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Quick Tour of the Integrated Development Environment 

This topic provides a brief overview of many of the features and tools included in Visual Studio for application development.

Integrated Development Environment

The Visual Studio product family shares a single integrated development environment (IDE). The IDE is composed of several elements: the Menu toolbar, Standard toolbar, various tool windows docked or auto-hidden on the left, bottom, and right sides, as well as the editor space. The tool windows, menus, and toolbars available at any given time depends on the type of project or file you are working in.

Figure 1: IDE with General Development Settings applied
IDE with General Development Settings applied.

Depending on the settings you have applied, and any subsequent customizations you have made, the placement of tool windows and other elements in the IDE differs. You can change settings using the Import and Export Settings Wizard.

You can easily move and dock windows using the visual guide diamond or temporarily hide windows using Auto-Hide. For more information, see How to: Arrange and Dock Windows.

You can use the Visual Studio automation model to automate and extend the IDE. For more informations, see Customizing and Automating the Development Environment.

Project System

Solutions and projects contain items that represent the references, data connections, folders, and files that you need to create your application. A solution container can contain multiple projects and a project container typically contains multiple items. For more information, see Solutions as Containers and Projects as Containers.

The Solution Explorer displays solutions, their projects, and the items in those projects. From Solution Explorer, you can open files for editing, add new files to a project, and view solution, project, and item properties.

Figure 2: Solution Explorer
Solution Explorer window

For more information, see Using Solution Explorer and How to: Create Solutions and Projects.

Editors and Designers

The editor and designers you use depend on the type of file or document you are authoring. The Text editor is the basic word processor of the IDE, while the Code editor is the basic source code editor.

Other editors, such as the CSS editor, the HTML Designer, and the Web Page Designer, share many of the features found in the Code editor, along with enhancements specific to the type of code or markup supported.

Editors and designers often have two views: a graphical design view and the code behind view or source view. Design view allows you to specify the location of controls and other items on the user interface or Web page. You can easily drag a control from the Toolbox and place it on the design surface.

Figure 3: Web Page Designer, Design view
Web Page Designer, Design view

Source view displays the source code for the file or document. This view supports coding help such as IntelliSense, collapsible code sections, Refactoring, and code snippet insertion. Other features include word wrap, bookmarks, and displaying line numbers, to name a few. For more information, see Editor Convenience Commands and Features.

Figure 4: Web Page Designer, Source view
Web Page Designer, Source view

Build and Debug Tools

Visual Studio provides a robust set of build and debugging tools. With build configurations, you can select the components you will build, exclude those you will not build, and determine how the projects selected will be built and on what platform. You can have build configurations for solutions as well as projects. For more information, see How to: Create and Edit Configurations and Builds During Application Development.

When you build, you are beginning the debug process. Building your application helps you detect compile-time errors. These errors can include incorrect syntax, misspelled keywords, and type mismatches. The Output Window displays these types of errors.

Figure 5: Output window with build information
Output window with build information

After you have built your application, you can use the debugger to detect and correct such problems as logic errors and semantic errors that are detected at run-time. In break mode, you can examine local variables and other relevant data using tools such as Variable Windows and the Memory Windows.

Figure 6: Visual Basic form in Break mode
Example of a debugging breakpoint in Visual Basic
Figure 7: Debugging tools windows
Tools for debugging

The Error List Window displays errors, warnings, and other messages related to debugging.

For more information, see Debugger Roadmap.

Deployment Tools

Visual Studio provides two different deployment strategies: ClickOnce and Windows Installer. With ClickOnce deployment, you publish the application to a centralized location and the user installs or runs the application from that location. With Windows Installer deployment, you package the application in a setup.exe file and distribute that file to users; they run the setup.exe file to install the application. For a detailed comparison, see Choosing a Deployment Strategy.

ClickOnce allows you to quickly deploy applications using the Publish Wizard.

Figure 8: Publish Wizard
Publish wizard

For more information, see How to: Publish a ClickOnce Application.

Windows Installer deployment provides greater flexibility for deploying applications. Various editors, such as the Custom Actions Editor and the User Interface Editor, allow you to customize the Windows Installer to meet your deployment needs. To create a basic setup file, you use the File System Editor to specify which items are deployed.

Figure 9: File System Editor
File System Editor for Windows Installer

For more information, see Windows Installer Deployment Tasks and Editors Used in Deployment.

Product Documentation

You can access Help by pressing F1 in the IDE, as well as through the table of contents, index, and full-text search. You can use locally installed Help or use MSDN online and other online sources for Help.

Figure 10: Help search page
Search page in Help

For more information, see Techniques for Locating Help.

See Also