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Automating Rhino

Developer: C++, .NET, RhinoScript
Summary: Discusses issues when automating Rhino.


In version 3.0, Rhino introduced support to ActiveX Automation. Using Rhino 3.0, it was possible to control, or automate, Rhino from an external application written in a language that supported COM, such as Microsoft Visual Basic.

The Rhino 3.0 implementation did have shortcomings. If a copy of Rhino 3.0 was already running, you could not create new instances of the Application object using CreateObject (VB) or CreateDispatch (C++). For developers writing utilities that hook onto a running copy of Rhino, this was more of a feature than a problem. But, for developers using Rhino as an invisible file conversion engine, this could be a problem, especially if Rhino was already running and had a model opened for editing.


In Rhino 4.0, we changed what happens when you create the Application object (Rhino4.Application). When you created the Application object while automating Rhino 3.0, if an instance of Rhino was already running you were given a reference to this existing object. According to Microsoft, this is incorrect behavior for applications that only process a single document at a time. Now, when you automate Rhino 4.0, creating the Application object will always result in a new running instance of Rhino.

Dim objRhino As Object
Set objRhino = CreateObject("Rhino4.Application")


For those developers who want to hook onto a running instance of Rhino, the new Application object behavior found in Rhino 4.0 will cause problems. So we have added a new Interface object (Rhino4.Interface) that works like Rhino 3.0’s Application object. When you create the Interface object, if an instance of Rhino is already running you will be given a reference to this existing Interface object. If Rhino is not running, it will launch and you'll be given a reference to this newly created object.

Dim objRhino As Object
Set objRhino = CreateObject("Rhino4.Interface")

What to use?

If you are writing an application that automates Rhino 4.0, you will have to decide which automation object to use.

  • If your application is using Rhino as a file conversion engine or to create geometry without displaying the interface, use Rhino's Application object.
  • If your application must always create a new running instance of Rhino, then use Rhino's Application object.
  • If your application contains tools to automate tasks or to assist the Rhino user in generating geometry, then use Rhino's Interface object.

Connecting to RhinoScript

Like Rhino 3.0, the RhinoScript object for Rhino 4.0 resides in a plug-in (DLL). Having the RhinoScript object reside in a plug-in lets us fix bugs and add extra features between Rhino releases.

But this flexibility can also cause problems when trying to get this object from an automation-aware application. Often, by the time your application has created the Automation (or Interface) object and is ready for RhinoScript, Rhino has not had sufficent time to load the RhinoScript plug-in. So you get a runtime error.

The solution is to make your application wait after creating the Application (or Interface) object, before attempting to get RhinoScript. Perform this delay by using the Win32 API Sleep() function. For example:

Public Declare Sub Sleep Lib "kernel32" (ByVal dwMilliseconds As Long)
Private Sub Form_Load()
  ' Create Application or Interface object
  On Error Resume Next
  'Set objRhino = CreateObject("Rhino4.Interface")
  objRhino = CreateObject("Rhino4.Application")
  If (Err.Number <> 0) Then
    MsgBox("Failed to create Rhino4 object")
    Exit Sub
  End If
  ' Make attempts to get RhinoScript.
  ' Sleep between each attempt.
  Dim nCount As Integer
  nCount = 0
  Do While (nCount < 10)
    On Error Resume Next
    objRhinoScript = objRhino.GetScriptObject()
    If Err.Number <> 0 Then
      nCount = nCount + 1
      Exit Do
    End If
  If (objRhinoScript Is Nothing) Then
    MsgBox("Failed to get RhinoScript")
  End If
End Sub


Rhino Schemes are different sets of Rhino options stored in the Windows Registry. Everything in the Options section of Rhino can be stored in a scheme. This way Rhino can start with different combinations of workspaces, languages, colors, etc. depending on the need or the user. Just start Rhino from the appropriate desktop shortcut. The schemes exist independently of each other, and can be modified as desired.

If Rhino launches via ActiveX automation, there is no way to specify an alternate scheme, as you cannot pass command line arguments when creating COM objects. But, we have provided a super-sneaky registry key that you can use to specify an alternate scheme.

Note: This registry key only works if Rhino launches via ActiveX automation.

The super-sneaky registry key is:

 HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\McNeel\Rhinoceros\4.0\Global Options\Automation
 Name: Scheme
 Type: REG_SZ
 Value: <scheme_name>

developer/automation.txt · Last modified: 2020/08/14 (external edit)