Chapter 4. Menus and Toolbars

Menus are often the only practical way to present a rich array of functionality without cluttering up the user interface. Whether appearing at the top of the window, or as a context menu accessed through the righthand mouse button, menus allow an application to show concisely which operations are available. An application’s usability can be further enhanced by making the most important operations available through toolbar buttons as well as menus.

The Windows Forms framework provides support for both menus and toolbars. Despite the fact that these two technologies serve similar roles—toolbar buttons often correspond directly to menu items—they are presented through two largely unrelated parts of the class library. However, as we will see later, it is possible to unify the way you handle events from them in your application.

In this chapter, we will first examine the support for menus. Then we will see how to create toolbars. Finally, we will see how events from both can be dealt with by a single set of event handlers.


The Windows Forms framework provides support for adding menus to your applications. It uses a single programming model both for normal window menus and for context menus. The model allows menus to be modified dynamically, or even combined, providing flexibility at runtime, and supports the ability to reuse and extend menu definitions.

We will start by examining the object model used for constructing menus. Then we will see how to attach them to a form. Next, we will look at how to add context menus. Finally, we will see how to reuse and extend your menu definitions by merging items from one menu into another, both in the context of MDI applications, and also when reusing forms through inheritance.

The Object Model

For your application to use menus, you must provide Windows Forms with a description of their structure and contents. You do this by building hierarchies of objects that represent menus and the items they contain. Although you will typically get Visual Studio .NET to do this for you, a sound understanding of the object model it uses is important to use menus effectively in your applications.

This object model revolves around the Menu class, which is arguably misnamed, because it represents a more abstract concept than its title suggests. It can correspond to any element of a menu structure, and it is the base class of all the other types in the menu object model. So while a Menu object might represent a menu, it could just represent a single item of a menu. (Perhaps MenuElement would have been a more descriptive name.) Representing menus and menu items with the same base type seems a little strange at first, but it makes sense when you consider that menus can be hierarchical. A menu item might well be a nested menu, in which case, it makes sense for that menu item to be represented by an object whose class derives from Menu.

The main job of the Menu class is to represent the structure of a menu. You can find out whether a particular Menu object is a leaf item or an item with children by examining its IsParent property. If IsParent is true, its child items will be in a collection on the object’s MenuItems property.

You will never use the Menu class directly. Its constructor is protected, which means that to obtain a reference to a Menu, you must instead create one of its derivatives: MainMenu, ContextMenu, or MenuItem.

The MainMenu class represents a form’s main menu, and ContextMenu represents a pop-up context menu. Every menu structure has one or the other of these at its root, and you’ll see more about how to use them later on. But everything else in the menu is represented by MenuItem objects. Every line that the user sees in a menu (and every top-level menu in a form’s main menu) is represented by a MenuItem. A leaf item (i.e., a menu item that does not lead to a submenu) is indicated by the fact that it has no children. If the item leads to a submenu, the same object represents both the item and the submenu.

Figure 4-1 shows an example application with a main menu. As you can see, a single MenuItem object represents both the Edit caption and the menu associated with it. Each entry in the menu (Undo, Redo, etc.) has its own MenuItem object. The object that corresponds to the Find and Replace item also represents the submenu (although the entries in that submenu all have their own MenuItem objects).

Menus and their objects

Figure 4-1. Menus and their objects

We’ll now look at how to go about building such hierarchies of objects to add menus to an application.

Building menus

The easiest way to create a menu is to use the Visual Studio .NET Forms Designer. It provides two menu-related controls in the tool box: MainMenu and ContextMenu. Each of these provides a visual interface for editing the contents of a menu. Somewhat confusingly, Visual Studio uses the same interface for both. This is a little strange, because it means that the editor makes context menus look like the form’s main menu. But this is just a design-time anomaly—context menus are displayed correctly at runtime.

