Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Original author(s)Microsoft
Initial release1996; 28 years ago (1996)
Final release
Written inC, C++
Operating systemMicrosoft Windows, Solaris, Classic Mac OS, macOS
Included withInternet Explorer, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Visual Studio, and Windows Media Player etc.
PredecessorOLE 2.0 and COM
TypeSoftware framework

ActiveX is a deprecated software framework created by Microsoft that adapts its earlier Component Object Model (COM) and Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) technologies for content downloaded from a network, particularly from the World Wide Web.[1] Microsoft introduced ActiveX in 1996. In principle, ActiveX is not dependent on Microsoft Windows operating systems, but in practice, most ActiveX controls only run on Windows. Most also require the client to be running on an x86-based computer because ActiveX controls contain compiled code.[2]

ActiveX is still supported in the "Internet Explorer mode" of Microsoft Edge (which has a different, incompatible extension system, as it is based on Google's Chromium project).[3]

ActiveX controls[edit]

ActiveX was one of the major technologies used in component-based software engineering.[4] Compared with JavaBeans, ActiveX supports more programming languages, but JavaBeans supports more platforms.[5] ActiveX is supported in many rapid application development technologies, such as Active Template Library, Delphi, JavaBeans, Microsoft Foundation Class Library, Qt, Visual Basic, Windows Forms and wxWidgets, to enable application developers to embed ActiveX controls into their products.

Many Microsoft Windows applications—including many of those from Microsoft itself, such as Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Visual Studio, and Windows Media Player—use ActiveX controls to build their feature-set and also encapsulate their own functionality as ActiveX controls which can then be embedded into other applications. Internet Explorer also allows the embedding of ActiveX controls in web pages.


Faced with the complexity of OLE 2.0 and with poor support for COM in MFC, Microsoft simplified the specification and rebranded the technology as ActiveX in 1996.[6][7] Even after simplification, users still required controls to implement about six core interfaces. In response to this complexity, Microsoft produced wizards, ATL base classes, macros and C++ language extensions to make it simpler to write controls.

Starting with Internet Explorer 3.0 (1996), Microsoft added support to host ActiveX controls within HTML content. If the browser encountered a page specifying an ActiveX control via an OBJECT tag (the OBJECT tag was added to the HTML 3.2 specification by Charlie Kindel, the Microsoft representative to the W3C at the time[8]) it would automatically download and install the control with little or no user intervention. This made the web "richer" but provoked objections (since such controls, in practice, ran only on Windows, and separate controls were required for each supported platform: one for Windows 3.1/Windows NT 3.51, one for Windows NT/95, and one for Macintosh M68K/PowerPC.) and security risks (especially given the lack of user intervention). Microsoft subsequently introduced security measures to make browsing including ActiveX safer.[9]

For example:

  • digital signing of installation packages (Cabinet files and executables)
  • controls must explicitly declare themselves safe for scripting
  • increasingly stringent default security settings
  • Internet Explorer maintains a blacklist of bad controls

ActiveX was controversial from the start; while Microsoft claimed programming ease and good performance compared to Java applets in its marketing materials, critics of ActiveX were quick to point out security issues and lack of portability, making it impractical for use outside protected intranets.[10] The ActiveX security model relied almost entirely on identifying trusted component developers using a code signing technology called Authenticode. Developers had to register with Verisign (US$20 per year for individuals, $400 for corporations) and sign a contract, promising not to develop malware. Identified code would then run inside the web browser with full permissions, meaning that any bug in the code was a potential security issue; this contrasts with the sandboxing already used in Java at the time.[11]

Platform support[edit]

In October 1996, Microsoft released a beta version of the ActiveX Software Development Kit (SDK) for the Macintosh, including a plug-in for Netscape Navigator on the Mac, and announced its plan to support ActiveX on Solaris later that year.[12] Six months and two more beta releases later, there had yet to be any commercially available Macintosh ActiveX plugins.[13]

In 1997, NCompass Labs in cooperation with Microsoft released a plug-in for Netscape Navigator to support ActiveX.[14]

Documentation for ActiveX core technology resides at The Open Group and may be read for free.[15]

Despite Microsoft's previous efforts to make ActiveX cross-platform, most ActiveX controls would not and will not work on all platforms, so using ActiveX controls to implement essential functionality of a web page restricts its usefulness. The government of South Korea, in a software-agnostic gravitating move, started in circa 2015 to remove the technology from their public websites in order to make their web site accessible to more platforms.[16]

While Microsoft made significant efforts to push the cross-platform aspect of ActiveX by way of publishing the API, ultimately the cross-platform effort failed due to the ActiveX controls being written in C or C++ and being compiled in Intel x86 Assembly language, making them executable only on Windows machines where they can call the standard Win32 APIs.[17]

Microsoft dropped ActiveX support from the Windows Store edition of Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8. In 2015, Microsoft released Microsoft Edge, the replacement for Internet Explorer, with no support for ActiveX; this event marked the end of ActiveX technology in Microsoft's web browser development.[18] Microsoft Edge ships with the "Internet Explorer mode" feature, which supports ActiveX.

