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Visual Basic add-ins

Visual Basic add-ins
Steven Roman

The Visual Basic development environment is poorly documented but offers much of the functionality of MS Office applications through the VB Extensibility Model. The creation of add-ins can make the life of VB developers much simpler. This excerpt from Steven Roman's book Developing Visual Basic Add-ins, provides an overview of the add-in creation process.

The Add-in creation process

The process of creating an add-in is actually fairly easy to follow if we think about the more or less common-sense steps that are required to prepare an add-in for use. This does not include adding functionality (that is, features) to the add-in, which is the major part of add-in creation. To help avoid confusion, note that there is a distinction between the add-in programmer (that's us) and the add-in user, who is also programming in the VB-environment.

  1. Registering the add-in

    As with most Windows applications, we must provide a means for VB to get general information about our add-in. This information includes the kind (DLL or EXE) and location of the add-in's public class. This information is provided by registering the add-in in the system registry.

  2. Providing a method for add-in activation

    An add-in can be activated--that is, executed (for an EXE) or loaded (for a DLL)--either during a VB session or when VB is started. The most common way for a user to activate an add-in is by using the Add-In Manager. We must therefore instruct the Add-In Manager to include ours in its list of available add-ins. In VB5, this is done by placing a line in the vbaddin.ini file, which resides in the Windows directory. In VB6, the process is made a bit simpler by using the Add-In Designer.

    Alternatively, add-ins can be activated programmatically by other add-ins. This is the basis for VB's Add-In Toolbar, which is an add-in whose sole function is to activate other add-ins. As the name implies, the Add-In Toolbar displays a toolbar with buttons for each installed add-in, as well as a button for installing or removing additional add-ins.

  3. Connecting the add-in

    Finally, we must provide VB with a way to give our add-in programmatic access to the VB IDE. After all, this is the whole point of an add-in. This process is properly referred to as connecting the add-in (although some may use this term more loosely to refer to the activation process as well). There is a slight difference in the way this is done in VB5 and VB6, but the principle is the same in both cases.

Connecting an add-in is by far the most interesting portion of add-in setup.

Click here to learn more about Developing Visual Basic Add-ins, or email and let us know if you are interested in this topic or any other Windows development issues.

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