Category: Tip

If you’re using WPF, you probably encountered this obscure message of "Cannot find governing FrameworkElement or FrameworkContentElement for target element.", and found that your binding doesn’t work.

This message means that the binding engine could not locate the object of which to bind to.
This usually happens when the data context hierarchy chain is broken by a non-FrameworkElement object. Interestingly enough, this chain breaking also makes the search by ElementName broken.

For example, place a FrameworkElement inside a binding’s ConverterParameter property, and try to bind one of the element’s properties. VS will write in its output window the error message above.
You can place the element like this:
    <Binding Converter="{StaticResource someConverter}">
            <!–Here is the binding that shouldn’t work: –>
            <FrameworkElement DataContext="{Binding ElementName=myElement, Path=Content}"/>

You can overcome this problem by using the x:Reference markup extension (or its improved version I wrote about in one of my previous posts). You can a name to the element you want to bind to, and then let the binding engine find it by using the Source property, like this:

{Binding Source={x:Reference myElement}, Path=Width}

How can you name your target element? You can simply use the x:Name directive, or the more elegant "Name" property, which is mapped to the x:Name directive by FrameworkElement with the RuntimeNamePropertyAttribute attribute.

Dependency properties aren’t type-safe and aren’t generic. That’s because when they were designed, generics weren’t commonly used in c# (remember that WPF was first designed around the release of .Net 2.0 which presented the generics).

For this reason, the API of dependency properties is based on the Object class, which is a reference type. When using dependency properties for value types, we encounter a lot of boxing and unboxing.

According to Microsoft (in the link), the performance impact of boxing and unboxing is fairly big (more information can be found here). What Microsoft did in WPF, was creating (sadly internal) predefined boxed versions of commonly used value-types like Boolean, Size struct, Visibility enum and FillRule enum.

I recommend using the same mechanism, at least for Booleans, as this type is used for a lot of developers’ dependency properties.

The basic idea used for Booleans (and also the Visibility and FillRule enums; The Size struct is implemented slightly different) is to create a static BooleanBoxes class that has the following public static members:

  • A field for a predefined boxed "false" value.
  • A field for a predefined boxed "true" value.
  • A method named Box(boolean) that receives a regular Boolean, and returns its boxed representation.

The reason the fields are public, is to use them for registering the default value of the dependency properties, which is of type Object as well.

The Box method will be mainly used in the setter of your wrapping .Net property, inside the DependencyObject.SetValue method. The getter of the property will not use an "unbox" method because we can’t really know if two boxed Booleans are equal without unboxing them, and we can’t prevent someone from setting the property’s value directly from the DependencyObject.SetValue instead of our setter.

You can see these boxing classes with Reflector or IL Spy under MS.Internal.KnownBoxes (inside WindowsBase, PresentationCore and PresentationFramework).

Here is the code of the class:

/// <summary>
/// Helps boxing Booolean values.
/// </summary>
public static class BooleanBoxes
    /// <summary>
    /// Gets a boxed representation for Boolean's "true" value.
    /// </summary>
    public static readonly object TrueBox;

    /// <summary>
    /// Gets a boxed representation for Boolean's "false" value.
    /// </summary>
    public static readonly object FalseBox;

    /// <summary>
    /// Initializes the <see cref="BooleanBoxes"/> class.
    /// </summary>
    static BooleanBoxes()
        TrueBox = true;
        FalseBox = false;

    /// <summary>
    /// Returns a boxed representation for the specified Boolean value.
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="value">The value to box.</param>
    /// <returns></returns>
    public static object Box(bool value)
        if (value)
            return TrueBox;

        return FalseBox;

And here is how I might use it:

public bool ValidateNames
    get { return (bool)GetValue(ValidateNamesProperty); }
    set { SetValue(ValidateNamesProperty, BooleanBoxes.Box(value)); }

public static readonly DependencyProperty ValidateNamesProperty =
    DependencyProperty.Register("ValidateNames", typeof(bool), typeof(MyClass), new UIPropertyMetadata(BooleanBoxes.TrueBox));