You must flush GDI operations when switching between direct access and GDI access, and direct access includes other parts of GDI

Raymond Chen


A customer was running into problems when accessing the pixels of
a DIB section.
They used the HANDLE parameter to
Create­DIB­Section and created two bitmaps from the same
underlying memory.
Those two bitmaps were then selected into corresponding DCs,
and the customer found that changes to the pixels performed
by writing via one DC
were not visible when read from the other DC.

The customer pointed out this clause in MSDN:

You need to guarantee that the GDI subsystem has completed
any drawing to a bitmap created by Create­DIB­Section
before you draw to the bitmap yourself.
Access to the bitmap must be synchronized.
Do this by calling the Gdi­Flush function.
This applies to any use of the pointer to the bitmap bit values,
including passing the pointer in calls
to functions such as Set­DIBits.

The customer said,
“The description says that it applies to cases
where you modify the bits yourself through the direct memory pointer.
But all of our access is performed through HDCs;
I would think GDI is smart enough to handle that,
but we’ve found that we still need to call Gdi­Flush
to get the two DCs back in sync.”

What you ask GDI to do you have done yourself.
That’s why the documentation say any use of the pointer.
Sort of like in law, where in many causes you can be punished for
“doing X or causing X to be done.”
If you induce somebody else to do X,
you’re in violation as much as if you had done X yourself.

I doubt that every call to GDI ends
with a big loop that checks whether the bits
it just modified also belong to some other GDI bitmap in the system.

GDIFinishAPI(HDC hdc)
 if (IsDIBSection(GetCurrentObject(hdc, OBJ_BITMAP), &ds)) {
  EnumGdiObjects(FlushIfOverlap, &ds));
FlushIfOverlap(HGDIOBJ h, DIBSECTION *pds)
 if (IsDIBSection(h, &ds) &&
     DIBSectionsReferToSameUnderlyingBits(pds, &ds)) {

That would seriously slow down all DIB section operations
to cover a rare scenario that most people don’t realize is
even possible to create.
Not the best engineering tradeoff.

The point of the documentation is
is that if you ask GDI to mess with the bits in the bitmap
via the HDC,
you must call Gdi­Flush
before anybody else tries to access those bits,
even if that “somebody else” is another part of GDI.
The example of Set­DIBits is an attempt to capture the
sense of this requirement.

Translating into this specific scenario:
You must flush the pending changes whenever you switch between
“GDI accesses bits through the DIB section created by this handle”
and “the bits are accessed by anybody else.”
And “anybody else” could be
“GDI accesses bits through the DIB section created by a different handle.”

Bonus chatter:
What’s the deal with Gdi­Flush anyway?

As a performance optimization, GDI performs “batching”
of operations.
When you ask GDI to perform an operation, it doesn’t always do it
right away.
Instead, it may choose to store the action in a buffer,
and when the buffer gets full,
it “flushes the batch” and sends the commands that it had been
saving up into kernel mode for execution.
(This idea of buffering up operations and submitting them as a batch
is hardly new to GDI.
The C stdio library does it, and
in networking, a variation of it goes by the name

Nagle’s Algorithm

GDI also flushes the batch when necessary in order to preserve semantics;
for example, if you call Gradient­Fill and follow it
with a call to Get­Pixel,
GDI needs to flush out the Gradient­Fill before
issuing the Get­Pixel so that the pixels that get
read match the pixels that were written.
(A much more common case of just-in-time flushing is
where you Bit­Blt the results out of the bitmap
into another device context.)

This behind-the-scenes optimization works great with one exception:
DIB sections.
Since the memory for DIB sections is directly visible,
GDI doesn’t get a chance to sneak a call to Gdi­Flush
before you issue your “mov eax, [esi]” instruction.
Hence the clause in MSDN explaining that when you switch between
GDI access and direct access,
you need to call Gdi­Flush to get all pending operations
out of the buffer so that the bits in memory match the operations
you performed.

Many years ago,

we saw another case where we had to compensate for GDI batching

Raymond Chen
Raymond Chen

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