Home ยป Does it still make sense to learn low level WinAPI programming? [closed]

Does it still make sense to learn low level WinAPI programming? [closed]


This question is bordering on religious ๐Ÿ™‚ But I’ll give my thoughts anyway.

I do see value in learing the Win32 API. Most, if not all, GUI libraries (managed or unmanaged) result in calls to the Win32 API. Even the most thorough libraries don’t cover 100% of the API, and hence there are always gaps which need to be plugged by direct API calls or P/invoking. Some of the names of the wrappers around the API calls have similar names to the underlying API calls, but those names aren’t exactly self-documenting. So understanding the underlying API, and the terminology used therein, will aid in understanding the wrapper APIs and what they actually do.

Plus, if you understand the nature of the underlying APIs that are used by frameworks, then you will make better choices with regards to which library functionality you should use in a given scenario.


I kept to standard C/C++ for years before learning Win32 API, and to be quite blunt, the “learning Win32 API” part is not the best technical experience of my life.

In one hand Win32 API is quite cool. It’s like an extension of the C standard API (who needs fopen when you can have CreateFile. But I guess UNIX/Linux/WhateverOS have the same gizmo functions. Anyway, in Unix/Linux, they have the “Everything is a file”. In Windows, they have the “Everything is a… Window” (no kidding! See CreateWindow!).

In the other hand, this is a legacy API. You will be dealing with raw C, and raw C madness.

  • Like telling one’s structure its own size to pass through a void * pointer to some Win32 function.
  • Messaging can be quite confusing, too: Mixing C++ objects with Win32 windows lead to very interesting examples of Chicken or Egg problem (funny moments when you write a kind of delete this ; in a class method).
  • Having to subclass a WinProc when you’re more familiar with object inheritance is head-splitting and less than optimal.
  • And of course, there is the joy of “Why in this fracking world they did this thing this way ??” moments when you strike your keyboard with your head once too many and get back home with keys engraved in your forehead, just because someone thought it more logical to write an API to enable the changing of the color of a “Window”, not by changing one of its properties, but by asking it to its parent window.
  • etc.

In the last hand (three hands ???), consider that some people working with legacy APIs are themselves using legacy code styling. The moment you hear “const is for dummies” or “I don’t use namespaces because they decrease the runtime speed“, or the even better “Hey, who needs C++? I code in my own brand of object-oriented C!!!” (No kidding… In a professional environment, and the result was quite a sight…), you’ll feel the kind of dread only condemned feel in front of the guillotine.

So… All in all, it’s an interesting experience.


After re-reading this post, I see it could be seen as overly negative. It is not.

It is sometimes interesting (as well as frustrating) to know how the things work under the hood. You’ll understand that, despite enormous (impossible?) constraints, the Win32 API team did wonderful work to be sure everything, from you “olde Win16 program” to your “last Win64 over-the-top application”, can work together, in the past, now, and in the future.

The question is: Do you really want to?

Because spending weeks to do things that could be done (and done better) in other more high-level and/or object-oriented API can be quite de-motivational (real life experience: 3 weeks for Win API, against 4 hours in three other languages and/or libraries).

Anyway, you’ll find Raymond Chen’s Blog very interesting because of his insider’s view on both Win API and its evolution through the years:


Absolutely. When nobody knows the low level, who will update and write the high level languages? Also, when you understand the low level stuff, you can write more efficient code in a higher level language, and also debug more efficiently.

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