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An Updated Web Connection Add-in for Visual Studio 2015


Tuesday, August 4, 2015, 8:31:13 PM

Visual Studio 2015 shipped a couple of weeks ago and it brings many great enhancements for Web developers with many improvements in the HTML, CSS and JavaScript editors. It  provides improved IntelliSense support that makes Web Connection and also general HTML development easier. Even if you’re not using the Web Control Framework which is geared directly at using the Visual Studio tools, there are many benefits to using Visual Studio 2015 even if you using Scripts and Templates in Web Connection, especially now that Visual Studio is essentially free for most developers via the fully functional Community Edition that has feature parity with the full Professional version of Visual Studio.

One important update that the Community addition has over the earlier Express additions is that it has full support for plug-ins. In, Visual Studio 2013 you can use the existing Web Connection add-in that was shipped with recent versions of Web Connection.

Unfortunately in Visual Studio 2015 Microsoft broke the way that Add-ins can be installed in Visual Studio. They remove community installed add-in support in the Documents Visual Studio folder, which used to be by simply copying an addin-definition into a folder and then reference the add-in from there. This is no longer support in VS2015 and so the shipped Web Connection add-in no longer works in Visual Studio 2015.

A new VSIX based Visual Studio Add-in

However – I’m happy to announce that I’ve created a new add-in that does work in Visual Studio 2015 (and beyond hopefully). You can download it  from here:

To install the VSIX, simply double click it in Explorer and the installation dialog will come up. Once installed the Web Connection add-in will show up in the Installed Extensions in Visual Studio:

InstalledExtension

To get there go to Tools | Extensions and Updates.

Building a proper VSIX Extension

The Web Connection add-in was build in the VS2008 timeframe, which is a long time ago and the code that was required to build that plug-in and the hook up code has always been a major nightmare. Hooking up commands to buttons, mapping icons and just getting the buttons bootstrapped took hundreds of lines of nasty, mostly undocumented COM code in the old add-in API and every time I wanted to make a change to the actual plug-in I dreaded having to delve into that code.

The new VSIX model is still complex, but it’s a lot easier to configure the actual hook up and integration pieces to get the add-in bootstrapped. Instead of that nasty COM code there’s now nasty XML configuration rather than code which is a bit easier. It took me only a full day to port my existing plug-in and add a bunch of useful enhancements that simplify use of the plug-in and provide some additional functionality beyond the Web Control Framework. In the process configuration has also gotten simpler and if you’re just after the quick browsing features you may not have to configure anything at all.

Features

The Web Connection Add-in provides these features:

  • View In Browser
  • View FoxPro Source Code
  • Web Connection Web Controls Toolbox Items

Here’s what the add-in looks like when you bring it up on a Web Control Framework page:

WebConnectionAddin

The Web Connection menu options are available on the context menu in the text editor as well as on the Tools menu, and they are now context sensitive and only show when they are actually accessible – otherwise the options are hidden. So the Show FoxPro Code options only show when you are in a Web Control Framework page for example and either option only shows when a document with HTML tags is actually open.

View In Browser

Visual Studio has a native View in Browser feature, but unfortunately it’s not supported on custom extensions, like your typical Web Connection requests are. WCSX, WCS, WC and any of your custom scriptmaps are all custom extensions and Visual Studio doesn’t provide the View in Browser feature in this view, even in the HTML or WebForm editors.

So the Web Connection add-in provides this functionality for any page that has HTML tags in the document. For Web Connection users this means you can now browse Web Control Framework pages as well as script and template pages, the latter of which is new and improved.

This sounds like a small feature, but to me having this simple option on the menu really improves my workflow with any script-mapped pages considerably, as opposed to manually switching to the browser and refreshing.

New and Improved

The new version of the plug-in is a bit smarter about configuration for figuring out which browser and server path to use. It gets this information from the active Visual Studio configuration if you don’t configure the Web Connection Configuration settings explicitly. The add-in uses the configured Visual Studio browser that is selected on the standard toolbar, and if you are using a Web Site project (as you will with Web Connection projects) it will automatically discover the project’s Web path that Visual Studio uses to start the project.

Note that Visual Studio uses IIS Express by default to start a project and you need to ensure that IIS is started. You can start IIS Express in Visual Studio by using View In Browser in the Solution Explorer once on an HTML file which launches IIS Express and then leaves it running until Visual Studio is shut down – or you can start the project in debug mode by clicking the run button. This however, shuts down IIS Express after the debug session is done. Better to start with View In Browser of any .htm page.

Another and perhaps cleaner way to do this is by using a full version of IIS instead of IIS Express which gives the project a permanent URL that always works and you then don’t have to worry about whether IIS Express is running or not.

Show FoxPro Code

If you’re using the Web Control Framework one of the things you frequently need to do is switch back and forth between the HTML Markup code and the code behind FoxPro code that drives the actual coded logic for the page. The Show FoxPro Code option lets you do that by opening a new instance of Visual FoxPro with the appropriate PRG file opened. Here’s what you see after you click on the Show in FoxPro menu item.

VSFoxProOpen

Show in external editor does the same thing but uses an external editor that you can configure in web.config. I like to use Sublime Text 3 which is an excellent editor with many plug-ins for all sorts of languages. Matt Slay kindly built a FoxPro language extension for Sublime, which works great for editing FoxPro files. Here’s what you see after clicking on the Show FoxPro Code in External Editor.

