Introduction to Microsoft Visual C++/MFC


The Microsoft Visual C++ Environment



Microsoft Visual C++ is a programming environment used to create applications for the Microsoft Windows family of operating systems. To use these lessons, you must have installed either Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. Although Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional provides many programming environments for the price of one, in our lessons, we will use it but we will cover only the Microsoft Foundation Class (MFC) library side.

After installing it, to use the programming environment, you must first open it. To do that, you would click Start -> (All) Programs -> Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 -> Microsoft Visual Studio 2010.

In our lessons, unless used in code, the -> arrow means an action that should follow another. Based on this:

  • Edit -> Copy means click Edit, then click Copy
  • View -> Toolbars -> Custom means click View position the mouse on Toolbars, and then click Custom

Practical LearningPractical Learning: Launching Microsoft Visual C++

  • To start Microsoft Visual C++ or Visual Studio, on the Taskbar, click Start (All) Programs -> Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 -> Microsoft Visual Studio 2010


The Integrated Development Environment

After Microsoft Visual Studio has been opened, the screen you get is called an Integrated Development Environment or IDE. The IDE is the set of tools you use to create a program.

The title bar is made of three section. The left section shows the system icon. The system icon is used to identify the application that you are using. Almost every application has its own system icon. The system icon holds its own list of actions; for example, it can be used to move, minimize, maximize or close (when double-clicked) a window.

The middle section of the title bar displays Microsoft Visual Studio. This starting title displays in the beginning until you decide to create a particular type of application, then the title changes. You will experience it once we start some programming assignments. The middle section of the title bar can be also used to move, minimize, maximize the top section of the IDE, or to close Visual Studio. You can perform these actions by right-clicking the title bar and selecting from the menu.

The right section of the title bar shows three system buttons:

Button Role
Minimizes the window
Maximizes the window
Restores the window
Closes the window

The main menu under the title bar is used to perform all types of actions on the IDE. In our lessons:

  • The expression "main menu" refers to the menu in the top section of the IDE
  • MSVC means Microsoft Visual C++.

A toolbar is an object made of buttons. These buttons provide the same features you would get from the main menu. Under the main menu, the IDE is equipped with a Standard toolbar used to create a new project, open a file, save a project, etc.

The Code Editor


Besides designing applications, one of your most regular jobs will consist of writing code that directs the computer as to what to do, when, and how to do it. This is done in an appropriate window called the Code Editor.

The Code Editor is a feature-rich text editor programmed to recognize the parts of a program that belong to C++ or not. The Code Editor manages your jobs by organizing its files into labels or tabs. If your project contains more than one file, you can click the desired tab to access one of the files.

The basic building block of a program is called a C++ file. Whenever you create a new project, the Microsoft Visual Studio programming environment creates various files, such as header files and source files. To display a header file, you can double-click its name in the Class View. Since the source and the header file go in pair (when using classes), they hold the same name but have different extensions.

The Toolbars

A toolbar is an object made of buttons. These buttons provide the same features you would get from the (main) menu, only faster. Under the main menu, the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is equipped with the Standard toolbar.

By default, when you start Microsoft Visual Studio, it is equipped with one toolbar: Standard. To get more toolbars, on the main menu, you can click View -> Toolbars and click the toolbar of your choice. You can also right-click any available toolbar or the main menu. This displays a list of all the available toolbars. Those that are currently opened have a check mark next to them.

A toolbar is equipped with buttons. To know what a button is used for, you can position the mouse on top of it. A tool tip will come up and display for a few seconds. In our lessons, each button on any toolbar will be named after its tool tip. This means that, if a tool tip displays "New", its button will be called the New button.

Microsoft Visual Studio's menus and toolbars can be customized. You can customize a menu category on the main menu by adding a menu item to it. You can customize a toolbar by adding a button to it. To start, right-click anything on the main menu or on any toolbar and click Customize... For example, imagine you want to add an item named Start Without Debugging so that it would let you easily execute your projects and you want to add its button to the Standard toolbar, and imagine you want to position it on the left side of the Start button:

The position where the button will be added

To proceed:

  1. You can right-click any button on any toolbar or right-click the main menu and click Customize
  2.  On the Customize dialog box, click the Commands tab
  3.  Click the Toolbars radio button
  4.  In the right combo box, select the toolbar to which you want to add a button. In this case, that would be Standard
  5. In the Controls list, click the button that will succeed the one you want to add. In this case, this would be Start / Continue:


  6. In the right list, click Add Command
  7.  In the Add Command dialog box, in the Categories list, select the category that has the button you want
  8.  In the Commands list, click the button or menu item you want. For our example, that would be Start Without Debugging

    Add Command

  9. After makiing the selection, click OK

    Add Command

  10. On the Customize dialog box, click Close:

The position where the button has been added


In the same way, you can customize any toolbar and any menu category.

