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.Last time I showed you how to get started building extensions for Expression Blend. Lets build a useful extension this time and go a bit deeper into Blend.

  • Source of project  => here
  • Compiled dll => here (extract into /extensions folder of Expression Blend)


The Extension

When working on large Xaml files in Blend it’s often hard to find a specific control in the "Objects and Timeline Pane”. An extension that searches the active document and presents all elements that satisfy the query would be helpful. When the user starts typing a search query a search will be performed and the results are shown in the list. After the user selects an item in the results list, the control in the "Objects and Timeline Pane” will be selected. Below is a sketch of what it is going to look like.



The Solution

Create a new WPF User Control project as shown in the earlier tutorial in the Configuring the extension project section, but name it AdvancedSearch this time. Delete the default UserControl1.Xaml to clear the solution (a new user control will be added later thought, but adding a user control is easier then renaming one).

Create the main entry point of the addin by adding a new class to the solution and naming this  AdvancedSearchPackage. Add a reference to Microsoft.Expression.Extensibility and to System.ComponentModel.Composition . Implement the IPackage interface and add the Export attribute from the MEF to the definition. While you’re at it. Add references to Microsoft.Expression.DesignSurface, Microsoft.Expression.FrameWork and Microsoft.Expression.Markup. These will be used later.

The Load method from the IPackage interface is going to create a ViewModel to bind to from the UI. Add another class to the solution and name this AdvancedSearchViewModel. This class needs to implement the INotifyPropertyChanged interface to enable notifications to the view.  Add a constructor to the class that takes an IServices interface as a parameter.

Create a new instance of the AdvancedSearchViewModel in the load method in the AdvanceSearchPackage class. The AdvancedSearchPackage class should looks like this now:


using System.ComponentModel.Composition;
using Microsoft.Expression.Extensibility;
namespace AdvancedSearch
    public class AdvancedSearchPackage:IPackage
        public void Load(IServices services)
            new AdvancedSearchViewModel(services);            
        public void Unload()


Add a new UserControl to the project and name this AdvancedSearchView. The View will be created by the ViewModel, which will pass itself to the constructor of the view. Change the constructor of the View to take a AdvancedSearchViewModel object as a parameter. Add a private field to store the ViewModel and set this field in the constructor. Point the DataContext of the view to the ViewModel. The View will look something like this now:


namespace AdvancedSearch
    public partial class AdvancedSearchView:UserControl
        private readonly AdvancedSearchViewModel _advancedSearchViewModel;
        public AdvancedSearchView(AdvancedSearchViewModel advancedSearchViewModel)
            _advancedSearchViewModel = advancedSearchViewModel;
            this.DataContext = _advancedSearchViewModel;


The View is going to be created in the constructor of the ViewModel and stored in a read only property.


        public FrameworkElement View
            get; private set;
        public AdvancedSearchViewModel(IServices services)
            _services = services;
            View = new AdvancedSearchView(this);

The last thing the solution needs before we’ll wire things up is a new class, PossibleNode. This class will be used later to store the search results. The solution should look like this now:



Adding UI to the UI

The extension should build and run now, although nothing is showing up in Blend yet. To enable the user to perform a search query add a TextBox and a ListBox to the AdvancedSearchView.xaml file. I’ve set the rows of the grid too to make them look a little better. Add the TextChanged event to the TextBox and the SelectionChanged event to the ListBox, we’ll need those later on.

            <RowDefinition Height="32" />
            <RowDefinition Height="*" />
        <TextBox TextChanged="SearchQueryTextChanged" 
                 VerticalAlignment="Stretch" />
        <ListBox SelectionChanged="SearchResultSelectionChanged"
                 Grid.Row="1" />


This will create a user interface like:


To make the View show up in Blend it has to be registered with the WindowService. The GetService<T> method is used to get services from Blend, which are your entry points into Blend.When writing extensions you will encounter this method very often. In this case we’re asking for an IWindowService interface. The IWindowService interface serves events for changing windows and themes, is used for adding or removing resources and is used for registering and unregistering Palettes. All panes in Blend are palettes and are registered thru the RegisterPalette method.

The first parameter passed to this method is a string containing a unique ID for the palette. This ID can be used to get access to the palette later.

The second parameter is the View.

The third parameter is a title for the pane. This title is shown when the pane is visible. It is also shown in the window menu of Blend.

The last parameter is a KeyBinding. I have chosen Ctrl+Shift+F to call the Advanced Search pane. This value is also shown in the window menu of Blend.


    "Advanced Search",
    new KeyBinding
        Key = Key.F,
        Modifiers = ModifierKeys.Control | ModifierKeys.Shift

You can compiler and run now. After Blend starts you can hit Ctrl+Shift+F or go the windows menu to call the advanced search extension.

