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Your First MFC C++ Ribbon Application with Visual Studio 2010

Pete Brown - 25 March 2010

Earlier this month, I put together my first C++ sample in about a hundred years. I did that using win32 and Visual Studio 2010. Why? Well, a surprising number of folks are doing real work on impressive applications in C++, and not just inside Microsoft. Some are even working on refacing C++ applications with WPF.

Besides, it's good to learn, or re-learn, new things. It often gives you a different perspective on how to solve problems. Plus, since I'll be doing some intro videos in C++, I figured it would be good to get back into it.

So, continuing in the same theme, I decided to try out MFC for the first time ... ever. I wrote some Borland OWL code back in the early 90s, but I'm sure there are more differences than just TEverything vs. CEverything.

For the examples here, you'll need Visual Studio 2010 (I used the RC) and Windows 7. You can run it on older versions of Windows, but the Win7 ribbon style likely won't look the same.

In this sample we'll:

  • Create an MFC Document/View application with a ribbon control
  • Create a custom ribbon category
  • Add ribbon buttons
  • Change the application theme
  • Change the MDI tab container theme

Let's go!

Creating the Project

In Visual Studio 2010, pick the Visual C++ language. For many of us with language-specific IDE preferences, it's down under "Other Languages". Select MFC and then the MFC Application option.


Give your project a name and hit OK. As was the case in the Win32 project, you'll get an application Wizard that walks you through the startup steps.

image image

The second page of the wizard has all the Application Type options. As someone who usually works in WPF and Silverlight, I am totally jealous! The wizard offers you options for Basic apps, Windows Explorer type apps, Office type apps and even Visual Studio type applications. You can even pick the styles and colors you want, right from this page:


For this sample, I picked the following options:

  • Multiple Documents (Tabbed)
  • Document/view architecture support (default)
  • English language (default)
  • Use Unicode Libraries (default)
  • Office project style
  • Office 2007 (Blue theme) visual style
  • Enable visual style switching (default)
  • Use MFC in a shared DLL (default)

The next page of the wizard offers you the ability to support compound documents / OLE embedding


I decided not to bother with that for this sample. Leave it at "none"

The next wizard page is for Document Template Properties. This allows you to create all the metadata for your document type. On this page, I typed in "hello" for the file extension


Next, we move on to Database support. If you're going to make calls into OLE DB or ODBC, you can set the right options here. I decided not to complicate things and instead just leave it at the default of "none"


Next stop, "User Interface Features." Are you kidding me? This is awesome. From this one step, you can stick with classic menus, menu bar and toolbar, or a ribbon. You can also set the style of your main window and, if traditional MDI, the child windows. Excellent! I left the defaults on, using a ribbon as the commandbar/menu choice.


The next tab is for advanced features. From here you can choose support for activeX controls, integration with MAPI (outlook/exchange), sockets and more. I left all the defaults in place


The final page shows you the classes that will be generated


Hit "Finish" and look at the generated project:


Nice! You get classes for your application and the windows, as well as for your document and document view. You also get a bunch of resources for the ribbon icons. Let's run this baby and see what it looks like.


Wow. Just...wow. Sure, that's a pretty busy app (selected a bunch of options), but that is a great structure coming right out of the wizard. Sure beats the blank slate we usually see. Here's a some close-ups




Ok, maybe I should have picked the Dialog project to do my first Hello World. There's a lot here! :) Nah. Let's have at this.


Modifying the Ribbon

One thing you noticed is that the design of the application is more Office 2007 and less Windows 7. That's ok. During the app wizard, had I chosen "Windows 7" instead of "Office 2007", I would have gotten the win7 style ribbons and UI.


The end result of combining "Office" with "Windows 7" looks a little hokey. Perhaps other combinations would work better.


So, we'll stick to the Office 2007 theme for this example. However, if you want to change it, since we support changing the overall theme and code was generated to handle that, all you need to change is the parameter that sets the "App Look":

// Office 2007 style
    // TODO: add member initialization code here
    theApp.m_nAppLook = theApp.GetInt(_T("ApplicationLook"), 

// Change to this for Windows 7 style
    // TODO: add member initialization code here
    theApp.m_nAppLook = theApp.GetInt(_T("ApplicationLook"), 

Opening the Ribbon Resource Editor

Visual Studio includes a designer for the Ribbon. To use it, double click the MfcHelloWorld.rc file in the Resource Files folder. Your file may be named differently, but will have a "rc" extension. Then, find the Ribbon folder and double-click the IDR_RIBBON resource folder


Once you see the ribbon displayed, click on the toolbox to display the ribbon controls



Adding a Ribbon Category with Buttons

Drag a category from the Ribbon Editor toolbox next to the Home category on the ribbon resource editor. Give the category the caption "View" by right-clicking and selecting properties. Also set the keys property to "V" (for the accelerator key) and the large and small images the same as those used by "Home". If you were to use a different image set, you'd put those keys here.


