Home > Articles > Programming > Windows Programming

Designing, Building, and Working with COM-Based Components

The design of COM centers around the concept of an interface: Classes expose interfaces, and clients communicate with objects via these interfaces. Although VB can hide most aspects of interface-based programming, it's far better to be informed and to decide for yourself how much VB hides—and how much you explicitly embrace. If you are new to interfaces, rule 2-1 will get you started. Then, examine 8 more rules governing COM techniques.
This sample chapter is excerpted from Effective Visual Basic: How to Improve Your VB/COM+ Applications, by Justin Gehtland, Joe Hummel, Ted Pattison, Brian Randell, and Doug Turnure.
This chapter is from the book

Microsoft's Component Object Model is an important technology for sharing class-based code. The beauty of COM is that it is language independent, allowing developers to work in the language of their choice. It was VB, however, that first opened the door to widespread COM development.

The design of COM centers around the concept of an interface: Classes expose interfaces, and clients communicate with objects via these interfaces. Although VB can hide most aspects of interface-based programming, it's far better to be informed and to decide for yourself how much VB hides—and how much you explicitly embrace. If you are new to interfaces, rule 2-1 will get you started. We then encourage you to embrace fully interface-based design (rules 2-2 and 2-4), and to do so using tools outside VB (rule 2-3). Once defined, an interface is considered immutable to maintain compatibility as the component evolves. Compatibility is a subtle issue, and is the subject of rule 2-5.

The remaining rules focus on other important but less traveled techniques with respect to COM: proper COM activation and termination (rules 2-6 and 2-7), high-level class design (rule 2-8), and the move away from ActiveX EXE servers (rule 2-9).

Note that you may come across some COM-related terms that aren't defined in great detail: in-process DLL, GUIDs, registering a server, COM activation, and everyone's favorite IUnknown. Some of the rules assume a basic COM background, so readers new to COM may need to consult one of the many available COM texts. Or, you can review the free online tutorial designed for VB programmers at http://www.develop.com/tutorials/vbcom.

Rule 2-1: Think in Terms of Interfaces

An interface defines a communication protocol between a class and a client (a user of that class). When a client references an object, the interface associated with this reference dictates what the client can and cannot do. Conceptually, we depict this relationship as shown in Figure 2.1. Note that an interface is represented by a small "lollipop" attached to the object. This symbolizes the fact that an interface is separate from, but a conduit to, the underlying implementation.

Figure 2.1 Client accessing an object through an interface

But what exactly is an interface? Consider the following employee class CEmployee:

'** CEmployee: class
Private sName As String
Private cSalary As Currency

Public Property Get Name() As String
	Name = sName
End Sub
Public Property Get Salary() As Currency
	Salary = cSalary
End Salary

Public Sub ReadFromDB()
	...   '** read from a database into private members
End Sub
Public Sub IssuePaycheck()
	...   '** issue employee's paycheck
End Sub

Clients have access only to the public members—in this case, Name, Salary, ReadFromDB, and IssuePaycheck. These members constitute what is called the default interface of CEmployee. In general, an interface is simply a set of signatures denoting the public properties and methods. Because a class must expose at least one public member to be useful, this implies that every class in VB has at least one interface—its default.

The key point is that once an interface is published and in use by one or more clients, you should never change it. Doing so will break compatibility with your client base. For example, suppose our CEmployee class is compiled in a stand-alone COM component. Now consider the following client code written against CEmployee's default interface:

Dim rEmp As CEmployee   '** reference to default interface
Set rEmp = New CEmployee

txtName.Text = rEmp.Name
txtSalary.Text = Format(rEmp.Salary, "currency")

If you were to change the name of CEmployee's public methods or properties and rebuild the COM component, this client code would no longer compile. If the client code was already compiled into an EXE, changing the type of Name or Salary and rebuilding the COM component would cause a run-time failure when executing the client. In fact, any change to a public signature represents a change to an interface, and leads, ultimately, to some kind of error in code using that interface.

As a class designer, what changes can you safely make to your components over time? Because clients do not have access to private members, these can be changed at will. Of course, implementation details can also be modified, as long as the result is semantically equivalent. Lastly, note that although you cannot delete public members from an interface, you can add properties and methods without breaking compatibility (see rule 2-5 for a complete discussion of compatibility).

Thinking in terms of interfaces, and thus separating interface from implementation, helps you focus on a critical aspect of software development: maintaining compatibility as a system evolves. The next rule encourages you to take this one step further and actually design your classes in terms of explicit, custom interfaces. The result is that your systems become more open to change.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020