If there's one thing that's for certain about Microsoft, it is that their IDE's are some of the best in the industry. And for any developer, this is a huge part of their programming life. Sure you can make and edit a website using just notepad and the old noggin'. But having a trusty aid by your side making sure you do it correctly is definitely beneficial. Visual Studio Code is one of Microsoft's latest creations that debuted a few months ago and that over 1 million people have downloaded already, and I'm finally taking it for a spin.
This time around Microsoft is taking things up a notch by having VS Code run Windows, Linux and OSX, which is a huge huge step in .NET developments adoption rate. It is a code optimized editor that can work with over 30 different programming languages and is much more lightweight than Visual Studio. It offers your usual syntax highlighting, intellisense and local debugging for Node.js and ASP.NET 5 projects. It's definitely not a full powerhouse IDE by any means, but it is definitely a step in the right direction as far as multi-language and multi-platform IDE's go.
To test it out for yourselves, download a copy right here. It currently runs on Windows, IOS and Linux, which pretty much means it runs everywhere. I'm currently testing it out in a Windows environment with various ASP.NET 5 test projects that I've created.
VS Code key features
Here are some stand out features that Code offers and which I'll dive more into down below.
- Working Files: Any files edited during the session
- Lightweight: Doesn't require high specs to run.
- Speed. Because Code is optimized for code it focuses on just that mainly, making it feel like any other plain text editor when it comes to performance.
- Multi-platform: Code runs on Windows, Linux and IOS.
- Built in debugging: For applications written in Node.js and ASP.NET 5.
- GitHub integration.
- Command line tool integration. Many tasks for VS Code can be done directly through your command line interface.
There's lots to like about Visual Studio Code, even for seasoned developers. And if you're interested in getting started with the latest ASP.NET 5 framework, then this is the quickest way. It's focused on fast and neat development and doesn't get in the way too much in terms of configuration. It focuses on development and doesn't get in the way with messy configurations.
The "Working Files" section
One of my favorite features of Visual Studio Code is the new Working Files section, which will list any files which you have touched since you started working. Which is super helpful for me, as my projects usually consist of dozens of directories with hundreds of files and more tabs than can fit in 2 screens. Tabs are gone now, and frankly that's a good thing. This new approach, frees up screen space and makes it surprisingly faster to work on bigger projects.
And because VS Code is directory/file based and not project based, you don't miss out on any configuration options that are normally found in larger IDE's.
It's fully customizable
Some like it bright and some like it dark. There are several different built-in themes for the editor that are just a click away from changing. You currently can't design your own, but what's offered is good enough for most people I think.
Visual Studio Code also relies heavily on keyboard shortcuts to get around. Most tasks that you can perform on the IDE can be accomplished with a combination of keystrokes. And the cool part, that these shortcuts are fully customizable to your liking. So whichever tasks you find yourself doing the most, you can map to a keyboard combination that you rarely use.
The Editor offers up to 3 tabs to be opened at any one time, which you can update by simply clicking inside of one and then double-clicking the file that you wish to work with. Super quick and convenient, and it's a feature that I rarely use in Visual Studio because it isn't as intuitive as it is in Code.
This is one of those features that once you master, will become where you spend 90% of your work time. By typing f1, Ctrl-Shift+p or Ctrl+e you will open up the Command Pallet menu.
There are a ton of commands to explore and any point you can type '?' in order to get a list of the available commands.
Code snippets are small blocks of reusable code that can be inserted in a code file using a context menu command or a combination of hotkeys. They typically contain commonly-used code blocks such as try-finally or if-else blocks, but they can be used to insert entire classes or methods. Very very convenient, and I've already made about a dozen or so that I find myself needing in every project.
Tip: Visual Studio Code will be added to your PATH, so from the console you can simply type code . to open VS Code on that folder. There are various command line arguments that you can type such as code filename.html, which will launch VS Code with a new file named filename.html in the current directory that your CLI is in.
There are tons more features that are hidden in VS Code that make it a fun and super useful development tool. Highly recommend it for pro and hobby developer alike.
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.
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