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Developing extension packages for Visual Studio 2005/2008/2010/2012 using C# with real-life samples

| Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The following series of articles is dedicated to the development of the extension package for Visual Studio 2005/2008/2010/2012 IDEs utilizing .NET framework and C# programming language. The following topics will be covered:

basic information on creating and debugging of MSVS plug-ins and maintaining these extensibility projects for several versions of Visual Studio inside a common source code base;
overview of Automation Object Model and various Managed Package Framework (MPF) classes
extending interface of the IDE though the automation object model's API (EnvDTE) and MPF (Managed Package Framework) classes with custom menus, toolbars, windows and options pages;
utilizing Visual C++ project automation model for gathering data needed to operate an external preprocessor/compiler, such as compilation arguments and settings for different platforms and configurations;
The content of these articles is based on our experience in developing an MSVS extension package plug-in for PVS-Studio static analyzer. A more detailed in-depth references for the topics covered here are available at the end of each article through the links to MSDN library and several other external resources.

The articles will cover the extension development only for Visual Studio 2005 and later versions. This limitation reflects that PVS-Studio also supports integration to Visual Studio starting only from version 8 (Visual Studio 2005). The main reason behind this is that a new extensibility API model was introduced for Visual Studio 2005, and this new version is not backward-compatible with previous IDE APIs.

Creating and debugging Visual Studio VSPackage extension modules

There exists a number of ways to extend Microsoft Visual Studio features. On the most basic level it's possible to automate simple routine user actions using macros. An add-In plug-in module can be used for obtaining an access to environment's UI objects, such as menu commands, windows etc. Extension of IDE's internal editors is possible through MEF (Managed Extensibility Framework) components (starting with MSVS 2010). Finally, a plug-in of the Extension Package type (known as VSPackage) is best suited for integrating large independent components into Visual Studio. VSPackage allows combining the environment automation through Automation Object Model with usage of Managed Package Framework classes (such as Package). It also provides the means of extending the automation model itself by registering user-defined custom automation objects within it. Such user automation objects, in turn, will become available through the same automation model from other user-created extensibility packages, providing these packages with access to your custom components.

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