Ever since VB5 service pack 2 was released, there has been the possibility of running
VB applications multi-threaded by using ActiveX EXEs. However, if you try and research
this you will find it is fiddly to get working. I've never even begun to understand how
to get it working: you need to use CreateObject to make the object on a new thread, and
then you need to be very careful as to how you start the work you want to do asynchronously.
Most times you find that VB blocks until the method call is complete regardless of whether
the object is in a new thread or not.
What you want to be able to do is to say I want to perform some operation asynchronously and
I would like to be notified when it is complete. This project demonstrates a tiny code
module and a type library you can add into your own ActiveX projects to do just that. It is
based around a part of the CodeFlow sample released at
the VB Owner's Area.
Asynchronous Running - Just to get it Started
The main problem with getting a multi-threaded application up and running is how to
call a method in VB without the caller being blocked. It turns out there is a simple solution
to this problem. The steps are as follows:
This solves the problem because the method you call immediately yields control back to
the caller, and then it is left to Windows pre-emptive multi-tasking to raise the timer event
and kick off the process within the ActiveX EXE. There is no further interference because
the ActiveX EXE is running in a different process to the caller.
- Put the method call into an ActiveX EXE, and make it private to the EXE.
- Create a new method to call. On calling this method, enable a timer. When the timer fires,
call the private method.
In More Detail
To stop having to have a form in the ActiveX EXE, this solution is based on a Win32 API
timer. Win32 API timers come in two flavours: either they notify the application when they
tick by posting a WM_TIMER message to a window, or they fire a callback interface.
This solution uses the callback interface, and as a consequence must be implemented within
a module (because VB will not provide the address of a function to callback to for
a function within an object, only one in a module).
Because the code to start the object is implemented in a module, the module must have a
reference to the object instance it has to start when the timer fires. To achieve this
without the possibility for errors, an interface is defined that the object can implement
and the module will only use this for communication. In this sample, the interface is
defined in a Type Library called Runnable. This
allows you to reference the Type Library without having to declare it as a public class
from the ActiveX executable.
The final implementation feature is the use of the OLE/COM API call CoLockObjectExternal
to ensure that the object being started asynchronously isn't inadvertently terminated by the
caller before the timer has had a chance to be fired.
Here is the code in the mStart.bas module:
' To prevent object going out of scope whilst the timer fires:
Private Declare Function CoLockObjectExternal Lib "ole32" ( _
ByVal pUnk As IUnknown, ByVal fLock As Long, _
ByVal fLastUnlockReleases As Long) As Long
' Timer API:
Private Declare Function SetTimer Lib "user32" (ByVal hWnd As Long, _
ByVal nIDEvent As Long, ByVal uElapse As Long, ByVal lpTimerFunc As Long) _
Private Declare Function KillTimer Lib "user32" (ByVal hWnd As Long, _
ByVal nIDEvent As Long) As Long
' Collection of Runnable items to start:
Private m_colRunnables As Collection
' The ID of our API Timer:
Private m_lTimerID As Long
Private Sub TimerProc(ByVal lHwnd As Long, ByVal lMsg As Long, _
ByVal lTimerID As Long, ByVal lTime As Long)
Dim this As Runnable
' Enumerate through the collection, firing the
' Runnable_Start method for each item in it and
' releasing our extra lock on the object:
Do While .Count > 0
Set this = .Item(1)
'Ask the system to release its lock on the object
CoLockObjectExternal this, 0, 1
' Remove the timer:
KillTimer 0, lTimerID
m_lTimerID = 0
Public Sub Start(this As Runnable)
' Ask the system to lock the object so that
' it will still perform its work even if it
' is released
CoLockObjectExternal this, 1, 1
' Add this to runnables:
If m_colRunnables Is Nothing Then
Set m_colRunnables = New Collection
' Create a timer to start running the object:
If Not m_lTimerID Then
m_lTimerID = SetTimer(0, 0, 1, AddressOf TimerProc)
To create your own multi-threaded object, start a new ActiveX EXE project. Make a
reference to Runnable.TLB and add mStart.bas as discussed above. In your ActiveX EXE's
class, implement the Runnable interface: this only has one method called Runnable_Start
which is fired when the timer starts the object. Now provide a public method to allow
your user to set the object running, and in this method call:
The sample in the download demonstrates how to use the technique in a very simple object.
This object does nothing more than sleep for 2s but demonstrates using an event interface
to allow the ActiveX EXE object to be cancelled.
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