Accessing Windows Secrets from dBASE
by Robert Bravery, IT manager and Programmer


Visual dBASE is a wonderful and very versatile product. But because it is such a unique product aimed at a dedicated market (database management), we tend to accept  that Visual dBASE seemingly has very poor integration with Windows. We mistakenly compare VdB with other “Jack of all trades” types of products and expect it to live up to those standards. The users of these other products would argue how their tool can integrate with Windows, and how their particular product is superior to Visual dBASE. So the logical conclusion would be that Visual dBASE is not a worthy product. Quite the contrary, Visual dBASE is a very worthy product, and possibly the first and foremost product to use in its niche market, that being database programming. A few things to keep in mind when evaluating software:

  1. What is the primary goal of the product?
  2. What is its primary classification i.e. is it a general purpose tool, or is it more specific.
  3. Being the most popular does not always mean it is the best
When one looks at other products and their Windows integration you will find that most of the time their Windows integration is not as easy as the “opposition” would us believe. I saw another visual programming tool accomplishing certain tasks in Windows, and I thought “Wow, wouldn’t it be nice if Visual dBASE could do that”, because we have to accomplish a lot of Windows things through the Windows API and not many people are comfortable or familiar with the API calls. So, upon investigation, through study and surfing the net, I found out that these other products don’t have all these tools built in. The programmers actually have to program them. For example, trying to tile all my open windows would be done by API calls. Well I have found some Windows secrets that can be accessed by using the Visual dBASE run() function

The Form

I have built a form with numerous buttons that when clicked will do various Windows function, right from the comfort of your Visual dBASE application. You might not see the need for all of these functions, but then again you might have a wild imagination. The following functions are not perhaps the only ones available, this is just an example to show you what can be done with a little bit of investigation. If you see a need for something else, try it out to see if you can get it to work. You might just surprise yourself.

In the form below, four buttons are of a darker color: these buttons use a function called SHExitWindowsEX which is available under Windows 98 but not under the very first version of Windows 95. So these buttons may not work on certain computers.

Create a form similar to the following one:

Here you see functions that one might have thought could only be accomplished from within the native Windows environment or through the API calls. But first, if you don’t understand the run() function, then please read the dBASE help about it now.

We will start by adding a simple run() command to the FTP pushbutton. In its onClick() event we put this code:
If MsgBox("You must have a connection to the Internet established! Do You want to continue?", "Caution!", 52) = 6

The message box is to warn the user that they have to have an Internet connection already established. Then we are running the ftp.exe program with a parameter to connect the user to our work site. In the absence of the .t. parameter in the run() function, the command will execute in a DOS Windows, which is what we want. Once the DOS Window is open you can then log on anonymously with your e-mail as a password.


To access the other Windows functions, we will use a small program that allows us to access functions in EXE’s and DLL libraries. The Rundll32 program is a Windows program that enables us to run DLL’s as if they were normal exe’s and to access their built-in functions. We can only do this, obviously if the DLL was designed to do that and has the specific function that we want to access.

NOTE: not all functions can be accessed this way, only a few. That is why this is called a Windows secret.

For example, our top right pushbutton is called Tile Windows. This would tile all child Windows that have the Windows Desktop as their parent. In other words, all Windows inside a main Window. We could do this via an API call. But that needs a bit of API understanding. Our first secret will be to place the following code in the pushbutton’s onClick() event:
run(.t., "rundll32 user,tilechildwindows")

The tilechildwindows is a function found in the user library. The Rundll32 enables us to access that library, and the .t. parameter tells the run() function that it is a Windows command. Notice that the entire command is between quotes, and that there is no space before and after the comma. We can do a similar thing with cascading windows e.g.,
run(.t., "rundll32 user,cascadechildwindows")

Not all functions are contained in the “user” library. For instance, we can access the standard Windows Control panel by using:
run(.t., "rundll32 shell32,Control_RunDLL")

You will notice that we are accessing a different library, namely shell32. If you are used to accessing the API you will then recognise these. The Control_RunDLL function is what actually opens the Control Panel. We can also open individual Control Panel applets. In the Windows’ System subdirectory, you will notice a whole bunch of files with a .cpl extension. These are the individual Control Panel applets. If we would like to change the display properties, we could do this without opening the Control Panel by simply using the following command:
run(.t., "rundll32 shell32,Control_RunDLL desk.cpl")

You will notice that the command is similar to the previous one, except for an added parameter, the name of the Control Panel applet that we want to run.

