WOWShellExecute function

[This function is available through Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2) and Windows Server 2003. It might be altered or unavailable in subsequent versions of Windows.]

Performs an operation on a specified file. WOWShellExecute exists only for use with the Microsoft Windows NT Virtual DOS Machine (Ntvdm.exe), which allows disk operating system (DOS) and 16-bit software to run on a Windows system, and should not be used by anyone else. Use ShellExecute instead.


  _In_ HWND    hwnd,
  _In_ LPCTSTR lpOperation,
  _In_ LPCTSTR lpFile,
  _In_ LPCTSTR lpParameters,
  _In_ LPCTSTR lpDirectory,
  _In_ INT     nShowCmd,
       void    *lpfnCBWinExec


hwnd [in]

Type: HWND

A handle to the owner window used for displaying a UI or error messages. This value can be NULL if the operation is not associated with a window.

lpOperation [in]


A pointer to a null-terminated string, referred to in this case as a verb, that specifies the action to be performed. The set of available verbs depends on the particular file or folder. Generally, the actions available from an object's shortcut menu are available verbs. For more information about verbs and their availability, see the Object Verbs section of Launching Applications. See Extending Shortcut Menus for further discussion of shortcut menus. The following verbs are commonly used.


Launches an editor and opens the document for editing. If lpFile is not a document file, the function will fail.


Explores the folder specified by lpFile.


Initiates a search starting from the specified directory.


Opens the file specified by the lpFile parameter. The file can be an executable file, a document file, or a folder.


Prints the document file specified by lpFile. If lpFile is not a document file, the function will fail.


For systems prior to Windows 2000, the default verb is used if it is valid and available in the registry. If not, the "open" verb is used.

For Windows 2000 and later systems, the default verb is used if available. If not, the "open" verb is used. If neither verb is available, the system uses the first verb listed in the registry.

lpFile [in]


A pointer to a null-terminated string that specifies the file or object on which to execute the specified verb. To specify a Shell namespace object, pass the fully qualified parse name. Note that not all verbs are supported on all objects. For example, not all document types support the "print" verb.

lpParameters [in]


If the lpFile parameter specifies an executable file, lpParameters is a pointer to a null-terminated string that specifies the parameters to be passed to the application. The format of this string is determined by the verb that is to be invoked. If lpFile specifies a document file, lpParameters should be NULL.

lpDirectory [in]


A pointer to a null-terminated string that specifies the default directory.

nShowCmd [in]

Type: INT

The flags that specify how an application is to be displayed when it is opened. If lpFile specifies a document file, the flag is simply passed to the associated application. It is up to the application to decide how to handle it. It can be any of the values that can be specified in the nCmdShow parameter for the ShowWindow function.


Type: void*

Callback function used to call CreateProcess in the 16-bit kernel.

Return value


Returns a value greater than 32 if successful, or an error value that is less than or equal to 32 otherwise. The following table lists the error values. The return value is cast as an HINSTANCE for backward compatibility with 16-bit Windows applications. It is not a true HINSTANCE, however. The only thing that can be done with the returned HINSTANCE is to cast it to an int and compare it with the value 32 or one of the error codes below.

Return code Description
The operating system is out of memory or resources.
The specified file was not found.
The specified path was not found.
The .exe file is invalid (non-Win32 .exe or error in .exe image).
The operating system denied access to the specified file.
The file name association is incomplete or invalid.
The DDE transaction could not be completed because other DDE transactions were being processed.
The DDE transaction failed.
The DDE transaction could not be completed because the request timed out.
The specified DLL was not found.
The specified file was not found.
There is no application associated with the given file name extension. This error will also be returned if you attempt to print a file that is not printable.
There was not enough memory to complete the operation.
The specified path was not found.
A sharing violation occurred.



WOWShellExecute is not included in a header or .lib file. It is exported from Shell32.dll by name.

This method allows you to execute any commands in a folder's shortcut menu or stored in the registry.

If lpOperation is NULL, the function opens the file specified by lpFile. If lpOperation is "open" or "explore", the function attempts to open or explore the folder.

To obtain information about the application that is launched as a result of calling WOWShellExecute, use ShellExecuteEx.


The Launch folder windows in a separate process setting in Folder Options affects WOWShellExecute. If that option is disabled (the default setting), WOWShellExecute uses an open Explorer window rather than launch a new one. If no Explorer window is open, WOWShellExecute launches a new one.



Requirement Value
Minimum supported client
Windows 2000 Professional [desktop apps only]
Minimum supported server
Windows 2000 Server [desktop apps only]

See also