Walkthrough: Writing a Visualizer in Visual Basic

This walkthrough shows how to write a simple visualizer by using Visual Basic. The visualizer you will create in this walkthrough displays the contents of a string using a Windows Forms message box. This simple string visualizer is a basic example to show how you can create visualizers for other data types more applicable to your projects.

Note Note

The dialog boxes and menu commands you see might differ from those described in Help, depending on your active settings or edition. To change your settings, go to the Tools menu and choose Import and Export . For more information, see Customizing Development Settings in Visual Studio.

Visualizer code must be placed in a DLL that will be read by the debugger. The first step is to create a class library project for the DLL.

To create a class library project

  1. On the File menu, choose New and click New Project.

  2. In the New Project dialog box, under Project Types, click Visual Basic.

  3. In the Templates box, click Class Library.

  4. In the Name box, type an appropriate name for the class library, such as MyFirstVisualizer.

  5. Click OK.

When you have created the class library, you must add a reference to Microsoft.VisualStudio.DebuggerVisualizers.DLL, so that you can use the classes defined there. First, however, you give your project a meaningful name.

To rename Class1.vb and add Microsoft.VisualStudio.DebuggerVisualizers

  1. In Solution Explorer, right-click Class1.vb, and on the shortcut menu, click Rename.

  2. Change the name from Class1.vb to something meaningful, such as DebuggerSide.vb.

    Note Note

    Visual Studio automatically changes the class declaration in DebuggerSide.vb to match the new file name.

  3. In Solution Explorer, right-click My First Visualizer, and on the shortcut menu, click Add Reference.

  4. In the Add Reference dialog box, on the .NET tab, click Microsoft.VisualStudio.DebuggerVisualizers.DLL.

  5. Click OK.

  6. In DebuggerSide.vb, add the following statement to the Imports statements:

    Imports Microsoft.VisualStudio.DebuggerVisualizers
    

Now, you are ready to create the debugger-side code. This is the code that runs within the debugger to display the information that you want to visualize. First, you have to change the declaration of the DebuggerSide object so that it inherits from the base class DialogDebuggerVisualizer.

To inherit from DialogDebuggerVisualizer

  1. In DebuggerSide.vb, go to the following line of code:

    Public Class DebuggerSide
    
  2. Edit the code so that it looks like this:

    Public Class DebuggerSide
    Inherits DialogDebuggerVisualizer
    

DialogDebuggerVisualizer has one abstract method, Show, that you must override.

To override the DialogDebuggerVisualizer.Show method

  • In public class DebuggerSide, add the following method:

    Protected Overrides Sub Show(ByVal windowService As Microsoft.VisualStudio.DebuggerVisualizers.IDialogVisualizerService, ByVal objectProvider As Microsoft.VisualStudio.DebuggerVisualizers.IVisualizerObjectProvider)
    
        End Sub
    

The Show method contains the code that actually creates the visualizer dialog box, or other user interface, and displays the information that has been passed to the visualizer from the debugger. You must add the code that creates the dialog box and displays the information. In this walkthrough, you will do this using a Windows Forms message box. First, you must add a reference and Imports statement for System.Windows.Forms.

To add System.Windows.Forms

  1. In Solution Explorer, right-click References, and on the shortcut menu, click Add Reference.

  2. In the Add Reference dialog box, on the .NET tab, click System.Windows.Forms.

  3. Click OK.

  4. In DebuggerSide.cs, add the following statement to the Imports statements:

    Imports System.Windows.Forms
    

Now you will add some code to create and show the user interface for your visualizer. Because this is your first visualizer, you will keep the user interface simple and use a Message Box.

To show the visualizer output in a dialog box

  1. In the Show method, add the following line of code:

    MessageBox.Show(objectProvider.GetObject().ToString())
    

    This example code does not include error handling. You should include error handling in a real visualizer, or any other kind of application.

  2. On the Build menu, click Build MyFirstVisualizer. The project should build successfully. Correct any build errors before continuing.

That is the end of the debugger-side code. There is one more step, however: the attribute that tells the debuggee side which collection of classes comprises the visualizer.

To add the debugee-side code

  1. Add the following attribute code to DebuggerSide.vb, after the Imports statements but before namespace MyFirstVisualizer:

    <Assembly: System.Diagnostics.DebuggerVisualizer(GetType(MyFirstVisualizer.DebuggerSide), GetType(VisualizerObjectSource), Target:=GetType(System.String), Description:="My First Visualizer")>
    
  2. On the Build menu, click Build MyFirstVisualizer. The project should build successfully. Correct any build errors before continuing.

At this point, your first visualizer is finished. If you have followed the steps correctly, you can build the visualizer and install it into Visual Studio. Before you install a visualizer into Visual Studio, however, you should test it to make sure that it runs correctly. You will now create a test harness to run the visualizer without installing it into Visual Studio.

To add a test method to show the visualizer

  1. Add the following method to class public DebuggerSide:

    Shared Public Sub TestShowVisualizer(ByVal objectToVisualize As Object)
        Dim visualizerHost As New VisualizerDevelopmentHost(objectToVisualize, GetType(DebuggerSide))
    visualizerHost.ShowVisualizer()
    End Sub
    
  2. On the Build menu, click Build MyFirstVisualizer. The project should build successfully. Correct any build errors before continuing.

Next, you must create an executable project to call your visualizer DLL. For simplicity, use a console application project.

To add a console application project to the solution

  1. On the File menu, click Add, and then click New Project.

  2. In the Add New Project dialog box, in the Templates box, click Console Application.

  3. In the Name box, type a meaningful name for the console application, such as MyTestConsole.

  4. Click OK.

Now, you must add the necessary references so MyTestConsole can call MyFirstVisualizer.

To add necessary references to MyTestConsole

  1. In Solution Explorer, right-click MyTestConsole, and on the shortcut menu, click Add Reference.

  2. In the Add Reference dialog box, on the .NET tab, click Microsoft.VisualStudio.DebuggerVisualizers.

  3. Click OK.

  4. Right-click MyTestConsole, and then click Add Reference again.

  5. In the Add Reference dialog box, click the Projects tab, and then select MyFirstVisualizer.

  6. Click OK.

Now, you will add the code to finish the test harness.

To add code to MyTestConsole

  1. In Solution Explorer, right-click Program.vb, and on the shortcut menu, click Rename.

  2. Edit the name from Module1.vb to something appropriate, such as TestConsole.vb.

    Notice that Visual Studio automatically changes the class declaration in TestConsole.vb to match the new file name.

  3. In TestConsole. vb, add the following Imports statement:

    Imports MyFirstVisualizer
    
  4. In method Main, add the following code:

    Dim myString As String = "Hello, World"
    DebuggerSide.TestShowVisualizer(myString)
    

Now you are ready to test your first visualizer.

To test the visualizer

  1. In Solution Explorer, right-click MyTestConsole, and on the shortcut menu, click Set as Startup Project.

  2. On the Debug menu, click Start.

    The console application starts. The visualizer appears and displays the string "Hello, World."

Congratulations. You have just built and tested your first visualizer.

If you want to use your visualizer in Visual Studio rather than just calling it from the test harness, you have to install it. For more information, see How to: Install a Visualizer.

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