extend visual studio with simple scripts

There’s this neat feature in Visual Studio called External Tools that’s underrated. What it does is allow you to run any external tool and pass in stuff from Visual Studio and do something cool with that. For example the current file in your editor, or the currently selected text.

This means that you can write a PowerShell script that gets some input from the command line, and for example edit a file (the current file in VS), or search for a substring (selected text) in other files, or a database.

I’ve used this to do a complex number of find-replaces on the current file in a single run. I also use this to quickly find the source code of a stored procedure that’s used in code, by selecting the stored procedure’s name and running the script.

How do you set this up?
In Visual Studio, in the menu click Tools, then External Tools.
There you click Add and give the thing a title.
The command can be a bit tricky, but the easiest thing is to use a .cmd script, like test.cmd.


Then you create this cmd file, and make sure it’s in your path. You can also use the full path to the script for your command instead.
Now pick your arguments from the arrow at the right of the Arguments input box. I’m using ItemFileName here, but there’s plenty of options.

You’re all set.

As a test script you can use this gem:

@echo off
echo ** Command line parameters **
echo %*
pause

If you want to wrap a more advanced PowerShell script, you can use this:

@powershell.exe -nologo -noprofile -file c:\tools\do-something-awesome.ps1 %*

If you run this from a file now, you’ll see the passed in parameters in the script’s output. Like this:

With this technique you can easily and quickly extend your Visual Studio setup to do some mundane tasks a lot faster, using PowerShell, Node.js, Python or whatever your favorite scripting language is.

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