Tag Archives: Visual Studio

Test Explorer Revamped in Visual Studio 15.7 Preview

This article is based on Visual Studio 2017 Version 15.7 Preview 2. Although it’s nice to get a glimpse of good things to come, keep in mind that it’s not production-ready yet and that things may change.

With the current version of Visual Studio 2017, which is 15.6.5, you have to have really good naming to be able to look at Test Explorer and figure out what your tests actually do:

That’s because the tests are grouped based on their outcome, i.e. whether they’ve passed, failed, or not run at all.

But that’s going to change in Visual Studio 2017, where Test Explorer groups tests based on the more logical hierarchy of project, namespace, class and method:

This is also very handy because you can run a certain group of tests (e.g. tests in a specific class, or tests in a specific namespace), directly from Test Explorer, rather than having to do this by right-clicking the test code and using the context menu (which isn’t very intuitive for newer developers).

This is a small but significant improvement towards making Test Explorer more usable. It is also yet another change that brings Visual Studio closer to ReShaper in terms of functionality.

Split Code Window in Visual Studio

This is another of those little things that are right there and yet many people seem to not know about them.

There’s a little handle at the top-right corner of the code window:

When you drag it down, it will split your code window into two parts:

This is very useful when you want to look at two different places within the same code file (e.g. while examining one method, check another one declared earlier in the same file).

At any time, you can drag the splitter in the middle all the way to the top to go back to single view.

Exception Detail Without A Variable

Here’s a scenario just about everyone has run into: you had this try/catch block:

    // ...
catch (Exception)
    // ...

You didn’t need the exception variable, for whatever reason. Although you’d typically leave it there in case you needed to dig deeper into the exception, you got tired of Visual Studio nagging about the unused variable, and removed it.

And then, it happened: an exception occurred, and you actually needed the detail.

As it turns out, there’s a way you can see the exception detail without adding the exception variable back and reproducing the issue a second time. There’s a special $exception variable that you can use in the Locals, Watches, or Immediate windows:

An additional benefit is that since $exception is local to the scope in which your instruction pointer is, you can check the exception detail even if you’re looking at code elsewhere in the project, without having to go back and find the exact place where your exception was thrown.

A big thanks goes to this Stack Overflow answer for this handy little tip.

Visual Studio bug with long const strings

It turns out that constants aren’t only problematic in ASP .NET 5.

If you have a pretty long const string with a null character (\0) somewhere towards the beginning, then you’ll be pretty surprised to get the following error when you try to compile:

Unexpected error writing debug information — ‘Error HRESULT E_FAIL has been returned from a call to a COM component.’

Say you have a 3,000-character string that looks something like this:

const string s = "aaaaaaaaaaaa\0aa...aaaaa";

Although this is perfectly valid, Visual Studio fails to compile it:


I created a Stack Overflow question and a Visual Studio bug report for this.

Comments on the Stack Overflow question confirmed this to be a bug in the PDB writer (Eric Lippert). It’s Visual Studio specific, and doesn’t happen when compiling from the command line (Jon Skeet). Apparently it happens if the null character is before the 2033rd index in the string (Tommy).

One workaround suggested by Tommy is to use the string literal notation, which actually works:

const string s = @"aaaaaaaaaaaa\0aa...aaaaa";

Another workaround is to simply drop the const qualifier.

Block Selection and Column Editing

We’re all very much used to selecting text by clicking and dragging the mouse. But by pressing the Alt key while doing that, you can select a rectangular block. This feature has been around since Visual Studio 2010 – part of it even since Visual Studio 2008 – and it’s available in most modern text editors such as Notepad++. However, most people seem not to be aware of this, which is why I’m writing this article.

Let’s say you created a new Console Application in Visual Studio, and added a few variables within the Program class:

    class Program
        int name;
        int age;
        int address;

        static void Main(string[] args)

Oops. Main() can’t access them, because it is static, and they are not. We’re going to have to make them static as well.