As we have seen in previous chapters, anything done in the Forms Designer simply ends up generating code. Menus are no exception, and regardless of which kind of menu you create, the Forms Designer generates the same kind of code. It will create a top-level menu (either a MainMenu or a ContextMenu), and then one MenuItem for each element of each menu. The C# code appears as follows:

this.mainMenu = new System.Windows.Forms.MainMenu();

this.menuFile = new System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem();

this.menuFileNew = new System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem();

this.menuFileOpen = new System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem();

this.menuFileClose = new System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem();

this.menuFileExit = new System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem();

The corresponding VB code is:

Me.mainMenu = New System.Windows.Forms.MainMenu()

Me.menuFile = New System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem()

Me.menuFileNew = New System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem()

Me.menuFileOpen = New System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem()

Me.menuFileClose = New System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem()

Me.menuFileExit = New System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem()


By default, the Designer will choose unhelpful names for the menu items, such as menuItem1, menuItem2, etc. If you want your code to be readable, it is a good idea to change each menu item’s Name property to something more meaningful in the Designer, as has been done in this example. (The Name property is in the Design category of the Properties window.)

Of course, creating a few menu items is not enough to describe the menu fully—with the code as it stands, Windows Forms will have no idea that menuFile is an item of mainMenu, or that menuFileNew, menuFileOpen, and menuFileClose are members of menuFile. So the designer also generates code to establish the menu hierarchy.[15] In C#, the code looks like this:


// mainMenu



    new System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem[] {






// menuFile


this.menuFile.Index = 0;


    new System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem[] {





In VB:



Me.mainMenu.MenuItems.AddRange( _

    New System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem() _

        {Me.menuFile, _

         Me.menuEdit, _






Me.menuFile.Index = 0

Me.menuFile.MenuItems.AddRange( _

    New System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem() _

        {Me.menuFileNew, _

         Me.menuFileOpen, _

         Me.menuFileClose, _


Note that the designer uses the same code for adding items to the main menu as for adding items to the File submenu. This illustrates why all the various menu classes derive from the Menu base class—Menu supplies the functionality common to all menu elements, such as the ability to contain menu items.

A menu’s items are stored in the MenuItems property, whose type is the special-purpose collection class Menu.MenuItemCollection. The code uses this collection’s AddRange method to add a list of MenuItem objects. Of course, because each MenuItem inherits from Menu, it has a MenuItems property too, and can have further subitems added—this is how nested menu structures are built.

The order in which you add menu items to a parent menu has no bearing on the order in which they appear on screen. Their order is controlled by the Index property. This property is an int or Integer, and it is used to number child items sequentially starting from 0. (The Designer does this automatically, and adjusts the Index properties when you reorder items visually.)

The framework will also need to know what text should be displayed for each menu item, and whether it has any keyboard shortcut associated with it. So for each item, the Designer generates code like this in C#:

this.menuFileNew.Index = 0;

this.menuFileNew.Shortcut = System.Windows.Forms.Shortcut.CtrlN;

this.menuFileNew.Text = "&New...";

And code like this in VB:

Me.menuFileNew.Index = 0

Me.menuFileNew.Shortcut = System.Windows.Forms.Shortcut.CtrlN

Me.menuFileNew.Text = "&New..."

As we have already seen, the Index property determines the order in which menu items appear. The Text property determines what text should be displayed. (If you set this to a hyphen, the menu item will appear as a separator—a dividing line between menu items.) The ampersand denotes something called an accelerator; both this and the Shortcut property allow experienced users to use menus much more quickly than would otherwise be possible.

Accelerators and shortcut keys

Most Windows applications can be controlled from the keyboard as well as with the mouse. In fact, this is a requirement for earning the Designed for Windows logo. Accelerator keys and shortcut keys are two long-established mechanisms for making menus easier to use from the keyboard.

Menus can be navigated with the arrow keys, but with large menu structures, this rapidly becomes tiresome, so accelerator keys are also supported. These are keys that can be pressed to select a particular menu item without having to use the mouse or arrow keys. Each item in a menu can have a letter associated with it, and if the user presses that key while the menu is visible, the effect is the same as clicking on the item.

The previous code fragments illustrate how to choose an accelerator key: in the Text property, we simply place an ampersand in front of the relevant letter. So in this example, if the user presses the N key while the File menu is open, the New menu item will be selected. The user can find out what accelerator keys are available by pressing the Alt key while the menu is open: the accelerators will be underlined, as shown in Figure 4-2. (Older versions of Windows show the accelerators at all times, even when Alt has not been pressed.)

