Hosting Windows Forms Designers

Introduction

I decided to write this article not because there is a strong demand for this information, but because there is literally no existing information out there on the topic. The documentation is scarce if any, and aside from a few tidbits thrown out by Microsoft it is a daunting task. It requires you to already be very familiar with the design-time architecture, and have a strong grasp of all the interfaces you commonly use.

All the interfaces you rely on when developing designers and extending the design-time behaviour of your controls, it is now your responsibility to implement. Not only is this a non-trivial task, but it is one of those times where you have to implement a great deal before you can see any progress at all. That said, once you've written the code you'll never have to write it again (and since I'm going to be writing it for this article, you'll never have to write it in the first place).


The accompanying sample application demostrates the code we discuss in this article

Why would you want to host the Windows Forms Designers? Well, there could be lots of reasons. When I was faced with the problem it was because I was writing an IDE for .NET languages and I wanted a visual interface to configure GUIs, just like VS.NET has. When you consider the flexibility of the designer architecture, you realise you have a framework for designing any 2-dimensional hierarchical system. All the code for moving, resizing, creating, deleting and configuring items is already there.

The one you see in VS.NET is running from the framework, and is the same one we'll be writing the code to enable. All the designer stuff is already present in the framework, you just need to write the code to bind it all together. This was best left out of the framework because it is strongly tied to the host environment.

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