Customize Places Bar in Common File Dialog

Since Windows 2000, the file common dialog was modified to display, on the left, a bar with shortcuts to different default directories. The good part is that this list can be modified, and modifying it does not involve any COM object, only some simple Registry tweaking. In this article, I will explain how to programmatically modify the Registry to display your own list of shortcuts in places bar of the file dialog.

System Settings

It turns out that the folders listed in the Places Bar are specified in Registry, under the HKEY_CURRENT_USER key. The path is:


Folders can be specified in two ways:

  • Full path of the folder (type of value is REG_SZ, and data is a string with the path)
  • By IDs for a predefined list of folders (type of value is REG_DWORD, and data is an integer representing the ID of the predefined folder)

In the following image, you can see three entries: two integers indicating the Desktop (0) and My Documents (5) and a custom folder “D:\Cilu”.

The name of the values must be of the form PlaceX , where X can have a value from 0 to 4, because a maximum of only five shortcuts are displayed on the Places Bar.

This key does not exist by default. The operating system tries to read this key before displaying a file dialog. If it doesn’t find the key, it loads a default list of folders, the one you probably see on your file dialog. If, however, it finds it, the custom list is used.

This key is system wide. All the applications, except for the ones in the Microsoft Office suite, are affected. If you change (create, delete) this Registry key, all applications displaying a file dialog will have the Places Bar with those folders.

Note: To change the Places Bar for the Microsoft Office application, follow this Knowledge Base article, 826214.

List of IDs for Pre-Defined Folders

The following table displays the list of IDs of the pre-defined folders:

ID (hex) Predefined Folder
0 Desktop
1 Internet Explorer
2 Start Menu\Programs
3 My Computer\Control Panel
4 My Computer\Printers
5 My Documents
6 <user name>\Favorites
7 Start Menu\Programs\Startup
8 <user name>\Recent
9 <user name>\SendTo
a <desktop>\Recycle Bin
b <user name>\Start Menu
c logical “My Documents” desktop icon
d “My Music” folder
e “My Videos” folder
10 <user name>\Desktop
11 My Computer
12 Network Neighborhood (My Network Places)
13 <user name>\nethood
14 Windows\Fonts
16 All Users\Start Menu
17 All Users\Start Menu\Programs
18 All Users\Startup
19 All Users\Desktop
1a <user name>\Application Data
1b <user name>\PrintHood
1c <user name>\Local Settings\Applicaiton Data (nonroaming)0x001d // nonlocalized startup
1e Nonlocalized common startup
1f Common favorites
20 Internet Cache
21 Cookies
22 History
23 All Users\Application Data
24 GetWindowsDirectory()
25 GetSystemDirectory()
26 C:\Program Files
27 C:\Program Files\My Pictures
29 x86 system directory on RISC
2a x86 C:\Program Files on RISC
2b C:\Program Files\Common
2c x86 Program Files\Common on RISC
2d All Users\Templates
2e All Users\Documents
2f All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Administrative Tools
30 <user name>\Start Menu\Programs\Administrative Tools
31 Network and Dial-up Connections
35 All Users\My Music
36 All Users\My Pictures
37 All Users\My Video
38 Resource Directory
39 Localized Resource Directory
3a Links to All Users OEM specific apps
3b USERPROFILE\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\CD Burning

Application-Specific Change of Places Bar

As explained earlier, changing the Registry key Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\ComDlg32\PlacesBar affects all applications installed on a machine (except for the Office applications). If you only want a modified Places Bar for a specific application, a small hack into the Registry can be temporarily done to achieve that.

The Windows API function RegOverridePredefKey allows a programmer to map a pre-defined Registry key to a specified key. Thus, you can do the following:

  • Create a temporary key and map it for the HKEY_CURRENT_USER
  • Put the file dialog places there under Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\ComDlg32\PlacesBar
  • Display the file dialog
  • At the end, restore the predefined HKEY_CURRENT_USER and delete the temporary key

I have put all this together into a sample applications that allows you to select five custom places from the predefined folders list or any folder on disk. The application looks like the one in this screenshot:

Note: To select a custom folder, use the Browse… item at the bottom of each combo box item list.

Creating a temporary key and mapping it on HKEY_CURRENT_USER

The SnatchRegistry() function creates a temporary Registry key (in my application, called “MariusBancila”) and calls RegOverridePredefKey to map it on HKEY_CURRENT_USER. It returns a handle to that key:

HKEY CDemoOpenFileDlg::SnatchRegistry()
HKEY hTempKey;
// create a temporary Registry key
// override the current user with the new created key
RegOverridePredefKey(HKEY_CURRENT_USER, hTempKey);

return hTempKey;

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