Copy Path Shell Extension

Environment: Windows NT 4 SPT, Visual C++ 6

As a Windows programmer, one of the big headaches for me has been referencing
fully qualified file paths. A file buried deep within the filesystem becomes
a bear to deal with, as neither I nor any other programmers I know want to manually
type the following (not including line breaks) time after time.


This annoyance sent me on my initial foray into the land of context menu
extensions, in the summer of 1997. I initially implemented this context menu
extension as a MFC Dll, which got the job done, but it certainly wasn’t pretty.
Later, in May of ’99, in the process of trying to familiarize myself with the ATL
and the STL, I realized that I could make a much cleaner and more efficient version
using ATL. So that’s just what I did.

This extension may seem to be derivative of Glenn Carr’s recent article

Shell Extension to Copy Full Filename Path
, but was developed independently (aside from some last-minute changes
to GetCommandString to correctly deal with Unicode). Mine is simply
another way to do pretty much the same thing, with some extras. I decided to
post this alternative because it adds a few programmer-friendly features. There
has also been a PowerToy in existence for quite a while that adds an option to
the “Send To” menu allowing you to do basically the same thing, but once again,
I thought that this implementation adds enough to make it worth posting.

One hassle when dealing with file paths in C or C++ (or other similar languages,
such as Perl) is the way that these languages deal with literal strings. They
treat the backslash character as an escape sequence to insert special characters
into the string (e.g “\n” for newline). In order to insert a single backslash
into a literal string, two backslashes must be included in the code
(e.g. “C:\\config.sys”). One can imagine how this would be a headache when
dealing with a file that resides deep within a jumble of subdirectories. Another
problem when dealing with file paths arises when dealing with legacy applications
that don’t take too kindly to long filenames or filenames with spaces.

In addition to simply copying a file path to the clipboard, this extension offers
functionality to remedy the above problems. By simply holding down the Control key
while selecting the menu item, the “C-Friendly” path will be copied to the clipboard
(e.g. “C:\\Windows\\System32\\user32.dll”). Holding down the Shift key will copy the
short “DOS-Friendly” path (e.g. “C:\Progra~1\Multim~1\sound.wav”). And should the desire
strike you, you can even hold down both with predictable results. The extension also
sports multiple selection capability, file and/or directory selections, as well as
anti-lock brakes and a no-scratch finish. Also, as Glenn Carr mentions in his article,
with no programming effort on my part, running the extension on a shortcut copies the
shortcut’s target path to the clipboard.


The code consists of an ATL DLL project with a single class, CCopyPathContextMenu.
Like all context menus, it implements the IContextMenu and IShellExtInit interfaces.
It also supports the IContextMenu2 and IContextMenu3 interfaces, but does not use their
added functionality.

  • IShellExtInit::Initialize – Culls the selected file and directory names from the OLE data object and adds them to a STL list of basic strings.
  • IContextMenu::QueryContextMenu – Adds the new menu item to the context menu.
  • IContextMenu::GetCommandString – Provides help text for Explorer to display on the status bar.
  • IContextMenu::InvokeCommand – Called when the user selects our menu item, copying the directory and file names from the STL list filled in the Initialize function to the clipboard.

Build Versions and Registering

There are several build configurations you need to consider in the project:

  • bin\ReleaseUMinDependency\ – Unicode
  • bin\DebugU\ – Unicode
  • bin\ReleaseMinDependency\
  • bin\ReleaseMinSize\
  • bin\Debug\
  • bin\ReleaseUMinSize\ – Unicode

To register the file, simply select the appropriate version of the DLL (remember
that Unicode builds will not work correctly on Win95/98), copy it to an appropriate
location (Windows System Directory recommended), and run “RegSvr32 CopyPathExt.dll”
from the command line. The item “Copy Path to Clipboard” will now appear when you
right-click on files or directories!


Download source – 260 Kb

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