Menu with accelerators and shortcuts

Figure 4-2. Menu with accelerators and shortcuts

Menu accelerators can make it easy for experienced users to use menus quickly without taking their hands off the keyboard. However, for very frequently used operations, keyboard shortcuts provide a more direct form of access.

Unlike menu accelerators, which can only be used while the relevant menu is visible, a shortcut key can be used at any time. In this example, the New menu item’s shortcut key is Ctrl-N. The user can press Ctrl-N without a menu visible, and it will be as if he had selected the New item from the File menu.

Shortcuts are assigned with the Shortcut property on the MenuItem class, and its value must be one of the key combinations enumerated in the Shortcut enumeration. This is a subset of all possible key presses; it includes the function keys, with various combinations of modifier keys (e.g., F12 or CtrlShiftF3), and the alphanumeric keys with Ctrl or Ctrl and Shift, (e.g., CtrlA, CtrlShiftQ, Ctrl3). By default, the shortcut will be displayed in the menu, as shown in Figure 4-2, although this can be disabled by setting the ShowShortcut property to false.

Shortcut keys only work because the Form class knows about menus—when handling key presses, a form will offer keys to the both the main menu and the context menu for that form. This means that shortcuts only work properly for menus that have been attached to a form (as described later on). You would usually not use them on context menus that have been attached to specific controls.

So we know how to create hierarchical menu structures, and how to assign text, accelerators, and shortcut keys to menu items. But for all this to be of any use, we need to know when the user clicks on one of our menu items. So we will now look at the events raised by menus.

Event Handling

The entire point of adding menus to an application is so that users can ask the application to do something, such as save a file or perform a search. So as developers, we want our code to be notified whenever the user chooses an item from a menu. Menus therefore provide events to inform us of user input.

The most important menu event is Click. This is very similar to the Control class’s Click event[16]—a MenuItem raises this event when the user clicks on the menu item or performs an equivalent key press (using either an accelerator or a shortcut key). It even has the same signature as Control.Click: EventHandler. If you double-click on a menu item in the Designer, Visual Studio .NET will add a new method and attach it to the menu item’s Click event, as shown in C# in Example 4-1 and in VB in Example 4-2.

Example 4-1. Menu Click handler in C#

private void InitializeComponent()


    . . .

    this.menuFileNew.Click +=

        new System.EventHandler(this.menuFileNew_Click);

    . . .


private void menuFileNew_Click(object sender, System.EventArgs e)


    . . . handle click here


Example 4-2. Menu click handler in VB

Friend WithEvents menuFileNew As System.Windows.Forms.MenuItem

Private Sub menuFileNew_Click(ByVal sender As System.Object, _

  ByVal e As System.EventArgs) Handles menuFileNew.Click

    . . . handle click here

End Sub

The handler method’s first parameter is, as always, the source of the event (the MenuItem object, in this case). The second parameter is the usual placeholder and will normally be EventArgs.Empty.

The MenuItem class also provides a Popup event, which is fired whenever a menu is about to be displayed. This provides a useful opportunity to make sure that the state of all the items is up to date (e.g., you can place ticks by certain menu items, as described in the next section). The event occurs on the MenuItem that represents the menu that is about to appear. Its parent is not notified, and neither are the individual items that make up the menu. For example, when the File menu in the preceding examples is about to be displayed, the Popup event would occur on the menuFile object, not on the main menu, and not on any of the File menu’s items.

You can also be notified when an item has been highlighted (i.e., when the mouse moves over it). That item’s Select event is raised when this happens. This event also occurs when the item is selected with the arrow keys. The name Select is slightly misleading. Selecting a menu item sounds like a fairly positive operation by the user, but it typically indicates that the mouse has simply moved over the item. The Click event is the one raised when a user actively chooses an item.

If you are familiar with the old C++ MFC Library, you might be expecting to see events for handling menu item state. In that library, every time a menu item was displayed, an event was raised asking whether the item should be enabled and whether it should have a tick by it. In .NET, things are a little different—Windows Forms exposes these features as properties on the MenuItem object.