In the new "View" category, right-click the default panel and set its caption to "Theme". Then drag two buttons on to the Theme panel.

The first button has the following properties:


I picked some pre-existing images just to give the button something to size around. You'd want to load in new images in a real application.

And a menu items collection with these items. We're reusing IDs from an existing function, so the IDs are important.

Windows 2000 ID_VIEW_APPLOOK_WIN_2000
Visual Studio 2005 ID_VIEW_APPLOOK_VS_2005
Visual Studio 2008 ID_VIEW_APPLOOK_VS_2008
Office 2007 Blue ID_VIEW_APPLOOK_OFF_2007_BLUE
Office 2007 Black ID_VIEW_APPLOOK_OFF_2007_BLACK
Office 2007 Silver ID_VIEW_APPLOOK_OFF_2007_SILVER


The second button has these properties:


And a menu items collection with these items:


The View category should look something like this when complete


If you run the application now, the theme buttons will be disabled.


Wiring up the Ribbon Buttons

Now to wire it all up.

In the MainFrm.h header file, add a prototype for OnAppTheme():

afx_msg void OnAppTheme();

In the code in MainFrm.cpp, around CMainFrame::OnApplicationLook, add the following empty function:

void CMainFrame::OnAppTheme()

Finally, inside the message map block in MainFrm.cpp, add the highlighted line (handler for ID_APP_THEME):

    ON_COMMAND(ID_APP_THEME, &CMainFrame::OnAppTheme)
    ON_COMMAND(ID_WINDOW_MANAGER, &CMainFrame::OnWindowManager)
    ON_COMMAND(ID_VIEW_CAPTION_BAR, &CMainFrame::OnViewCaptionBar)
    ON_UPDATE_COMMAND_UI(ID_VIEW_CAPTION_BAR, &CMainFrame::OnUpdateViewCaptionBar)
    ON_COMMAND(ID_TOOLS_OPTIONS, &CMainFrame::OnOptions)

If you don't take those three steps, the ribbon button will not be enabled. The handlers for the menu options themselves are already set, as they fall under the ON_COMMAND_RANGE(ID_VIEW_APPLOOK_WIN_2000 ... ) block.

Now run the application and switch between the various application themes using the new ribbon button. Pretty nice, eh? :)

Aside: Where the ribbon data is Stored

You may wonder where all that ribbon config information is stored. If you look under your resource files, you'll see a ribbon.mfcribbon-ms file. Double-click that and it will open in the XML editor so you can see the contents. The ribbon resource editor overwrites/modifies this file, so don't hand-edit it unless you know what to expect.


Changing the Document Tab Style

The previous example worked so well because we simply provided another UI entry point into existing code. What about brand new code? For this part, we'll implement an option to change the document tab style.

Create the Function Prototypes

In MainFrm.h, add our three prototype functions. The first is for the drop-down button, the second is for the menu options inside the button. The third is called by the button that sets the look.

afx_msg void OnTabTheme();
afx_msg void OnTabLook(UINT id);
afx_msg void OnUpdateTabLook(CCmdUI* pCmdUI);

Create the Functions

Next, create the actual functions in MainFrm.cpp. We'll add the implementation code shortly.

void CMainFrame::OnTabTheme()

void CMainFrame::OnTabLook(UINT id)

void CMainFrame::OnUpdateTabLook(CCmdUI* pCmdUI)

Add the Message Map

Inside the Message Map block in MainFrm.cpp, add the following three lines



Compile and run to make sure the app compiles and the tab theme button is enabled.


Add Application Field to Hold Tab Style

Open up MfcHelloWorld.h and add in the following:

    virtual BOOL InitInstance();
    virtual int ExitInstance();

// Implementation
    UINT  m_nAppLook;
    UINT  m_nTabLook;
    BOOL  m_bHiColorIcons;

The new line is line 6, m_nTabLook. Like m_nAppLook, this is going to hold an ID that specifies the look for the tab controls in the app.

Inside the constructor CMainFrame::CMainFrame in MainFrm.cpp, add the TabLook line right under the AppLook line. This will initialize the value from stored settings (or the default specified)

theApp.m_nAppLook = theApp.GetInt(_T("ApplicationLook"), ID_VIEW_APPLOOK_OFF_2007_BLUE);
theApp.m_nTabLook = theApp.GetInt(_T("TabLook"), ID_TAB_THEME_3D_ONENOTE);

Inside CMainFrame::OnCreate in MainFrm.cpp, add in a new line for OnTabLook right under the call to OnApplicationLook. This will call our function to update the look.


Inside the same function, remove the lines that sets the Tab Control style. We're going to move these to another function, so you may want to just cut and paste them or comment them out for now. In any case, make sure they aren't present in the OnCreate function.

