How to get console output from a WPF application

Published on 16 July 2018

While implementing a recent feature addition to Chocolatey GUI, I stumbled across something that I thought was blog worthy, so I thought I would add some notes here for future me.

The problem

Chocolatey GUI is a WPF application, but the feature that was being added here was the ability to execute Chocolatey GUI from the command line in order to enable/disable features within the application. i.e. you will be able to run commands like the following:

chocolateygui feature enable -n=<featureName>
chocolateygui feature disable -n=<featureName>
chocolateygui feature list

When I first started writing this feature, I thought that this was going to be simple. What I didn't know is that when compiled with an OutputType of WinExe, which a WPF application is, it doesn't output anything to the console. As a result, trying to do something like:

Console.Write("This is a test");

results in nothing happening. There are also no errors at runtime, so it is not immediately clear what is going on.

The solution

Thankfully, after searching around, it was clear that I wasn't the first person to stumble into this. There are a number of different solutions out there (including attempting to attach to the existing console, creating a new console, etc.), however, none of them felt quite right until I found this article:

Huge thanks to Rico Suter for this!

The magic sauce that makes this work is this:

    [DllImport("kernel32.dll", SetLastError = true, ExactSpelling = true)]
    static extern bool FreeConsole();

This pinvoke call is completely opposite to how I was originally thinking about it. Rather than attempting to attach to an existing console, or create a new one, this technique starts out assuming that there is a console, and if that console isn't required, get rid of it. i.e. FreeConsole.

In order for this to work, it is necessary to change the output type of you WPF project to be a Console Application, and also add an InitialzeComponent() call.

For Chocolatey GUI, the startup code then looks like the following:

        public App()

        internal static SplashScreen SplashScreen { get; set; }

        public static void Main(string[] args)
            if (args.Length != 0)
                // Run as Console Application
                // Run as WPF Application

                // Do Stuff

        [DllImport("kernel32.dll", SetLastError = true, ExactSpelling = true)]
        private static extern bool FreeConsole();

Check the Pull Request to Chocolatey GUI for the complete implementation.

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