Creating your first C/C++ plugin for Rhino

This guide walks you through your first plugin for Rhino for Windows using C/C++ and Visual Studio.

It is presumed you already have the necessary tools installed and are ready to go. If you are not there yet, see Installing Tools (Windows).

Barebones Plugin

The Rhino SDK includes a Visual Studio Project Wizard. The wizard program generates the code for a functioning plugin. Follow these steps to build the plugin…

Plugin Wizard

  1. Launch Visual Studio 2010 and navigate to File > New > Project….
  2. From the New Project dialog, select the Rhino 5.0 Plug-in template from the list of installed templates… New Project Template
  3. Type the project name as shown above. You can enter a different name if you want. The wizard uses the project name when it creates files and classes. If you enter a different name, your files and classes will have a name different from that of the files and classes mentioned in this tutorial. Don’t forget to choose a location to store the project. When finished, click the OK button.
  4. Upon clicking OK, the Overview page of the Rhino 5.0 Plug-In Wizard dialog will appear. This page gives you an overview of the type of project that the wizard is going to create.
    New Project Overview
  5. Not that, by default, the wizard will do the following:
    1. Create a general utility plugin.
    2. Include source file comments.
    3. Include support for online help.
  6. If you are satisfied with the default settings, just click the Finish button. If you want to change any of these settings, click the Next button… Plugin Settings
  7. The Plug-in Settings page allows you to modify a number of settings used by the wizard when generating the plugin source code:
    1. Plug-in name: Modify this field if you want to change the name of the plugin. NOTE: modifying this field does not modify the project name but rather the name of the plugin as listed in Rhino’s PlugInManager dialog box.
    2. Plug-in type: Select the type of plugin that you want the wizard to create.
    3. Source file comments: Select this option if you want the wizard to add verbose comments to the generated source files.
    4. Online help: Select this option if you want your plugin to support online help. If selected, a menu item will be displayed on Rhino’s Help menu.
    5. Automation: Select this option to allow your program to manipulate objects implemented in another program. Selecting this option also exposes your program to other Automation client plugins.
    6. Windows sockets: Select this option to indicate that your program supports Windows sockets. Windows sockets allow you to write programs that communicate over TCP/IP networks.
  8. For this tutorial, just accept the default settings. Click the Finish button, and the wizard begins to generate your plugin project’s folders, files, and classes. When the wizard is finished, look through the plugin project using Visual Studio’s Solution Explorer

Plugin Anatomy

The following files are of interest:

  1. Test.vcxproj is the project file that allows Visual C++ to build your plugin.
  2. stdafx.h is the main project header.
  3. stdafx.cpp is used to generate precompiled header.
  4. TestApp.h is the application class header that contains the CTestApp class declaration.
  5. TestApp.cpp is the application class implementation that contains the CTestApp member functions.
  6. TestPlugIn.h is the plugin class header that contains the CTestPlugIn class declaration.
  7. TestPlugIn.cpp is the plugin class implementation that contains the CTestPlugIn member functions.
  8. cmdTest.cpp is the sample Test Rhino command.
  9. Resource.h is the #define constant definitions for resources.
  10. Test.rc is the resource script.
  11. Test.def is the module definition.

Project Settings

With Visual Studio 2010, a project can target a different version of the Visual C++ libraries and compiler. This is done by configuring the project use a different Platform toolset…

Test Property Pages

Reviewing the above settings, you can see that the Rhino 5 plugin project wizard configures 32-bit builds to use the v80rhinos platform toolset, which equates to using Visual Studio 2005’s libraries and compiler. This platform toolset configuration is installed on your system by the Rhino C++ SDK Installer.

If you change the active platform from Win32 to x64, you will see that 64-bit builds will use v100, or Visual Studio 2010.

The advantage that platform toolsets provide is that they enable you to take advantage of the IDE enhancements in Visual Studio 2010 while you continue to use an older version of the Visual C++ libraries and compiler.

Boilerplate Build

The Rhino plugin wizard, in addition to generating code, creates a custom project file for your plugin. This file, Test.vcxproj, specifies all of the file dependencies together with the compile and link option flags.

Before we can build our project, we need to fill in the Rhino plugin developer declarations. These declarations will let the user of our plugin know who produced the plugin and where they can support information if needed.

  1. Open TestPlugIn.cpp and modify the following lines of code, providing your company name and other support information:

     RHINO_PLUG_IN_DEVELOPER_ADDRESS( L"123 Developer Street\r\nCity State 12345-6789" );
     RHINO_PLUG_IN_DEVELOPER_PHONE( L"123.456.7890" );
     RHINO_PLUG_IN_DEVELOPER_FAX( L"123.456.7891" );
  2. When finished, delete the following line of source code as the #error directive will prevent the project from building:

     #error Developer declarations block is incomplete!
  3. NOTE: If you do not delete this line, the plugin will build. You are now ready to build the project by picking Build Test from the Build menu. If the build was successful, a plugin file named Test_d.rhp is created in the project’s Debug folder.


