17 Free Tools for Visual Studio - Visual Studio Magazine (2023)


17 gratis Visual Studio-tools

This is toolapalooza from our June issue. We look at the best free Visual Studio and .NET tools and plugins.

  • passPeter Bird
  • 06/05/2011

What developer doesn't love a new game? Especially when it's free and solves real problems you face every day. However, using tools is a very personal thing - just because something works for someone else doesn't mean it fits your development style. You need to choose from a wide variety of foods to find the ones worth keeping.

That's why I've sifted through dozens of tools and utilities to come up with a list of free tools that can help .NET developers do their jobs better. I've looked at both standalone tools -- which are valuable no matter what version of Visual Studio you're using -- and a Visual Studio plug-in that integrates directly into the IDE user interface.

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I have a lot of respect for the people who created these .NET tools and Visual Studio plugins (and many more that don't fit into this article). Many of these tools were created by individual developers who not only built the products, but actively supported them over the years through multiple versions of the Microsoft .NET Framework. They are heroes. You must try what they made for you.

standalone tool
With two exceptions, the tools in this section work independently of Visual Studio. Some of these (like Regulator) have been around since .NET Framework 1.0 and Visual Studio .NET, but some developers don't seem to be aware of them. Others, such as LINQPad, have emerged more recently to support new .NET technologies.


[Click image to enlarge. ]
Figure 1. You can copy and run LINQ statements into LINQPad to see the results in action.

I'm a big fan of LINQ, but if I want to query my database interactively in Visual Studio, I have to use SQL. If you want a tool that will leverage your LINQ skills, check out LINQPad. After launching LINQPad from the Start menu, you can open a LINQ-to-SQL connection to a SQL Server database or open a DLL or EXE from an existing application that contains an Entity Framework model. You can then start issuing LINQ queries against the database or model and retrieve your data (see Figure 1). Error messages are written in LINQ-based syntax (which is pretty bad), and the free version doesn't include "auto-completion", which gives you the IntelliSense equivalent of LINQPad. However, if you are tired of dealing with relational databases, you can also use LINQPad to run LINQ queries against OData sources such as WCF data services orStackOverflow-website. Because LINQPad essentially compiles and runs any code you enter, you can also use LINQPad to test non-LINQ code without creating a Virtual Console/Windows Forms project (unfortunately, it doesn't support debugging though).

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Website rajavenkatesh.com

While not a standalone tool, LInQ Visualizer is a great addition to LINQPad, so it's listed here. With the LInQ Visualizer installed, at run time you can hover over any variable containing a value returned by a LINQ query to the database and see the SQL used. Accessing this screen can be tricky: you have to move the mouse within a very narrow range on the drop-down arrow next to the magnifying glass. After clicking the drop-down arrow, you will see a floating button that opens the visualizer dialog. The journey is worth it. For those of you interested in what goes on behind the scenes in LINQ, seeing the SQL can be very reassuring -- it can help you understand LINQ better. From the visualizer dialog you can even run SQL to see the data you get. It's just the icing on the cake that your LINQ statements (in method-based syntax) are displayed along with your connection string and related connection information. The only downside is that while the LInQ Visualizer worked fine in my copy of Visual Studio 2008, I couldn't get it to work in Visual Studio 2010. Your experience may vary.


SMTP4Dev is a small tool with limited ambitions. SMTP4Dev is a small SMTP server that runs on your system disk and accepts email messages from your application. It has a simple user interface for viewing and deleting emails generated by apps... and that's it. I've been using SMTP4Dev for a few years now when I need to test an application that sends email. SMTP4Dev is easy to install and run - just download the EXE, drop it somewhere and run it. One caveat: SMTP4Dev's UI has an "inspect" button that crashes SMTP4Dev when I click it to see what it does. I have stopped pressing this button. I use Java Apache Mail Enterprise Server (JAMES) when I need to handle more complex emails than sending email. But SMTP4Dev is very easy to install, so it's still my top choice.

p/call interop helper

When I need to call COM code, I often find that although the documentation has sample code to show me what to do, it's all written in C or C++. The P/Invoke Interop Assistant provides me with sample code as a managed P/Invoke signature that I can copy and paste into my Visual Basic or C# application. If you have access to any of the standard Win32 features, you can simply search the built-in Windows features database. However, if you use a different DLL, you can load it into the utility and generate the function signatures you need. I don't often need to access COM functions, but when I do, P/Invoke Interop Assistant is a huge help.


