Dynamic Data Exchange

Dynamic Data Exchange

Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) is a technology for communication between multiple applications under Microsoft Windows or OS/2.


Dynamic Data Exchange was first introduced in 1987 with the release of Windows 2.0. It used the "Windows Messaging Layer" functionality within Windows. This is the same system used by the "copy and paste" functionality. Therefore, DDE continues to work even in modern versions of Windows. Newer technology has been developed that has, to some extent, overshadowed DDE (e.g. OLE, COM, and OLE Automation), however, it is still used in several places inside Windows, e.g. for Shell file associations.

The primary function of DDE is to allow Windows applications to share data. For example, a cell in Microsoft Excel could be linked to a value in another application and when the value changed, it would be automatically updated in the Excel spreadsheet. The data communication was established by a simple, three-segment model. Each program was known to DDE by its "application" name. Each application could further organize information by groups known as "topic" and each topic could serve up individual pieces of data as an "item". For example, if a user wanted to pull a value from Microsoft Excel which was contained in a spreadsheet called "Book1.xls" in the cell in the first row and first column, the application would be "Excel", the topic "Book1.xls" and the item "r1c1".

Note: In DDE, the application, topic and item are not case-sensitive.

A common use of DDE was for custom-developed applications to control off-the-shelf software. For example, a custom in-house application might use DDE to open a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and fill it with data, by opening a DDE conversation with Excel and sending it DDE commands. Today, however, one could also use the Excel object model with OLE Automation (part of COM).

While newer technologies like COM offer features DDE doesn't have, there are also issues with regard to configuration that can make COM more difficult to use than DDE.


A California-based company called Wonderware developed an extension for DDE called NetDDE that could be used to initiate and maintain the network connections needed for DDE conversations between DDE-aware applications running on different computers in a network and transparently exchange data. A DDE conversation is an interaction between client and server applications. NetDDE could be used along with DDE and the DDE management library (DDEML) in applications.

DDESHARE.EXE (DDE Share Manager)
NDDENB32.DLL (Network DDE NetBIOS Interface)
NETDDE.EXE (Network DDE - DDE Communication)

Microsoft licensed a basic (NetBIOS Frames protocol only) version of the product for inclusion in various versions of Windows from Windows for Workgroups to Windows XP. In addition, Wonderware also sold an enhanced version of NetDDE to their own customers that included support for TCP/IP. The technology is extensively used in the SCADA field. Basic Windows applications using NetDDE are Clipbook Viewer, WinChat and Microsoft Hearts.

NetDDE was still included with Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Service Pack 2, although it was disabled by default. It has been removed entirely in Windows Vista. However, this will not prevent existing versions of NetDDE from being installed and functioning on later versions of Windows.


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