Databinding with WinForms

This step-by-step walkthrough shows how to bind POCO types to Window Forms (WinForms) controls in a “master-detail" form. The application uses Entity Framework to populate objects with data from the database, track changes, and persist data to the database.

The model defines two types that participate in one-to-many relationship: Category (principal\master) and Product (dependent\detail). Then, the Visual Studio tools are used to bind the types defined in the model to the WinForms controls. The WinForms data-binding framework enables navigation between related objects: selecting rows in the master view causes the detail view to update with the corresponding child data.

The screen shots and code listings in this walkthrough are taken from Visual Studio 2013 but you can complete this walkthrough with Visual Studio 2012 or Visual Studio 2010.


You need to have Visual Studio 2013, Visual Studio 2012 or Visual Studio 2010 installed to complete this walkthrough.

If you are using Visual Studio 2010, you also have to install NuGet. For more information, see Installing NuGet.

Create the Application

  • Open Visual Studio
  • File -> New -> Project….
  • Select Windows in the left pane and Windows FormsApplication in the right pane
  • Enter WinFormswithEFSample as the name
  • Select OK

Install the Entity Framework NuGet package

  • In Solution Explorer, right-click on the WinFormswithEFSample project
  • Select Manage NuGet Packages…
  • In the Manage NuGet Packages dialog, Select the Online tab and choose the EntityFramework package
  • Click Install


    In addition to the EntityFramework assembly a reference to System.ComponentModel.DataAnnotations is also added. If the project has a reference to System.Data.Entity, then it will be removed when the EntityFramework package is installed. The System.Data.Entity assembly is no longer used for Entity Framework 6 applications.

Implementing IListSource for Collections

Collection properties must implement the IListSource interface to enable two-way data binding with sorting when using Windows Forms. To do this we are going to extend ObservableCollection to add IListSource functionality.

  • Add an ObservableListSource class to the project:
    • Right-click on the project name
    • Select Add -> New Item
    • Select Class and enter ObservableListSource for the class name
  • Replace the code generated by default with the following code:

This class enables two-way data binding as well as sorting. The class derives from ObservableCollection<T> and adds an explicit implementation of IListSource. The GetList() method of IListSource is implemented to return an IBindingList implementation that stays in sync with the ObservableCollection. The IBindingList implementation generated by ToBindingList supports sorting. The ToBindingList extension method is defined in the EntityFramework assembly.

    using System.Collections;
    using System.Collections.Generic;
    using System.Collections.ObjectModel;
    using System.ComponentModel;
    using System.Diagnostics.CodeAnalysis;
    using System.Data.Entity;

    namespace WinFormswithEFSample
        public class ObservableListSource<T> : ObservableCollection<T>, IListSource
            where T : class
            private IBindingList _bindingList;

            bool IListSource.ContainsListCollection { get { return false; } }

            IList IListSource.GetList()
                return _bindingList ?? (_bindingList = this.ToBindingList());

Define a Model

In this walkthrough you can chose to implement a model using Code First or the EF Designer. Complete one of the two following sections.

Option 1: Define a Model using Code First

This section shows how to create a model and its associated database using Code First. Skip to the next section (Option 2: Define a model using Database First) if you would rather use Database First to reverse engineer your model from a database using the EF designer

When using Code First development you usually begin by writing .NET Framework classes that define your conceptual (domain) model.

  • Add a new Product class to project
  • Replace the code generated by default with the following code:
    using System;
    using System.Collections.Generic;
    using System.Linq;
    using System.Text;
    using System.Threading.Tasks;

    namespace WinFormswithEFSample
        public class Product
            public int ProductId { get; set; }
            public string Name { get; set; }

            public int CategoryId { get; set; }
            public virtual Category Category { get; set; }
  • Add a Category class to the project.
  • Replace the code generated by default with the following code:
    using System;
    using System.Collections.Generic;
    using System.Linq;
    using System.Text;
    using System.Threading.Tasks;

    namespace WinFormswithEFSample
        public class Category
            private readonly ObservableListSource<Product> _products =
                    new ObservableListSource<Product>();

            public int CategoryId { get; set; }
            public string Name { get; set; }
            public virtual ObservableListSource<Product> Products { get { return _products; } }

In addition to defining entities, you need to define a class that derives from DbContext and exposes DbSet<TEntity> properties. The DbSet properties let the context know which types you want to include in the model. The DbContext and DbSet types are defined in the EntityFramework assembly.

An instance of the DbContext derived type manages the entity objects during run time, which includes populating objects with data from a database, change tracking, and persisting data to the database.

  • Add a new ProductContext class to the project.
  • Replace the code generated by default with the following code:
    using System;
    using System.Collections.Generic;
    using System.Data.Entity;
    using System.Linq;
    using System.Text;

    namespace WinFormswithEFSample
        public class ProductContext : DbContext
            public DbSet<Category> Categories { get; set; }
            public DbSet<Product> Products { get; set; }

Compile the project.

