How to: Make thread-safe calls to Windows Forms controls

Multithreading can improve the performance of Windows Forms apps, but access to Windows Forms controls isn't inherently thread-safe. Multithreading can expose your code to very serious and complex bugs. Two or more threads manipulating a control can force the control into an inconsistent state and lead to race conditions, deadlocks, and freezes or hangs. If you implement multithreading in your app, be sure to call cross-thread controls in a thread-safe way. For more information, see Managed threading best practices.

There are two ways to safely call a Windows Forms control from a thread that didn't create that control. You can use the System.Windows.Forms.Control.Invoke method to call a delegate created in the main thread, which in turn calls the control. Or, you can implement a System.ComponentModel.BackgroundWorker, which uses an event-driven model to separate work done in the background thread from reporting on the results.

Unsafe cross-thread calls

It's unsafe to call a control directly from a thread that didn't create it. The following code snippet illustrates an unsafe call to the System.Windows.Forms.TextBox control. The Button1_Click event handler creates a new WriteTextUnsafe thread, which sets the main thread's TextBox.Text property directly.

private void Button1_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
    thread2 = new Thread(new ThreadStart(WriteTextUnsafe));
    thread2.Start();
}
private void WriteTextUnsafe()
{
    textBox1.Text = "This text was set unsafely.";
}
Private Sub Button1_Click(ByVal sender As Object, e As EventArgs) Handles Button1.Click
    Thread2 = New Thread(New ThreadStart(AddressOf WriteTextUnsafe))
    Thread2.Start()
End Sub

Private Sub WriteTextUnsafe()
    TextBox1.Text = "This text was set unsafely."
End Sub

The Visual Studio debugger detects these unsafe thread calls by raising an InvalidOperationException with the message, Cross-thread operation not valid. Control "" accessed from a thread other than the thread it was created on. The InvalidOperationException always occurs for unsafe cross-thread calls during Visual Studio debugging, and may occur at app runtime. You should fix the issue, but you can disable the exception by setting the Control.CheckForIllegalCrossThreadCalls property to false.

Safe cross-thread calls

The following code examples demonstrate two ways to safely call a Windows Forms control from a thread that didn't create it:

  1. The System.Windows.Forms.Control.Invoke method, which calls a delegate from the main thread to call the control.
  2. A System.ComponentModel.BackgroundWorker component, which offers an event-driven model.

In both examples, the background thread sleeps for one second to simulate work being done in that thread.

You can build and run these examples as .NET Framework apps from the C# or Visual Basic command line. For more information, see Command-line building with csc.exe or Build from the command line (Visual Basic).

Starting with .NET Core 3.0, you can also build and run the examples as Windows .NET Core apps from a folder that has a .NET Core Windows Forms <folder name>.csproj project file.

Example: Use the Invoke method with a delegate

The following example demonstrates a pattern for ensuring thread-safe calls to a Windows Forms control. It queries the System.Windows.Forms.Control.InvokeRequired property, which compares the control's creating thread ID to the calling thread ID. If the thread IDs are the same, it calls the control directly. If the thread IDs are different, it calls the Control.Invoke method with a delegate from the main thread, which makes the actual call to the control.

The SafeCallDelegate enables setting the TextBox control's Text property. The WriteTextSafe method queries InvokeRequired. If InvokeRequired returns true, WriteTextSafe passes the SafeCallDelegate to the Invoke method to make the actual call to the control. If InvokeRequired returns false, WriteTextSafe sets the TextBox.Text directly. The Button1_Click event handler creates the new thread and runs the WriteTextSafe method.

using System;
using System.Drawing;
using System.Threading;
using System.Windows.Forms;

public class InvokeThreadSafeForm : Form
{
    private delegate void SafeCallDelegate(string text);
    private Button button1;
    private TextBox textBox1;
    private Thread thread2 = null;

    [STAThread]
    static void Main()
    {
        Application.SetCompatibleTextRenderingDefault(false);
        Application.EnableVisualStyles();
        Application.Run(new InvokeThreadSafeForm());
    }
    public InvokeThreadSafeForm()
    {
        button1 = new Button
        {
            Location = new Point(15, 55),
            Size = new Size(240, 20),
            Text = "Set text safely"
        };
        button1.Click += new EventHandler(Button1_Click);
        textBox1 = new TextBox
        {
            Location = new Point(15, 15),
            Size = new Size(240, 20)
        };
        Controls.Add(button1);
        Controls.Add(textBox1);
    }

    private void Button1_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
    {
        thread2 = new Thread(new ThreadStart(SetText));
        thread2.Start();
        Thread.Sleep(1000);
    }

    private void WriteTextSafe(string text)
    {
        if (textBox1.InvokeRequired)
        {
            var d = new SafeCallDelegate(WriteTextSafe);
            Invoke(d, new object[] { text });
        }
        else
        {
            textBox1.Text = text;
        }
    }

    private void SetText()
    {
        WriteTextSafe("This text was set safely.");
    }
}
Imports System.Drawing
Imports System.Threading
Imports System.Windows.Forms

Public Class InvokeThreadSafeForm : Inherits Form

    Public Shared Sub Main()
        Application.SetCompatibleTextRenderingDefault(False)
        Application.EnableVisualStyles()
        Dim frm As New InvokeThreadSafeForm()
        Application.Run(frm)
    End Sub

    Dim WithEvents Button1 As Button
    Dim TextBox1 As TextBox
    Dim Thread2 as Thread = Nothing