I must confess that I know nothing about regular expressions. But that's why I have the Regulator. The tool lets you enter a regular expression in one window and a sample string in the other (it even gets some IntelliSense-like support for typing regular expressions). Click a button and the Regulator will show you which sample sequences match your expression. The current version of Regulator also includes a segment manager, so once you've created a valid expression, you can drop it somewhere you can find it again. The Controller even generates the code you need to plug into your application to actually implement your expressions.

Reguliere Expression Editor-plug-in

If you are using Regulator and Program in C#, consider getting the Regex Editor plugin from the Visual Studio Gallery. The Regex Editor is a Visual Studio add-on rather than a standalone product, as it provides as much functionality within Visual Studio as Regulator does outside. When you start declaring a new Regex object, the Regex editor opens a free-floating window where you can type your regular expression. The Regex Editor doesn't offer all the options that the Regulator offers, but it does let you test your expressions with sample entries, save regular expressions for later use, and provide IntelliSense support as you type expressions. Even with the Regex Editor, I still use the Regulator for two reasons: I've never been able to get the Regex Editor to work in Visual Basic, and I've never been able to use it to edit existing code. It's great when I type an expression, but when I need to make a change, I go back to the Regulator.

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If you use AJAX/REST/JSON, it often doesn't work as you expect. I remember the first time I tried to get an AJAX compliant page with an ASP.NET MVC 2 site. Trying to figure out exactly what is being returned by the browser - and how to access it - is a nightmare. The only way to make it all work is to dig in and watch the actual messages go back and forth between the browser and the server. I've been using Firebug for years, an add-on for Firefox that lets me see what's going on. Lately I've been using a free tool called Fiddler, written by Eric Lawrence from Microsoft. Like Firebug, Fiddler allows me to view messages in a variety of formats (including the important plain text). Unlike Firebug, Fiddler works independently of any browser. Fiddler is also a working example of why everyone should take a UI design course. I think Fiddler can do whatever you want, but figuring out where to do it in Fiddler can be tough.

project converter

Beginning with Visual Studio 2008, developers can develop "multi-target" by compiling code to earlier versions of .NET. There's just one problem: Each version of Visual Studio stores different information in project and solution files, which prevents earlier versions of Visual Studio from opening these projects. In fact, you can't just upgrade a few developers in your store or team to the latest version of Visual Studio, because once the "upgraded" developers open the project, all non-upgraded developers are locked out. ProjectConverter solves this problem by converting project and solution files between Visual Studio versions 2005, 2008 and 2010. You can launch it from the Start menu, but it also automatically appears in the Open with menu option in Windows Explorer for SLN files. A word of caution: it only repairs *PROJ and SLN files - it's still your job to make sure your code versions are compatible.

Visual Studio add-ins
Unlike previous tools, plugins are integrated into the Visual Studio user interface and respond to Visual Studio events. Microsoft has integrated the extension library into Visual Studio 2010 through the Extension Manager under the Tools menu. If you are a Visual Studio 2008 developer, you can find the Visual Studio Gallery tools at bit.ly/dxCqnl. While it's worth scrolling through the list to see what interests you, it's long. Here are some of the best tools in the library, as well as some plugins you won't find on Microsoft's list.

DevExpress CodeRush Xpress

[Click image to enlarge. ]
Figure 2. Among many other features, CodeRush XPress enhances editor windows, making it clear at a glance how your code is nested.

DevExpress CodeRush is the Swiss army knife of plugins, offering dozens of features to increase developer productivity (see Figure 2). The full version costs money, but Microsoft has a license agreement with Developer Express Inc. which allows Visual Studio developers to download a smaller, free version called CodeRush Xpress. At the cost of learning more keys, you get more navigation options - jumping from one variable reference to another, for example. You also get more automated rebuilds than you might remember. With CodeRush XPress installed, you can experiment with consumer-first coding, where you write code and CodeRush writes a framework of classes to support it. To get CodeRush XPress, go to msdn.com, then in the Visual Studio Developer Center select Visual C# or Visual Basic in the Developer Tools and Languages ​​section, then select Download from the menu in the Language Center .

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VS10x Codemap v2

[Click image to enlarge. ]
photo 3. Not only does VS10x Code Map v2 allow you to navigate files faster, but the icons it uses also provide an overview of the types of members that make up your class.

