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Visual Studio Shell-Based Applications

If you create a custom tool that would benefit from having an integrated development environment (IDE), you may consider building on the Visual Studio Shell. The Visual Studio Shell provides a hierarchal project system, integration with editors and designers, source code control, and many other features that support and enhance your custom tool. In addition, the Visual Studio Shell provides a familiar user interface that may reduce the learning curve for end users.

In addition to acquiring the look of Visual Studio, your custom tools built on the Visual Studio Shell have access to the features of the Visual Studio IDE.

Feature Category


IDE Features

Import/Export Settings

Toolbox Control Installer

Task List & Error List

Output Window

Start Page

Properties Window


Solution Explorer

Bookmark Window

Class View

Object Browser

Command Window

Document Outline

Resource View

External Tool

Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) Add Service Reference

Domain-Specific Language (DSL) Runtime Support

Language Integrated Query (LINQ) Support


Code browsing tools (unified find, source definition, inheritance)



Code Snippets Manager

Code Snippets


Pretty listing

IntelliSense Filtering

Code Definition Window

Application Designer

Windows Forms Designer

Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) Designer


C# Expression Evaluator

Local debugging

Managed debugging

Edit and Continue

Cross-thread debugging



Native debugging

Script debugging

Interop debugging

Just-in-time (JIT) debugging

Multi-process debugging

XSLT debugging

Attach to local process

Trace Points

Breakpoint Constraints


Server Explorer (Simplified - Data Only)

Data bind to local data (.MDF or .MDB)

Data bind to object

Data bind to Web service

Full set of data controls

XML editor

Data bind to local database server

Data Sources window


HTML Editor

Web Browser

Web Forms Designer

Web Site Project

Web Application Project


Add-in Manager

Consumes VSPackages

Supports Macros

Macros IDE

Macros Explorer


Document Explorer

Help on Help Collection

The Visual Studio 2008 Shell has two modes, integrated mode and isolated mode. Each mode addresses a different market.

The Visual Studio 2008 Shell (integrated mode) integrates into Visual Studio on an end-user computer and enables your custom tools to have the look of Visual Studio. By using the integrated Shell, you can provide custom tools that your customers can use together with Visual Studio. Integrated mode is optimized for hosting language and software tool products.

Custom tools that are built on the integrated Shell will automatically merge with any other editions of Visual Studio that are installed on the same computer, except for the Express editions. In case Visual Studio is not installed, a redistributable version of the Visual Studio IDE is available. The redistributable Visual Studio IDE does not contain programming languages and the features that support their respective project systems. The redistributable IDE can be downloaded from the Visual Studio Extensibility Developer Center Web site.

For more information, see Visual Studio Shell (Integrated Mode) Setup and User Guide.

The Visual Studio 2008 Shell (isolated mode) lets you create unique and isolated custom tools that run side-by-side with other versions of Visual Studio that are installed on a computer. The isolated Shell is optimized for specialized tools that can have full access to Visual Studio services but also have a custom appearance with extensive branding flexibility. Visual Studio features and menu command groups can be easily turned on and off. The application title, application icon, and splash screen are fully customizable.

For more information, see Visual Studio Shell (Isolated Mode).

For additional news and information about the Visual Studio Shell, see the VSX Team Blog.

Developers who want a deeper technical relationship with Microsoft and more focused development assistance can join the Visual Studio Industry Partners.