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Posted 26 May 2006


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OutlookBar: A Simplified Outlook Style Sidebar Control

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4.74/5 (56 votes)
10 Nov 2006CPOL5 min read
An article on using and writing a user control resembling one of Outlook's sidebar controls

Sample Image - OutlookbarApp1.png


I'm currently working on a personal project in which I want to build a small application with an Outlook 2003 style of navigation. This includes the Outlook sidebar containing the colorful buttons. I have been looking for this control here on CodeProject, so far I could only find one written in C++ with WTL.

I decided to write my own Outlook sidebar usercontrol in and for C# (2.0) so it can be easily extended and customized to the developer's need. This project therefore contains all the sources which may be modified by any means and for any purpose.

Note that the usercontrol does not contain any 2.0 runtime specific code so it should be fairly easy to port it back to 1.1 projects if needed.


I chose to implement a usercontrol because it simplifies the solution, it is easy to debug, and compiles right into your application's executable leaving a very small footprint (that is no additional DLLs are needed). Reuse of this control is simply a matter of copy and pasting the usercontrol sources to your next project.

Because I wanted to write code that is easy to understand and modify, the OutlookBar control is a simplified version of Outlook's sidebar. Also, the control does not make use of complicated hooks, callbacks, and Windows APIs. After all, we just want to program C#!

Using the Code

Simply include the Outlookbar.cs, OutlookBar.Designer.cs, and OutlookBar.resx files into your project. Before using the OutlookBar usercontrol on your forms, make sure you compile everything first. After that, the usercontrol is added to your toolbox. You can now drag it onto your form.

Note that the OutlookBar control is meant to be docked at the bottom. This is not done automatically so you have to set the Dock property of the control to Bottom. Additionally, you can add a splitter control on top, this will allow you to resize the OutlookBar at runtime.

The OutlookBar contains a set of buttons (of type OutlookBarButton) that can be added to the usercontrol at runtime. In this updated version of the control, it is now possible to setup the buttons at design time! Thanks to Daniel Zaharia's excellent article on persisting control collections simply by making use of the [DesignerSerializationVisibility()] attribute.

However, to add buttons at runtime, you can put the following code in the Form_Load event. Make sure that you add the OutlookStyleControls namespace to the form.

// image1 to imagen are expected to be initialized and loaded. these images
// represent the icons on the button (max dimensions 30x26).

outlookBar1.Buttons.Add("Button 1", image1);
outlookBar1.Buttons.Add("Button 2", image2);
outlookBar1.Buttons.Add("Button n", imagen);
outlookBar1.Height = outlookBar1.MaximumSize.Height;

Notice the last line. The OutlookBar will resize itself automatically to the dimensions of the buttons. After adding all the buttons, maximize the control to its maximum allowed height. All buttons will then be visible on the form.

At runtime, clicking one of the buttons will generate a Click event. To determine which of the buttons is clicked, you can use the following code:

private void outlookBar1_Click(object sender, 
        OutlookStyleControls.OutlookBar.ButtonClickEventArgs e)
        int idx = outlookBar1.Buttons.IndexOf(e.Button);
        switch (idx)
            case 0: // button 1 was clicked
                // code your action for button1 here
            case 1: // button 2 was clicked
                // code your action for button1 here

OutlookBar interface design

That's all there is to it. The control contains some additional features:

  • Setup your OutlookBar buttons at design time.
  • The HitTest() method of the user control returns the button at a specific location. E.g., it is useful in the MouseDown or MouseUp events.
  • The color schemes used by the control can be set programmatically.
  • Each button on the control has a Tag property you can use to bind additional information to the button.
  • The ButtonHeight property, which allows you to display either smaller or bigger buttons in your control.

Design and Extensibility

On the contrary to what you might expect, the control has been implemented as a regular usercontrol instead of a control container. The buttons on the control are therefore not usercontrols in themselves, but simple (inner public) classes of the OutlookBar control (see diagram).

