TN001: Window Class Registration

This note describes the MFC routines that register the special WNDCLASSes needed by Microsoft Windows. Specific WNDCLASS attributes used by MFC and Windows are discussed.

The Problem

The attributes of a CWnd object, like an HWND handle in Windows, are stored in two places: the window object and the WNDCLASS. The name of the WNDCLASS is passed to general window creation functions such as CWnd::Create and CFrameWnd::Create in the lpszClassName parameter.

This WNDCLASS must be registered through one of four means:

  • Implicitly by using a MFC provided WNDCLASS.

  • Implicitly by subclassing a Windows control (or some other control).

  • Explicitly by calling the MFC AfxRegisterWndClass or AfxRegisterClass.

  • Explicitly by calling the Windows routine RegisterClass.


The WNDCLASS structure consists of various fields that describe a window class. The following table shows the fields and specifies how they are used in an MFC application:

Field Description
lpfnWndProc window proc, must be an AfxWndProc
cbClsExtra not used (should be zero)
cbWndExtra not used (should be zero)
hInstance automatically filled with AfxGetInstanceHandle
hIcon icon for frame windows, see below
hCursor cursor for when mouse is over window, see below
hbrBackground background color, see below
lpszMenuName not used (should be NULL)
lpszClassName class name, see below

Provided WNDCLASSes

Earlier versions of MFC (before MFC 4.0), provided several predefined Window classes. These Window classes are no longer provided by default. Applications should use AfxRegisterWndClass with the appropriate parameters.

If the application provides a resource with the specified resource ID (for example, AFX_IDI_STD_FRAME), MFC will use that resource. Otherwise it will use the default resource. For the icon, the standard application icon is used, and for the cursor, the standard arrow cursor is used.

Two icons support MDI applications with single document types: one icon for the main application, the other icon for iconic document/MDIChild windows. For multiple document types with different icons, you must register additional WNDCLASSes or use the CFrameWnd::LoadFrame function.

CFrameWnd::LoadFrame will register a WNDCLASS using the icon ID you specify as the first parameter and the following standard attributes:

  • class style : CS_DBLCLKS | CS_HREDRAW | CS_VREDRAW;


  • arrow cursor

  • COLOR_WINDOW background color

The values for background color and cursor for the CMDIFrameWnd are not used since the client area of the CMDIFrameWnd is completely covered by the MDICLIENT window. Microsoft does not encourage subclassing the MDICLIENT window so use the standard colors and cursor types when possible.

Subclassing and Superclassing Controls

If you subclass or superclass a Windows control (for example, CButton) then your class automatically gets the WNDCLASS attributes provided in the Windows implementation of that control.

The AfxRegisterWndClass Function

MFC provides a helper function for registering a window class. Given a set of attributes (window class style, cursor, background brush, and icon), a synthetic name is generated, and the resulting window class is registered. For example,

const char* AfxRegisterWndClass(UINT nClassStyle,
    HCURSOR hCursor,
    HBRUSH hbrBackground,
    HICON hIcon);

This function returns a temporary string of the generated registered window class name. For more information about this function, see AfxRegisterWndClass.

The returned string is a temporary pointer to a static string buffer. It is valid until the next call to AfxRegisterWndClass. If you want to keep this string around, store it in a CString variable, as in this example:

CString strWndClass = AfxRegisterWndClass(CS_DBLCLK, ...);

CWnd* pWnd = new CWnd;
pWnd->Create(strWndClass, ...);


AfxRegisterWndClass will throw a CResourceException if the window class failed to register (either because of bad parameters, or out of Windows memory).

The RegisterClass and AfxRegisterClass Functions

If you want to do anything more sophisticated than what AfxRegisterWndClass provides, you can call the Windows API RegisterClass or the MFC function AfxRegisterClass. The CWnd, CFrameWnd and CMDIChildWnd Create functions take a lpszClassName string name for the window class as the first parameter. You can use any registered window class name, regardless of the method you used to register it.

It is important to use AfxRegisterClass (or AfxRegisterWndClass) in a DLL on Win32. Win32 does not automatically unregister classes registered by a DLL, so you must explicitly unregister classes when the DLL is terminated. By using AfxRegisterClass instead of RegisterClass this is handled automatically for you. AfxRegisterClass maintains a list of unique classes registered by your DLL and will automatically unregister them when the DLL terminates. When you use RegisterClass in a DLL, you must ensure that all classes are unregistered when the DLL is terminated (in your DllMain function). Failure to do so might cause RegisterClass to fail unexpectedly when another client application tries to use your DLL.

See also

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