ActiveX in non-Internet Explorer applications[edit]

  • Mozilla ActiveX Control was last updated in late 2005, and runs in Firefox 1.5.[19]
  • ScriptActive for Netscape Navigator last updated in 1997 can run ActiveX controls but requires a special HTML tag.[14]
  • Running ActiveX scripts in Google Chrome is possible through the utilization of several extensions, including one which emulates an Internet Explorer tab within the Chrome application.[20]

Other ActiveX technologies[edit]

Microsoft has developed a large number of products and software platforms using ActiveX objects. They are still used (e.g., websites still using ASP):

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ActiveX Controls on the Internet". Microsoft Docs. 12 September 2018. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  2. ^ Anderson, Jerry (1997). Activex Programming with Visual C++. Que. ISBN 978-0-7897-1030-7.
  3. ^ "Microsoft Edge - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for IT Pros - Edge".
  4. ^ Cai, Xia, et al. "Component-based software engineering: technologies, development frameworks, and quality assurance schemes." Software Engineering Conference, 2000. APSEC 2000. Proceedings. Seventh Asia-Pacific. IEEE, 2000.
  5. ^ Hughes, Merlin (1 March 1997). "JavaBeans and ActiveX go head to head". JavaWorld. IDG. Archived from the original on 15 March 2016.
  6. ^ "Using ActiveX with LabVIEW – Examining Mission Editor Version 1.0". NI Developer Zone. National Instruments. 13 August 2007. Archived from the original on 28 February 2008. Retrieved 12 March 2009. The term ActiveX surfaced in the Microsoft world in early 1996.
  7. ^ "Microsoft announces ActiveX Technologies". News Center. Microsoft. 12 March 1996. Archived from the original on 12 February 2017. Retrieved 11 February 2017. Microsoft Corp. today announced ActiveX … Technologies, which make it easy for the broadest range of software developers and Web designers to build dynamic content for the Internet and the PC. … ActiveX Technologies form a robust framework for creating interactive content using software components, scripts and existing applications. Specifically, ActiveX Technologies enable developers to build Web content easily using ActiveX Controls (formerly OLE Controls), active scripts and active documents. … ActiveX Technologies are available in the form of the Microsoft ActiveX Development Kit, which is being distributed to more than 4,000 developers attending the Professional Developers Conference in San Francisco today.
  8. ^ "Chapter 2". www.w3.org. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  9. ^ "Activating ActiveX Controls". 18 April 2006. Archived from the original on 19 April 2006. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
  10. ^ "ActiveX technology: You can't go there today". InfoWorld. 1997. pp. 90 ff.
  11. ^ Dugan, Sean (19 May 1997). "Exposing the ActiveX security model". InfoWorld. p. 98.
  12. ^ Quinlan, Tom (28 October 1996). "MacOS will get access to ActiveX". InfoWorld. p. 48.
  13. ^ Pearlstein, Joanna (11 April 1997). "After 6 months, ActiveX passive in Mac market". MacWEEK. Vol. 11, no. 15. Archived from the original on 12 April 1997.
  14. ^ a b "Playing with plug-ins". Computerworld. IDG Enterprise. 7 April 1997. ncompass activex plugin.
  15. ^ "Documentation for ActiveX Core Technology". The Open Group. Archived from the original on 30 April 2020. Retrieved 1 May 2020.
  16. ^ "Seoul poised to remove ActiveX software from public websites". Yohap News Agency. 3 March 2015. Archived from the original on 22 March 2015.
  17. ^ "Will ActiveX Threaten National Security?". WIRED. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  18. ^ Keizer, Gregg (10 May 2015). "Microsoft nixes ActiveX add-on technology in new Edge browser". Computerworld. IDG. Archived from the original on 14 May 2015.
  19. ^ "Mozilla Control". 29 April 2011. Archived from the original on 29 April 2011.
  20. ^ "How To Enable ActiveX on Chrome". Alphr. Retrieved 7 August 2022.

External links[edit]