Setting Up VS Code For ASP.net Core Development

C# as a language has always been well respected, but convincing developers who traditionally develop on Macs and Linux machines to swap to a windows box was always a tough sell. While there has been Mono, developing on a non windows machine was pretty much always a non starter. With .net core, not only are you able to run your apps cross platform, but the tooling has improved to the point where you can actually develop on a non windows machine pretty painlessly.

One such option is to use VS Code to develop in. VS Code is a mix of “editor” like simplicity (so something like Sublime), but also with the power of Visual Studio. If you are in love with Visual Studio, then it may seem a bit more “restrictive” (certainly VS Code doesn’t carry the bloat of Studio), but it makes up for it in speed and ease of use. What’s also great is that if you have a mix of developers who like developing on Windows, Mac and Linux, you can have a consistent IDE across the team.

Getting Started

First up go ahead and install VS Code

Then you will still need to install the .net Core SDK. The tooling is cross platform, but make sure you download the correct SDK for your machine. It’s possible (Especially on Windows), that you may need a restart of your machine after installing the SDK.

Go ahead and open up VS Code now. On the left hand menu hit the icon labelled extensions or you can press Ctrl + Shift + X. This should open up the extensions menu where you can install additional plugins to VS Code. Remember, VS Code on it’s own is extremely light and is basically a notepad editor. To be able to use intellisense and debugging, we need to install a couple of extras.

On the extensions menu, go ahead and install the C# addon. After hitting the install button you need to also click “reload” which reboots the editor.

Creating A .Net Core Project

VS Code itself doesn’t deal with project templating. If you are used to Visual Studio where you can create new projects within the IDE, this may be a bit painful to get used to. Instead you need to create your projects from the command line. Go ahead and create a folder on your machine where you want to have your work live (In the examples below, I created a folder called “VSCodeExample”, use this if you want to follow along at home). Open a command prompt/bash/terminal, and move to this directory.

First we need to create a “solution” which is essentially going to be our container for holding all our projects. A “solution” file is a bit like a .project file if you are coming from Eclipse. It’s a one stop shop for opening an entire “solution” and knowing all the projects that are part of it. In truth, when using VS Code you actually don’t need a solution file at all, you instead are opening the “folder”. But there are two main reasons for still creating it.

  • If you have other developers that are using Visual Studio, then this makes their lives a hell of a lot easier (Infact, you will need a solution file to make it work at all).
  • Build commands can point to a solution now instead of a project which means that you can build a “set” of projects just by pointing your build at the solution file.

We are going to create a solution file and that’s that!

In your command prompt type :

This creates a new solution file ready to be used. It should also be noted the .sln file is also named the same as it’s parent folder.

Go ahead now and create another folder inside your existing workspace, and call it the name of your desired “project”. In this case, I’m going to go ahead and call mine “VSCodeExample.Web”. Your “solution” directory should now look like this :

OK, now take your command prompt and move into your project folder (VSCodeExample.Web), and type :

This creates a new MVC project that is pretty similar (If not identical), to what Visual Studio would create for you. It basically lays down all the boilerplate code so you can jump right in and start working.

It should be noted that typing “dotnet new -all” will list off all templates that are available to you. In our case we went with an MVC template, but you can do things like Web API templates, Console apps and class libraries.

OK, now remember what I said about being a great neighbour with the solution file? Move your command prompt up a level to your solution directory and type the following :

What this does is add your project into the solution file so that when someone comes along and opens it in Visual Studio, they are right up to speed. Again, it’s not required for working in VS Code but is still a nice habit to get into.

Finally, we need to go ahead and restore some packages that our projects need. In your command prompt from inside the solution folder, run the following :

This restores nuget packages that are missing from your project. If you aren’t sure what the hell nuget is, just follow along for now and it will be explained further later!

Let’s go ahead and open our new baby up in VS Code. In VS Code go File -> Open Folder and select your “solution” folder. The first time you open a new .net core project, You will see the following bar come across the top of your screen.

Pressing yes on this creates a launch.json and a tasks.json file inside your solution. These are used to be able to launch and debug your project from VS Code. You can create these manually and edit them, but it’s easier just to let VS Code handle this for us, so click Yes.

On your tree menu, go into your new web project -> Controllers -> Home Controller and have a play around. You will quickly notice that all the intellisense, syntax highlighting,  and annoying warnings that you know and love from Visual Studio are here.

Running Your Project In VS Code

This is going to be a pretty short section. Simply press F5 in VS Code to have your project launch. Any build errors will need to be resolved before launching your project, but otherwise a new browser window/tab should open with your project running in it. Breakpoints in VS Code all work as per normal, and things such as callstack, watches, output console etc are all there too.

There is however one small bug. If you get the following message “Could not find the prelaunch task build”. The first thing you should do is try and close VS Code and reopen it again. As stupid as this sounds, this happens on new projects all the time and it’s resolved with a quick open and close!

Managing Nuget Packages

Nuget is the package system for .net. If you’ve used NPM, Bower or Composer before, it’s all pretty similar.

Now if you have used Nuget before, in the latest version there are numerous changes like no more packages.config, no more local cache of packages (There is now a global cache per machine), and many other changes. There are too many new things to really put in this article, but it is worth going and having a read on what you can expect.

To add a package to your project, you now have to use the command line (Which isn’t as scary as you might think!). If we wanted to add the “Newtonsoft.Json” package to our project, we would run the following in the project folder :

This will add the reference in your csproj, then run a “restore” on your project to ensure you have the package in your global cache. If you check inside your csproj file for your project, you should see something similar to the following :

You can actually add and remove references to nuget packages directly in the csproj file if you think it’s going to be easier, but remember from the command line you need to run “dotnet restore” to ensure that you have all the packages required. It can be easier when you are trying to consolidate multiple projects to the same nuget package version to just go ahead and edit the project file directly rather than hand typing the dotnet add command in your console.

Adding Project References

In any project larger than a “Hello World”, you are going to be building class libraries that need to be referenced from other projects in your solution Again, another Visual Studio sugar that you are going to miss when moving to VS Code. Luckily there is a dotnet command for that!

The exact command is

Or in our example app. I have added a new project called “VSCodeExample.Library”, and I’m going to add it to my web project. I run the following from my solution directory.

When I open up my VSCodeExample.Web.csproj I now see the following :

And again, you can add this project reference directly in your csproj if you prefer it that way. There is no magic going on behind the scenes when you run the dotnet command, it literally just adds that XML.

Anything Else?

No doubt I’ve missed a couple of things that are specific to your project. The best advice I can give is to do a quick scan on the dotnet command list here. You don’t need to read in depth on every single command, but when you get into a jam it usually gives you a lightbulb moment of “Yeah… I think I remember there was a dotnet command for that…”. And as always, drop a comment below if you get stuck with anything else!

2 comments

  1. This did not work for me:

    There is however one small bug. If you get the following message “Could not find the prelaunch task build”. The first thing you should do is try and close VS Code and reopen it again. As stupid as this sounds, this happens on new projects all the time and it’s resolved with a quick open and close!

    Perhaps, it would be better to actually show the values?

    1. Building a launch.json and tasks.json file is it’s own article (It’s a pretty big topic). Do you have those files at all?

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