Web Resources on Windows Programming in C++

I’d like to point out some interesting links to resources on Windows programming in C++.

Learn to Program for Windows in C++” is a series published on MSDN, aimed at teaching how to write a Windows program in C++, assuming a good working knowledge of C++ programming, but no previous experience in Windows programming. Things like Windows typical terminology, window classes, window procedure, window messages, using COM,  Windows graphics architecture, handling user input, etc. are explained.

Specific resources about Windows 7 Taskbar programming can be found here.

Another interesting series on Windows C++ programming is Hilo. Several topics are discussed, ranging from Direct2D, to animation manager, to Windows Ribbon, Windows Imaging component, Windows 7 Web Services API, etc.

And, last but not least, Kenny Kerr (author of Window Clippings) is offering a series about C++ programming for Windows on his blog.

Relax. Enjoy. Learn.

Lookup in std::map

The STL is a very powerful and highly-customizable C++ library (for example, you can provide custom allocators for its containers), but my impression is that sometimes the public interfaces of some classes lack some useful and convenient methods.

One example is std::map: both ATL’s CAtlMap and .NET BCL’s Dictionary classes offer a convenient lookup method (CAtlMap::Lookup and Dictionary.TryGetValue respectively).

Unfortunately, there is nothing similar in STL’s std::map. The logic flow of operations for this class is:

1. call the map::find method passing the key; this method returns an iterator;

2. if the returned iterator equals map::end, the key is not contained in the map;

3. if the returned iterator is valid, the value associated with the given key can be found in iterator->second.

That’s not very intuitive and convenient (IMHO). Fortunately, we can embedd this sequence of operations in a template function, as follows:

// FUNCTION: lookup
// Given an instance of std::map, this function checks if the specified key
// is contained in the map.
// If so, the function copies the value associated with the key in 'value'
// parameter, and returns true.
// If the key is not contained in the map, the function returns false
// (and the 'value' parameter is undefined).
template <class Key, class Value, class Compare, class Allocator>
bool lookup(
  std::map<Key, Value, Compare, Allocator> const& theMap,
  typename std::map<Key, Value, Compare, Allocator>::key_type const& key,
  typename std::map<Key, Value, Compare, Allocator>::mapped_type & value
  // Search for the specified key in the map
  auto it = theMap.find(key);
  // If the key is not found in the map, just return false
  if (it == theMap.end())
    return false;
  // Key found in map.
  // Copy the associated value back to the caller
  value = it->second;
  // Key found
  return true;

EDIT 2010-12-15: Thanks Stephan ‘STL’ for enlightment on a template argument deduction issue.

EDIT 2017-01-12: Used Auto SyntaxHighlighter for C++ source code.

Astronomy Picture of the Day with Windows 7 x64

Michael Dunn developed an interesting Gadget for Browsing the Astronomy Picture of the Day.

However, using the original version published on CodeProject, I failed to install the gadget on Windows 7 x64. (Browsing the comment section, it seems I was not alone.)

Fortunately, source code is available in the download package. The gadget uses an helper COM object, written in C++ with good old VC6. I imported the C++ project in VS2008 and rebuilt for x64 (in fact, to my knowledge, it is impossible to do 64-bit builds using VC6). After repackaging the gadget with the 64-bit COM object, the APOD viewer correctly shows up in Windows 7 x64.

The x64 build is attached to this post.

Building Double-NUL-Terminated Strings

EDIT (2016-10-11): New modern C++11 code available.

There was an interesting post on Raymond Chen’s blog about double-null-terminated strings.

Double-NUL-terminated strings have some pros, like reducing heap fragmentation and offering good locality: in fact, the strings are allocated in memory sequentially, and not scattered around.

Another benefit of double-NUL-terminated strings is marshaling an array of strings through a pure-C-interface DLL.

In fact, for a C++ programmer, the most natural way of storing an array of strings would be to use something like std::vector<CString> (or MFC CStringArray container). But how could we pass an array of strings at the boundaries of a pure-C-interface DLL? One solution could be to use a SAFEARRAY of BSTR‘s, from COM.

But another one (IMHO, simpler) could be to just use double-NUL-terminated strings.
This technique was proposed as an answer in a post in the Visual C++ MFC and ATL MSDN Forum.

Here is a simple C++ code to build a double-NUL-terminated string from a vector of CString’s:

// Builds a double-NUL terminated string from a vector of CString's.
// The caller must release allocated memory using ::LocalFree.
// Returns NULL in case of allocation error.

wchar_t * BuildDoubleNulString(const std::vector<CString>& strings )
    // If the input string array is empty, just build an empty string.
    if (strings.empty())
        // Allocate memory using Win32 heap allocator
        wchar_t * emptyDoubleNulString = reinterpret_cast<wchar_t *>(
                LPTR,                   // fixed + zero init
                2 * sizeof(wchar_t)     // 2 Unicode characters
        if (emptyDoubleNulString == NULL)
            // Alloc error
            return NULL;
        return emptyDoubleNulString;

    // Calculate the total number of characters to build
    // the double-NUL terminated string.
    size_t totalChars = 0;
    for (size_t i = 0; i < strings.size(); i++)
        // Get length of current string, including terminating
        totalChars += (strings[i].GetLength() + 1);

    // Consider adding a termination, so add +1 to required char count
    // Build the double-NUL terminated string
    wchar_t * result = reinterpret_cast<wchar_t *>(
            LPTR,                        // fixed + zero init
            totalChars * sizeof(wchar_t) // totalChars Unicode characters
    if (result == NULL)
        // Allocation error
        return NULL;

    wchar_t * dest = result;
    for (size_t i = 0; i < strings.size(); i++)
        // Get current string length
        size_t currLen = strings[i].GetLength();

        // Can't have empty strings inside a double-NUL-terminated string
        ATLASSERT(currLen != 0);

        // Copy current string to destination memory
        memcpy(dest, strings[i].GetString(), currLen * sizeof(wchar_t));

        // No need to terminate current string
        //  dest[currLen] = 0;
        // because memory was allocated with zero-init flag.    

        // Move destination to next string slot
        dest += (currLen + 1);

    // No need to add terminating ,
    // because memory was allocated with zero-init flag.
    //result[totalChars - 1] = 0;

    return result;

Note that LocalAlloc is used to allocate heap memory for the double-NUL-terminated string, because this memory should be freed by some client code outside the DLL, and it is fundamental that the code which allocates memory and the code which frees memory need to use the same allocator. So, e.g. if a DLL compiled with VC8 builds a double-NUL-terminated string allocating memory using new[], and this memory is freed using delete[] from some code built using VC9, there is a mismatch between allocators; using LocalAlloc/LocalFree prevents that kind of problem.

Visualizers for Visual Studio (CStringArray and shared_ptr)

Visualizers are a cool and useful feature available in modern versions of Visual Studio (VS2005, 2008 and 2010).

Recently, in the Visual C++ MFC and ATL MSDN Forum there was a question about examining the content of a CStringArray MFC collection in the debugger.
I wrote a simple CStringArray visualizer to solve that problem; its source code is attached here.

For those interested in a boost::shared_ptr visualizer, there is one available here as well.