What's the address of your website? www.domain.com or domain.com?

There are two camps on the subject of the www subdomain. One believe it should be enforced (www.yes-www.org) and the other (no-www.org) that it should be removed. They are both right.

What's important is that there is only a single canonical address to your website – with or without www.

The web.config makes it easy for us to either enforce or remove the www subdomain using URL rewrites. There are many examples online on how to do this, but they all share 2 fundamental flaws. The rules have a direct dependency to the domain name and they don't work with both HTTP and HTTPS.

So let's see if we can create generic URL rewrite rules that can be used on any website without modifications.

Your server needs to have the URL Rewrite module installed. Chances are that it does already. Azure Websites does and so does all of my other hosting providers.

Rewrite rules need to be placed inside the <rewrite> element in web.config:

      <!-- My rules -->

So here are 2 rules that works on all domains and on both HTTP and HTTPS.

Remove WWW

This rule redirects any incoming request to www.domain.com to domain.com while preserving the HTTP(S) protocol:

<rule name="Remove WWW" patternSyntax="Wildcard" stopProcessing="true">
  <match url="*" />
    <add input="{CACHE_URL}" pattern="*://www.*" />
  <action type="Redirect" url="{C:1}://{C:2}" redirectType="Permanent" />

Enforce WWW

This rule redirects any incoming request to domain.com to www.domain.com while preserving the HTTP(S) protocol:

<rule name="Enforce WWW" stopProcessing="true">
  <match url=".*" />
    <add input="{CACHE_URL}" pattern="^(.+)://(?!www)(.*)" />
  <action type="Redirect" url="{C:1}://www.{C:2}" redirectType="Permanent" />

So there you have it. It's easy once you now how.

For more info on the URL Rewrite Module, see the Configuration Reference.


imageThe _references.js file controls a key part of the JavaScript Intellisense in Visual Studio for web projects and can mean the difference between awesome Intellisense and none at all.

This is the story of how it works and why it even exist.

A new JavaScript editor

The story begins shortly after the release of Visual Studio 2010. The ASP.NET & Web Tooling Team (the team I'm part of) was handing over the ownership of the JavaScript editor to a newly formed Client Platform team.

This team was going to create a completely new and modern JavaScript editor for Visual Studio 2012 – one that was aligned with the efforts around delivering the tooling experience for the upcoming HTML/JavaScript based Windows 8 Store apps.

The now old JavaScript editor was retired from Visual Studio, but found new life in WebMatrix, where it received further development and updates.

As the work progressed with the new editor, it was time to redesign some of the many features we've all gotten accustomed to. One of them was Intellisense.

Three types of Intellisense

There are several ways of implementing Intellisense for JavaScript. The three I remember being discussed were:

  1. All .js files in the project are automatically included in Intellisense
  2. Only .js files included on the same HTML pages are included
  3. The user can manually reference other .js files

By including all .js files in Intellisense means that there is potential for a lot of false positives. By that I mean that you'll get Intellisense coming from .js files that are not loaded on the same page as the .js file you're currently editing. It's sort of the same as getting C# Intellisense for types that hasn't been imported with a using statement – it would break at runtime.

Loading all .js files automatically in Intellisense also came with additional issues. One was performance. The more files to parse, the heavier Intellisense became and it could hurt the user experience. Another was ordering of the .js files. The new editor runs all the code, so correct ordering of when to run each .js file was an important factor for accuracy.

However, bundling, minification and dynamically loaded JavaScript would make it impossible for any IDE to statically figure out what .js files to provide Intellisense for. The result could potentially be that no Intellisense from other .js files got loaded at all, which was arguably worse than loading too much Intellisense.

Finally, letting the user manually add references to other .js files eliminates performance issues and the parsing of HTML files to follow <script> references. For ASPX files that also meant following references to master pages to find <script> references. The problem with relying on the user to add references is that it puts the burden on the user.

So there were pros and cons to each approach.

Explicit and implicit references

It was decided that the new editor should use a combination of option 2 and 3. It both follows <script> references and allows the user to manually add an explicit triple-slash references. Triple-slash references look like this and can be added to the top of any .js file:

/// <reference path="../app/respond.js" />

Dragging a .js file from Solution Explorer onto an open .js document will automatically insert a triple-slash reference at the top of the document. By adding this reference, Visual Studio will now always include Intellisense coming from the referenced file, regardless of any other conditions.

_references.js is global

The issue with explicitly referencing other .js files is that you'll end up adding reference to jQuery more or less on all your .js files. That's not cool. It was important to keep the burden on the user at a minimum, so a global reference cache was needed.

Enter _references.js.

