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VC++ MFC GDI Tutorial: CDC, FromHandle, CreateDC, DeleteDC


Device Contexts

Although constructing a device context using MFC is easy, often trivial, there are many situations where it is not even necessary. Typical drawing functions (such as the OnDraw member function in a view class) are called by the MFC framework with a pointer to a device context object representing a device context that is already created and configured for use.

MFC classes that represent device contexts are all derived from the CDC base class. Figure 1 illustrates the hierarchy of device context classes.

Hierarchy of device context classes.

Although there are several classes derived from CDC, the CDC class itself is frequently used as a wrapper class for device contexts. The other CDC-derived classes differ from CDC primarily in their constructor function and offer no extra functionality. If you need to construct an MFC object that is attached to an existing device context handle, you should always use the base CDC class instead of any of the derived classes.

The CDC class encapsulates the functionality of the Windows device context. And there is a lot of functionality to encapsulate! The CDC class not only maps functions that are directly related to configuring and managing a device context, it also maps all GDI drawing functions. Last time I counted, there were approximately 180 documented member functions.

With such a large and complex interface, where should we begin? With the simplest. First, we review how a CDC object is created and attached to a GDI device context.

When a CDC object is created through its constructor function, a GDI device context is not automatically created. Instead, it is necessary to create a device context through the CreateDC function or attach the CDC object to a device context that has been created earlier.

The CreateDC member function takes several parameters that specify the device, the device driver software, and the port the device is attached to. These parameters correspond to the parameters of the GDI ::CreateDC function.

A CDC object has not one, but two member variables that are GDI device context handles. These are m_hDC and m_hAttribDC. Usually, these two handles point to the same device context object. The m_hDC handle, or output device context handle, is used for all output operations; the m_hAttribDC handle, or attribute device context handle, is used, in turn, for operations that request information from the device context.

To attach a CDC object to a device context handle that has been created earlier, use the Attach member function. To detach a CDC object from a device handle, use the Detach member function. Note that neither Detach, nor the member functions ReleaseOutputDC and ReleaseAttributeDC (which reset the values of m_hDC and m_hAttribDC to NULL) actually delete the GDI device context object. In this case, if the device context object was created using the GDI function ::CreateDC, it may be necessary to manually call ::DeleteDC. Calling ::DeleteDC is not required if you do not detach the CDC object from the device context; the CDC destructor function makes this call automatically.

The CDC class also has a member function DeleteDC, which can be used to detach the CDC object from the GDI device context and delete the device context. This function should only be used if the device context was created using the CreateDC member function.

Another function that creates a device context object is CreateCompatibleDC. This function creates a memory device context that is compatible with a given device context. For example, applications may use this function in conjunction with the CClientDC class to create a memory device context that is compatible with the device context representing the current window's client area:

CClientDC clientDC(&myWnd);

CDC memDC;


Subsequently, operations such as CDC::BitBlt can be used to transfer blocks of pixels between the two device contexts. Similar techniques are often used in programs that perform smooth animation; by constructing the next animation frame in a memory device context and transferring only completed frames to the display, you can create animations that are free of jerkiness.

A static CDC member function is CDC::FromHandle. This function enables you to retrieve the address of a CDC object (if such an object exists) that corresponds to a device context handle. If no such CDC object exists, a temporary CDC object is created. This function may be called as follows:

CDC *pDC = CDC::FromHandle(hDC);

Be warned that the pointer returned by this function is not be stored beyond immediate use. As it points to a CDC object that may be under the control of another part of your application, you do not usually know when the CDC object may be destroyed, rendering the pointer returned by CDC::FromHandle invalid. Temporary CDC objects returned by CDC::FromHandle are also deleted by the CDC::DeleteTempMap function, which is typically called from by the idle-time handler in your application's CWinApp object.

One more function worth mentioning is the GetSafeHdc function. This function returns the m_hDC member of the CDC object. This is a "safe" function inasmuch as it can also be used with NULL pointers; that is, the following code would be valid and not cause an exception:


HDC hDC = pDC->GetSafeHdc();
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