VsSublime

Sublime is great because it’s extensible and has tons of plug-ins, is very fast, is cross platform (Windows, Mac, Linux using the same plug-ins) and has support for multiple layout windows which makes it easy to edit HTML and code in the same view.

Why use an external editor at all rather than FoxPro? One big reason is that you can keep the editor open with the file loaded unlike FoxPro which requires you to close the file in order for FoxPro to be able to compile the file (FoxPro opens the file exclusively and the FoxPro editor keeps the file open when you edit because it uses virtual editing). The end result is that the FoxPro Editor has a nasty tendency of locking the PRG file that is being edited. With an external editor you can leave the source file open and FoxPro can still compile the file. It’s very convenient for making quick edits and keeping your place between edit sessions.

Sublime is not free, but I’ve grown very fond of it and use it extensively these days for all sorts of editing and my general system editor. You can configure any editor you like though by using the configuration settings in the web.config file.

Configuration

The Web Connection Add-in uses a number of configuration settings that tell it where to find files. You basically provide the paths to your FoxPro code, to the the Web folder, and the virtual/site URL to start the Web Browser.

Here’s what a typical configuration looks like:

<?xml version="1.0"?> <configuration> <configSections> <section name="webConnectionVisualStudio" type="System.Configuration.NameValueSectionHandler,System, Version=4.0.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b77a5c561934e089"/> </configSections> <webConnectionVisualStudio> <!-- Configuration Settings for the Web Connection Visual Studio Add-in Not used at runtime, only at the design time --> <add key="FoxProjectBasePath" value="c:\WebConnection\Fox\"/> <add key="WebProjectBasePath" value="c:\WebConnection\Web\wconnect60\"/> <add key="WebProjectVirtual" value="http://localhost/wconnect60"/>
<!-- Optional PRG launched when VFP IDE launches --> <add key="IdeOnLoadPrg" value=""/>

<add key="WebBrowser" value="C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe" /> <!-- The editor used to edit FoxPro code - blank means FoxPro Editor is used --> <add key="FoxProEditor" value=""/> <add key="FoxProEditorAlternate" value="C:\Program Files\Sublime Text 3\sublime_text.exe"/> </webConnectionVisualStudio>

</configuration>

The good news is that the Add-in doesn’t need any configuration in a Web Site Project (which is typically what you’ll use for Web Connection projects) for the View in Browser functionality, as it can determine the default browser used by Visual Studio (on the Debug button drop down) and the Web path configured for the Web site project. If you provide the values in the configuration those values take precedence, but if you leave the WebProjectVirtual and WebBrowser keys empty View in WebBrowser still works in most cases (if you’re using IIS Express just make sure IIS Express is started first as discussed above).

The Show Fox Code options require that you set the FoxProProjectBasePath and WebProjectBasePath keys and – if you want to use an alternate editor – the path to the alternate editor exe. Note that Sublime is set up by default – if you don’t want it you can blank out the value.

When Web Connection creates a new project for you, it automatically creates the relevant configuration information for you, so on new projects the configuration settings you specified during the setup process are automatically applied above.

Web Connection Web Controls Toolbox Items

The VSIX now also contains the Web Connection Web Controls which are required in order to get the Web Connection controls onto the Visual Studio Toolbox. In the past there was a registration service that allowed registration of components from a special location but again that feature has been discontinued in Visual Studio 2013 and later. The VSIX now contains the controls embedded in the Add-in DLL and they are properly and quickly installed as part of the VSIX registration.

Toolbox

The good news is that this is much more reliable than the past mechanism and much quicker. On the downside the location of the DLL is a deep path inside of your user settings so it’s not so obvious where the file is loaded from.

Just as a reminder – the WebConnection-addin.dll and also the old WebConnectionControls.dll, although added to your project are not used at runtime. These DLLs merely provide the placeholder controls for design time properties and configuration.

Uninstall – Reinstall

Because VSIX are essentially installers specific for Visual Studio you can easily uninstall and reinstall everything. If something breaks or the connection breaks its very quick to uninstall the VSIX and simply reinstall it.

To uninstall go to Tools | Extensions and Updates, find the Web Connection Add-in and click the Uninstall button. The add-in and toolbox controls will be removed. To reinstall simply download or find the VSIX installation file in your Web Connection installation.

The VSIX will be located in this location in Web Connection 6.0 (note this is not available yet since 6.0 hasn’t shipped yet):

<WebConnectionInstallFolder>\VisualStudio\WebConnection-addin.vsix

Or you will also be able to download it from:

Web Connection Visual Studio Add-in for Visual Studio 2015

Going forward

For Web Connection 6.0 the configuration Wizard will continue to install the old style Add-in for Visual Studio 2013-2010, and the new VSIX based wizard for Visual Studio 2015 and later. If you’re using Visual Studio primarily for Web Connection work I highly recommend you look at using Visual Studio 2015 Community because it provides the most functionality that’s useful for Web development.

The VSIX works and I’ve been using it for the last week in development of a bunch of the new stuff for Web Connection 6.0 and creation of some of the demos for the Web Connection Training at Southwest Fox in October and for my sessions there.

But it is still a beta, so there may be a few rough spots. If you find any of them please let me know on the message board in the Web Connection section.

Posted in: Web Connection    Visual Studio

Feedback for this Weblog Entry

 

re: An Updated Web Connection Add-in for Visual Studio 2015
Oct. 26, 2015 9:44am| by Sean Gowens

I installed VS 2015 several weeks ago and just got around to needing to use the 'show foxpro code' option. I couldn't figure out how to make it work, but as always I figured you were on top of things. Thanks so much.
 



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