Menu Item State

You will often want a menu item’s appearance to change according to the application’s state. For example, a menu item that turns something on or off (such as a status bar) can have a tick beside it to indicate that the feature is currently on. Some menu items may sometimes be unavailable and should be grayed out or even hidden. We will now see how to modify the appearance and behavior of menus at runtime to achieve this.

Each MenuItem has an Enabled property. By default, it is set to true, but when it is false, the item will be grayed out and will not be clickable. More drastically, you can set the Visible property to false, which will prevent the item from appearing at all. The MenuItem class also provides a Checked property. When this is set, a tick will be displayed next to the menu item.


If you preferred the old MFC approach, in which you decided which items should be ticked or disabled at the last minute, you can still do this. Simply supply a Popup handler for the menu and set the flags for each menu item in it. This approach can be useful, because it guarantees that menu items are always up to date, but an event-driven approach is no longer mandatory, so you can use whichever is simpler for your particular application. Remember that the Popup event is raised for the menu, not for each of its items, so your code will not look quite the same as it did with MFC—you will have a single handler setting the state of all necessary items, rather than one handler per item.

So, we now know how to create menus, how to handle the events they generate, and how to modify the appearance of individual items. All that remains is to make sure these menus appear when and where we want them, which is the subject of the next section.

Attaching Menus

There are two ways in which a menu can appear. It can either be permanently visible at the top of a form, or it can be a so-called Context Menu that pops up when the user clicks the right (or alternate) mouse button. In either case, we simply associate a hierarchy of menu items with a form or a control.

The menu that appears at the top of a window is determined by the Form class’s Menu property. You can set this property to a MainMenu object representing the root of a hierarchy of MenuItem objects. The Forms Designer does this automatically when you add a main menu to a form.

Setting a context menu is very similar, except context menus may be assigned to any control, not just a form. This means that you can provide different context menus for each control in a window. This is done by setting the ContextMenu property of the control or form.

Remember that the Form class derives from Control, so it is possible to set a context menu for the whole form. Be aware though that when you add a context menu to a form with the designer, Visual Studio .NET does not presume that the menu should be attached to the form—for all it knows, you might be planning to associate it with a control, so it leaves it unattached. You must explicitly attach the menu either to the form or to a control by setting the relevant object’s ContextMenu property.

Be aware that keyboard shortcuts for a context menu will only work if the control that owns the menu is able to process keys. For a context menu attached to a form, this means that the shortcuts will work so long as the form is active, but for menus attached to a particular control on a form, the shortcuts will only work when that control has the focus. So it is not always useful to put shortcut keys on a context menu attached to a control, because the whole point of shortcut keys is that they can be used from any context. (The exception would be if your control can receive the focus and presents a nontrivial interactive user interface. For example, a text box provides clipboard shortcuts such as Ctrl-C for copy. In this case, it makes sense for the shortcuts only to be available when the control has the focus.)

Sometimes it is useful to know if a menu is currently being displayed to avoid distracting or interrupting the user—it can be annoying if an application pops up a notification dialog while you are using a menu, because this causes the menu to be closed. If you want to disable or defer certain operations while a menu is open, you simply need to observe the Form class’s MenuStart and MenuComplete events. These are fired just before a menu receives the focus and just after it disappears. These events are fired for the form’s context menu as well as for its main menu. Unfortunately, the form does not raise these events for a control-specific context menu, and although you could handle such a menu’s Popup event, there is unfortunately no corresponding event to tell you when it goes away.

Menu Merging

Many applications present several forms that all have similar but slightly different menus. This is particularly common when forms inheritance is in use (see Chapter 6). MDI applications often have a related requirement: a form may make subtle changes to its menu structure depending on which child window (if any) is active.

Unfortunately, we cannot exploit inheritance here as we would for building a group of similar forms: whereas the structure and behavior of a form is represented by a class definition, the structure and behavior of a menu is defined by an object graph constructed at runtime. All menus are made from a collection of objects that are always of the same types (several MenuItem objects and either one MainMenu or one ContextMenu), so inheritance cannot help us here.

The good news is that the Menu class provides a solution. It provides a method called MergeMenu that allows us to take an existing menu structure and extend or modify it to create a new menu. The resulting menu will be the combination of the two menus, as illustrated in Figure 4-3.

