that the content matches reality. Note that if there are no sub-folders for this node, then the TreeNode will be cleared, removing the "+" and preventing future expansion.

Lastly, we have the AfterSelect Event which passes the CShItem from the SelectedNode to the containing Form.

Private Sub tv1_AfterSelect(ByVal sender As System.Object, _
        ByVal e As System.Windows.Forms.TreeViewEventArgs) _
        Handles tv1.AfterSelect
  Dim node As TreeNode = e.Node
  Dim CSI As CShItem = e.Node.Tag
  If CSI Is Root.Tag AndAlso Not tv1.ShowRootLines Then
      With tv1
          .ShowRootLines = True
          .ShowRootLines = False
      End With
  End If
  If EnableEventPost Then 'turned off during RefreshTree
      If CSI.Path.StartsWith(":") Then
          RaiseEvent ExpTreeNodeSelected(CSI.DisplayName, CSI)
          RaiseEvent ExpTreeNodeSelected(CSI.Path, CSI)
      End If
  End If
End Sub

The SelectedNode is updated by RefreshNode. The test for ShowRootLines works around a display problem that arises when the tested condition is True. If event posting has not been suppressed for RefreshTree, then raise the ExpTreeNodeSelected event, passing the CShItem and the path of the node. Note that some System Folders' path is a GUID. In that case, we return the DisplayName of the SelectedNode rather than the path. The true path is still available in the CShItem.

The Demo Program and other thoughts

The demo Forms do no useful work except illustrating the usage of the control and classes presented here. I really wasn't trying to duplicate Windows Explorer. There are two Forms in the Demo package. frmExplorerLike (shown above and described here) exists only to illustrate how to use some of the methods available in ExpTreeLib. frmDragDrop is a bit more realistic and and illustrates Drag From and Drop To ExpTree as well as Drag From the ListView.

Left-click a folder in the ListView to cause the corresponding folder in the Tree to be expanded and that folder's contents to be displayed in the ListView.

frmExplorerLike shows three run-time methods of changing the root of the Tree. Right-clicking a folder in the ListView will cause that folder to become the new Tree root. It also will fill the ComboBox with the names of the parents of that folder. Selecting one of the entries in the combobox will set the Tree root to that folder. In other words, it provides a way to get back to the original Tree root.

Clicking the "C:\ Test" button will cause the Tree root to become C:\. I provide no way to navigate back to the original Tree root in this case. Given the RootItem property of ExpTree and the GetCShItem(Path as String) method of CShItem, the code to accomplish this change in the demo program is trivial.

Private Sub cmdCTest_Click(ByVal sender As System.Object, _
 ByVal e As System.EventArgs) Handles cmdCTest.Click
    Dim cDir As New CShItem = GetCShItem("C:\")
    If cDir.IsFolder Then
        ExpTree1.RootItem = cDir
    End If
End Sub

Click the Refresh button on frmExplorerLike and RefreshTree will be invoked. You may test this feature by creating a test directory tree, running the demo, navigating to the bottom of the test tree, deleting some or all of the test directory tree via Windows Explorer, and then clicking the Refresh button.

Both Demo Forms now gather icon indices, for display in its ListView, in a separate thread which improves initial startup and general responsiveness. This is not shown is the code presented in this article. See the demo for the actual code.

Feedback from readers of this article has been very helpful in making this control better. A look at the History section and the forum will show that multiple feature additions and bug fixes came as a direct result of that feedback. Thanks everyone.


My original article contained a class for accessing System image lists. Some important fragments of that class survive in SystemImageListManager. The original was simply a translation from C# to VB.NET of some of Steve McMahon's System image list class which may be found here. Steve's class has substantial additional capabilities for drawing icons and attaching them to other types of controls.

Calum McLellan has made significant contributions that improved this control. Calum's article Explorer ComboBox and ListView in VB.NET extends this library with both ComboBox and ListView classes.