If you're creating complex objects with multiple interfaces or nested classes - or just code-heavy classes - you should consider VS10x Code Map v2. It takes up quite a bit of space on the left side of the editor window, but if it speeds up your time in your code, you might be willing to squeeze some space on the right side of the editor window to make room for it. (Do you really need the solution pane open all the time?) A code summary splits your code into several entries on the left side of the editor pane, placing classes and interfaces under special headings (see Figure 3). You can navigate to the code by clicking on the code folder. You can also use cards to expand or collapse blocks in code; when you expand or collapse blocks in code, the cards also expand or collapse. The card also has built-in bookmarking support, so you can return to content you want to revisit.

data package
DPack is another swiss army knife pack that contains a different set of tools. If you are good at remembering keys, DPack might just be the software package of your dreams. DPack adds some new keystrokes for inserting and moving numbered bookmarks, packing code into different code blocks, and backing up your solutions. These features may not even be the most important to you - you may prefer specialized browsers (dialog boxes) for opening files, finding the desired class in the .NET Framework, and navigating to coding members. You know Object Browser takes a long time to find something, but you won't know how slow Object Browser is until you see the extremely fast response you get from the DPack Framework Browser.

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Is Visual Studio tools free? ›

Visual Studio Community. A fully-featured, extensible, free IDE for creating modern applications for Android, iOS, Windows, as well as web applications and cloud services.

Which versions of Visual Studio are free? ›

Visual Studio Community 2022

A free, fully featured, and extensible solution for individual developers to create applications for Android, iOS, Windows, and the web.

Is Visual Studio free for college students? ›

Visual Studio Dev Essentials

Get developer tools and services, Azure credit, downloads, and more – for free.

Where are Visual Studio tools? ›

To open the Visual Studio Installer, choose Tools, and then choose Get Tools and Features.... Then install the Visual Studio extension development workload.

Can I use Visual Studio without license? ›

Even if you don't have the ability to download Visual Studio from the portal and activate it with a product key, you can still use it if it's included in your subscription. All you need to do is download Visual Studio from the Visual Studio website and sign in.

How do I get Visual Studio build tools? ›

From the Visual Studio Downloads page, scroll down until you see Tools for Visual Studio under the All Downloads section and select the download for Build Tools for Visual Studio 2022.

Which version of Visual Studio is best for beginners? ›

Visual Studio Code is the best choice for web development. It offers incredible support with thousands of tools and extensions willing to work in your favour.

When did Visual Studio become free? ›

The Community edition was announced on November 12, 2014, as a new free version, with similar functionality to Visual Studio Professional. Prior to this date, the only free editions of Visual Studio were the feature-limited Express variants.

Can I use Visual Studio online for free? ›

Visual Studio is free for learning and individual use.

Is Visual Studio community free forever? ›

No, Community edition is free to use for many scenarios. Learn more about Visual Studio Community. In case your Community edition installation prompts you for a license, you might have to sign in to unlock the IDE.

Can Visual Studio run Python? ›

Visual Studio is a powerful Python IDE on Windows. Visual Studio provides open-source support for the Python language through the Python Development and Data Science workloads (Visual Studio 2017 and later) and the free Python Tools for Visual Studio extension (Visual Studio 2015 and earlier).

What's the difference between Visual Studio and Visual Studio code? ›

Visual Studio is a robust Integrated Development Environment (IDE) equipped with extensive tools and features for multi-platform application development. In contrast, Visual Studio Code is a lightweight code editor designed to deliver a streamlined coding experience, particularly for web and cloud development.

Does Visual Studio come with build tools? ›

You can build C and C++ applications on the command line by using tools that are included in Visual Studio. The Microsoft C++ (MSVC) compiler toolset is also downloadable as a standalone package. You don't need to install the Visual Studio IDE if you don't plan to use it.

What languages can you code in Visual Studio? ›

Visual Studio offers powerful HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and JSON editors. Tap into the power of LESS, and Sass, use PHP, Python, or C# with ASP.NET. All the popular languages are supported and you can move between languages and project types with ease.

What programming language is used in Visual Basic? ›

Visual Basic was succeeded in 2002 by Visual Basic . NET, a vastly different language based on C#, a language with similarities to C++.

