Top plugins to use with Visual Studio Community

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Now that Visual Studio extensions work in the free Community edition, it's worth heading over to the Visual Studio Gallery site to track down some tools and controls that can save you time. Many of these are free, while others are well worth paying for. Before you dive in, let's take a look at the top plugins.

The basics

Some are obvious, like when you're using NuGet you need the NuGet Package Manager; it's probably the single most popular Visual Studio extension of all time. And if you're trying out the Visual Studio 2015 preview, look for the NuGet 3.0 version.

Similarly, Web developers need the ever-popular Web Essentials extension for handy features like the live Web preview window that updates every time you save or build; you can even have live CSS editing with the website updating as you change your CSS. That's a semi-official tool from the ASP.NET and Web tools teams at Microsoft; they're also behind CSSCop, an FxCop-style checker for CSS stylesheets that uses the CSS Lint rules engine to catch common errors. Check here for a list of other tools from the same teams.

JavaScript

For better JavaScript outlining and code expansion/collapsing as you navigate, install Advanced JavaScript Outlining. This is the new version of what used to be called JSEnhancements and it outlines square and curly braces, comments and regions. Install Image Optimizer to get a context menu that optimizes PNG, GIF and JPEG images by removing IF and other metadata to reduce file sizes.

If you want to embed ads in Windows Store games, get the latest version of the Microsoft Advertising SDK. And if you're working on games, install the Visual Studio Tools for Unity. If you're using Visual Studio 2013 for the Xamarin support, but you want the Android emulator from the Visual Studio 2015 preview, Hyper-V Android Emulator Launch puts it on the toolbar.

Productivity

The Productivity Power Tools from the Visual Studio team aren't as well known as they should be; they give you a lot of extra features like visual cues that mark out blocks of code, being able to double-click a title to maximize or dock a window and getting back to the line of code you were working on when you re-open a recent document. And some simple ones like collapsing regions, peeking at the help files, toggling line numbers on and off quickly.

VSCommands is another handy set of productivity improvements from tagging the end of code blocks to automatically cancelling all the builds as soon as you get one build error, rather than having to wait for other projects to finish building before you can go back to fix your code. There are also clipboard enhancements and dozens of tweaks to the Visual Studio user interface; it's free for personal and open source projects. Install AutoHistory to get change tracking on all the files you edit, to make it easier to roll back to the code you had working a few hours ago. And if you don't already have a favorite Visual Studio spell checker, install the Visual Studio Spell Checker to check the spelling of comments, string and plain text, as you type or when you run a  spell check.

C++

If you develop in C++, you'll want to spend the money to get Visual Assist for a range of navigation, refactoring and coding help. It includes a spell checker, an outliner, a replacement navigation bar and code snippet handler that you might prefer to the built-in Visual Studio versions, and a useful debugger step filter. Also, the keyboard shortcuts for toggling between source code and headers or quick renaming could save you enough time to make the licence worthwhile once the free trial runs out.

Other tools do more comprehensive refactoring, but Visual Assist has the refactorings you'll actually use, especially for C++ (C# developers will also find things to love, but it's C++ developers who need the Visual Assist features most). If you use older versions of Visual Studio, Visual Assist works all the way back to Visual Studio 6.

Snippet Designer is visual snippet editor that integrates into the Visual Studio IDE (it uses the Visual Studio code editor so you can write snippets the way you write code and shows snippet properties in the Visual Studio properties window), stores and searches snippets on your PC and supports C++, C#, Visual Basic, JavaScript, HTML, XML and SQL. It's an open source project so you can keep an eye on developer or lend a hand. You could also check out Snip2Code if you want a snippet extension that's available for multiple IDEs.

Finding code samples

If you're looking for code you didn't write yourself, grab the Developer Assistant which combines the old Bing Code Search and Sample Browser extensions to both help you find code samples and snippets online and helps with debugging. When you get a compilation error, this extension grabs all the details like the error code, message and programming language. It then uses that to do a Bing search for the problem. You can also do a contextual search on selected C# or VB code in your project.

If you've used the handy devColor extension before, you can get it working with Visual Studio 2013 by editing the manifest (check the Q&A page on Visual Studio Gallery for the instructions). If you haven't, give it a try anyway. It underlines he, RGB and names colors in stylesheets and XAML files in the correct color, and has a color picker that can also replace color codes so you can choose the old color, the new color and have it update your code.

Finding errors

ReSharper isn't perfect but it usually does a great job of a finding compiler and runtime errors, redundancy and things you just want to fix. You can visualize the structures of files, styles, types and project dependencies, or format, clean up and refactor your code. Check out the free trial to see if it will speed up your coding, or take a look at VS10x CodeMAP for visualizing and navigating C#, VB and C++

If you want to move to automated deployment and you're using Visual Studio Online and Azure, check out the Release Management tools for Visual Studio 2013.

Other options

If that's not enough extensions, check out this excellent list from Microsoft MVP Scott Dorman for even more ideas. And if you want to make your own Visual Studio extensions, there's a Visual Studio extensions for that; watch Mads Kristensen demo it on Channel 9.

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Contributor

Mary Branscombe

has been a technology journalist for over two decades, and she’s been the formal or informal IT admin for most of the offices she’s worked in along the way. She was delighted to see the back of Netware 3.11, witnessed the AOL meltdown first-hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and has been a freelance tech writer ever since. She's used every version of Windows (client and server) and Office released, and every smartphone too. Her favourite programming language is Prolog, giving her a soft spot for Desired State Configuration in PowerShell 4. And yes, she really does wear USB earrings. Find her on Twitter @marypcbuk.