CMDITabInfo mdiTabParams;
mdiTabParams.m_style = CMFCTabCtrl::STYLE_3D_ONENOTE; // other styles available...
mdiTabParams.m_bActiveTabCloseButton = TRUE;      // set to FALSE to place close button at right of tab area
mdiTabParams.m_bTabIcons = FALSE;    // set to TRUE to enable document icons on MDI taba
mdiTabParams.m_bAutoColor = TRUE;    // set to FALSE to disable auto-coloring of MDI tabs
mdiTabParams.m_bDocumentMenu = TRUE; // enable the document menu at the right edge of the tab area
EnableMDITabbedGroups(TRUE, mdiTabParams);

Handle the Menu Button Click and Set the Field

OnUpdateTabLook takes an instance of a UI control. OnTabLook takes the command ID for a control. Following the pattern used by the application look, we'll set the radio button on our menu to indicate the current tab style.

void CMainFrame::OnTabLook(UINT id)
    theApp.m_nTabLook = id;

    theApp.WriteInt(_T("TabLook"), theApp.m_nTabLook);

void CMainFrame::OnUpdateTabLook(CCmdUI* pCmdUI)
    pCmdUI->SetRadio(theApp.m_nTabLook == pCmdUI->m_nID);

Now is a good time to save, build and run. When you select the menu to change the tab style, you should see the radio button change along with it. The tab theme won't change, but the menu will otherwise work. If you close and re-open the application, your selected theme should have the radio button next to it.

Actually Change the Tab Theme

Next we'll add in the switch statement to actually change the tab theme. open up some space in between the two lines in OnTabLook and add in the switch statement that handles all the tab looks we defined.

void CMainFrame::OnTabLook(UINT id)
    theApp.m_nTabLook = id;

    CMDITabInfo mdiTabParams;
    mdiTabParams.m_bActiveTabCloseButton = TRUE;      // set to FALSE to place close button at right of tab area
    mdiTabParams.m_bTabIcons = FALSE;    // set to TRUE to enable document icons on MDI taba
    mdiTabParams.m_bAutoColor = TRUE;    // set to FALSE to disable auto-coloring of MDI tabs
    mdiTabParams.m_bDocumentMenu = TRUE; // enable the document menu at the right edge of the tab area

    switch (theApp.m_nTabLook)
    case ID_TAB_THEME_3D:
        mdiTabParams.m_style = CMFCTabCtrl::STYLE_3D;

        mdiTabParams.m_style = CMFCTabCtrl::STYLE_3D_ONENOTE;
        mdiTabParams.m_style = CMFCTabCtrl::STYLE_3D_ROUNDED;

        mdiTabParams.m_style = CMFCTabCtrl::STYLE_3D_VS2005;

        mdiTabParams.m_style = CMFCTabCtrl::STYLE_FLAT_SHARED_HORZ_SCROLL;

    EnableMDITabbedGroups(TRUE, mdiTabParams);

    theApp.WriteInt(_T("TabLook"), theApp.m_nTabLook);

All we're doing in this function is mapping from the menu options to the built-in tab themes, and building a parameter set containing that style information as well as a few other options.

image image image 

When you run the app, change the tab themes around and take a look at how the MDI tabs switch with them. Close and open the app, and notice that the settings are saved.

Feel free to play with the other tab parameter settings. For example, you can put the close button on the far right, you can stop the auto-coloring of the tabs, add or remove the document menu and even add icons. All very nice.


I'm impressed. I have a feeling that, given the need, I could get up to speed in MFC in a reasonably short amount of time (not saying it would be good code, but it would work <g>). It helps that I did do windows programming in C++ a zillion years ago, so the concepts were familiar. It also helps that the MFC application wizard generates so much structure for your right out of the bad.

Ok MFC gurus. What did I do wrong in the above code? Any anti-patterns? Suggestions for improvement? I especially wonder about the empty functions in the message map just to enable the menu buttons.

posted by Pete Brown on Thursday, March 25, 2010
filed under:      

32 comments for “Your First MFC C++ Ribbon Application with Visual Studio 2010”

  1. jfoegensays:
    I have not used 2010 RC, but use 2008 and the only time you should need an OnUpdate... is if you need to actively enable or disable a menu item, otherwise they should default to enabled.
  2. Robertsays:
    Thanks Pete, another great blog entry. I used to love writing MFC (like you, I also wrote OWL, back in the day). I haven't written any in a long time, but I think I'll fire up VS 2010 and give it a try.
  3. AnonymousOnesays:
    Nice blog post, but it reminds me why I don't use MFC anymore.

    I used Borland's OWL as well. It was cleaner, but I don't know if I'd use it anyways.