This makes implementing the control a lot easier. There is no need to cope with container interfaces that need to be implemented. Only the basic control events need to be captured, implemented, and overridden where needed.

The Paint event manages the drawing of the whole control. It will loop through the buttons currently in its Buttons collection and call the PaintButton method of each button like so:

private void OutlookBar_Paint(object sender, 
                           PaintEventArgs e)
        int top = 1;
        foreach (OutlookBarButton b in Buttons)
            b.PaintButton(e.Graphics, 1, top, 
                 b.Equals(this.selectedButton), false);
            top += b.Height+1;

Each Button will render itself on the control. The additional flags in the PaintButton method indicate whether a button should render itself as normal, selected, or highlighted.

Additionally, the MouseOver event is captured by the control, to highlight the button that the mouse is moving over. In order not to repaint the whole control and prevent flickering, only the buttons that change in appearance are repainted.

This also goes for the Click event. The SelectedButton property is set automatically, and the corresponding button will render itself as selected. The usercontrol overrides the Click event and implements a new click event according to the ButtonClickEventHandler. Because, we want to pass on an additional argument in the event indicating which button was pressed. For this purpose, the ButtonClickEventArgs class is implemented including a (readonly) Button property that can be used by the host application.

Future extensions would include:

  • Resize-handle as shown in Outlook which would allow you to resize the control. This can now be done with a splitter, however, visually it's just not as attractive.
  • Implement shortcut buttons on the lower part of the OutlookBar. When downsizing the control, the icons of each button are listed here and can be accessed by clicking on them (see Outlook).
  • Automatic calculation of the color schemes to use. I'm not sure how Outlook currently does this. If anyone has an idea on this, please let me know.

Apart from these extensions, the control is pretty much complete.

Points of Interest

I learned the ease of use of implementing your own usercontrol in pure C# using the .NET Graphics libraries. This resulted in a well performing small reusable control with a very small footprint.

Additionally, I learned how to make the control implementation complete by allowing setting up the control at design time. Specifically, persisting the design time OutlookBar Buttons collection took me some time to figure out.


  • 25th May, 2006: Version 1.0 of the OutlookBar usercontrol was written
  • 26th May, 2006: Article was published
  • 29th May, 2006: Version 1.1 released containing a major improvement to add buttons to the OutlookBar control at design time. Also the OutlookBar Buttons collection is now implemented based on the CollectionBase class to reduce lines of code.
  • 2nd November, 2006: Thanks to Dave, a VB.NET version is available of the control for you to download.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

Herre Kuijpers
Architect Rubicon
Netherlands Netherlands
Currently Herre Kuijpers is employed at Rubicon. During his career he developed skills with all kinds of technologies, methodologies and programming languages such as c#, ASP.Net, .Net Core, VC++, Javascript, SQL, Agile, Scrum, DevOps, ALM. Currently he fulfills the role of software architect in various projects.

Herre Kuijpers is a very experienced software architect with deep knowledge of software design and development on the Microsoft .Net platform. He has a broad knowledge of Microsoft products and knows how these, in combination with custom software, can be optimally implemented in the often complex environment of the customer.

Comments and Discussions

QuestionScroll Bar? Pin
JoanComasFdz28-Feb-07 6:21
MemberJoanComasFdz28-Feb-07 6:21 
AnswerRe: Scroll Bar? Pin
JoanComasFdz20-Mar-07 1:47
MemberJoanComasFdz20-Mar-07 1:47 
GeneralRe: Scroll Bar? Pin
Herre Kuijpers21-Mar-07 8:10
MemberHerre Kuijpers21-Mar-07 8:10 
QuestionAnyone know how to add the grip to the top of the buttons? Pin
BarryGSumpter14-Feb-07 12:43
MemberBarryGSumpter14-Feb-07 12:43 
GeneralError?! Pin
baer9999-Feb-07 1:43
Memberbaer9999-Feb-07 1:43 
GeneralRe: Error?! Pin
Herre Kuijpers9-Feb-07 3:31
MemberHerre Kuijpers9-Feb-07 3:31 
GeneralRe: Error?! Pin
bjswift6-Jul-07 17:35
Memberbjswift6-Jul-07 17:35 
GeneralClick method bug Pin
hoonzis4-Feb-07 23:54
Memberhoonzis4-Feb-07 23:54 
thanks for the component, works great. I found a litle mistake in the article. Writing the click method for OutlookBar, this line:

int idx = outlookBar1.Buttons.IndexOf(e.Button);

woun't work, because e.Button is MouseButton in this case, therefore, we won't find any MouseButtons in Buttons collection.

this should fix the problem:

OutlookStyleControls.OutlookBarButton button = e.SelectedButton;
int idx = outlookBar.Buttons.IndexOf(button);

btw. I'm still having problems with the size, in Designer it looks just fine,but when I run the application, the width changes to 2, so I have to change it in the code to initial size. Anyone has the solution for this?


GeneralRe: Click method bug Pin
johnhreynolds13-Oct-07 6:15
Memberjohnhreynolds13-Oct-07 6:15 
GeneralUpdate to this greate code Pin
Paw Jershauge9-Jan-07 1:09
MemberPaw Jershauge9-Jan-07 1:09 
GeneralBUG FOUNDED ??? - Border Style Property related problem Pin
teixeira198526-Nov-06 9:10
Memberteixeira198526-Nov-06 9:10 
QuestionHow to port back to 1.1 Pin
SGF#114-Nov-06 14:13
MemberSGF#114-Nov-06 14:13 
GeneralUpdated version - fixed design time problem Pin
Herre Kuijpers10-Nov-06 23:36
MemberHerre Kuijpers10-Nov-06 23:36 
GeneralVB Version (compiles but untested) Pin
Dave Doknjas1-Nov-06 21:00
MemberDave Doknjas1-Nov-06 21:00 
GeneralRe: VB Version (compiles but untested) Pin
Herre Kuijpers2-Nov-06 3:15
MemberHerre Kuijpers2-Nov-06 3:15 
GeneralRe: VB Version Step by step Pin
Khushi20059-Nov-06 11:24
MemberKhushi20059-Nov-06 11:24 
GeneralRe: VB Version (compiles but untested) [modified] Pin
BarryGSumpter2-Nov-06 13:18
MemberBarryGSumpter2-Nov-06 13:18 
GeneralRe: VB Version (compiles but untested) Pin
Herre Kuijpers2-Nov-06 23:25
MemberHerre Kuijpers2-Nov-06 23:25 
GeneralRe: VB Version (compiles but untested) [modified] Pin
BarryGSumpter6-Nov-06 17:54
MemberBarryGSumpter6-Nov-06 17:54 
GeneralExcellent! Anyone know how to get tis control to work in Express 2005? [modified] Pin
BarryGSumpter29-Oct-06 17:52
MemberBarryGSumpter29-Oct-06 17:52 
GeneralRe: Excellent! Anyone know how to get tis control to work in Express 2005? Pin
Herre Kuijpers29-Oct-06 23:10
MemberHerre Kuijpers29-Oct-06 23:10 
GeneralRe: Excellent! Anyone know how to get tis control to work in Express 2005? [modified] Pin
BarryGSumpter30-Oct-06 0:52
MemberBarryGSumpter30-Oct-06 0:52 
GeneralRe: Excellent! Anyone know how to get tis control to work in Express 2005? Pin
Herre Kuijpers30-Oct-06 2:46
MemberHerre Kuijpers30-Oct-06 2:46 
GeneralRe: Excellent! Anyone know how to get tis control to work in Express 2005? Pin
BarryGSumpter30-Oct-06 12:31
MemberBarryGSumpter30-Oct-06 12:31 
QuestionChanging button properties during runtime Pin
bigquick22-Sep-06 8:27
Memberbigquick22-Sep-06 8:27 

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