Option 2: Define a model using Database First

This section shows how to use Database First to reverse engineer your model from a database using the EF designer. If you completed the previous section (Option 1: Define a model using Code First), then skip this section and go straight to the Lazy Loading section.

Create an Existing Database

Typically when you are targeting an existing database it will already be created, but for this walkthrough we need to create a database to access.

The database server that is installed with Visual Studio is different depending on the version of Visual Studio you have installed:

  • If you are using Visual Studio 2010 you'll be creating a SQL Express database.
  • If you are using Visual Studio 2012 then you'll be creating a LocalDB database.

Let's go ahead and generate the database.

  • View -> Server Explorer

  • Right click on Data Connections -> Add Connection…

  • If you haven’t connected to a database from Server Explorer before you’ll need to select Microsoft SQL Server as the data source

    Change Data Source

  • Connect to either LocalDB or SQL Express, depending on which one you have installed, and enter Products as the database name

    Add Connection LocalDB

    Add Connection Express

  • Select OK and you will be asked if you want to create a new database, select Yes

    Create Database

  • The new database will now appear in Server Explorer, right-click on it and select New Query

  • Copy the following SQL into the new query, then right-click on the query and select Execute

    CREATE TABLE [dbo].[Categories] (
        [CategoryId] [int] NOT NULL IDENTITY,
        [Name] [nvarchar](max),
        CONSTRAINT [PK_dbo.Categories] PRIMARY KEY ([CategoryId])

    CREATE TABLE [dbo].[Products] (
        [ProductId] [int] NOT NULL IDENTITY,
        [Name] [nvarchar](max),
        [CategoryId] [int] NOT NULL,
        CONSTRAINT [PK_dbo.Products] PRIMARY KEY ([ProductId])

    CREATE INDEX [IX_CategoryId] ON [dbo].[Products]([CategoryId])

    ALTER TABLE [dbo].[Products] ADD CONSTRAINT [FK_dbo.Products_dbo.Categories_CategoryId] FOREIGN KEY ([CategoryId]) REFERENCES [dbo].[Categories] ([CategoryId]) ON DELETE CASCADE

Reverse Engineer Model

We’re going to make use of Entity Framework Designer, which is included as part of Visual Studio, to create our model.

  • Project -> Add New Item…

  • Select Data from the left menu and then ADO.NET Entity Data Model

  • Enter ProductModel as the name and click OK

  • This launches the Entity Data Model Wizard

  • Select Generate from Database and click Next

    Choose Model Contents

  • Select the connection to the database you created in the first section, enter ProductContext as the name of the connection string and click Next

    Choose Your Connection

  • Click the checkbox next to ‘Tables’ to import all tables and click ‘Finish’

    Choose Your Objects

Once the reverse engineer process completes the new model is added to your project and opened up for you to view in the Entity Framework Designer. An App.config file has also been added to your project with the connection details for the database.

Additional Steps in Visual Studio 2010

If you are working in Visual Studio 2010 then you will need to update the EF designer to use EF6 code generation.

  • Right-click on an empty spot of your model in the EF Designer and select Add Code Generation Item…
  • Select Online Templates from the left menu and search for DbContext
  • Select the EF 6.x DbContext Generator for C#, enter ProductsModel as the name and click Add

Updating code generation for data binding

EF generates code from your model using T4 templates. The templates shipped with Visual Studio or downloaded from the Visual Studio gallery are intended for general purpose use. This means that the entities generated from these templates have simple ICollection<T> properties. However, when doing data binding it is desirable to have collection properties that implement IListSource. This is why we created the ObservableListSource class above and we are now going to modify the templates to make use of this class.

  • Open the Solution Explorer and find ProductModel.edmx file

  • Find the file which will be nested under the ProductModel.edmx file

    Product Model Template

  • Double-click on the file to open it in the Visual Studio editor

  • Find and replace the two occurrences of “ICollection” with “ObservableListSource”. These are located at approximately lines 296 and 484.

  • Find and replace the first occurrence of “HashSet” with “ObservableListSource”. This occurrence is located at approximately line 50. Do not replace the second occurrence of HashSet found later in the code.

  • Save the file. This should cause the code for entities to be regenerated. If the code does not regenerate automatically, then right click on and choose “Run Custom Tool”.

If you now open the Category.cs file (which is nested under then you should see that the Products collection has the type ObservableListSource<Product>.

Compile the project.

Lazy Loading

The Products property on the Category class and Category property on the Product class are navigation properties. In Entity Framework, navigation properties provide a way to navigate a relationship between two entity types.

EF gives you an option of loading related entities from the database automatically the first time you access the navigation property. With this type of loading (called lazy loading), be aware that the first time you access each navigation property a separate query will be executed against the database if the contents are not already in the context.

When using POCO entity types, EF achieves lazy loading by creating instances of derived proxy types during runtime and then overriding virtual properties in your classes to add the loading hook. To get lazy loading of related objects, you must declare navigation property getters as public and virtual (Overridable in Visual Basic), and you class must not be sealed (NotOverridable in Visual Basic). When using Database First navigation properties are automatically made virtual to enable lazy loading. In the Code First section we chose to make the navigation properties virtual for the same reason

Bind Object to Controls

Add the classes that are defined in the model as data sources for this WinForms application.

