Win32 APIGetting started with Win32 API


WinAPI (also known as Win32; officially called the Microsoft Windows API) is an application programming interface written in C by Microsoft to allow access to Windows features. The main components of the WinAPI are:

  • WinBase: The kernel functions, CreateFile, CreateProcess, etc
  • WinUser: The GUI functions, CreateWindow, RegisterClass, etc
  • WinGDI: The graphics functions, Ellipse, SelectObject, etc
  • Common controls: Standard controls, list views, sliders, etc

See Also:


Versions of the API are tied to the operating system version. MSDN documentation specifies the minimum supported operating system for each function in the API.

Hello World

Microsoft Windows applications are usually written as either a console application or a windowed application (there are other types such as services and plug-ins). The difference for the programmer is the difference in the interface for the main entry point for the application source provided by the programmer.

When a C or C++ application starts, the executable entry point used by the executable loader is the Runtime that is provided by the compiler. The executable loader reads in the executable, performs any fixup to the image needed, and then invokes the executable entry point which for a C or C++ program is the Runtime provided by the compiler.

The executable entry point invoked by the loader is not the main entry point provided by the application programmer but is instead the Runtime provided by the compiler and the linker which creates the executable. The Runtime sets up the environment for the application and then calls the main entry point provided by the programmer.

A Windows console application may have several slightly different interfaces for the main entry point provided by the programmer. The difference between these is whether the main entry point is the traditional int main (int argc, char *argv[]) or if it is the Windows specific version of int _tmain(int argc, _TCHAR* argv[]) which provides for wide characters in the application parameters. If you generate a Windows Win32 console application project using Visual Studio, the source generated will be the Windows specific version.

A Windows window (GUI) application has a different interface for the main entry point provided by the programmer. This main entry point provided by the programmer has a more complex interface because the Runtime sets up a GUI environment and provides additional information along with the application parameters.

This example explains the Windows window (GUI) main entry point interface. To explore this topics you should have:

  • an IDE with compiler (preferably Visual Studio)
  • C knowledge

Create an empty Win32 windows (GUI, not console) project using the IDE. The project settings must be set for a window application (not a console application) in order for the linker to link with the correct Runtime. Create a main.c file adding it to the project and then type the following code:

#include <windows.h>

int APIENTRY WinMain(HINSTANCE hInst, HINSTANCE hInstPrev, PSTR cmdline, int cmdshow)
    return MessageBox(NULL, "hello, world", "caption", 0);

This is our Win32 "Hello, world" program. The first step is to include the windows header files. The main header for all of Windows is windows.h , but there are others.

The WinMain is different from a standard int main() used with a console application. There are more parameters used in the interface and more importantly the main entry point for a window application uses a calling convention different from standard C/C++.

The qualifier APIENTRY indicates the calling convention, which is the order in which arguments are pushed on the stack. By default, the calling convention is the standard C convention indicated by __cdecl . However Microsoft uses a different type of calling convention, the PASCAL convention, for the Windows API functions which is indicated by the __stdcall qualifier. APIENTRY is a defined name for __stdcall in one of the header files included by windows.h (see also What is __stdcall?).

The next arguments to WinMain are as follows:

We don't use any of these arguments yet.

Inside of WinMain() , is a call to MessageBox() , which displays a simple dialog with a message, a message box. The first argument is the handle to the owner window. Since we don't have our own window yet, pass NULL . The second argument is the body text. The third argument is the caption, and the fourth argument contains the flags. When 0 is passed, a default message box is shown. The diagram below dissects the message box dialog.

enter image description here

Good links:

On 32 bit systems only. Other architectures have different calling conventions.

Ansi- and Wide-character functions