    The end-result looks nice, but the code makes me wanna cry (not cause it's bad, but because I'm so over maintaning that kind of crap).
  4. Gunnarsays:
    Hi Pete,

    Good post. You crack me up. Yea, the MFC / Native code world is good. As for the comment from AnonymousOne that there is a lot of code, I would like to point out that with some good design skills, it's easy to create a generic layer that encapsulates the MFC nitty gritty. I have done that, and now I have an elegant C++ implementation of MVC, driven by an XML language more powerful than XAML.

    Anyways, I got the idea from some Silverlight marketing announcement that one can use Silverlight from an MFC application. I can't find anything about it. Did I imagine that, or is this possible?

  5. Nicksays:

    When i perform above steps, i dont get a Ribbon folder under a resource view..I am using visual studio 2010 beta version.

    Is anybody have same kind of prob or anybody know solution of this prob??
  6. Petesays:

    I originally wrote this using the RC version of Visual Studio 2010. Upgrade to the release that just came out (there's a free trial version) and see if you still have the same problem.

  7. harshsays:
    I too dont see a ribbon folder nor do I see IDR_ribbon in my ribbon folder, I am using vs2008 + MFC feature pack, any specific reason that this could be happening, I tried this on multiple machines, same results
  8. Anandsays:
    But... Do you have antoher steps to create a Ribbon Interface by using antoher language in microsoft visual studio 2010? Such as create the Ribbon using Visual Basic language or Microsoft C# language? Because Microsoft C++ is a verry important language for me.
  9. Petesays:

    The ribbon controls used in Windows Forms and WPF are totally different implementations. The WPF one is currently in development.

    There's an older version of the WPF Ribbon here: http://wpf.codeplex.com/

  10. gvdmsays:
    I have Visual C++ 2010 Express Edition and I search in the "New project" form the option to start a new MFC project...you found it in the "Other Languages" section but I dont'have it. I can only see "Visual C++" section with "CLR", "Win32" and "General" categories, not a "MFC" link...where should I search it?

  11. Frecklefootsays:
    Great article! I've been doing some ribbon programming and found resources on the 'net rather lacking or geared towards VS2008 (for which you need to download a curious Windows 7 SDK). This is just what I was looking for to get my app up and going. It worked "right out of the box". Thanks for posting it!
  12. briansays:
    hhhhhmmmmm....what happens when the numbers in the resource.h file get out of sequence with the numbers in the ribbon.mfcribbon-ms xml file? How do you automatically re-sync the identifier values in the ribbon.mfcribbon-ms with the resource.h file ???

    .... which unfortunately happens when adding controls and widgets via the GUI editors in Visual Studio and/or when you manually edit the resource.h file because you've found duplicate numbers, the fastest way for big projects is to import the resource.h file into a spreadsheet then auto increment the numbers..! nice and easy...oh wait !!! they've now got this funky ribbon xml file thing now that contains a <VALUE></VALUE> tag which, yes you've guessed it, contains a copy of the number for the identifer as found in the resource.h file...*bugger* it (the ribbon.mfcribbon-ms xml file) doesn't automatically update itself when you edit the *sodding* resource.h file by hand...

    yeh brilliant article....now back in the real world.
  13. Randy Edicksays:
    I spent a few months with WPF, and what I learned was to appreciate how feature rich , high performance platform MFC is. Don't drop MFC Microsoft, or you'll have people jumping ship.
  14. Jim Millingsays:
    I am having a bit of difficulty adding a collection to the buttons as shown in the example. This should be simple, but I cannot get past the empty indication in the Menu Items box. Any insight would be appreciated to get me off of dead center.
  15. Andysays:
    The Image index from the designer view is a bit confusing to the newbie who wants to load their own custom images into buttons. For "image index" my designer just shows -1 and the browser brings up an empty folder looking thing that just has a -1 image. :-(

    If I change the -1 to a 4 like your example- it just switches back to -1.

    Documentation on this is pretty scarce.
  16. David Hsays:
    I have just come across this nice intro guide - and have followed it step by step.

    I have Visual Studio 2010 Professional installed on Windows 7 64-bit. as far as I am aware I have all the latest Windows updates installed.

    Unfortunately when I try to build the solution, after the initial steps to create the project, I get the following compiler error. What is the cause of this?

    1>------ Build started: Project: MfcHelloWorld, Configuration: Debug Win32 ------
    1>LINK : fatal error LNK1123: failure during conversion to COFF: file invalid or corrupt
    ========== Build: 0 succeeded, 1 failed, 0 up-to-date, 0 skipped ==========
  17. David Hsays:
    OK. I have discovered that the error is due to a 'conflict' arising form also having a post-2010 version of Visual Studio previously installed - and not having SP1 for Visual Studio 2010 installed, which eliminates this conflict.

    I am now able to build the solution and run it and get the initial Ribbon interface, as described in the guide above - and will now proceed to complete the remaining steps in the guide.

    Many thanks for the tutorial provided here.

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