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I’ve been asked this question so many times lately, that a blog-post-answer seemed appropriate. There will be a Web Essentials for Visual Studio 2012!

The original Web Essentials for Visual Studio 2010 quickly became popular amongst web developers in the fall of 2011, when it was first released. Primarily, I think, because it added a lot of missing functionality to the CSS editor. It made working with CSS less painful and more fun – like it should be.

It was flawed, it was slow and it didn’t always feel very accurate. Most of these issues were fixed, but some still remain. I had to parse all the CSS manually using regular expression and other techniques and that had a lot of side effects. In fact, everything was done manually. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked for the most part.

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Web Essentials for VS2010

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Web Essentials for VS2012

Web Essentials for VS2012 will be different. The performance is spectacular and it feels – and  is – very accurate. The reason for this is largely due to the vast amount of feedback people submitted from the original Web Essentials. Bug reports and feature request still keeps coming in every week.

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Intellisense for HTML tags, class names and ID’s in CSS selectors. Web Essentials 2012

All that feedback also made a huge difference in our priorities when building the brand new CSS editor in VS2012. We basically threw the old editor out after shipping VS2010 and started completely from scratch.  We didn’t do a lot of specifications, instead we prototyped a bunch of different ideas, iterated on them and finally implemented them. The time it takes to write a good spec is about the same time it takes to build a prototype, so it was a perfect way to be creative and come up with solid solutions.

The CSS experience in VS2012 is so much better than it ever was and significantly raises the bar for CSS editors in the industry, IMHO. So what role would Web Essentials play and was it even needed in VS2012 and beyond? Well, not all prototypes made it in the product. Also, not all features from the original Web Essentials made it either.

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Right-click in the CSS editor to perform document-wide fixes in Web Essentials 2012.

So, I’ve been slowly porting Web Essentials, piece by piece, to Visual Studio 2012 to test the CSS editor for the past 6 months. Combine that with all the prototypes and experiments that never made it into VS and you have a good starting point for the next version of Web Essentials. Oh, and throw in a more friendly and helpful version of CssCop into the mix too.

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New message types helps identify browser compatibility problems and helps with best practices

The ultimate goal of Web Essentials have always been to increase developer happiness by exceeding the expectations of what you would think possible in a CSS editor. Providing big features that really make an impact is always fun and hopefully helpful as well. Smaller features and even smaller details can have an equally big impact and I think that is the theme of the new Web Essentials – details with a big impact.

Synchronizing values of vendor specific properties in Web Essentials 2012

Not everything in the original Web Essentials was about CSS. It contained features for both HTML and JavaScript. However, most of those features actually made it into VS2012. That’s great, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t useful features to be added outside of CSS.

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Mustache/Handlebar support in the HTML editor for JavaScript templating and data binding

This is the first post in a series about the upcoming Web Essentials 2012. Later I’ll go more into detail about the individual features (there’s a lot!) and show some code. This was a primer and an overdue answer to the question.

Web Essentials 2012 will be available when Visual Studio 2012 RTM is released.

Teaser: Check out the prototype in this Channel 9 video.

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Not everybody is able to upgrade to Visual Studio 2012 RC due to company policy or other reasons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get some of its CSS 3 support in Visual Studio 2010 today. Whether or not you’ve got Web Standards Update installed or not, this is for you.

We’ve been able to port some of the support from Visual Studio 2012 into a format that is understood by Visual Studio 2010, but a lot of it I’ve had to port manually. Before proceeding, you should know that this is completely unsupported and at your own risk.

Here’s how to patch your installation of VS2010.

1. Download the new CSS 3 schema file

2. Locate the current CSS schema files. Mine are located at C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\Common7\Packages\1033\schemas\CSS. If you customized your install directory, then it’s located somewhere else, but the path should be similar.

3. If you have a file called css30.xml (from Web Standards Update), then replace it with the new downloaded file. If you don’t have css30.xml, then replace css21.xml with the downloaded file. I recommend you backup the old file before overriding it – just in case.

4. Restart Visual Studio 2010.

Caveats

Visual Studio 2010 doesn’t support some of the new CSS 3 constructs and unit types. This new schema file will not help with that. It can’t. What you do get is all the standard and vendor specific properties with Intellisense and validation to the degree Visual Studio 2010 supports it.

Because a portion of this new schema was edited manually by me, it is possible that it contains a few bugs. Please report them in the comments if you find any, so I can get it fixed.