Do Visual Studio licenses expire? ›

Visual Studio subscriptions have specific durations, and unless they're renewed, they'll expire. When a subscription expires, the benefits provided by the subscription are impacted in different ways. This article explains how expiration affects various aspects of a Visual Studio subscription.

Is Visual Studio code legal? ›

Yes, VS Code is free for private or commercial use. See the product license for details.

Why do I need Visual Studio license? ›

The most common is to purchase a Visual Studio subscription. This provides a comprehensive set of tools and resources for you to create, deploy, and manage your next great application. All on your preferred platform and device with the power of Visual Studio IDE.

Which tool is used to build Visual Studio project? ›

Visual Studio uses MSBuild to build each project in a solution, and each project contains an MSBuild project file. The file extension reflects the type of project, for example, a C# project (. csproj), a Visual Basic project (.

How do I run a custom tool in Visual Studio? ›

  1. Select the templates that you wish to run in the Solution Explorer in Visual Studio. Note that it is the actual files that you should select - not the folder that contains them.
  2. Right click on one of the selected template files and select Run Custom Tool from the context menu.

What are the disadvantages of Visual Studio? ›

Pros and Cons

"The only con to Visual studio is its User interface as it becomes very boring to code on an interface which has no plugins and drag and drops options."

What is the best alternative to Visual Studio? ›

Top 10 Alternatives to Visual Studio
  • Xcode.
  • Eclipse.
  • NetBeans.
  • Android Studio.
  • Qt.
  • Firebase.
  • IntelliJ IDEA.
  • OutSystems.

Is Visual Studio best for coding? ›

Visual Studio Code

A standalone source code editor that runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux. The top pick for JavaScript and web developers, with extensions to support just about any programming language.

How do I start writing code in Visual Studio? ›

Set up Visual Studio Code
  1. Download and install VS Code.
  2. Create a new file.
  3. See an overview of the user interface.
  4. Install support for your favorite programming language.
  5. Change your keyboard shortcuts and easily migrate from other editors using keymap extensions.
  6. Customize your editor with themes.

What is the difference between an editor and an IDE? ›

The key difference between an IDE and a text editor is the out-of-the-box development experience: IDEs are designed to test and preview code projects. A text editor can only write code.

What is the latest version of Visual Studio? ›

Visual Studio 2022 version version 17.6.

Is there a browser version of Visual Studio? ›

Visual Studio Code for the Web provides a free, zero-install Microsoft Visual Studio Code experience running entirely in your browser, allowing you to quickly and safely browse source code repositories and make lightweight code changes.

Can I use Visual Studio for website? ›

Visual Studio includes integrated tools to deploy your web application to any host or scale to the Microsoft Azure cloud. Publish and manage your websites and virtual machines from within Visual Studio.

Can I use Visual Studio code without Internet? ›

You can install extensions manually without an internet connection using the Extensions: Install from VSIX... command, but if you use the extension panel or devcontainer. json to install extensions, your local machine and VS Code Server will need outbound HTTPS (port 443) access to: marketplace.visualstudio.com.

Can I sell program made with Visual Studio community? ›

As long as your company does not meet the enterprise definition, and no more than five people use Visual Studio. you can sell your software.

Can I use Visual Studio community without account? ›

While it's not required to sign in, you might periodically get prompts to sign-in if you haven't done so. Please sign in to the IDE to continue using Visual Studio Community without interruptions. This program includes free software, training, support, and more.

How long is Visual Studio subscription? ›

Q: If I do not renew my subscription, how long will Microsoft keep my data?
ChannelDuration (days)
Visual Studio Cloud Subscriptions180
Program (for example, MCT, MPN, Imagine)180
Not For Resale (for example, MVP, MSP)180
3 more rows
Nov 22, 2022

Can you code C++ in Visual Studio? ›

You can use Visual Studio to create Standard C++ programs. By following the steps in this walkthrough, you can create a project, add a new file to the project, modify the file to add C++ code, and then compile and run the program by using Visual Studio.

Can Visual Studio run Java? ›

In order to run Java within Visual Studio Code, you need to install a JDK. The Extension Pack for Java supports Java version 1.5 or above. We recommend you to consider installing the JDK from one of these sources: Amazon Corretto.

Which Visual Studio should I use for Python? ›

The Visual Studio integrated development environment is a creative launching pad for Python (and other languages) that you can use to edit, debug, and test code, and then publish an app.

