Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Refresh / Update WPF controls

Sometime in the past, a friend asked me how to update a control to show status while his code is doing a loop of stuff.  Essentially changing the text of a label (or sophisticatedly we can say a text-based progress bar).  In my past coding with MFC and WinForms, it's fairly easy enough, you just invalidate and do an update (Invalidate / UpdateWindow in MFC or Invalidate / Update in WinForms).  This approach also coincides with how Windows UI operate, where you specify the region that needs to be redrawn and then you send a message to the message pump for that control to paint itself.

So, I expected something similar (if not exactly the same) to also be present in WPF; much to my surprise, there is no equivalent.   All my internet searches actually shows how to do this using background thread - it is the approach that needs to be taken in a proper programming context, however there are times when you just want to do something quick & dirty or you want to augment an existing app / port where you don't want to introduce new elements.  There are also considerations to be made when both UI and worker thread access the same data, especially with regard to data binding.

So, I've decided to add a helper method to refresh a WPF control.  I really appreciated the Refresh method in WinForms (which executes both Invalidate & Update), so I'm renaming my method to be Refresh as well.  The code snippet below also show some C# specific techniques, namely: anonymous delegates and extension methods.

public static class ExtensionMethods
   private static Action EmptyDelegate = delegate() { };
   public static void Refresh(this UIElement uiElement)
      uiElement.Dispatcher.Invoke(DispatcherPriority.Render, EmptyDelegate);
private void LoopingMethod()
   for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
      label1.Content = i.ToString();

The LoopingMethod is just the method I use in my Window class to update the label (updating the progress) and then the code does some heavy lifting (Sleep ).  The Refresh method is the extension method that takes any UI element and then calls that UIElement's Dispatcher's Invoke method.  The trick is to call the Invoke method with DispatcherPriority of Render or lower.  Since we don't want to do anything, I created an empty delegate.  So how come this achieves refresh functionality?

When the DispatcherPriority is set to Render (or lower), the code will then execute all operations that are of that priority or higher.  In the example, the code already sets label1.Content to something else, which will result in a render operation.  So by calling Dispatcher.Invoke, the code essentially asks the system to execute all operations that are Render or higher priority, thus the control will then render itself (drawing the new content).  Afterwards, it will then execute the provided delegate (which is our empty method).
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