Visual Studio is Microsoft’s integrated development environment (IDE) that is used by developers all around the world.
According to Stack Overflow’s 2022 development survey, 32% of developers preferred Visual Studio as their IDE, coming in second to the more lightweight IDE Visual Studio Code, which was used by 74% of respondents.
Given its popularity, we’re going back through the past year to highlight what’s new in Visual Studio. There were several releases in 2022, so it’s possible to have missed a new feature here or there that you could be taking advantage of.
While many new features were added to the platform in 2022, Simon Calvert, partner director of product management for Visual Studio at Microsoft, explained that the customer themes the Visual Studio team focused on this past year were productivity and performance, enterprise success and scale, support for modern workloads, and innovation in AI-assistance, collaboration, and Git tools.
On the performance front, one significant change of note is that Visual Studio 2022 is the first 64-bit version. This will enable it to be used for larger scale projects.
According to Tim Huckaby, a Microsoft global regional director, a previous critique of Visual Studio was that it struggled when handling large and complex projects, and the 64-bit version makes it more capable of taking on those complex projects. “So the really huge projects, you know, the multimillion lines of code, or complex machine learning and AI tech stuff, now can perform and actually use these powerful CPUs that computers are shipping with,” he said.
Other performance additions that came this year include reducing the time it takes to load in large solutions, reducing the time it takes to search for text in files, and ensuring that typing is responsive.
On the developer productivity side, Microsoft introduced a number of AI-assisted capabilities that make coding easier for developers. These include things like suggesting code or applying repeated edits, Calvert explained.
.NET Hot Reload was another capability that became generally available in Visual Studio 2022. It enables developers to modify code while the application is running, rather than having to pause or hit a breakpoint.
“Regardless of the type of app you’re working on, our goal with Hot Reload is to save you as many app restarts between edits as possible, making you more productive by reducing the time you spend waiting for apps to rebuild, restart, re-navigate to the previous location where you were in the app itself, etc,” Dmitry Lyalin, principal program manager for .NET, wrote in a blog post explaining the feature.
Calvert believes that Hot Reload combined with the previously mentioned AI-assisted capabilities make Visual Studio “the best place for developers to rapidly create and innovate.”
“The productivity is just so good,” said Huckaby. “You can actually learn how to build software from the tool itself, and I think that’s great. I’ve always made these predictions that software development will ultimately become easy and we’ll get software architecture for free, and it seems like my predictions are coming true. The difficulty these days is actually the definition of the business problem you’re trying to solve, and how you’re going to solve it, as opposed to the code you’re going to write to do it.”
.NET MAUI reached GA this year
Another major introduction into Visual Studio this year is .NET MAUI, which stands for multi-platform App UI. .NET MAUI allows developers to create applications for different operating systems and devices using a single codebase.
According to Calvert, these apps will look and feel like the operating system they belong on and the layouts are fully adapted to each device, without the developer having to write additional code.
“The GA release of .NET MAUI was a notable moment because of the simplification it brings developers targeting different platforms for their apps,” said Calvert. “We had many different control vendors and library developers provide support for .NET MAUI from day one and this continues to grow day by day.”
The team also had accessibility in mind when developing .NET MAUI. It introduced semantic properties, which allow anyone developing with .NET MAUI to build accessible applications. “This allows developers to precisely control the accessibility of their application to suit their app needs,” said Calvert.
The team also published documentation and a blog series to get developers up to speed on these accessibility features quickly.
Accessibility in Visual Studio 2022
Accessibility wasn’t just a consideration in .NET MAUI, but in Visual Studio as a whole. This past year, Microsoft put a lot of effort and resources into both, making Visual Studio more accessible.
Within Visual Studio, one new feature is font ligatures, which can help reduce cognitive load and improve readability. Ligatures are characters that are combined together to make them easier to read. For example, a ligature of “Th” would appear as if the tops of the two letters touch, rather than as separate characters with a gap in between them.