This file must (by default) be located in a folder at the root called /scripts/. That's the naming convention. Any file located at /scripts/_references.js is automatically added to global Intellisense. This is now the only file we need for triple-slash references. Here's what the contents of this file may look like:

/// <reference path="modernizr-2.6.2.js" />
/// <reference path="jquery-1.10.2.js" />
/// <reference path="bootstrap.js" />
/// <reference path="respond.js" />

Just a bunch of references. This is also the only file that is included in Intellisense by default at all times.

The cool thing is that the user now only have to control Intellisense in one central location. Burden minimized.

Change naming convention

Some people don't like to use a folder named /scripts/ or the name _references.js. That's perfectly fine and Visual Studio offers a way out.

Let's imaging that someone prefers the global reference file to be located at /js/globals.js – not just for one project, but in general.

Get to the Quick Launch box by hitting CTRL+Q. Then type javascript refand select this option in the dropdown:


In the settings window that pops up, select Implicit (Web) in the dropdown:


Implicit (Windows) is for Windows Store apps and has no effect on web projects. The same is true vice versa.

At the bottom of the list, you can see that there is a reference to /Scripts/references.js:


So now you can see what the path syntax looks like and you can therefore easily add a new path ~/js/globals.js. You can add as many as you'd like. If the file doesn't exist, Visual Studio will just ignore it.

A tilde followed by a forward slash (~/) is referred to as tilde-slash and marks the root of a website.

Automating it all

All this shipped with Visual Studio 2012, but when it was time to focus on Visual Studio 2013, we decided that this workflow should be improved.

It wasn't ok that developers should maintain this file manually. JavaScript files are added, deleted and renamed all the time, so it's very easy to forget to update the _references.js file accordingly.

A better approach was to add a feature that would do that automatically and thereby give Intellisense for all .js files globally all the time. However, we knew that both performance and file ordering could be an issue, so it was important that this feature could be disabled in case of trouble.

We didn't want a setting, since Visual Studio doesn't have per-project settings. And this was indeed a per-project challenge. So we introduced a new triple-slash concept – auto-sync.

It looks like this and is located at the very top of _references.js:

/// <autosync enabled="true" />

This new auto-sync comment is all it takes to enable automatic synchronization of triple-slash references. Whenever a .js file is added, renamed, moved or deleted, the _references.js file is automatically updated to reflect the changes.

Right-clicking on the _references.js file in Solution Explorer now gives you two new options:


The first is the Auto-sync JavaScript References. Clicking this menu item adds the auto-sync comment so you don't have to type it manually. It's convenient, discoverable and you only have to set it once per project.

The second menu item is Update JavaScript References. This will add all .js files in the project as triple-slash references in the _references.js file. It updates only once and it doesn't enable auto-sync.

With these two new commands, you can now decide if you want auto-sync or if you prefer to just update the references whenever you are in the mood.

One caveat to enabling auto-sync of _references.js is that the references are potentially ordered in the wrong way. It could cause issues, but it probably won't. Personally, I haven't had any issues and I've used this in many projects now. But just in case it does cause trouble, now you know how to turn it off.

So with Visual Studio 2013 we end up having all three approaches to JavaScript Intellisense.

Generate a _references.js file

If you don't have a _reference.js file in your project, but you have Web Essentials 2013 installed, then it's really easy to add one. Simply right-click the /Scripts/ folder and go to the Add submenu to find an easy way to add references.js.


An added benefit with this approach is that the new _reference.js file has auto-sync enabled already.

So, that was the story of _references.js and how it came to be. There are always room for improvements, so our job is never done. The work continues…


Snippets are the little shortcuts available in Visual Studio for all the different languages. Here's a well known C# code snippet in action:


It just shows up in Intellisense and when you hit TAB, it folds out into this:


So snippets are really useful and boosts productivity. You can even write your own very easily – it's just simple XML files. Here's a great walkthrough on how to create individual snippet files. It's a bit old, but the format is the same for Visual Studio 2012/2013.

Up until very recently, I was convinced that you couldn't ship snippets as part of a Visual Studio extension (.vsix). I've always thought it would be great if we could share useful code snippets but there wasn't really a vehicle for distributing them efficiently.

Then I stumbled upon a huge collection of awesome jQuery code snippets made specifically for Visual Studio. However, you had to manually download the snippets in a zip file and copy them to a specific location to work. I didn't like that. It would be so much better with a simple installer. So I decided to figure out how to create a Visual Studio extension for those snippets. Here's how to do it.

