A different type of dialog procedure

In the discussion following my entry about dialog procedure return values, somebody suggested an alternate dialog design where you just call DefDlgProc to do default actions (the same way you write window procedures and DefWindowProc) rather than returning TRUE/FALSE.

So let's do that. In fact, we're going to do it twice. I'll cover one method today and cover an entirely different method later this week. Each method consists of a simple kernel of an idea; the rest is just scaffolding to make the kernel work.

The first way uses a recursive call from the dialog procedure back into DefDlgProc to trigger the default behavior. This technique requires that you have a flag that lets you detect (and therefore break) the recursion. Since you typically have instance data attached to your dialog box anyway, it's not too hard to add another member to it.

The kernel is to "subvert the recursive call". DefDlgProc calls your dialog procedure to see what you want to do. When you want to do the default action, just call DefDlgProc recursively. The inner DefDlgProc will call your dialog procedure to see if you want to override the default action. Detect this recursive call and return FALSE ("do the default"). The recursive DefDlgProc will then perform the default action and return its result. Now you have the result of the default action, and you can modify it or augment it before returning that as the result for the dialog box procedure, back to the outer DefDlgProc which returns that value back as the final message result.

Here's the flow diagram, for those who prefer pictures:

Message delivered
-> DefDlgProc
   -> your dialog procedure
      decide what to do
      want to do the default action
      -> DefDlgProc
         -> your dialog procedure
            detect recursion
         <- return FALSE
         DefDlgProc sees FALSE
         performs default behavior
      <- returns result of default behavior
      you do other stuff (perhaps modify
      default behavior after it occurred)
      set DWLP_MSGRESULT to desired result
   <- return TRUE
   retrieve DWLP_MSGRESULT
<- return it as message result

Given this sketch, you should be able to write it up yourself. Here's what I came up with. I call it a Wndproc-Like Dialog:

class WLDialogBox
  virtual LRESULT WLDlgProc(
            HWND hdlg, UINT uMsg,
            WPARAM wParam, LPARAM lParam)
    return DefDlgProcEx(hdlg, uMsg, wParam, lParam,

  INT_PTR DoModal(HINSTANCE hinst, LPCTSTR pszTemplate,
                  HWND hwndParent)
    m_fRecursing = FALSE;
    return DialogBoxParam(hinst, pszTemplate, hwndParent,
                          s_DlgProc, (LPARAM)this);

  static INT_PTR CALLBACK s_DlgProc(
            HWND hdlg, UINT uMsg,
            WPARAM wParam, LPARAM lParam)
    if (uMsg == WM_INITDIALOG) {
      SetWindowLongPtr(hdlg, DWLP_USER, lParam);

    WLDialogBox *self = (WLDialogBox*)GetWindowLongPtr(
                            hdlg, DWLP_USER);
    if (!self) {
      return FALSE;


    return SetDlgMsgResult(hdlg, uMsg,
                hdlg, uMsg, wParam, lParam));

  BOOL m_fRecursing;

Let's walk through this class.

The WLDlgProc method is virtual because we expect derived classes to do custom actions in their dialog procedure that we invoke from our s_DlgProc. The default implementation in the base class uses the DefDlgProcEx macro from windowsx.h to do the dirty work. That's right, this technique has been published by Microsoft since 1992. If you look at DefDlgProcEx, it sets the recursion flag to TRUE and then calls DefDlgProc, which triggers the recursive call.

I could have had a separate WLDefDlgProc method which calls DefDlgProcEx and have WLDlgProc call WLDefDlgProc. (In fact, my first version did exactly that.) But I decided not to have a WLDefDlgProc to remove the temptation to bypass the base class's WLDefDlgProc. Instead, if you want default handling to take place, forward the call to your base class's WLDefDlgProc.