Merged menus

Figure 4-3. Merged menus

Figure 4-3 illustrates the simplest way of using menu merging—two menus are combined, and the result is a menu containing all the items from each. The MergeMenu method does a deep copy, so any submenus will also be duplicated. This merging is easy to do—the following C# code (the VB code is almost identical) shows how to create a new context menu by merging the items from two other menus:

ContextMenu mergedMenu = new ContextMenu();



But even this simple example raises an interesting question: how does the framework decide the order in which to place the items in the created menu? While it has not reordered the items from each individual menu in Figure 4-3, it has decided to insert the items from the second menu halfway through those of the first menu. The framework determines how to interleave the menus’ contents by looking at the MergeOrder property on each MenuItem. This property is an int or Integer, and the framework guarantees that when combining menus, it will merge items in ascending MergeOrder order. So the reason the framework decides to insert the second menu’s contents halfway down becomes clear when we see the MergeOrder property settings on the original menus:[17]

this.menuHello.MergeOrder = 5; 

this.menuWorld.MergeOrder = 5; 

this.menuSeparator1.MergeOrder = 10;

this.menuFoo.MergeOrder = 100;

this.menuBar.MergeOrder = 100;

this.menuMore.MergeOrder = 20;

this.menuStuff.MergeOrder = 20;

The More and Stuff items in the second menu have a merge order of 20, which means that they appear between the separator and the Foo entry, which have orders of 10 and 100, respectively. You can choose whatever values you like for a merge order, but using 0 for the items you want to appear first, 100 for those you want to appear last, and more or less evenly spaced values for those in between is a popular choice. (The default MergeOrder is 0.)

Advanced merging

The merging technique shown above is sufficient for many purposes, but you might need to do something a little more complex. For example, sometimes it is not enough simply to add new items to a menu—you may wish to remove items. Also, if you want to insert new items into a submenu instead of the top level menu, the naïve approach is insufficient: by default you will end up with two identically named submenus.

To support these more subtle merging techniques, the MenuItem class provides a MergeType property, which controls the way an item is treated when it is merged. By default, its value is MenuMerge.Add, meaning that all items in the menu being merged will be added as new items.

You can set MergeType to MenuMerge.Remove, which causes the corresponding entry not to appear. You would use this value if the menu you are modifying contains an entry you would like to remove.


You must set the MergeType property on both source menus for this technique to work. If the new menu being merged into the original menu attempts to remove an item, that attempt will be ignored unless the original menu’s corresponding item (the item with the same MergeOrder) is also marked as MenuMerge.Remove.

So the MergeType property really has two meanings—on the original item it indicates the allowable operations, and on the new item it indicates the operation being requested. Unfortunately, not only is this overloading slightly confusing, it is somewhat restrictive— there is no way to create a menu item that allows both the MergeItem and the Remove operations. Conflicts are also dealt with a little inconsistently—if the original is Add and the new is Remove, the new item is ignored; if the original is Remove and the new is MergeItem, the item is replaced!

Setting MergeType to MenuMerge.Replace is similar to remove, except it replaces the original item with the one in the menu being merged. Finally, MergeType can be set to MenuMerge.MergeItems. This value is used when you wish to modify the contents of a submenu. Although you could modify a submenu by replacing it entirely, MergeItems is useful when you want to make only minor modifications. You use this by supplying a MergeItems item corresponding to the submenu item in the original menu, and then put child items underneath it, using Add, Remove, Replace, or MergeItems as appropriate. For example, if you wanted to add an item to a main menu’s File menu, you would not replace the entire main menu, or even the entire File menu. The following code (in C#) would suffice:

MenuItem mergingFileMenu = new MenuItem();

mergingFileMenu.MergeType = MenuMerge.MergeItems;

mergingFileMenu.Text = "&File";

MenuItem menuExtraFileItem = new MenuItem();

menuExtraFileItem.Text = "Ext&ra";

menuExtraFileItem.MergeOrder = 10;