Calvert also went on to explain that the new colorized tabs and themes may be helpful for developers with different visual disabilities. The team also recently added audio cues that can be used by developers using a screen reader, which plays a sound when the caret comes to a line containing a breakpoint, error, or warning.
And code synthesis tools, such as IntelliCode and Whole Line Completion, can help developers with motor disabilities by reducing keystrokes, Calvert explained.
An upcoming feature for developers with reading disabilities is the spell checker. According to Calvert, this has been a frequently requested feature “from our users with reading disabilities to reduce anxiety that comes from spelling mistakes.”
The Visual Studio team’s next goal is to accelerate developers’ journey to the cloud, according to Calvert. This includes making sure Visual Studio works well with Microsoft Azure. They are also working to reduce friction in deploying container-based applications to scalable platform services.
Building on the release of Microsoft Dev Box, which is an Azure service that gives access to dev environments, developers can also expect more developer-focused optimizations for the cloud to come as well.
“Visual Studio remains the absolute best-in-class fully integrated development environment for .NET development of any kind, and we will continue to deliver updates in productivity
in coding workflows, more AI-assisted development improvements, performance, and improving the inner loop for API development for developers, keeping them closer to their code in a single development tool,” said Calvert.
Key features in each preview release
While this article has gone over the broad changes to the language this year, here are several of the specific additions to Visual Studio that came out in the various preview releases this year.
Visual Studio 2022 17.1
- Find in Files is now enabled by default, which creates an index of files when an application is loaded in order to make search faster.
- Git updates include the ability to compare the current Git branch against other branches, and the ability to checkout a commit or the tip of any remote branch to more easily review history.
- New visualizations for embedded registers and RTOS threads.
- Solution Filters allow developers to choose what projects to load, which helps avoid loading entire solutions if all you want is an individual project.
Visual Studio 2022 17.2
- Embedded source and Source Link can now be surfaced as part of ‘Go to Implementation.’ This allows you to navigate to original source files that implement a target symbol.
- You can now convert normal or verbatim string literals to a raw string literal, which is a new language feature in C# 11 that does not require escaping.
- A new visualizer for IEnumerable object types has been added to the debugging experience, providing a clearer view of information and easier navigation.
- In the Razor editor, they’ve added the ability to collapse region, support for snippet functionality in C# code, and a shortcut for ‘wrap div.’
- Web Live Preview for ASP.NET Framework allows you to turn the application you’re working on into your design surface. It also provides code synchronization across source and web surface.
- Expanded capabilities in Connected Services to extend development to Azure.
Visual Studio 2022 17.3
- Teams Toolkit for Visual Studio: Allows you to develop apps that embed UI in a tab, send a notification to a channel, trigger a task from a command in the chat, and more.
- Azure Container Apps: Allows you to run microservices and containerized applications on a serverless platform, so that they can receive the benefits of containers without worrying about configuring the underlying infrastructure.
- Live Unit Testing now scales better by scoping the builds to only what is necessary, and improvements to the build mechanism make builds more reliable and support a bigger range of solutions.
- Git Line-staging allows you to stage lines of code from the editor and the diff view.
- Tabs can be wrapped into multiple rows, allowing for more horizontal tabs to be opened at the same time.
- You can now easily re-open your most recently closed tab by right-clicking on another tab, using the Ctrl + K or Ctrl + Z shortcut, or by navigating through the menu.
While not out yet, the next release is Visual Studio 17.4. It will be a long-term servicing channel release and will receive updates through July 2024.
Here are some of the highlights from the various preview releases for 17.4:
- Rollback and Remove out-of-support components are two features being added to the installer. Rollback allows you to return to a previously installed version of Visual Studio and Remove lets you remove all the components that have transitioned to no longer being supported.
- The Document Outline window in .NET shows the file structure as a symbol tree for easy navigation
- Support for Arm64 on Windows 11
- An early preview of the markdown editor
- Inline Rename UI in .NET allows you to rename a type
- Filtering, sorting, exporting, and theming have been added to the DataTable visualizer.