Using and Creating Visual Studio Extensions

Howdy readers, Lafe here. About once a month, my partner in crime, Rich Seeley, has been doing technical takeovers of this blog. Here's his latest post on Visual Studio extensions.

Where would Visual Studio users be without extensions?

You'd probably be constantly re-inventing the wheel to do routine tasks instead of having extensions a click away. As Microsoft explains: "Extensions allow you to add new features to or integrate existing tools into Visual Studio. An extension can be as simple as adding grid lines to show indentation levels in the editor or as complex as a suite of tools specific to how your team works."

Probably every living Visual Studio user knows where to find the 7600+ extensions in the VS Marketplace. There is also a Visual Studio Gallery feed that sorts extensions by their popularity, so you can find out what's hot.

But the story behind the creation of them is fascinating.

The Extensions Guru of Redmond

Recently Visual Studio magazine ran an in-depth interview with Mads Kristensen, Microsoft's extensions guru and the creator of more than 80 different extensions.

For those readers wondering how you get such a cool job, Kristensen, whose official title is senior program manager on the Visual Studio Web and ASP.NET Team, told the article's author, Terrence Dorsey, that it all started on Twitter.

"In August 2010, I was approached on Twitter by someone at Microsoft," Kristensen, a native of Denmark, told Dorsey. "They asked if I wanted to apply for an open position as program manager on the Visual Studio Web and ASP.NET Team. Five days and five Skype interviews later I signed the contract, quit my job and applied for a U.S. visa. On Nov. 1, 2010, I moved to Redmond and started on the team that I'm still on."

And so a star of the Visual Studio extensions world was born. Of course it helped that he built BlogEngine.NET, which became the biggest blogging platform on the .NET Framework and earned him the title as MVP for ASP.NET, as well as ASPInsider.

Kristensen got into the extension writing business the way probably a lot of members of the Visual Studio community do by wanting to solve a problem. In his case, he wanted to test the extensibility of APIs with an extension with real-world features. What he created became Web Essentials for Visual Studio.

When writing a new extension, his creative process begins with a look at Microsoft OneNote where he keeps lists of ideas. He picks out one that strikes his fancy in the moment and goes to work on it. For those who want to follow in his footsteps Kristensen has also developed Extensibility Tools to make the creation process easier.

You can find Kristensen's extensive library of extensions on this page of the Visual Studio Marketplace.

Extension Creation for Beginners

If you are just beginning to think about creating your own extensions, Microsoft offers a Beginners Guide to Extensions. That page includes a video featuring a 26-minute Building Extensions conversation with Tim Sneath, principal program manager. Since Visual Studio 2015, Microsoft has opened up the whole API for creating extensions, he explained. If you can learn by watching, Sneath will show you how to build extensions. Although he quickly moves through the creation process, he doesn't promise that it will be easy.

"There's stuff here that's a little complicated," Sneath says. "I'm not going to say that it's super easy because you really are executing against the Visual Studio product itself, the object model. There's complexity there. But the value of that complexity is that you can do anything you like with the product."

He points out that there is a GitHub repository with samples of almost anything an extensions creator would want to do.

"It contains about 20 different samples for creating commands, custom project systems, new language services, you name it," Sneath said.

Additional videos on building extensions can be found on Microsoft's Channel 9.

Is This Extension for You?

If you just want to use extensions for your projects, there are experts who are listing what they see as the best of the best.

Microsoft's Jeffrey T. Fritz offers Five Visual Studio 2017 Extensions for Web Developers for those who are just starting to work with the latest version.

"You've downloaded and installed Visual Studio 2017, and it's a great improvement over previous versions," Fritz writes in his introduction. "Now what? How can you make your web development experience better?"

He recommends five Visual Studio extensions that he says "will make your day-to-day tasks easier and even more enjoyable."

Want more help finding extensions?

Terrence Dorsey, who interviewed Kristensen, has been busy collecting the latest and greatest extensions for the Visual Studio Toolbox feature on Visual Studio magazine. He has two dozen (literally) suggestions in 12 New Extensions for Visual Studio 2015 and 2017 and his follow-up 12 More Extensions for Visual Studio 2015 and 2017. You can also find updates on Dorsey’s blog.

Posted by Lafe Low on 06/16/2017

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