Creating the extension

The first thing you need is to download and install the SDK for Visual Studio 2012 or 2013. Then open Visual Studio and hit New Project… and select C# –> Extensibility –> VSIX Project:


That gives you an empty extension project containing only one file – source.extension.vsixmanifest. We need that file later.

First we need to create a suitable folder structure for our snippet files (.snippet) and we need to be very specific in the naming of our folders. Here's what the folder structure could look like when I have 2 C# snippets:


I've created a folder named Snippets and then added a folder for each language I want to provide snippets for. Inside each of the language folders you need to add yet a new folder and give it the name you want to show up in the Code Snippet Manager (example below is from the SideWaffle Template Pack).


Make sure to mark each .snippet file as Content to be included in the VSIX extension:


Adding a package file

Now we must add a new text file to the root of our project and call it whatever.pkgdef. We need this file to set some registry keys when the extension is installed. Any registry changes applied by the pkgdef file will automatically be reverted again when the extension is uninstalled.

If we only want C# snippets, then add the following lines to the pkgdef file:

// C# snippets

You can add more lines for other languages. Here's an example of a pkgdef file containing registry keys for all languages supporting snippets.

And finally, we must register the pkgdef file with our VSIX extension. We do that by opening the source.extension.vsixmanifest file and navigate to the Assets tab.  Then click the New button and fill in the dialog like this:


Then click OK. Also, make sure you have entered a name in the Author field in the .vsixmanifest file:


Testing it

You are now ready to test your extension. Simply hit F5 (or Ctrl+F5) to launch a new instance of Visual Studio – this is what's called the Experimental Instance which is used for extension building. It might take a minute the first time you open it.

When the experimental instance of Visual Studio is loaded, go to Tools –> Code Snippet Manager… and make sure MySnippets are loaded correctly:


That's it. You only need to do these steps once and every modification to existing snippets or addition of new snippets are automatically picked up and added to the extension.

Since I only wanted to provide C# snippets, I can delete all the other folders. My folder structure now looks like this:


Very simple and clean IMO.

The only thing left to do is to upload our extension to the Visual Studio Gallery. It's very simple and all we need is to build our project and locate the output file MySnippets.vsix in the bin folder.


The bin folder may contain a few other files, but we are only interested in the .vsix file since this is the one to upload to the Gallery. 

I hope this helps clarify thing a bit. Have fun writing snippets!


URL rewrites ing web.configI recently upgraded MiniBlog from using WebPages/Razor 2 to version 3. The upgrade was completely painless. I just upgraded the NuGet package and it didn't even touch my web.config. Thumbs up to the Razor team for that!

Everything seemed to work fine, but then I noticed that my root-relative links such as <a href="~/category/web-essentials"> didn't work correctly anymore. The ~/ no longer pointed to the root of my web application, but instead to the first path segment of my URL. So, when the browser was at /post/my-post, then the ~/ in my link would resolve to <a href="/post/category/web-essentials">. This was wrong.

The reason is that I use URL rewrites in my web.config to map /post/whatever to /index.cshtml?slug=whatever and that was the reason for this strange behavior. Here's my rewrite rule:

<rule name="slug" stopProcessing="true">
  <match url="^post/(.*)" ignoreCase="true"/>
  <action type="Rewrite" url="/index.cshtml?slug={R:1}"/>
< /rule>

So in order to use WebPages/Razor 3 with URL rewrites like mine, I had to tell Razor to ignore the <rewrite> segment in my web.config. That's easily done in global.asax like so:

public void Application_BeginRequest(object sender, EventArgs e)
     Context.Items["IIS_WasUrlRewritten"] = "false";

Now Razor correctly maps to the root of the website when using ~/.  

Not all cases

This little workaround is only needed if your URL rewrites happen in the path of the URL, but not if you use sub-domain rewrites. For instance, if you use URL rewrites to map sub.domain.com into domain.com/sub then it all works fine and you don't need this workaround.


Due to the brand new HTML editor in Visual Studio 2013, static HTML files no longer has the Design|Split|Source options enabled by default.

Design, Split and Source view

That’s because the new HTML editor is the default editor for all HTML files with the exception of ASP.NET Web Forms files (.aspx, .ascx, .master). However, it is only the Web Forms editor that has support for the designer and split view.

So all we have to do is to map our .html or .htm files to use the Web Forms editor instead of the new HTML editor.

Simply right-click any .html/.htm file in Solution Explorer and select Open With…

Open With context menu

Now select HTML (Web Forms) Editor,click Set as Defaultand then hit OK.

Visual Studio's Open With dialog

All files with the same extension will now always open in the Web Forms editor and you get both Design- and Split view.

I also recorded a short video showing a different way to accomplish the same thing.