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I just attended the TechDays 2012 event in The Netherlands and now it is all over and I'm heading back to Seattle in the morning. I gave a couple of sessions and here are the slides I used:

In the Tips & Tricks talk I demoed some of the extensions available for Visual Studio 2010. I've also done a Channel9 video specifically on those extensions.

It's been great being back in The Netherlands, which I haven't visited since 2009. Hopefully I'll be here again for Tech-Ed this summer.

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Writing correct CSS can sometimes feel a little frustrating – especially with all the vendor specific properties and cross-browser techniques we need to be aware of. CSSCop for Visual Studio tries to help us write better CSS, by making sure we remember all the right vendor specific properties or that you cannot set the margin on inline HTML elements etc.

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CSSCop uses the best CSS linting tool available today – CSS Lint. Like FxCop will frustrate you the first time you run it, so promises CSS Lint, which state:  “[CSS Lint] Will hurt your feelings* (And help you code better)”.

You might find a lot of errors when you run it the first time, but very quickly you learn the rules and will start coding accordingly.

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All the rules can easily be turned on and off in an XML file that is placed in the root of you project the first time CSSCop runs. It doesn’t impact performance in any way since it only activates when you manually invoke it.

I hope that you will give it a try and tell me what you like and dislike about it.

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I’ve been pretty quiet about my latest extension for Visual Studio 2010 outside of Twitter, so I’m thinking it’s due time for a blog post about how and why Web Essentials came to be.

If you don’t know what Web Essentials is or haven’t tried it yet, you might want to read Scott Hanselman’s blog post.

Web Essentials was originally called CSS Essentials when it was first released in early 2011 because I wanted a name that clearly stated it was all about CSS. Years of web development had left me frustrated about the lack of attention CSS editors was getting by almost all IDEs, which in general only provided syntax highlighting, decent formatting and useless validation. Why did VB.NET and C# almost write itself when CSS was such a uphill battle with even the simplest tasks such as cross-browser rounded corners? That should be simple, right? Right?!

I still considered myself a new employee at Microsoft at the time, with plenty of stuff to learn in my new role as Program Manager for the CSS and HTML editors in the Web Platform & Tools team. That’s why CSS Essentials remained dormant for the first many months providing little to no features.

It wasn’t until September 2011 after the //BUILD conference, where we shipped the Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview that I revived the project with a few clear goals:

  • Have fun writing code
  • Live test features that we might consider including in Visual Studio
  • Provide value to existing Visual Studio 2010 users

Having fun

Spare time projects have to be fun to survive. I learned that when I started BlogEngine.NET almost 5 years ago.

Because it was so much fun adding new features to Web Essentials, I updated the extension almost daily. Some people really liked the frequent updates, but I got a lot of feedback from people who was so annoyed about it that they uninstalled it. That was no fun. Now I’ve slowed down the updates a bit and I still have fun.

Live testing of features

Some of the features are stolen inspired by Visual Studio 11 and some are unique to Web Essentials. Some of the shared features are implemented in different ways, but essentially solves the same problems. As a Program Manager for HTML, CSS and now also JavaScript, this is an ultimate way to get feedback on possible new features for Visual Studio. Please keep the feedback coming!

Provide value to VS2010 users

This is perhaps the most important part of the project. New versions of Visual Studio are usually 2-3 years apart and that’s a long time to wait for new features and general improvements. That’s also the reason why I released the Web Standards Update extension last June.

Despite my role at Microsoft, Web Essentials is a completely private project. No Microsoft developer was hurt during the making of the extension. Scouts honor, boss! The reason I have for keeping it a private hobby project is that it gives me complete freedom to experiment with various features and improvements. It unfortunately also means that there is no QA other than myself. And you of course.

Anyway, back to the story.

After the project was revived I decided to change the name to Web Essentials because it reached broader while keeping focus on web development. Also, I wanted to add features to the HTML editor, such as drag ‘n drop of user controls, video and audio files. Something I had wanted for years as a web developer.

The purpose now was to provide a broad set of improvements to make the experience writing client-side web code in Visual Studio better and more up-to-date.

As of this writing, the extension is now on version 2.6 with 44.000+ downloads. That’s 16 releases in 2 months and it includes features for CSS, HTML, JavaScript and general web project features as well. The future of web development in Visual Studio, I think, has never looked better then with Visual Studio 11 on the horizon. Until then, Web Essentials will continue being updated and push the envelope on what Visual Studio 2010 is capable of.

I would love to hear from you what sort of features, tweaks and improvements would make your life easier and more fun using the web tools in Visual Studio and Web Essentials. Most of the features in Web Essentials came from suggestions on Twitter and around the interwebs. So if you have a good idea, please share it.