[WPF] Binding to application settings using a markup extension

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Hi, this is my first post on this blog, I hope you will enjoy it ;-). If you want to know a few things about me, please check out this page.

The end-user of any application expects that his preferences (window size, state of this or that option…) are saved to be restored at the next run : that’s why .NET 2.0 introduced application settings as a unified way to persist these settings. However, if there are many settings, it can be a real hassle for the developper to handle them… even with the help of the Settings class generated by Visual Studio, there is still quite a lot of code to write to apply these settings to the user interface, then update them according to user modifications.

In Windows Forms, it was possible to define bindings between control properties and application settings, but it wasn’t very intuitive, and wasn’t very widely used (I’m not so sure about that, but I actually never saw it used by anyone…).

With WPF, we can do something similar in a much more elegant way… although it’s not “officially” documented, it is possible to create bindings to application settings in XAML. For instance, to persist the window size and position in application settings, many blogs suggest this approach :

<Window x:Class="WpfApplication1.Window1"
        xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
        xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
        xmlns:p="clr-namespace:WpfApplication1.Properties"
        Title="Window1"
        Height="{Binding Source={x:Static p:Settings.Default}, Path=Height, Mode=TwoWay}"
        Width="{Binding Source={x:Static p:Settings.Default}, Path=Width, Mode=TwoWay}"
        Left="{Binding Source={x:Static p:Settings.Default}, Path=Left, Mode=TwoWay}"
        Top="{Binding Source={x:Static p:Settings.Default}, Path=Top, Mode=TwoWay}">

(In that example, Height, Width, Top and Left are application settings)

This code does work, but honestly, do you feel like writing this for every setting of the application ? It’s too verbose, not intuitive, and makes the code harder to read…

Of course, I’m not saying this idea is bad… but it’s very easy to improve it, by creating our own « markup extension ». In this post I’m going to explain how to write a class that inherits Binding, and allows to bind easily to application settings.

« Markup extension » are objects that can be used in XAML to retrieve values. They are used all the time in WPF : for instance, Binding, StaticResource and DynamicResource are markup extensions.

It’s quite easy to define your own markup extension, by creating a class that inherits the abstract MarkupExtension class, and implements the ProvideValue method. In our case, most of what we need is already implemented in the Binding class (which indirectly inherits MarkupExtension). So we’re just going to inherit Binding, and initialize the necessary properties in order to bind to application settings :

using System.Windows.Data;

namespace WpfApplication1
{
    public class SettingBindingExtension : Binding
    {
        public SettingBindingExtension()
        {
            Initialize();
        }

        public SettingBindingExtension(string path)
            :base(path)
        {
            Initialize();
        }

        private void Initialize()
        {
            this.Source = WpfApplication1.Properties.Settings.Default;
            this.Mode = BindingMode.TwoWay;
        }
    }
}

Note the « Extension » suffix at the end of the class name : by convention, most markup extensions have this suffix (Binding is an exception…). It can be omitted when using the class in XAML (similarly to attributes, for which the « Attribute » suffix can be omitted).

In that class, we defined two constructors, matching those of the Binding class. We don’t need to redefine the ProvideValue method, because the one implemented in the Binding class suits us perfectly (and anyway it is marked as sealed, so we couldn’t override it even if we wanted to…). The part that actually makes the code work is the Initialize method. It initializes the Source property, so that the Path of the binding maps to the specified setting, and sets Mode to TwoWay so that application settings are automatically updated from the UI. The point of doing this is that we don’t have to set these properties every time we bind to a setting…

To illustrate the usage of this markup extension, let’s go back to the previous example, and replace the Bindings with the SettingBinding extension :

<Window x:Class="WpfApplication1.Window1"
        xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
        xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
        xmlns:my="clr-namespace:WpfApplication1"
        Title="Window1"
        Height="{my:SettingBinding Height}"
        Width="{my:SettingBinding Width}"
        Left="{my:SettingBinding Left}"
        Top="{my:SettingBinding Top}">

Isn’t it much clearer, more readable, and shorter to write ?

And of course, to make it work, let’s not forget to save the settings in the application’s Exit event…

        private void Application_Exit(object sender, ExitEventArgs e)
        {
            WpfApplication1.Properties.Settings.Default.Save();
        }

That’s it ! the window size and position are now saved, and restored when the application is started again, without having to write anything more…

Download source code

Update : If you understand French and want to know more about markup extensions, I suggest you read my tutorial on this topic : Les markup extensions en WPF

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