Now we can add the static keyword to each variable, one by one. Or, we can place the cursor before the first int, press Alt, click and drag downwards to create a sort of blue cursor that spans multiple lines. It’s a bit hard to see, so I’ve zoomed in a bit here:


With that, we’ve enabled column editing. This means that whatever you type will now be written in multiple lines:


You can use this to comment lines in bulk (similar to the Ctrl+K+C or Ctrl+E+C shortcuts, depending on your editor settings):


Now, column editing is actually a special case of block selection with a width of zero. To see how block editing works, let’s change our variable names to the following:

        static int personName;
        static int personAge;
        static int personAddress;

Now, due to changing requirements, we decided that these shouldn’t be called person*, but customer*. Given that the variable names are nicely aligned underneath each other, we can press Alt, click and drag around person on all three lines, and we’ve made a block selection:


Press Backspace to remove person from all three lines. The block collapses to zero width, so we’re back to column editing, and we can now easily write customer on all three lines:


So there you go. Block selection and column editing are nothing new, but they’re very handy and good to know about.

Pasting JSON/XML as Classes in Visual Studio

Note: This feature is available as from Visual Studio 2015.

REST and JSON together have revolutionised the way we expose and consume data in recent years. For this reason it has become increasingly common to need to integrate with REST services, and data itself is provided in either XML or JSON format. This typically involves creating a set of classes that match the data provided by the service, so that the application may take care of serialisation and deserialisation, and work with structured data.

Although you can create these data classes manually, Visual Studio provides a shortcut to generate classes from XML or JSON data. For instance, let’s say that we want to work with the data from the GitHub API:


We can easily generate a class for this by copying that data, and in Visual Studio going into Edit -> Paste Special -> Parse JSON As Classes:


And as if by magic, the following class gets generated:

        public class Rootobject
            public string current_user_url { get; set; }
            public string current_user_authorizations_html_url { get; set; }
            public string authorizations_url { get; set; }
            public string code_search_url { get; set; }
            public string emails_url { get; set; }
            public string emojis_url { get; set; }
            public string events_url { get; set; }
            public string feeds_url { get; set; }
            public string followers_url { get; set; }
            public string following_url { get; set; }
            public string gists_url { get; set; }
            public string hub_url { get; set; }
            public string issue_search_url { get; set; }
            public string issues_url { get; set; }
            public string keys_url { get; set; }
            public string notifications_url { get; set; }
            public string organization_repositories_url { get; set; }
            public string organization_url { get; set; }
            public string public_gists_url { get; set; }
            public string rate_limit_url { get; set; }
            public string repository_url { get; set; }
            public string repository_search_url { get; set; }
            public string current_user_repositories_url { get; set; }
            public string starred_url { get; set; }
            public string starred_gists_url { get; set; }
            public string team_url { get; set; }
            public string user_url { get; set; }
            public string user_organizations_url { get; set; }
            public string user_repositories_url { get; set; }
            public string user_search_url { get; set; }

Now, the class and property names might not be exactly the way you want them, and you might need to change some things, but this will still save you a lot of typing.

If you’re still not convinced, try it with a more complex example that involves nested data structures. For instance, let’s say we have this JSON data:

	"name" : "John Smith",
	"summary" : "Wannabe Superhero",
	"workexperience" : [{
			"title" : "Insurance Guy",
			"company" : "ABC Ltd.",
			"start" : "Feb 2015",
			"description" : "Current job, very bad"
		}, {
			"title" : "Cleaning Guy",
			"company" : "Super Clean Ltd.",
			"start" : "Jan 2013",
			"end" : "Jan 2015",
			"description" : "Dirty work",
			"recommendations" : [{
					"name" : "Boss guy",
					"position" : "Boss"
				}, {
					"name" : "Colleague girl",
					"position" : "Cleaning Girl"

With no effort whatsoever, you can get these classes generated for you:

        public class Rootobject
            public string name { get; set; }
            public string summary { get; set; }
            public Workexperience[] workexperience { get; set; }

        public class Workexperience
            public string title { get; set; }
            public string company { get; set; }
            public string start { get; set; }
            public string description { get; set; }
            public string end { get; set; }
            public Recommendation[] recommendations { get; set; }

        public class Recommendation
            public string name { get; set; }
            public string position { get; set; }

And there’s a similar function for XML.

You’re welcome.