  • 04/20/2012 -- Version 2.12.1 Updated Downloads to include Windows Explorer style sorting to the displayed File/Folder names. This change added a new class (StringLogicalComparer) and a one line change to CShItem to use that Class. Result is: xx11xx sorts before xx101xx.
  • 04/20/2012 -- Version 2.12. Update of Downloads and article to include:
    • ASUS fix which also probably applies to Carbonite and several other Cloud backups that are implemented as Shell Extensions.
    • Proper handling of Zip and other Compressed files on Vista/Win7 (ensure they are treated a Files, not Folders)
    • Proper handling of AllowDrop property in ExpTree. Can now be usefully set in IDE.
    • Changed the definition and source of CShItem.Attributes such that this property now is set from a FileInfo or DirectoryInfo. The definition is now a System.IO.FileAttributes (as it always should have been).
    • Made CShItem.HasSubfolders a fill on demand property, avoiding the cost of retrieval when not needed. A big win in some cases.
    • Modified the handling of the HasSubFolders attribute to compensate for difference between XP and Vista/Win7. On Vista/Win7 client systems this is a dramatic improvement in responsiveness.
    • Minor changes to eliminate some harmless compiler Warnings.
    • Removal of dead and debug code and correction of some comments.
  • 03/12/2006 -- Version 2.11. Updated to support VS2005. Deleted the Application.DoEvents call in CShItem.GetContents as discussed in the forum.
  • 09/16/2005 -- Version 2.1. Update to source and demo to make equal to same files in Part 2 of this article. Minor fix to this article's code, larger fix to code covered in Part 2.
  • 08/23/2005 -- Version 2 release - Update to article, source, and demo.
    • Changed directory refresh strategy to update cached directories in GetDirectories unless specifically prevented via an Optional parameter.
    • Added CShItem.GetCShItem to replace functionality of Sub New(ID as CSLID) and Sub New(Path As String).
    • Added refresh of node content in BeforeExpand and AfterSelect events.
    • Added Drag and Drop -- not discussed in this article.
    • Added the properties ShowHiddenFolders and ShowRootLines to ExpTree.
    • In ShellDll, changed declaration of POINT from Private to Public which may break existing code. Fully specify System.Drawing.Point or ShellDll.Point as appropriate.
    • Added ability to get the selected IconIndex as well as the normal and open ImageIndices to SystemImageListManager.
    • Added ability to get a true Small Icon from GetIcon -- From Calum McLellan.
    • Added many additional properties and methods to CShItem.
    • By popular demand, removed the Throw of an error for certain conditions from CShItem when compiled under DEBUG.
    • Multiple small improvements, some bug fixes, along with some code reorganization.
  • 04/02/2005 -- Update to source and demo.
    • Modified ExpTree control to paint the tree when initially dropped on a form in the IDE, and to hide from the IDE those properties that can not be changed there.
    • Changed the sort order of CShItems such that "My Documents" appears before "My Computer" in the tree.
    • Added the Public Shared field strMyDocuments to CShItem which contains the Locale representation of the string "My Documents".
    • Added the Public ReadOnly Property IsHidden to CShItem. (Thanks Calum.)
    • Modified SystemImageListManager to get and use the actual Small Icon for Small Image Lists, rather than re-using the Large Icon (Thanks Calum).
    • Fixed the demo to use SystemImageListManager to set icon indices for the ListView. This was broken when threading was added to the demo.
  • 03/02/2005 -- Update to source, demo, and article.
    • Rewrote ExpandANode to remove limitations of previous version.
    • Added RefreshTree method to allow application to force a rebuilding of the Tree to display changes to the directory structure.
    • Added SelectedItem property which returns the CShItem of the current SelectedNode.
    • Initialized the HideSelection property of the TreeView to False.
    • Modified Sub New(path as String) to accept any CShItem.Path, including GUIDs.
    • Fixed XP related problem which suppressed display of ZIP files.
    • Removed (in Release compilations only) the throwing of an exception for unexpected errors.
    • Added threading to the demo program to improve responsiveness.
  • 01/11/2005 -- Update to correct bug that prevented the creation of CShItems in a worker thread.
  • 01/09/2005 -- Update to correct a bug and to incorporate some additional features.
    • Fixed the routines ItemIDListSize and PidlCount in CShItem which would fail in some very rare instances.
    • Modified Sub New(path as String) in CShItem to accept a file path as well as a directory path.
    • Added the required special handling so that My Documents can be used as a base directory. Code changes in Sub New(StartDir as CSIDL) to accomplish this. Also uncommented StartDir entry for My Documents so it can be used in the designer.
    • Improved GetItems() property to avoid an extra pass over the contents of a directory.
    • Added ExpandANode method to ExpTree. This is the limited version of this method discussed in the forum for this article.
    • Modified demo to clear the ListView when an empty directory is selected in the TreeView. Demo also contains some commented out code that may be used to exercise some of the added functionality. See demo source for directions on how to do this.
  • 11/29/2004 -- Added features to CShItem, ExpTree, and the demo program. Small addition to ShellDll. Made CShItem and the demo more Culture neutral. Modified article to reflect changes.
    • Added a variant constructor to CShitem to allow the creation of a CShItem based on a valid directory path (e.g. -- "C:\").
    • Added a Run-Time only property to ExpTree to allow the changing of ExpTree's root directory dynamically.
    • Modified demo to illustrate the new properties.
    • Removed or modified tests based on CShItem's TypeName and DisplayName strings that would fail in a non-English Culture setting. Also modified a test in the demo which would fail under the same circumstance. Modified the creation code for the Desktop CShItem to set its path to its GUID and to obtain its DisplayName from SHGetFileInfo rather than arbitrarily setting it to "Desktop".
    • Modified CShItem such that SHGetFileInfo is not called until the property values that it provides are actually requested. This was done similarly to changes in a previous update that deferred the fetching of IconIndexes until actually requested.
  • 11/05/2004 -- Update to the CShItem source. This fixes the following problems:
    • A memory leak in the GetContents method.
    • Changed the fetching of IconIndexes so that they are not obtained until called for. This should make little difference to applications that need icons for all files, but significantly speeds up applications that do not use or need icons for most files.
    • Fetch the correct icon for Open folders. It was finding and using the icon for MyDocuments for this purpose rather than the correct one.
    • Source download contains the correct code to match the article. This was not posted correctly for the last update prior to this one.
  • 10/22/2004 -- Noticed that SystemImageListManager's inappropriate design as a class with potential multiple instances caused problems, especially within the IDE, under some circumstances. Recast it as a class with only Shared properties and methods, as it should have been designed in the first place. With this change, and with the addition of a Mutex around the code that actually writes to the System image list, the class should be ThreadSafe, though that has not been tested exhaustively.
  • 10/20/2004 -- Second version. Correct display of alpha channel icons on XP systems. One, simplified and corrected, class for managing icons. Revision of article to reflect code changes.
  • 10/11/2004 -- Initial version of article and ExpTreeLib (Ver. 1.0.1743.41270).


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


About the Author

Jim Parsells
United States United States
After 30+ years working in the IT field, mostly managing SysAdmins, I have retired. One of my hobbies returns me to programming, basically just to keep my hand in.

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