  • From the main menu, select Project -> Add New Data Source … (in Visual Studio 2010, you need to select Data -> Add New Data Source…)

  • In the Choose a Data Source Type window, select Object and click Next

  • In the Select the Data Objects dialog, unfold the WinFormswithEFSample two times and select Category There is no need to select the Product data source, because we will get to it through the Product’s property on the Category data source.

    Data Source

  • Click Finish. If the Data Sources window is not showing up, select View -> Other Windows-> Data Sources

  • Press the pin icon, so the Data Sources window does not auto hide. You may need to hit the refresh button if the window was already visible.

    Data Source 2

  • In Solution Explorer, double-click the Form1.cs file to open the main form in designer.

  • Select the Category data source and drag it on the form. By default, a new DataGridView (categoryDataGridView) and Navigation toolbar controls are added to the designer. These controls are bound to the BindingSource (categoryBindingSource) and Binding Navigator (categoryBindingNavigator) components that are created as well.

  • Edit the columns on the categoryDataGridView. We want to set the CategoryId column to read-only. The value for the CategoryId property is generated by the database after we save the data.

    • Right-click the DataGridView control and select Edit Columns…
    • Select the CategoryId column and set ReadOnly to True
    • Press OK
  • Select Products from under the Category data source and drag it on the form. The productDataGridView and productBindingSource are added to the form.

  • Edit the columns on the productDataGridView. We want to hide the CategoryId and Category columns and set ProductId to read-only. The value for the ProductId property is generated by the database after we save the data.

    • Right-click the DataGridView control and select Edit Columns....
    • Select the ProductId column and set ReadOnly to True.
    • Select the CategoryId column and press the Remove button. Do the same with the Category column.
    • Press OK.

    So far, we associated our DataGridView controls with BindingSource components in the designer. In the next section we will add code to the code behind to set categoryBindingSource.DataSource to the collection of entities that are currently tracked by DbContext. When we dragged-and-dropped Products from under the Category, the WinForms took care of setting up the productsBindingSource.DataSource property to categoryBindingSource and productsBindingSource.DataMember property to Products. Because of this binding, only the products that belong to the currently selected Category will be displayed in the productDataGridView.

  • Enable the Save button on the Navigation toolbar by clicking the right mouse button and selecting Enabled.

    Form 1 Designer

  • Add the event handler for the save button by double-clicking on the button. This will add the event handler and bring you to the code behind for the form. The code for the categoryBindingNavigatorSaveItem_Click event handler will be added in the next section.

Add the Code that Handles Data Interaction

We'll now add the code to use the ProductContext to perform data access. Update the code for the main form window as shown below.

The code declares a long-running instance of ProductContext. The ProductContext object is used to query and save data to the database. The Dispose() method on the ProductContext instance is then called from the overridden OnClosing method. The code comments provide details about what the code does.

    using System;
    using System.Collections.Generic;
    using System.ComponentModel;
    using System.Data;
    using System.Drawing;
    using System.Linq;
    using System.Text;
    using System.Threading.Tasks;
    using System.Windows.Forms;
    using System.Data.Entity;

    namespace WinFormswithEFSample
        public partial class Form1 : Form
            ProductContext _context;
            public Form1()

            protected override void OnLoad(EventArgs e)
                _context = new ProductContext();

                // Call the Load method to get the data for the given DbSet
                // from the database.
                // The data is materialized as entities. The entities are managed by
                // the DbContext instance.

                // Bind the categoryBindingSource.DataSource to
                // all the Unchanged, Modified and Added Category objects that
                // are currently tracked by the DbContext.
                // Note that we need to call ToBindingList() on the
                // ObservableCollection<TEntity> returned by
                // the DbSet.Local property to get the BindingList<T>
                // in order to facilitate two-way binding in WinForms.
                this.categoryBindingSource.DataSource =

            private void categoryBindingNavigatorSaveItem_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)

                // Currently, the Entity Framework doesn’t mark the entities
                // that are removed from a navigation property (in our example the Products)
                // as deleted in the context.
                // The following code uses LINQ to Objects against the Local collection
                // to find all products and marks any that do not have
                // a Category reference as deleted.
                // The ToList call is required because otherwise
                // the collection will be modified
                // by the Remove call while it is being enumerated.
                // In most other situations you can do LINQ to Objects directly
                // against the Local property without using ToList first.
                foreach (var product in _context.Products.Local.ToList())
                    if (product.Category == null)

                // Save the changes to the database.

                // Refresh the controls to show the values         
                // that were generated by the database.

            protected override void OnClosing(CancelEventArgs e)

Test the Windows Forms Application

  • Compile and run the application and you can test out the functionality.

    Form 1 Before Save

  • After saving the store generated keys are shown on the screen.

    Form 1 After Save

  • If you used Code First, then you will also see that a WinFormswithEFSample.ProductContext database is created for you.

    Server Object Explorer