MenuItem menuExtraFileSeparator = new MenuItem();

menuExtraFileSeparator.Text = "-";

menuExtraFileSeparator.MergeOrder = 10;

mergingFileMenu.MenuItems.AddRange(new MenuItem[] {



MainMenu mergingMainMenu = new MainMenu(new MenuItem[] {

    mergingFileMenu });


This adds an item labeled Extra to the File menu, followed by a separator. So even though we are merging two main menus together, we are able to modify one of its submenus without having to replace that submenu wholesale. And although this may look like a lot of code to add a single item, it is rather less than would be required to reconstruct the whole menu. Furthermore, building a modified File menu from scratch presents code maintenance issues—if you want to change the basic File menu, you would also need to change all the places where you build a modified version. But if you use menu merging, any changes to the basic menu will automatically propagate to the modified versions.

Remember that this will only work if the original main menu’s File menu item also has its MergeType set to MenuMerge.MergeItems; if it were set to the default of MenuMerge.Add, you would end up with two File submenus in the main menu.

Merging and MDI applications

If you build an MDI application, the framework can automatically take advantage of menu merging. The menus in such applications typically consist of two types of items: those that are associated with a document window and those that are a part of the main application frame. The set of available menu items is determined by whether a document window is active (and if there is more than one kind of document window, it will depend on which one is active).

The application-level menu items are those that should always be present and that make sense even if there are no open documents, such as items for file opening, document creation, or application configuration. Document-level menu items are those that only make sense in the context of a document, such as items for file closing or saving, editing operations, or view settings. MDI applications usually present just a single menu bar as part of the main application frame, but its contents change between being just the application-level items or the complete set, according to whether a document is active.

This seems like an ideal opportunity to use menu merging—the application-level items could be placed into one MainMenu, the document level items into a second MainMenu, and these could be merged to create a third. All that would need to be done would be to swap in the appropriate merged or unmerged version according to whether a child window is active. Indeed, this is exactly how MDI applications usually work in .NET, but it turns out that Windows Forms can do the menu merging automatically.

If you use the framework’s built-in support for MDI applications (i.e., you establish the parent/child relationship with the Form class’s MdiParent or MdiChildren properties), it will assume that the parent form’s MainMenu contains the application-level menu items, and that any child form’s MainMenu contains document-level items. Whenever an MDI child form is activated, the framework will automatically merge its menu into the parent form’s menu. If all MDI child windows are closed, it reverts to the original parent form’s menu.

So using menu merging in MDI applications requires almost no effort. The only thing you need to be careful about is setting the correct MergeType—very often a child window will want to add entries (such as for adding a save and a close entry to the File menu) into an existing menu in the parent. Both the parent and the child form’s main menus will need to contain File submenus, which must both have the same MergeOrder, and they must both have a MergeType of MenuMerge.MergeItems.

Merging and forms inheritance

It is possible to define a form that derives from another form. We will be looking at the use of inheritance in detail in Chapter 6, but we will quickly examine the inheritance-related aspects of menu merging here.

When building an inherited form, the derived class will automatically acquire the base class’s menu. However, if you try to edit the menu in the derived class, the Forms Designer will prevent you, complaining that the menu is defined on the base class. To modify a menu on the derived form, you must use menu merging.

To modify the menu in the derived class, you must add a new MainMenu component to the form. Place whatever modifications you require in this menu. To merge this menu in with the main menu requires a little code. Add the following C# code to your constructor:

MainMenu mainMenu = new MainMenu();



this.Menu = mainMenu;

The equivalent VB code is:

Dim mainMenu As New MainMenu()



Me.Menu = mainMenu

This builds a new MainMenu object, which takes the original menu and merges in mainMenuDerived (or whatever you choose to call the MainMenu that you added to your derived form). It then sets this merged menu as the new main menu of the form.

Owner-Drawn Menus

The standard appearance provided by the Windows Forms framework for menu items is pretty basic—you get simple text, and you can optionally annotate menu items with a tick (just set the Checked property). If you want to draw your own annotations, or otherwise provide richer visual information, the framework lets you draw your own menu items. The use of GDI+ to perform custom drawing is discussed in detail in Chapter 7, but here we will look at the menu-specific aspects of owner drawing.