    Delegate Sub SafeCallDelegate(text As String)

    Private Sub New()
        Button1 = New Button()
        With Button1
            .Location = New Point(15, 55)
            .Size = New Size(240, 20)
            .Text = "Set text safely"
        End With
        TextBox1 = New TextBox()
        With TextBox1
            .Location = New Point(15, 15)
            .Size = New Size(240, 20)
        End With
        Controls.Add(Button1)
        Controls.Add(TextBox1)
    End Sub

    Private Sub Button1_Click(sender As Object, e As EventArgs) Handles Button1.Click
        Thread2 = New Thread(New ThreadStart(AddressOf SetText))
        Thread2.Start()
        Thread.Sleep(1000)
    End Sub

    Private Sub WriteTextSafe(text As String)
        If TextBox1.InvokeRequired Then
            Dim d As New SafeCallDelegate(AddressOf SetText)
            Invoke(d, New Object() {text})
        Else
            TextBox1.Text = text
        End If
    End Sub

    Private Sub SetText()
        WriteTextSafe("This text was set safely.")
    End Sub
End Class

Example: Use a BackgroundWorker event handler

An easy way to implement multithreading is with the System.ComponentModel.BackgroundWorker component, which uses an event-driven model. The background thread runs the BackgroundWorker.DoWork event, which doesn't interact with the main thread. The main thread runs the BackgroundWorker.ProgressChanged and BackgroundWorker.RunWorkerCompleted event handlers, which can call the main thread's controls.

To make a thread-safe call by using BackgroundWorker, create a method in the background thread to do the work, and bind it to the DoWork event. Create another method in the main thread to report the results of the background work, and bind it to the ProgressChanged or RunWorkerCompleted event. To start the background thread, call BackgroundWorker.RunWorkerAsync.

The example uses the RunWorkerCompleted event handler to set the TextBox control's Text property. For an example using the ProgressChanged event, see BackgroundWorker.

using System;
using System.ComponentModel;
using System.Drawing;
using System.Threading;
using System.Windows.Forms;

public class BackgroundWorkerForm : Form
{
    private BackgroundWorker backgroundWorker1;
    private Button button1;
    private TextBox textBox1;

    [STAThread]
    static void Main()
    {
        Application.SetCompatibleTextRenderingDefault(false);
        Application.EnableVisualStyles();
        Application.Run(new BackgroundWorkerForm());
    }
    public BackgroundWorkerForm()
    {
        backgroundWorker1 = new BackgroundWorker();
        backgroundWorker1.DoWork += new DoWorkEventHandler(BackgroundWorker1_DoWork);
        backgroundWorker1.RunWorkerCompleted += new RunWorkerCompletedEventHandler(BackgroundWorker1_RunWorkerCompleted);
        button1 = new Button
        {
            Location = new Point(15, 55),
            Size = new Size(240, 20),
            Text = "Set text safely with BackgroundWorker"
        };
        button1.Click += new EventHandler(Button1_Click);
        textBox1 = new TextBox
        {
            Location = new Point(15, 15),
            Size = new Size(240, 20)
        };
        Controls.Add(button1);
        Controls.Add(textBox1);
    }
    private void Button1_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
    {
        backgroundWorker1.RunWorkerAsync();
    }

    private void BackgroundWorker1_DoWork(object sender, DoWorkEventArgs e)
    {
        // Sleep 2 seconds to emulate getting data.
        Thread.Sleep(2000);
        e.Result = "This text was set safely by BackgroundWorker.";
    }

    private void BackgroundWorker1_RunWorkerCompleted(object sender, RunWorkerCompletedEventArgs e)
    {
        textBox1.Text = e.Result.ToString();
    }
}
Imports System.ComponentModel
Imports System.Drawing
Imports System.Threading
Imports System.Windows.Forms

Public Class BackgroundWorkerForm : Inherits Form

    Public Shared Sub Main()
        Application.SetCompatibleTextRenderingDefault(False)
        Application.EnableVisualStyles()
        Dim frm As New BackgroundWorkerForm()
        Application.Run(frm)
    End Sub

    Dim WithEvents BackgroundWorker1 As BackgroundWorker
    Dim WithEvents Button1 As Button
    Dim TextBox1 As TextBox

    Private Sub New()
        BackgroundWorker1 = New BackgroundWorker()
        Button1 = New Button()
        With Button1
            .Text = "Set text safely with BackgroundWorker"
            .Location = New Point(15, 55)
            .Size = New Size(240, 20)
        End With
        TextBox1 = New TextBox()
        With TextBox1
            .Location = New Point(15, 15)
            .Size = New Size(240, 20)
        End With
        Controls.Add(Button1)
        Controls.Add(TextBox1)
    End Sub

    Private Sub Button1_Click(sender As Object, e As EventArgs) Handles Button1.Click
        BackgroundWorker1.RunWorkerAsync()
    End Sub

    Private Sub BackgroundWorker1_DoWork(sender As Object, e As DoWorkEventArgs) _
     Handles BackgroundWorker1.DoWork
        ' Sleep 2 seconds to emulate getting data.
        Thread.Sleep(2000)
        e.Result = "This text was set safely by BackgroundWorker."
    End Sub

    Private Sub BackgroundWorker1_RunWorkerCompleted(sender As Object, e As RunWorkerCompletedEventArgs) _
     Handles BackgroundWorker1.RunWorkerCompleted
        textBox1.Text = e.Result.ToString()
    End Sub
End Class

See also