The s_DlgProc method is the dialog procedure used for all instances of Wndproc-Like dialogs. It initializes itself in the WM_INITDIALOG message so future messages can identify which instance of the dialog is handling the message. After short-circuiting messages that arrive before the dialog box has initialized, it uses the CheckDlgRecursion macro, also from windowsx.h. This macro checks the recursion flag; if set, then it resets the flag and just returns FALSE immediately. This is what stops the recursion. Otherwise, it calls the WLDlgProc method (which has probably been overriden in a derived class), then sets the dialog procedure return value and returns.

The SetDlgMsgResult macro also comes from windowsx.h: It stores the return value into the DWLP_MSGRESULT and returns TRUE. Well, unless the message is one of the special exceptions, in which case it returns the value directly. Note to 64-bit developers: There is a bug in this macro as currently written. The expression (BOOL)(result) should be changed to (INT_PTR)(result) so that the upper 32 bits of the return value is not truncated.

The last method is DoModal, which initializes the recursion flag and kicks off the dialog box.

Here's a sample program that illustrates the use of this class:

class SampleWLDlg : public WLDialogBox { LRESULT WLDlgProc(HWND hdlg, UINT uMsg, WPARAM wParam, LPARAM lParam) { switch (uMsg) { HANDLE_MSG(hdlg, WM_COMMAND, OnCommand); HANDLE_MSG(hdlg, WM_SETCURSOR, OnSetCursor); } return __super::WLDlgProc(hdlg, uMsg, wParam, lParam); }; void OnCommand(HWND hdlg, int id, HWND hwndCtl, UINT codeNotify) { switch (id) { case IDCANCEL: MessageBox(hdlg, TEXT("Bye"), TEXT("Title"), MB_OK); EndDialog(hdlg, 1); break; } } BOOL OnSetCursor(HWND hdlg, HWND hwndCursor, UINT codeHitTest, UINT msg) { if (codeHitTest == HTCAPTION) { SetCursor(LoadCursor(NULL, IDC_SIZEALL)); return TRUE; } return FORWARD_WM_SETCURSOR(hdlg, hwndCursor, codeHitTest, msg, __super::WLDlgProc); } }; int WINAPI WinMain(HINSTANCE hinst, HINSTANCE hinstPrev, LPSTR lpCmdLine, int nShowCmd) { SampleWLDlg dlg; dlg.DoModal(hinst, MAKEINTRESOURCE(1), NULL); return 0; } 1 DIALOGEX DISCARDABLE 0, 0, 200,200 STYLE DS_SHELLFONT | WS_POPUP | WS_VISIBLE | WS_CAPTION | WS_SYSMENU CAPTION "sample" FONT 8, "MS Shell Dlg" BEGIN DEFPUSHBUTTON "&Bye",IDCANCEL,"Button",WS_TABSTOP,7,4,50,14 END

To illustrate a custom return value, I override the WM_SETCURSOR message to display a custom cursor when the mouse is over the caption area. It's not exciting, but it gets the point across.

Observe that in two places, we invoked the default handler by calling __super::WLDlgProc. __super is a Visual C++ extension that resolves to the base class of your derived class. This is quite handy since it saves the reader the trouble of figure out "So which level in the class hierarchy are we forwarding this call to?" If you wanted to forward a call to your grandparent class, you would use __super::__super::WLDlgProc.

If your compiler doesn't support __super, you can fake it by adding this line to the definition of SampleWLDlg:

  typedef WLDialogBox super;

and using super::WLDlgProc without the underscores. In fact, this is the technique I use because I was doing it before the VC folks added the __super keyword and now it's just habit.

Exercise: Does the m_fRecursing member really have to be per-instance? Can it be global?

Comments (2)
  1. Oliver Anhuth says:

    I thought that DefDlgProc does not only pass message on to the dialog proc but also generates new ones like WM_INITDIALOG. What happens when these messages are sent to DefDlgProc?

    And wouldn’t it be simpler to just subclass the dialog and handle the messages before they arrive at DefDlgProc?

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