Keeping a modeless window accessible from a modal (dialog) window

In a C# WinForms application I was working on, users were effectively working with two more or less independent windows: one they worked in, and another that showed documents and other info they need to do that work. The problem was that when they were in a dialog, for example one to assist in creating a new object, the window holding the documents with info on the object was not accessible because the dialog is modal.

You can have the dialog take ownership of the document window, but that means also it will always be on top of it, which would be inconvenient.

So I borrowed a trick from my Delphi days that I found here. You only need to do a small Windows API call from your code. I added this code to utility class called FormsUtil, but you could of course put it anywhere that’s convenient to you.

private static extern bool EnableWindow(IntPtr hwnd, bool bEnable);

public static bool EnableWindow (Form form, bool enable) {
    return EnableWindow(form.Handle, enable);

This allows you to, in the dialog form, attach an event handler to the Shown event:

private void NewObjectForm_Shown(object sender, EventArgs e) {
    if (this.Modal) {
        var viewer = GetReferenceToDocumentViewerForm();
        FormsUtil.EnableWindow(viewer, true);

Now the document viewer window is accessible from the “new object” dialog.

Tip: be careful if you ever choose to use EnableWindow(formX, false). It will disable that form completely, including not being able to close it.