The Studio Windows


The Start Page

The Start Page is the first wide area that appears when Microsoft Visual Studio comes up. The left section displays a list of recently used projects under Recent Projects. At any time, to display the Start Page:

  • You can click the Start Page label in the top section of the Code Editor
  • On the main menu, you can click View -> Start Page

If you have just installed Microsoft Visual Studio or have not previously opened a project, the Recent Projects section would be empty. Once you start creating and using projects, they display in the Recent Projects section by their names.

Showing and Closing a Window

When you start or open a project, Microsoft Visual Studio makes some windows available. These are the most regularly used windows. If you think that one of them is not regularly used in your types of assignments, you can remove it from the screen. To hide a window, you can click its Close button Close.

All of the windows you can use are listed in the View menu. Therefore, if a window is not displaying, you can click View on the main menu and click a window of your choice.

Practical LearningPractical Learning: Showing the Windows

  1. On the main menu, click View -> Solution Explorer
  2. Again, on the main menu, click View -> Toolbox

Auto Hiding a Window

When working on a project, you will use a set of windows that each accomplishes a specific purpose. Some windows are represented with an icon but hide the rest of the body. To display such a window, you can position the mouse on it. This would expand the window:

Dockable Windows

If you expand a window, it would display a title bar with three buttons. One of the button is called Auto Hide:

Auto Hide

If you expand a window but find out you don't need it any more, you can just move the mouse away. The window would return to its previous state. Based on this functionality, if you are working with a window and move the mouse away, it would retract. If you need it again, you would have to reopen it using the same technique. If you are going to work with a certain window for a while, you can keep it open even if you move the mouse away. To do this, you can click the Auto Hide button. If clicked, the Auto Hide button changes from pointing left to pointing down:


By default, Microsoft Visual Studio installs some windows to the left and some others to the right of the screen. You can change this arrangement if you want. To do this, expand a window, then click its title bar and start dragging. While you are dragging, to assist you with a new position, the studio displays five boxes:


Docking a Window to a Side of the Studio

To position a window on one side of the screen, drag its title bar to the box that represents that side. When you get to a side, a transparent blue rectangle would be drawn to indicate the possible position. Drop the window to either the most right guiding box to position it to the right of the screen, or to the most left guiding box to position it to the left of the screen. Here is an example:




To position a window to the top or the bottom side of the studio, drag its title bar to either the most top guiding box to position it to the top of the studio or to the most bottom guiding box to position it to the bottom of the studio. Here is an example:




Docking a Window Above or Below Another

To make two windows share an area, you can position one above or below an existing window. Of course, you must first have a window as reference. Then, drag the second window to the existing window. Drop it in the





Or this




Floating Windows

Most of the windows you will use are positioned on one side of the screen. If you want, you can have a window that stays on top of other windows but is not "glued" to one side. Such a window is said to float. To float a window, drag its title bar and release it somewhere in the middle of the screen but not on a guiding box.

When a window is floating, it displays a Maximize button Maximize on the title bar. If you click this button, the window occupies the whole interface of Microsoft Visual Studio. In the same way, if you double-click the title bar, the window gets maximized.


If a window is currently floating and you want to dock it, right-click its title bar and click Dock:


If a window is currently docked and you want to float it, right-click its title bar and click Float.

Coupling Windows

You can make two or more windows share one side of the screen or to share an area. To do this, first expand and dock the window that you will use as the base (or reference). Then, drag the title bar of the window that will share the area to its target until the bottom part of the base window shows a highlighted and a non highlighted area:


Then release the mouse:


To remove a window that shares an area, drag its tab away:


To position a window to the left or the right of an existing window, first drag the second window to where the existing window is. Then click the left or the right guiding box of the multiple-box.



becomes this


In the same way, you can make two or more windows share the same area.

Tabbed Windows

You can make a window display its tab in the top section of the Code Editor and share the area with it. There are two ways yon do it

  • You can drag a window and drop it on the tab of the Start Page.


Tabbed Window

becomes this

Tabbed Window

If a window is already represented with a tab on top of the Code Editor, you can drag the second window and drop it to the left or of the right tab of the existing window.

  • You can right-click Dock as Tabbed Document

Getting Help


Online Help

While working on your projects, you will usually need to figure out how something can be done and sometimes why it is done like that. There are three primary types of help you can use: online, MSDN, and others.

When Microsoft Visual Studio gets installed, it asks you whether you want to install the MSDN library. This is because it ships with a DVD that contains online help files. If you decide to install the MSDN library, it would be installed as an independent program but would be internally linked to Microsoft Visual Studio.

To get help while you are working on a project, click the item, keyword, or class, etc and press F1. The browser Help window would display help on the topic:



Microsoft created a special web site to support its products: that is the Microsoft Developer Network web site. To access it, open a browser on http://msdn.microsoft.com, click Library, locate, and click the Visual C++ link. For our lessons, we will mostly be interested in the MFC classes. Therefore, you should know how to locate that link and check its contents.

Internet Help

There many other web sites dedicated to Microsoft Visual C++. We provide ours as a site that supports our lessons. In most other cases, if you are stuck with a problem, you can open a search engine, and do a search on the keyword, class, object, or issue you are having a problem with.


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