You might also notice that there are some Control panel applets that don’t have a corresponding *.cpl file. For example, you won’t find a mouse.cpl or a printers.cpl. This is because, if I understand correctly, they are contained in the main.cpl file. What we would do is use the command as above, substitute desk.cpl with main.cpl and then add an extra parameter to signify which applet we want to run. The name normally would be the same as you would find in the Control Panel. By putting this into a combobox on our form, we can give the user a choice.  In the form included with this article, I gave you the choice of four Control Panel applets (Mouse, Fonts, Keyboard and Printers). If your Windows is for a language other than English, replace them in the Combobox1 dataSource with their equivalent in your own version of Windows.
run(.t.,"rundll32 shell32,Control_RunDLL main.cpl "+Comboselect)

So now we can run individual Control Panel applets. Neat hey!

The Rest

Now that you have got the picture, study the code as I briefly explain the rest of the pushbuttons and the functions that they employ.

Copy Disk

Brings up a dialog box enabling you to copy a disk (i.e. from A: to B: or A: to A:)
run(.t., "rundll32 diskcopy,DiskCopyRunDll")

Format Drive

This one sounds very scary, but it’s really not. It is exactly the same as if you right click on the A: drive and select format. It will bring up a dialog that will enable you to choose the floppy media to format and also give you a chance to cancel. It will not allow you to format C:, no such option. Use with caution.
run(.t., "rundll32 shell32,SHFormatDrive")

Open File With...

When you try to open a file that does not have a program associated with it, the “open with” dialog box appears, enabling you to select the application you wish to use to open that particular file. Here, this pushbutton opens that dialog box.
run(.t., "rundll32 shell32,OpenAs_RunDLL")

Exit Windows

Shuts Windows down to a safe position to power off.
run(.t., "rundll32 shell32,SHExitWindowsEx 1")

Exit Windows2

Shuts Windows down and turns off the power. Your PC must support this function.
run(.t., "rundll32 user,ExitWindows")

Log Off

Self-explanatory. Logs the current user off and restarts Explorer, or Windows.
run(.t., "rundll32 shell32,SHExitWindowsEx 0")


Self-explanatory. Forces a reboot of the PC, everything is shut down cleanly.
run(.t., "rundll32 shell32,SHExitWindowsEx 2")

Restart Explorer

Similar to the reboot. Restarts Explorer, or restarts Windows without actually exiting the windows GUI.
If MsgBox("All unsaved work will be lost! Do You want to continue?","Caution!",52)=6
   run("rundll32 shell32,SHExitWindowsEx -1")

Force shutdown

This is a strange one. It will force a shutdown by closing the kernel. The machine will appear to hang but a reset will not force a scan disk as it would do after a bad shutdown. This is because closing the kernel flushes all buffers.
If MsgBox("All unsaved work will be lost! Do You want to continue?","Caution!",52)=6
  run("rundll32 krnl386.exe,exitkernel")

Add Hardware

Runs the install device dialog from the installing new hardware Applet wizard in Control Panel.
run(.t., "rundll32 sysdm.cpl,InstallDevice_Rundll")

System Crash

Simulates a crash. Do we really have to simulate a Windows crash?  Be warned this will cause your system to hang. You will have to reset.
If MsgBox("All unsaved work will be lost! You will have to reset. Do You want to continue?", "Caution!", 52)=6
   run(.t., "rundll32 user,disableoemlayer")

Repaint Screen

Self explanatory. Refreshes or repaints the screen.
run(.t., "rundll32 user,repaintscreen")

Print Test page

Prints a test page. If you have multiple printers, you can select one. The default printer will be highlighted.
run (.t., "rundll32 msprint2.dll,RUNDLL_PrintTestPage")

Cursor Blink

Change the cursor blink rate. The only problem is that I can’t figure out what the value should be, also once the cursor is blinking I can only get it back to normal via the keyboard applet in the Control Panel.
run(.t., "rundll32 user,setcaretblinktime") 

Disable mouse

You might want to, or you might not want to use this; anyway, this will disable the mouse. The enable parameter does not seem to work. The mouse will only be disabled after reboot. You can reset it via the Control Panel.
If MsgBox("Disabled mouse will be functional only after rebooting! Do You want to continue?", "Caution!", 52)=6
   run(.t., "rundll32 mouse,disable")

Swap Buttons

Swap the mouse button actions from left to right for left handed people. If click select action is on the left mouse button, it will now be on the right button. Reset via the Control Panel mouse applet.
run(.t., "rundll32 user,swapmousebutton")

Disable Keyboard

Use with caution! Same as the mouse function above, but this will disable the keyboard. The enable parameter does not seem to work.
If MsgBox("Disabled keyboard will be functional only after rebooting! Do You want to continue?", "Caution!", 52)=6
   run(.t., "rundll32 keyboard,disable")


I am by no means an expert in the Windows API or in the Windows programming environment. But my aim is to do the best that I can, and that means that I might have to go the extra mile to accomplish something. This is also not intended to be definitive on this subject, just an example. I hope you have fun. Viva Visual dBASE.

To download the "Windows Secrets"  application,  click here
(it’s a 82Kb zipped executable file)