  1. From Visual Studio, navigate to Debug > Start Debugging. This will load Rhino. The version of Rhino that is launched depends on the configuration that you build. The wizard adds the following configurations to your project:
    • Debug: The Debug configuration of your program is compiled with full symbolic debug information and no optimization. Optimization complicates debugging, because the relationship between source code and generated instructions is more complex. The Debug configuration also links with debug runtime libraries. Plugins built with the Debug configuration will only load in the debug version of Rhino included with the Rhino C/C++ SDK.
    • PseudoDebug: The PseudoDebug project is a Release project that disables optimizations and generates debugging information using the compiler’s Program Database (/Zi) option and the linker’s Generate Debug Information (/DEBUG) option. These option settings let you use the debugger while you are developing your custom plugin. The PseudoDebug configuration also links with release runtime libraries. Plugins built with the PseudoDebug configuration will only load in the release version of Rhino that was installed with Rhino.
    • Release: The Release configuration of your program contains no symbolic debug information and is fully optimized. Debug information can be generated in PDB Files (C++) depending on the compiler options used. Creating PDB files can be very useful if you later need to debug your release version. The Release configuration also links with release runtime libraries. Plugins built with the Release configuration will only load in the release version of Rhino that was installed with Rhino.
  2. For this guide, build the Debug configuration.
  3. From within Rhino, navigate to Tools > Options. Navigate to the Plugins page under Rhino Options and install your plugin. NOTE: since the debug version of Rhino will only load debug plugins, no other plugins will show up in the list… Rhino Options
  4. Once your plugin is loaded, close the options dialog and run your Test command. You have finished creating your first plugin!

Adding a Command

Rhino plugins can contain any number of commands. Commands are created by deriving a new class from CRhinoCommand. See rhinoSdkCommand.h for details on the CRhinoCommand class.


The following example code demonstrates a simple command class that essentially does nothing:

// Do NOT put the definition of class CCommandTest in a header
// file.  There is only ONE instance of a CCommandTest class
// and that instance is the static theTestCommand that appears
// immediately below the class definition.

class CCommandTest : public CRhinoCommand
  // The one and only instance of CCommandTest is created below.
  // No copy constructor or operator= is required.  Values of
  // member variables persist for the duration of the application.

  // CCommandTest::CCommandTest()
  // is called exactly once when static theTestCommand is created.
  CCommandTest() {}

  // CCommandTest::~CCommandTest()
  // is called exactly once when static theTestCommand is
  // destroyed.  The destructor should not make any calls to
  // the Rhino SDK.  If your command has persistent settings,
  // then override CRhinoCommand::SaveProfile and CRhinoCommand::LoadProfile.
  ~CCommandTest() {}

  // Returns a unique UUID for this command.
  // If you try to use an id that is already being used, then
  // your command will not work.  Use GUIDGEN.EXE to make unique UUID.
  UUID CommandUUID()
    // {5333C9DE-5F01-45B8-9154-28B765E453E0}
    static const GUID TestCommand_UUID =
    { 0x5333C9DE, 0x5F01, 0x45B8, { 0x91, 0x54, 0x28, 0xB7, 0x65, 0xE4, 0x53, 0xE0 } };
    return TestCommand_UUID;

  // Returns the English command name.
  const wchar_t* EnglishCommandName() { return L"Test"; }

  // Returns the localized command name.
  const wchar_t* LocalCommandName() { return L"Test"; }

  // Rhino calls RunCommand to run the command.
  CRhinoCommand::result RunCommand( const CRhinoCommandContext& );

// The one and only CCommandTest object.  
// Do NOT create any other instance of a CCommandTest class.
static class CCommandTest theTestCommand;

CRhinoCommand::result CCommandTest::RunCommand( const CRhinoCommandContext& context )
  // CCommandTest::RunCommand() is called when the user runs the "Test"
  // command or the "Test" command is run by a history operation.

  // TODO: Add command code here.

  // Rhino command that display a dialog box interface should also support
  // a command-line, or scriptable interface.

  ON_wString wStr;
  wStr.Format( L"The \"%s\" command is under construction.\n", EnglishCommandName() );
  if( context.IsInteractive() )
    RhinoMessageBox( wStr, PlugIn()->PlugInName(), MB_OK );
    RhinoApp().Print( wStr );

  // TODO: Return one of the following values:
  //   CRhinoCommand::success:  The command worked.
  //   CRhinoCommand::failure:  The command failed because of invalid input, inability
  //                            to compute the desired result, or some other reason
  //                            computation reason.
  //   CRhinoCommand::cancel:   The user interactively canceled the command
  //                            (by pressing ESCAPE, clicking a CANCEL button, etc.)
  //                            in a Get operation, dialog, time consuming computation, etc.
  //   CRhinoCommand::nothing:  The command did nothing but CANCEL was not pressed.

  return CRhinoCommand::success;


A couple things to consider:

  1. Command classes must return a unique UUID. If you try to use a UUID that is already in use, then your command will not work. Use the GUIDGEN.EXE that comes with Visual Studio to create unique UUIDs.
  2. Command classes must return a unique command name. If you try to use a command name that is already in use, then your command will not work.
  3. Only ONE instance of a command class can be created. This is why you should put the definition of your command classes in .cpp files.

Rhino Command Generator

The Rhino Command Generator wizard is a standalone application that will generate new skeleton CRhinoCommand-derived class. The generated source code is copied to the Windows clipboard so you can easily paste it into your source files.

To use this tool in Visual Studio 2010:

  1. Launch Visual Studio 2010.
  2. Navigate to Tools > External Tools….
  3. Use the Add button to add the RhinoCommandGenerator.exe file to the list. The file can be found in the following location: C:\Program Files\Rhino 5.0 x64 SDK\Wizards\Command