Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Attached properties in Windows Presentation Foundation

Attached properties allow you to add new properties and functionality without changing one bit of the code of the affected classes. Attached properties are quite similar to Dependency properties, but they don't need an actual property in the affected object. You have probably worked with one when setting the Grid.Column property of controls inside a WPF Grid.

How does one implement it? Well, any class can have the static declaration of an Attached property for any other class. There are decorative attributes that indicate to which specific classes the property should appear in the Visual Studio property window. The caveat here is that if the namespace of the class has not been loaded by VS, the property will not appear, so it is better to place the class containining the property in the same namespace as the classes that the property is attached to.

Well, enough with the theory. Here is an example:

public static readonly DependencyProperty SizeModeProperty
= DependencyProperty.RegisterAttached(
"SizeMode",
typeof (ControlSize), typeof (MyEditor),
new FrameworkPropertyMetadata(
ControlSize.Custom,
FrameworkPropertyMetadataOptions.OverridesInheritanceBehavior,
sizeModeChanged)
);

[AttachedPropertyBrowsableForType(typeof (TextBox))]
public static ControlSize GetSizeMode(DependencyObject element)
{
if (element == null)
{
throw new ArgumentNullException("element");
}
return (ControlSize) element.GetValue(SizeModeProperty);
}

[DesignerSerializationVisibility(DesignerSerializationVisibility.Visible)]
public static void SetSizeMode(DependencyObject element, ControlSize value)
{
if (element == null)
{
throw new ArgumentNullException("element");
}
element.SetValue(SizeModeProperty, value);
}

In this piece of code I have just defined a SizeMode property for a class called MyEditor, the default value being ControlSize.Custom. To use it, I would write in the XAML something like MyEditor.SizeMode="Large" and it would attach to any DependencyObject. The FrameworkPropertyMetadataOptions flags are important, I will review them later on. This also declares a sizeModeChanged method that will be executed when the SizeMode changes.

The GetSizeMode and SetSizeMode methods are needed for the attached property to work. You might also notice this line: [AttachedPropertyBrowsableForType(typeof (TextBox))], decorating the getter, which tells Visual Studio to display SizeMode in the properties window of TextBox objects. Another possible attribute is [AttachedPropertyBrowsableForChildren(IncludeDescendants = true)] which tells Visual Studio to display the property for all the children of the control as well.

Now, how can this be useful? There are more ways it can.
One of them is to bind stuff to the property in Triggers or Templates like this: Binding="{Binding Path=(Controls:MyEditor.SizeMode), RelativeSource={RelativeSource Self}}". This is interesting because one can use in the visual UI properties that are not part of the actual code or ViewModel.
Another solution is to use the change method, but be careful that the method must consider all possible uses for the property and also it will not work for when you explicitly set the default value (as it doesn't actually change)! Let me detail with a piece of code:

private static void sizeModeChanged(DependencyObject d,
DependencyPropertyChangedEventArgs e)
{
FrameworkElement elem = d as FrameworkElement;
if (elem == null)
{
throw new ArgumentException(
"Size mode only works on FrameworkElement objects");
}
switch ((ControlSize) e.NewValue)
{
case ControlSize.Small:
elem.Width = 110;
break;
case ControlSize.Medium:
elem.Width = 200;
break;
case ControlSize.Large:
elem.Width = 290;
break;
case ControlSize.Custom:
break;
default:
throw new ArgumentOutOfRangeException("e",
" ControlSize not supported");
}
}


Here I am setting the Width of a control (provided it is a FrameworkElement) based on the change in SizeMode.

Ok, that is almost it. I wanted to shaed some extra light to the FrameworkPropertyMetadataOptions flags. One that is very important is Inherits. If set, the property will apply to all the children of the control that has the property defined. In the example above I first set FrameworkPropertyMetadataOptions.Inherits as a flag and I got an error, because it would try to set the Width to children controls that were not FrameworkElements like Border.

Another interesting page that is closely related to this is I’ve created an Attached Property, now how do I use it? where an Attached property is used in a Behavior, which is actually implemented by the Blend team and, as such it is still in the Expression assembly. Here are two other pages about this:
Using a Behavior to magnify your WPF applications
The Attached Behavior pattern.

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