ViewModel triggers

A question I often get is how to drive behavior through MVVM where the activity is actually initiated on the ViewModel side. It’s easy to see the other direction – where the UI raises a command or property change to cause something to happen.

I often use one of two approaches when initiating state changes in the UI from the ViewModel. The first is to use property changes – since Data Binding is all about property change notification, you can easily make property changes and cause things to happen in the UI – where elements enable / disable, appear / disappear, content gets changed or added / removed, etc. You can even drive full page changes using Data Templates and a ContentControl data bound to a view model itself – changing the view model changes the entire UI presented. This can be a handy technique for “wizard” style sheets where you progress through stages in your UI.

Another approach I’ve used is to use the Visual State Manager, wired up to a ViewModelTrigger. The idea is to have an event on the ViewModel, which when raised, causes something to happen in the UI. I built a custom Blend trigger (included in MVVMHelpers) for this which is used like this:

   <mvvm:ViewModelTrigger EventName="ChangeLight" Target="{Binding}">
      <mvvm:GotoVisualStateAction />

It requires two properties – the target (typically the DataContext which is the ViewModel), and an event name – the event must be a public event with either no parameters (Action) or a single object parameter (Action). If a parameter is passed, it will be passed along to the action(s) associated with the trigger.

In the above example, I am also using a modified version of Blend’s GotoStateAction – I built a derived version which doesn’t require you to set the State property – if you don’t set it, then it uses the passed parameter. So, in this case I can drive the specific visual state by passing it in my event from the View Model. Here’s an example:

public sealed class MainViewModel
    private Timer _timer;
    private StoplightState _lightState;

    public event Action<object> ChangeLight;
    public MainViewModel()
       _timer = new Timer(OnChangeLight, null, 1000, 500);

    private void OnChangeLight(object state)
        switch (_lightState)
            case StoplightState.Red:
                _lightState = StoplightState.Green;
            case StoplightState.Green:
                _lightState = StoplightState.Blue;
            case StoplightState.Blue:
                _lightState = StoplightState.Yellow;
            case StoplightState.Yellow:
                _lightState = StoplightState.Red;

        if (ChangeLight != null) ChangeLight(_lightState.ToString());

Here we use a timer to drive the state, but it could be based on logic, data received, etc. as well. When we raise the ChangeLight event, it is received by the View which in turn, uses the Visual State Manager to change our visualization to represent the new state. In our example here we show a series of blinking rectangles.

For this simple case here, we could also use a property change notification to drive the same visual state action. If I wanted to do that, I’d use the BindingTrigger also part of MVVMHelpers

Here’s the full sample which includes both the BindingTrigger and ViewModelTrigger versions.

GotoState Test

About Mark Smith

Windows systems developer with low-level operating system, threading and .NET experience. For the past several years I have been involved with WPF/Silverlight and most recently iOS and Android. I have worked as an architect and designer for several companies and am particularly interested in client/server and graphical solutions. Specialties:.NET, WPF, Silverlight, Windows, iOS