Is Notepad++ an IDE? ›

NetBeans IDE and Notepad++ are primarily classified as "Integrated Development Environment" and "Text Editor" tools respectively.

Who uses Visual Studio? ›

Visual Studio is a development environment that programmers use to create websites, web applications, web services, and mobile applications. It is a powerful tool with great debugging and editing experience.

Is Visual Studio Code better than Notepad? ›

According to the StackShare community, Visual Studio Code has a broader approval, being mentioned in 1133 company stacks & 2378 developers stacks; compared to Notepad++, which is listed in 187 company stacks and 499 developer stacks.

Is Visual Studio a tool or software? ›

Visual Studio is a powerful developer tool that you can use to complete the entire development cycle in one place. It is a comprehensive integrated development environment (IDE) that you can use to write, edit, debug, and build code, and then deploy your app.

What is required for Visual Studio? ›

4 vCPU and 16 GB of RAM recommended. Hard disk space: Minimum of 850 MB up to 210 GB of available space, depending on features installed; typical installations require 20-50 GB of free space. We recommend installing Windows and Visual Studio on a solid-state drive (SSD) to increase performance.

How do I run Visual Studio without building? ›

Start Without Debugging – When you select this option (press Ctrl + F5 ) to run the application, Visual Studio will launch your application without loading the symbols or attaching the Debugger. With this option selected: Application won't pause if you have any breakpoint within the code. You can't step through the ...

Can we write HTML code in Visual Studio? ›

Visual Studio Code provides basic support for HTML programming out of the box. There is syntax highlighting, smart completions with IntelliSense, and customizable formatting.

What is better than VS Code? ›

Atom, Visual Studio, Eclipse, IntelliJ IDEA, and WebStorm are the most popular alternatives and competitors to Visual Studio Code. Everyone errs. Make sure your application doesn't. Everyone errs.

How long does it take to learn Visual Basic? ›

The time it takes for most learners to gain a solid understanding of VBA falls somewhere within the range of one to eight weeks. While this number depends on many factors, most learners who devote several solid weeks to working with VBA will be able to write basic code.

Do people still use Visual Basic? ›

Back in the early '90s, Visual Basic was considered cutting-edge because it was one of the first languages to use a more readable syntax. Nowadays, while it isn't the newest programming language, it's still used today by companies worldwide.

Is it hard to learn Visual Basic? ›

Visual Basic is the most widely used programming language for creating Windows applications. It is easy to learn and does not require you to memorize difficult commands like other programming languages.

Is Visual Studio code free or paid? ›

Free. Built on open source. Runs everywhere. By using VS Code, you agree to its license and privacy statement.

What is Microsoft Visual Studio tool? ›

The Visual Studio IDE is a creative launching pad that you can use to edit, debug, and build code, and then publish an app.

How do I install Visual Studio build Tools offline? ›

Use the "Download all, then install" feature

You can use the Download all, then install feature from the Visual Studio Installer to download an installation package on the local machine before you install it locally, or you can use the command line to create a local installation package to install locally later.

Which version of Visual Studio is best? ›

Visual Studio Code is the best choice for web development. It offers incredible support with thousands of tools and extensions willing to work in your favour.

Is Visual Studio Code legal? ›

Yes, VS Code is free for private or commercial use. See the product license for details.

Why did Microsoft make VS Code free? ›

It makes it easier for developers working on Android and iOS applications to use Azure as a back-end, and helps bring their attention to both Azure App Services and Azure Fabric Services.

Is VS Code good for Python? ›

VS Code comes with great debugging support for Python, allowing you to set breakpoints, inspect variables, and use the debug console for an in-depth look at how your program is executing step by step. Debug a number of different types of Python applications, including multi-threaded, web, and remote applications.

What is difference between software and tools? ›

Software = a configuration of hardware amenable to being programmed. Application = a system that is not solely of theoretical interest. Tool = a system that is mainly useful for creating other useful things rather than a system that achieves an appreciable goal of itself.

Is C++ a Visual Studio? ›

Microsoft Visual C++ (MSVC) refers to the C++, C, and assembly language development tools and libraries available as part of Visual Studio on Windows.

Is there a free version of Visual Studio 2017? ›

If you don't have a Visual Studio Subscription, you can create one for free by clicking on “Create a new Microsoft account” on the login page.


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