Guide to BSTR and C String Conversions

Environment: VC++ 6.0, Windows


One of the confusing aspects of Windows programming is managing the conversion of Visual Basic style strings to/from C language style strings. It isn’t that it is so difficult, it is just difficult to remember the details. It is usually not done often, and the MSDN documentation is so voluminous that it is difficult to find answers to your questions. But, the worst part is that you could perform some typecast that compiles fine, but doesn’t work the way you expect. This results in code that doesn’t work, and the bugs are hard to track down. After some experience, you learn to make sure your string conversions are doing what you expect.

C strings are arrays of characters terminated by a NULL character. Visual Basic strings differ in that the length of the string precede the characters in the string. So, a VB string knows its own length. In addition, all VB strings are Unicode (16 bits per character).

String Types

BSTR/C String conversions are required if:

  • You are doing COM programming in C/C++
  • You are writing multiple language applications, such as C++ DLL’s accessed by Visual Basic applications.

C Language String Types and Classes

This article deals with the following C/MFC/ATL string types:

String Type Description
char/wchar/TCHAR   The C strings for ANSI and Unicode
CString The C++/MFC class wrapper for C strings
BSTR The Visual Basic string type
_bstr_t A C++ class wrapper for the Visual Basic string type
CComBSTR Yet another C++ class wrapper for the Visual Basic string type used predominately in ATL code

Demo Project

The demo project is just an MFC dialog-based application with buttons for each type of conversion. It is built using VC++ 6.0. It uses a couple of support functions you may find helpful:

  _bstr_t bstr1(_T("This is the test string."));

  BSTR bstr;

  bstr = bstr1.copy();

  return bstr;

  CComBSTR bstr("This is the test string.");

  return bstr;

void CVbsDlg::ShowBSTR(BSTR bstr)
  _bstr_t bstrStart(bstr);

  CString s;

  s.Format(_T("%s"), (LPCTSTR)bstrStart);




So, let’s get to it. Here are the conversion techniques:

  1. Converting BSTR to _bstr_t
  2.   // BSTR to _bst_t
      BSTR bstrStart = GetBSTR();
      // use the constructor
      _bstr_t bstrFinal(bstrStart);
      // Use the = operator
      bstrFinal = bstrStart;

  3. Converting a _bstr_t to BSTR

    You may want to get a BSTR from a _bstr_t class.

      // _bstr_t to BSTR
      _bstr_t bstrStart(_T("This is the test string."));
      BSTR bstrFinish;
      // use _bstr_t::copy member function
      bstrFinish = bstrStart.copy();
      // use = operator
      bstrFinish = bstrStart;

  4. Converting a CComBSTR to BSTR

    You may want to get a BSTR from a CComBSTR class.

      // CComBSTR to BSTR
      CComBSTR bstrStart(_T("This is the test string."));
      BSTR bstrFinish;
      // use the = operator
      bstrFinish = bstrStart;
      // use the Copy member function
      bstrFinish = bstrStart.Copy();

  5. Converting _bstr_t to CComBSTR

      // _bstr_t to CComBSTR
      _bstr_t bstrStart(_T("This is the test string."));
      CComBSTR bstrFinish;

  6. Converting BSTR to C String

    (Note: conversion that only works in Unicode)

      // BSTR to C String
      BSTR bstrStart;
      bstrStart = GetBSTR();
      TCHAR szFinal[255];
      // direct conversion from BSTR to LPCTSTR only works
      // in Unicode
      _stprintf(szFinal, _T("%s"), (LPCTSTR)bstrStart);
      _bstr_t bstrIntermediate(bstrStart);    // convert to
                                              // _bstr_t
      CString strFinal;
      // you have to go through _bstr_t to have it work in ANSI
      // and Unicode
      _stprintf(szFinal, _T("%s"), (LPCTSTR)bstrIntermediate);
      // Or, using MFC
      strFinal.Format(_T("%s"), (LPCTSTR)bstrIntermediate);

  7. Converting _bstr_t to C String

    (this works in both ANSI and Unicode)

      _bstr_t bstrStart(_T("This is the test string."));
      TCHAR szFinal[255];
      _stprintf(szFinal, _T("%s"), (LPCTSTR)bstrStart);

  8. Converting CComBSTR to LPCTSTR

    (not possible; must go through _bstr_t)

      // CComBSTR to C String
      CComBSTR bstrStart("This is the test string.");
      _bstr_t bstrIntermediate(bstrStart);
      TCHAR szFinal[255];
      _stprintf(szFinal, _T("%s"),

  9. Converting LPCTSTR to _bstr_t

    Use a constructor or = operator

      // LPCTSTR to _bstr_t
      LPCTSTR szStart = _T("This is the text string");
      // Use the constructor
      _bstr_t bstrFinal(szStart);
      // or use = operator
      bstrFinal = szStart;

  10. Converting LPCTSTR to CComBSTR

    Use a constructor or CComBSTR::Append function

      // LPCTSTR to CComBSTR
      // Use a constructor
      LPCTSTR szStart = _T("This is the text string");
      // Use the constructor
      CComBSTR bstrFinal(szStart);
      // Or use the Append function

Well, I tested all of the conversions in the demo project. If you need to try others, download the demo for easy modification. I am sure I will hear if there are any mistakes!


Download demo project – 28 Kb

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