The forgotten common controls: The ShowHideMenuCtl function

Raymond Chen

The ShowHideMenuCtl function is one of those functions everybody tries to pretend doesn’t exist. You thought MenuHelp was bad; ShowHideMenuCtl is even worse.

The idea behind ShowHideMenuCtl was that you had a window with a menu as well as controls, and some of the menu items were checkable, indicating whether the corresponding control should be shown. For example, on your View menu you might have options named Toolbar or Status Bar. If the user checks Toolbar, then the toolbar is shown in the main window; if the user unchecks Toolbar, then the toolbar is hidden.

The parameters to the ShowHideMenuCtl function are a window (the window on which you want to operate), a menu identifier (the menu item you wish to toggle), and a mysterious array of integers. Everything hangs on that mysterious array of integers, which takes the following form (expressed in pseudo-C):

 int idMenu;
 int idControl;
 int idMainMenu;
 HMENU hmenuMain;
 MENUCONTROLINTS rgwMenuControl[];

The MENUCONTROLINTS structure is easier to describe. It merely establishes the correspondence between a menu item and the control that will be shown or hidden. (Exercise: Why do we need two integers? Why can’t we just give the menu item and the control the same ID?) The array of MENUCONTROLINTS structures is terminated by a pair whose idMenu is zero.

The tricky bit is the first two entries, idMainMenu and hmenuMain. The hmenuMain is the handle to the main menu for the window, and the idMainMenu is the item on the menu corresponding to the “Hide menu” entry on the main menu. (That’s why hmenuMain need to be passed explicitly. We would normally use GetMenu(hwnd) to get the handle to the main menu, but if we’ve removed it, then GetMenu(hwnd) will return NULL.) If you don’t want to have a “Hide menu” option, you can just put a dummy value in the idMainMenu slot that doesn’t correspond to any menu item. (The value -1 is probably most convenient for this. Don’t use zero since it terminates the list!)

When you call the ShowHideMenuCtl function, it searches for the menu item you specified and toggles the check mark next to that item. What happens next depends on what type of item was found.

  • If the item is idMainMenu, then the main menu is attached to or removed from the window (by using the SetMenu function, of course), corresponding to the check box.

  • If the item is idMenu, then the corresponding control is shown or hidden (by using the ShowWindow function, of course), corresponding to the check box.

That’s all there is to it. The rest is up to you. For example, when a control is shown or hidden, it’s still up to your program to relayout the visible controls to account for the new window visibility state. For example, if the user shows the toolbar, then the other controls need to move out of the way to make room for the toolbar. The ShowHideMenuCtl function can’t do this for you since it has no idea what your window layout is.

Let’s put this information into practice. Start with our scratch program and make the following changes;

HMENU g_hmenuMain;
INT rgiMenu[] = {
    100, 0,
    101, 200,
    0, 0,
OnCreate(HWND hwnd, LPCREATESTRUCT lpcs)
    /* We'll talk about this line more later */
    rgiMenu[1] = (INT)GetMenu(hwnd);
    CreateWindow(TEXT("Button"), TEXT("Sample"),
                 WS_CHILD | BS_PUSHBUTTON, 0, 0, 100, 100,
                 hwnd, IntToPtr_(HMENU, 200), g_hinst, 0);
    return TRUE;
OnDestroy(HWND hwnd)
    if (!GetMenu(hwnd))
        DestroyMenu(IntToPtr_(HMENU, rgiMenu[1]));
void OnCommand(HWND hwnd, int id, HWND hwndCtl, UINT codeNotify)
    switch (id) {
    case 100:
    case 101: ShowHideMenuCtl(hwnd, id, rgiMenu); break;
HANDLE_MSG(hwnd, WM_COMMAND, OnCommand);
    wc.lpszMenuName = MAKEINTRESOURCE(1);
/* add to resource file */
    POPUP "&View"
        MENUITEM "&Menu Bar", 100, CHECKED
        MENUITEM "&Button", 101

Most of the changes are just setting up. We attach a menu to our window with two options, one to hide and show the menu bar, and one to hide and show our custom button. Since our window starts out with the menu bar visible and the button hidden, our menu template checks the “Menu Bar” item but not the “Button” one.

The OnCreate function finishes setting up up the rgiMenu array by putting the main menu’s handle into index 1 in the array of integers, which corresponds to hmenuMain in our pseudo-structure. The OnDestroy function destroys the menu if it isn’t attached to the window, since menus attached to a window are destroyed automatically when the window is destroyed. The magic happens in the OnCommand handler. If the user picked one of our two menu items, then we ask ShowHideMenuCtl to hide and show the button or menu.

The tricky bit is setting up our rgiMenu. Let’s break down those integers.

100 Menu identifier for hiding and showing the menu bar
0 Placeholder (receives main menu handle in OnCreate handler)
101 Menu identifier for hiding and showing the menu bar
200 Control ID for the button that is shown and hidden (passed to the CreateWindow function)
0, 0 List terminator

When you run this program, you can use the “Button” menu option to hide and show the button, and you can use the “Menu Bar” menu option to hide and show the window’s main menu. Erm, no wait, you can’t use it to show the main menu, because the main menu is hidden! Naturally, if your program uses the ability to hide the main menu, you need to provide some alternate mechanism for bringing the main menu back, say via a hotkey or by adding an option to the System menu.

Okay, now back to that line in the OnCreate function that I promised to talk about. If you have been paying attention, alarm bells should have gone off in your head at the line rgiMenu[1] = (INT)GetMenu(hwnd); because we are casting an HMENU to an integer. On 64-bit machines, a HMENU is a 64-bit value, but integers are only 32-bit. This cast truncates the handle value and consequently is not 64-bit safe. Since the ShowHideMenuCtl function requires an array of integers, you’re stuck. You can’t shove a 64-bit menu handle into a 32-bit integer. The ShowHideMenuCtl function is fundamentally flawed; it is not 64-bit compatible.

Fortunately, nobody uses the ShowHideMenuCtl function anyway. Its functionality is so simple, most programs have already written a function that does roughly the same thing, and since you have to write the layout code anyway, the ShowHideMenuCtl function doesn’t really save you very much effort anyway. Like MenuHelp, the function is entirely vestigial and isn’t something you should be tempted to use in any modern program. It’s a leftover from the days of 16-bit Windows.

Why does such a confusing function exist at all? Well, the shell team thought they were doing you a favor by providing this function back in the 16-bit days. This was originally an internal function used by (I think it was) File Manager, but since it solved a more general problem, the function was exported and documented. In the intervening years, the problem it addressed has been solved in other ways, and the introduction of 64-bit Windows rendered the original solution unworkable anyway, but the function and the code behind it must still linger in the system for backwards compatibility purposes.

The shell team learned its lesson. It no longer exports every little helper function and custom control for third parties to use. If a future version of Windows no longer needs the helper function, or if a redesign of Windows Explorer removes the need for that custom control (or worse, changes the behavior of that custom control), the shell would still have to carry all the code around for the unused function or control because a function, once documented, becomes a continuing support burden.


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