class library

Microsoft Foundation Class Library

The Microsoft Foundation Class Library (also Microsoft Foundation Classes or MFC) is a library that wraps portions of the Windows API in C++ classes, including functionality that enables them to use a default application framework. Classes are defined for many of the handle-managed Windows objects and also for predefined windows and common controls.


MFC was introduced in 1992 with Microsoft's C/C++ 7.0 compiler for use with 16-bit versions of Windows as an extremely thin object-oriented C++ wrapper for the Windows API. C++ was just beginning to replace C for development of commercial application software as the predominant way to interface to the API. With that, they also shipped the very first replacement for older, alphanumeric IDE called PWB.

One interesting quirk of MFC is the use of "Afx" as the prefix for many functions, macros and the standard precompiled header name "stdafx.h". During early development what became MFC was called "Application Framework Extensions" and abbreviated "Afx". The name Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC) was adopted too late in the release cycle to change these references.

MFC 8.0 was released with Visual Studio 2005. MFC 9.0 was released with Visual Studio 2008. MFC is not included in the free edition of Visual C++ 2005/2008 Express.

The Object Windows Library (OWL), designed for use with Borland's Turbo C++ compiler, was a competing product introduced by Borland around the same time. Eventually, Borland discontinued OWL development and licensed the distribution of the MFC headers, libraries and DLLs from Microsoft for a short time, though it never offered fully integrated support for MFC. Borland later released VCL (Visual Component Library) to replace the OWL framework.

Microsoft's emphasis on MFC has been reduced in favor of their .NET Framework. MFC 7, 8 and 9 bridge elements of MFC with the .NET Framework to aid developers in migrating to the new framework. The MSVC++ compiler backend can emit managed and native object file(s). The linker can then build them together, generating hybrid (both managed and native) applications, allowing existing native applications to use managed extensions in a seamless manner. Despite Microsoft's de-emphasis of MFC, MFC is a popular framework that remains in widespread use.

A lightweight alternative to MFC is the Windows Template Library (WTL). The free Visual C++ Express version compiles WTL applications, but does not include the IDE support of the Standard, Professional and Team editions. In an MFC program, you rarely need to call the Windows API directly. Instead you create objects from MFC classes and call member functions belonging to those objects. Many of the member functions even have same name as corresponding API functions.


When MFC was introduced, it provided C++ macros for Windows message-handling (via Message Maps), exceptions, run-time type identification (RTTI), serialization and dynamic class instantiation. The macros for message-handling were intended to reduce memory consumption by avoiding gratuitous virtual table use and also provide a more concrete structure for various Visual C++-supplied tools to edit and manipulate code without parsing the full language. The message-handling macros replaced the virtual function mechanism provided by C++.

The macros for serialization, exceptions, and RTTI predated availability of these features in C++ by a number of years. 32-bit versions of MFC, for Windows NT 3.1 and later Windows operating systems, used compilers that implemented the language features and updated the macros to simply wrap the language features instead of providing customized implementations, realizing upward compatibility.

Visual C++ 2008 Feature Pack

On April 7, 2008, Microsoft released an update to the MFC classes as an out-of-band update to Visual Studio 2008 and MFC 9. The update features new user interface constructs, including the Ribbon user interface of Microsoft Office 2007 and associated UI widgets, fully customizable toolbars, docking panes like Visual Studio 2005 (which can either be freely floated or docked to any side) and document tabs. However, the Ribbon elements needs to be created in code; it does not support the XML-based declarative markup like the RibbonX API in Microsoft Office 2007 does. The MFC application wizard has also been upgraded to support the new features - including a check-box to select whether the application will use the Ribbon or the Visual Studio 2005 user interface elements. The new functionality is provided in new classes so that old applications still continue to run. This update is building on top of BCGSoft’s BCGControlBar Library Professional Edition.

Microsoft has also imposed additional licensing requirements on users of the Ribbon UI. These include a requirement to adhere to Microsoft UI Design Guidelines, and a prohibition against using such a UI in applications which compete with Microsoft applications.


Product version MFC version
Microsoft C/C++ 7.0 MFC 1.0
Visual C++ 1.0 MFC 2.0
Visual C++ 1.5 MFC 2.5
Visual C++ 2.0 MFC 3.0
Visual C++ 2.1 MFC 3.1
Visual C++ 2.2 MFC 3.2
Visual C++ 4.0 MFC 4.0 (mfc40.dll included with Windows 95)
Visual C++ 4.1 MFC 4.1
Visual C++ 4.2 MFC 4.2 (mfc42.dll included with the Windows 98 original release)
eMbedded Visual C++ 3.0 MFC 4.2 (mfc42.dll)
Visual C++ 5.0 MFC 4.21 (mfc42.dll)
Visual C++ 6.0 MFC 6.0 (mfc42.dll)
eMbedded Visual C++ 4.0
Visual C++ .NET 2002 MFC 7.0 (mfc70.dll)
Visual C++ .NET 2003 MFC 7.1 (mfc71.dll)
Visual C++ 20051 MFC 8.0 (mfc80.dll)
Visual C++ 20081 MFC 9.0.21022 (mfc90.dll)
Visual C++ 2008 with Feature Pack MFC 9.0.30411 (mfc90.dll)

  • 1 The Visual Studio Express Editions do not include the MFC libraries.

Other frameworks


Further reading

  • Shepherd, George (1996). MFC Internals. Addison-Wesley.
  • Kruglinski, David (1996). Inside Visual C++. Microsoft Press.
  • (1995). Microsoft Visual C++ Programming with MFC. Microsoft Press.

External links

Official sites


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