Promoting ListView Groups


ListViewGroups are strange, second class citizens in the ListView world.

They exist, but there is almost nothing you can do with them – you can’t draw them yourself, you can’t change their colours, you can’t tell when the user clicks on them (apart from the Group Task text). You can’t even find out when the user does something to them (selects, expands or collapses), let alone stop them from doing it.

Naturally, I find all these limitations annoying. So, I wanted to see how many of these limitations I could remove.

Did something hit the group?

A fundamental ability that ListViewGroups lack is hit detection. There is no way to know, for example, if the mouse is over a group. .NET’s ListView doesn’t include groups in its hit detection.

OK, let’s drop down to the Windows SDK again. From Vista onwards, the ListView hit test messages allows some form of hit detection on groups. The iGroup member is supposed to be the index of the group under the point:

    POINT pt;
    UINT flags;
    int iItem;
    int iSubItem;
    int iGroup;

We can use this to do this:

NativeMethods.LVHITTESTINFO lParam = new NativeMethods.LVHITTESTINFO();
lParam.pt_x = x;
lParam.pt_y = y;
int index = NativeMethods.SendMessage(this.Handle, this.View == View.Details ? LVM_SUBITEMHITTEST : LVM_HITTEST, -1, ref lParam);

When the point is over a group, flags has the value LVHT_EX_GROUP_HEADER but the iGroup is... always 0 :(

Hmmm... Digging a little more, the SDK says that this field is only filled in when the listview is owner data (i.e. virtual). So, trying this hit test on a FastObjectListView shows that the iGroup is reliable. In fact, it is always filled in if the virtual list is showing groups, even when the hit point is on a list item, not a group itself.

But what about on a normal ObjectListView? After some more work, it turns out that when a group is hit on a normal ListView, the value returned is the id (not the index as with a virtual list) of the group. Putting all these variations together gives us code like this:

// Figure out which group is involved in the hit test. This is a little complicated:
// If the list is virtual:
//   - the returned value is list view item index
//   - iGroup is the *index* of the hit group.
// If the list is not virtual:
//   - iGroup is always -1.
//   - if the point is over a group, the returned value is the *id* of the hit group.
//   - if the point is not over a group, the returned value is list view item index.
OLVGroup group = null;
if (this.ShowGroups && this.OLVGroups != null) {
    if (this.VirtualMode) {
        group = lParam.iGroup >= 0 && lParam.iGroup < this.OLVGroups.Count ? this.OLVGroups[lParam.iGroup] : null;
    } else {
        bool isGroupHit = (lParam.flags & (int)HitTestLocationEx.LVHT_EX_GROUP) != 0;
        if (isGroupHit) {
            foreach (OLVGroup olvGroup in this.OLVGroups) {
                if (olvGroup.GroupId == index) {
                    group = olvGroup;

With all this, we can figure out which group is under a point. I’ve added some new information to OlvListViewHitTestInfo class:

  • HitTestLocationEx holds all the low level flags returned by the Windows message
  • HitTestLocation can now also be HitTestLocation.Group or HitTestLocation.GroupExpander, so that it is easy to see when a group or the expand/collapse button of a group is hit

Knowing when a group is expanded/collapsed

Several people asked if there was a way to know when a group was expanded or collapsed.

There is no documented way to do this. But this blog shows that there is an undocumented notification – LVN_FIRST - 88 – whenever the state of a group changes – including when its ‘collapsed-ness’ changes. The notification block looks like this:

public struct NMLVGROUP
    public NMHDR hdr;
    public int iGroupId; // which group is changing
    public uint uNewState; // LVGS_xxx flags
    public uint uOldState;

Combine this with the notification with the data block and we can start work. In our method to handle ReflectNotify, we add a switch value of LVN_FIRST - 88 and in response to that notification, we do this:

protected virtual bool HandleGroupInfo(ref Message m)
    NativeMethods.NMLVGROUP nmlvgroup = (NativeMethods.NMLVGROUP)m.GetLParam(typeof(NativeMethods.NMLVGROUP));

    // Ignore state changes that aren't related to selection, focus or collapsedness
    const uint INTERESTING_STATES = (uint) (GroupState.LVGS_COLLAPSED | GroupState.LVGS_FOCUSED | GroupState.LVGS_SELECTED);
    if ((nmlvgroup.uOldState & INTERESTING_STATES) == (nmlvgroup.uNewState & INTERESTING_STATES))
        return false;

    foreach (OLVGroup group in this.OLVGroups) {
        if (group.GroupId == nmlvgroup.iGroupId) {
            GroupStateChangedEventArgs args = new GroupStateChangedEventArgs(group, (GroupState)nmlvgroup.uOldState, (GroupState)nmlvgroup.uNewState);

    return false;

Nothing very difficult here. We’re only interested in selection, focus or collapsedness state changes. If the state change is interesting, find the group and trigger an event.

This is better than nothing – but not very much. We know that the state changed, but we can’t stop the state changing. We can’t stop the group being selected, and most importantly, we can’t stop the group being expanded or collapsed.

Cancelling state change

If we can’t cancel the actual state change notification, and there doesn’t seem to be a GroupStateChang-ing message from Windows, what can we do?

We can be sneaky :)

The only way to expand/collapse a group is to click on the expander button. So, one approach would be:

  • Intecept the click event, see if it is going to click the group expand/button
  • Trigger a cancellable event. If the programmer wants to stop the expand/collapse, they could listen for that event and then set IsCanceled to true
  • If the event was cancelled, simply swallow the click event. The underlying ListView control would never see the click event, so wouldn’t expand/collapse the group.

Let’s make it so.

We can’t just override the OnMouseDown() method since that happens too late – the control has already seen the Windows message and we can’t stop it. Instead, we need to intercept the WM_LBUTTONDOWN message in the WndProc() message pump. Actually... the group expand/collapse work off the mouse up event, so we really have to intercept the WM_LBUTTONUP message:

protected virtual bool HandleLButtonUp(ref Message m) {
    if (this.MouseMoveHitTest == null)
        return false;

    // If we don't have collapsible groups, we don't need to do anything else
    if (!ObjectListView.IsVistaOrLater || !this.HasCollapsibleGroups)

    // If the user is trying to expand/collapse a group, give the program a chance to veto it
    if (this.MouseMoveHitTest.HitTestLocation == HitTestLocation.GroupExpander) {
        if (this.TriggerGroupExpandCollapse(this.MouseMoveHitTest.Group))
            return true;

    // We have to call the default WndProc here, otherwise the group won't collapse/expand.
    base.DefWndProc(ref m);

    return false;

Quite simple in the end. If the listview doesn’t have collapsible groups, we don’t need to do anything special.

Otherwise, if the user clicked in the expander, trigger an event to let the programmer veto the user’s action. ObjectListView calculates hit test information every time the mouse moves, so we can just use that hit test information.

Finally, if the action wasn’t veto’ed, we have to call the default WndProc, otherwise the group won’t collapse.

Somewhat better

After this work, groups are somewhat better off than before. We do hit tests; we know when their state changes; we can stop them expanding/collapsing.

It’s still not perfect. I’d love to be able to owner draw them, or at least change their colours, but at least they are not quite so down trodden as before.