You can decide to do your own drawing on a per-item basis by setting the MenuItem object’s OwnerDraw property to true. Unfortunately, it is an all or nothing decision: if you ask the framework to let you draw a particular item, you are required to manage the whole drawing process. First, you must tell the framework the size of your menu item by handling the MeasureItem event; otherwise, the item will default to having a height of 0 pixels. And you must also handle the DrawItem event, in which you are responsible for drawing everything, including the text of the menu. (Turning on OwnerDraw will prevent Windows from drawing anything other than the menu background.)


Because owner drawing is a per-item decision, it is possible to have a single menu with a mixture of owner-drawn and system-drawn items.

You will receive the DrawItem event every time the item needs redrawing. This happens when the menu appears, directly after the MeasureItem event, but it also happens again every time the mouse moves on or off the menu item, so that you can highlight your item like Windows does for normal items. Your event handler will be passed a DrawItemEventArgs object, whose State member indicates how the item should be drawn. This field is of type DrawItemState, which is a bit field, so it may indicate multiple styles simultaneously. The flags that may be set are Selected (indicating that the mouse is currently over the item), NoAccelerator (indicating that accelerator keys should not be displayed; this will normally be set unless the user is operating the menu through the keyboard), and Checked (indicating that a tick should be drawn by the item).

Examples Example 4-3 and Example 4-4 show a pair of event handlers for a very simple owner-drawn menu. The item is always the same size because the MeasureItem handler always returns the same width and height. The DrawItem handler simply draws an ellipse as the menu item, but it illustrates an important technique: it checks the item’s state to see if it is selected, and if so, it draws the menu background in the normal selected menu item color, and draws the ellipse in the same color as selected text in a menu would be drawn. Note the use of the DrawBackground method of the DrawItemEventArgs object to fill in the menu background—it draws the background in the appropriate color (i.e., SystemColors.Menu, unless the item is selected, in which case it uses SystemColors.Highlight). We call this whether the item is in the selected state or not. You might think that this is unnecessary because, as mentioned above, the framework draws the background for us. Unfortunately it only does that when the menu is first opened, so if we change the background when our item is selected, we are required to put it back again when it is deselected.

Example 4-3. Simple owner-drawn menu item in C#

private void menuItem_MeasureItem(object sender,

    System.Windows.Forms.MeasureItemEventArgs e)


    e.ItemHeight = 17;

    e.ItemWidth = 100;


private void menuItem_DrawItem(object sender,

    System.Windows.Forms.DrawItemEventArgs e)


    Graphics g = e.Graphics;

    bool selected = (e.State & DrawItemState.Selected) != 0;

    Brush b = selected ?

        SystemBrushes.HighlightText : Brushes.Blue;


    g.FillEllipse(b, e.Bounds);


Example 4-4. Simple owner-drawn menu item in VB

Private Sub menuItem_MeasureItem(sender As Object, _

  e As System.Windows.Forms.MeasureItemEventArgs) _

  Handles menuItem.MeasureItem

    e.ItemHeight = 17

    e.ItemWidth = 100

End Sub

Private Sub menuItem_DrawItem(sender As Object, _

  e As System.Windows.Forms.DrawItemEventArgs) _

  Handles menuItem.DrawItem

    Dim g As Graphics = e.Graphics

    Dim selected As Boolean = (e.State & DrawItemState.Selected) <> 0

    Dim b As Brush

    If selected Then

        b = SystemBrushes.HighlightText


        b = Brushes.Blue

    End If  


    g.FillEllipse(b, e.Bounds)

End Sub

Now that we have seen how to create menus, let us see how we can provide expert users with more direct access to the most frequently used operations with toolbars.

[15] The other top level menus referenced here (menuEdit, menuView, and menuHelp) would be built in the same way as the File menu. The relevant code has been omitted for conciseness.

[16] It is not the same event, despite looking identical. This is because the Menu class is something of an anomaly—despite being a visual class, it does not in fact inherit from Control. It derives directly from System.ComponentModel.Component (as does Control). This seems to be because menus don’t behave quite like other controls.

[17] The code is shown in C#. Once again, the VB code is similar, except that the C# this keyword is replaced with Me, and VB does not use the semicolon to terminate a code statement.

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