Searching for controls

The search has to be cleared on every change of the active document. The DocumentServices fires an event every time a new document is opened, a document is closed or another document view is selected. Add the following line to the constructor of the ViewModel to handle the ActiveDocumentChanged event:


_services.GetService<IDocumentService>().ActiveDocumentChanged += ActiveDocumentChanged;


And implement the ActiveDocumentChanged method:


private void ActiveDocumentChanged(object sender, DocumentChangedEventArgs e)



To get to the contents of the document we first need to get access to the “Objects and Timeline” pane. This pane is registered in the PaletteRegistry in the same way as this extension has registered itself. The palettes are accessible thru an associative array. All you need to provide is the Identifier of the palette you want. The Id of the “Objects and Timeline” pane is “Designer_TimelinePane”. I’ve included a list of the other default panes at the bottom of this article. Each palette has a Content property which can be cast to the type of the pane.


var timelinePane = (TimelinePane)_services.GetService<IWindowService>()


Add a private field to the top of the AdvancedSearchViewModel class to store the active SceneViewModel. The SceneViewModel is needed to set the current selection and to get the little icons for the type of control.


private SceneViewModel _activeSceneViewModel;


When the active SceneViewModel changes, the ActiveSceneViewModel is stored in this field. The list of possible nodes is cleared and an PropertyChanged event is fired for this list to notify the UI to clear the list. This will make the eventhandler look like this:

private void ActiveDocumentChanged(object sender, DocumentChangedEventArgs e)
    var timelinePane = (TimelinePane)_services.GetService<IWindowService>()
    _activeSceneViewModel = timelinePane.ActiveSceneViewModel;
    PossibleNodes = new List<PossibleNode>();

The PossibleNode class used to store information about the controls found by the search. It’s a dumb data class with only 3 properties, the name of the control, the SceneNode and a brush used for the little icon. The SceneNode is the base class for every possible object you can create in Blend, like Brushes, Controls, Annotations, ResourceDictionaries and VisualStates. The entire PossibleNode class looks like this:


using System.Windows.Media;
using Microsoft.Expression.DesignSurface.ViewModel;
namespace AdvancedSearch
    public class PossibleNode
        public string Name { get; set; }        
        public SceneNode SceneNode { get; set; }
        public DrawingBrush IconBrush { get; set; }


Add these two methods to the AdvancedSearchViewModel class:


public void Search(string searchText) { }
public void SelectElement(PossibleNode node){ }


Both these methods are going to be called from the view. The Search method performs the search and updates the PossibleNodes list.  The controls in the active document can be accessed thru TimeLineItemsManager class. This class contains a read only collection of TimeLineItems. By using a Linq query the possible nodes are selected and placed in the PossibleNodes list.


var timelineItemManager  = new TimelineItemManager(_activeSceneViewModel);
PossibleNodes =
    new List<PossibleNode>(
        (from d in timelineItemManager.ItemList
         where d.DisplayName.ToLowerInvariant().StartsWith( searchText.ToLowerInvariant())
         select new PossibleNode()
             IconBrush = d.IconBrush,
             SceneNode = d.SceneNode,
             Name = d.DisplayName


The Select method is pretty straight forward. It contains two lines.The first to clear the selection. Otherwise the selected element would be added to the current selection. The second line selects the nodes. It is given a new array with the node to be selected.


_activeSceneViewModel.SelectNodes(new[] { node.SceneNode });


The last thing that needs to be done is to wire the whole thing to the View. The two event handlers just call the Search and SelectElement methods on the ViewModel.


private void SearchQueryTextChanged(object sender, TextChangedEventArgs e)
private void SearchResultSelectionChanged(object sender, SelectionChangedEventArgs e)
        _advancedSearchViewModel.SelectElement(e.AddedItems[0] as PossibleNode);


The Listbox has to be bound to the PossibleNodes list and a simple DataTemplate is added to show the selection. The IconWithOverlay control can be found in the Microsoft.Expression.DesignSurface.UserInterface.Timeline.UI namespace in the Microsoft.Expression.DesignSurface assembly. The ListBox should look something like:


<ListBox SelectionChanged="SearchResultSelectionChanged"
         HorizontalAlignment="Stretch" Margin="4"
         Name="SearchResult" VerticalAlignment="Stretch" Grid.Row="1" 
         ItemsSource="{Binding PossibleNodes}">
            <StackPanel Orientation="Horizontal">             
                <tlui:IconWithOverlay Margin="2,0,10,0"
                                      Width="12" Height="12" 
                                      SourceBrush="{Binding Path=IconBrush, Mode=OneWay}" 
                <TextBlock Text="{Binding Name}"/>


Compile and run. Inside Blend the extension could look something like below.


What’s Next

When you’ve got the extension running. Try placing breakpoints in the code and see what else is in there. There’s a lot to explore and build extension on. I personally would love an extension to search for resources.

Last but not least, you can download the source of project here.  If you have any questions let me know.

If you just want to use this extension, you can download the compiled dll here. Just extract the . zip into the /extensions folder of Expression Blend.


Target framework

I ran into some issues when using the .NET Framework 4 Client Profile as a target framework. I got some strange error saying certain obvious namespaces could not be found, Microsoft.Expression in my case. If you run into something like this, try setting the target framework to .NET Framework 4 instead of the client version.


Identifiers of default panes




Identifier Type Title
Designer_TimelinePane TimelinePane Objects and Timeline
Designer_ToolPane ToolPane Tools
Designer_ProjectPane ProjectPane Projects
Designer_DataPane DataPane Data
Designer_ResourcePane ResourcePane Resources
Designer_PropertyInspector PropertyInspector Properties
Designer_TriggersPane TriggersPane Triggers
Interaction_Skin SkinView States
Designer_AssetPane AssetPane Assets
Interaction_Parts PartsPane Parts
Designer_ResultsPane ResultsPane Results
Posted on Thursday, April 1, 2010 11:09 PM Blend , dotnetmag , CodeProject | Back to top

Comments on this post: Building a “real” extension for Expression Blend

# re: Building a “real” extension for Expression Blend
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This is just full of WIN! Awesome work.
Left by Jonas Follesø on Jun 08, 2010 7:54 PM

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