Visual Studio 2010 is a full-featured IDE that facilitates the development of powerful applications based upon the .NET Framework. However, many developers don’t realize the variety of tools and extensions available to enhance the Visual Studio 2010 IDE. Here are instructions on where to find the extensions and a look at some of my favorites that I use every day.
How to get the extensions
Chris Eargle’s TechRepublic post provided a quick introduction to Visual Studio 2010 Extensions, though it is worth noting that you can directly access a gallery of tools and extensions (Figure A). The Visual Studio Extensions gallery allows you to browse the entire library of extensions and even add your own. The ability to sort by the extension’s release date offers an easy way to stay on top of what is new to the gallery. Many of the extensions are freely available, but some are only trial versions that require a purchase to fully use them.
The MSDN Visual Studio Extension gallery site (Click the image to enlarge.)
You may be overwhelmed while browsing the gallery website, because there are so many extensions that can provide help with everyday chores. I previously covered what I like about NuGet, so now let’s take a look at a few more extensions that I have grown to love.
VS10x Code Map v2
The VS10x Code Map v2 extension adds a visual editor to the Visual Studio 2010 IDE; basically, it provides a graphical view of your code. The extensions web page says it displays a graphical nested representation of the current code editor window. This allows a developer to quickly navigate to a certain point in the code, which can be cumbersome when dealing with nested code and an overwhelming number of methods and so forth. It works with both C# and VB.NET.
Figure B shows Code Map utilized in the source code for a Global.asax file. The Code Map visualization appears on the left portion of the screen. It lists all methods in this example with a green arrow to the right of the current code section (where the cursor is located). This example is only a tip of the iceberg with this extension, as you can utilize a custom color scheme, create bookmarks, and more.
VS10x Code Map v2 interface shown in a basic Web application file (Click the image to enlarge.)
The VS10x Code Map v2 extension also adds its own menu to the Visual Studio 2010 environment as you can see if Figure B (VS10x menu), and it provides access to customization options. As a reminder of how these extensions are managed within the IDE (Tools | Extension Manager), Figure C shows this extension installed in my copy of Visual Studio 2010.
Visual Studio 2010 Extension Manager window (Click the image to enlarge.)
VS10x Method Block Highlighter
Figure C shows a dependent extension, VS10x Method Block Highlighter, installed with the VS10x Code Map v2 extension. VS10x Method Block Highlighter provides another visualization enhancement by allowing you to highlight entire methods with a colored background. While it is used by the other extension, it is available on its own via a context menu (Figure D).
Using the VS10x Method Block Highlighter within Visual Studio 2010 (Click the image to enlarge.)
We’ve all been in the situation of scrolling through endless lines of code researching a bug and then scrolling up and down trying to keep track of opening and closing braces (or the end of a code block in VB.NET) in C# code. It is can be a frustrating experience that is often aided by comment additions to keep track of what goes with what. This problem is eliminated with the freely available Indent Guides extension. The concept is simple — it adds vertical lines at each indent level so they are easily (and visually) matched on the screen. This extension saved me time and frustration on one project in particular in which I was debugging another developer’s code.
Productivity Power Tools
Microsoft’s Productivity Power Tools adds many features that should have been included in the product as well as some additional enhancements. The extensions website describes many of the features available such as Quick Find (use [Ctrl]I or [Ctrl] to easily search through your project).
One feature I find especially useful is the Solution Navigator (Figure E, the right portion of the screen). It may be difficult to realize the feature’s usefulness without test driving it, but the Solution Navigator’s four areas (All, Open, Unsaved, and Edited) allow you to quickly navigate through your current work.
The Solution Navigator added with the Productivity Power Tools extension (Click the image to enlarge.)
Keep your extensions up to date
One point to remember with Visual Studio 2010 extensions is that you need to keep them up to date. They are no different than any other software that may be updated to address issues or add functionality. You can configure your Visual Studio installation to automatically check for updates (or not) via IDE options (Tools | Options | Environment | Extension Manager). If enabled, a notification will appear in the Windows Tray when/if updates are available.
What extensions are you using with your Visual Studio 2010 installation? Let us know in the discussion.
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