Scott Hanselman

Visual Studio 11 Express for Web for Front End Development - JavaScript/HTML5/CSS3

April 14, 2012 Comment on this post [24] Posted in HTML5 | Javascript | Open Source
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I wanted to work through a new tutorial by former Microsoftie, now Googler Pete LePage along with Chris Wilson. They have a great lab called "WReader" that uses Ember, HTML5 Boilerplate, Moment.js, Bootstrap CSS and LawnChair.js that builds a single page JavaScript application over 12 exercises.

A few weeks ago a non-Microsoft developer saw a post I did on some new HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript features in VS11 and mentioned he might want to use it over Dreamweaver. I thought that was cool because some client-side developers think VS is all server-side and too "industrial strength."

I wanted to see if VS11 Express Web (the free version) would work well for "front end" web development. This lab that Pete made is all client-side. It doesn't use ASP.NET or anything server-side that Visual Studio is typically built for. However, a lot of work has been done in Visual Studio lately to make web development easier and I wanted to see if it stood up, even when doing all client-side HTML/CSS/JS.

I downloaded Pete's Lab, opened Visual Studio and when Open Web Site and opened the first Exercise's folder.

Opening a folder as a web site

I right-clicked on Index.html and set it as the Startup Page for my project. You can set any page you like a the startup page and they Ctrl-F5 (or a button in the toolbar) will launch the browser without server-side debugging.

At the end of Exercise 2 you will have dynamically created feed items and bound them with a client-side template. Here's a screenshot of what that looks like.

Excercise Two completed and I've got a list of 10 RSS feeds in a list.

While I was typing up this exercise there were a few nice things about VS that made the experience pleasant. The JavaScript editor in VS11 is greatly improved and is actually running the JavaScript in the background as you are running it, so the intellisense autocomplete help is very useful, especially for a JavaScript newbie. It doesn't get everything, but it's VERY smart.

Nice JavaScript intellisense improvements in VS11

There are times when you're working in a JavaScript file that needs to know about objects in another file but the editor can't figure it out. You can add a "hint" or reference so Visual Studio can be smarter for you.

For example, I was using this Ember.js object and wasn't getting any help so intellisense just added all the info that it had.

Ember in VS without intellisense

You can drag a file from the Solution Explorer into your JavaScript file to make a comment that acts as a reference/hint to Visual Studio like this: /// <reference path="libs/ember-0.9.5.js" />. You can see the results below.

Ember in VS with intellisense

If adding that line bugs you, you can put all your references in a _references.js file and never look at it.

This was helpful to me when I got to adding moment.js as I could see what methods my Date had available:

Intellisense available on dates with VS11 and moment.js

Later in Exercise 2 I make a client-side JavaScript template like this with "mustache/handlebar style" expressions like {{ }}:

<section class="mainContent">
  <section class="summaries">
      <script type="text/x-handlebars">
      {{#each WReader.dataController}}
          {{#view WReader.SummaryListView contentBinding="this"}}
              {{content.title}} from {{content.pub_name}} on {{content.pub_date}}

However, Visual Studio syntax highlighting didn't look useful/pretty to me. This seemed like an opportunity to make it better.

A mustache template without syntax highlighting

I mentioned in an earlier post that we have the ability now to update the web editors (HTML, CSS, and JS) easier and more often now as the editors bits are implemented as extensions themselves. I asked the owner Mads Kristensen to prototype what "mustache" template syntax highlighting could/might/would look like if we did it. We'd want all the general templating libraries to work, like Mustache, HandleBars, JsRender, and others, even if templating as a concept changes or disappears.

Here's some of the prototype work he did tonight. This would make my client-side experience just a little nicer. These are screenshots of the private build he is messing with and he's trying different colors.

An example mustache template with highlighting

I like this one the best. I'm not digging the yellow. I like this more subtle approach.

A nice subtle mustache template

I was testing this lab on multiple browsers and switching back and forth between the Chrome Developer Tools and the Internet Explorer Developers Tools (F12). There's a nice feature in Visual Studio 11 that lets you quickly run your project in different browsers with this dropdown:

All your installed browsers in a list

But sometimes you want to run multiple browsers at the same time. There's a little known feature (I'm working with the team on making this more discoverable) where you can right-click on an HTML file and click Browse With, then "Ctrl-Select" multiple browsers:


If you click Set as Default while there are multiple browsers selected it will change your toolbar and menu to say "Multiple Browsers." CTRL-F5 will then launch more than one browser at the same time.

Multiple Browsers selected in the toolbar

The UI is a little rough now but it's being improved. It's a really nice little feature and a time saver!

Later in the tutorial Pete includes the Twitter Bootstrap CSS and I wanted to change some of the default colors. You can click a color in the CSS editor and edit it interactively like this. It even does opacity.

The VS11 Color Picker for CSS Colors

I encourage you to go check out Pete's tutorial if you're interested in learning more about JavaScript, HTML5, Ember.js (and frameworks like it) and this emerging style of web development.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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April 14, 2012 12:45
Nice features sir and you guys have done a great job to make web development more fun. I wish that syntax highlighting will be supported for KnockoutJs templates as well.

BTW, It is not much of a big deal but I noticed that Razor intellisense is being lost when I am working inside a script block.!/tourismgeek/media/slideshow?
April 14, 2012 16:47
+5 for animated GIF.

Great $0.10 method for delivering $100 worth of concept.

Ability to pick browser in VS 11 is a great feature.

CSS Color picker rocks.

I think a cool extension would be a SASS or LESS tool that lets you connect to Kuler then import and apply a swatch set.

On a side note related to your blog itself, I really, really like the live preview down below this text area. I missed the "a" in my ending anchor above and might have not noticed had it not been for the live preview sitting right there. That's got to be worth another +5, right? So you're at 10. You can trade that in at the gift shop. :-)
April 14, 2012 18:14
How about getting Mads and co to make a Razor-to-JavaScript compiler? Then we could use the same templates on server and and client side. So making pages that are SEO friendly, but also ajaxy, would be a lot simpler if we can reuse the template.
April 14, 2012 19:41
Each of these extensions is going to be great, but a post describing how you built them would be amazing. This is especially true with the addition of custom extension manager repositories.
April 15, 2012 4:40
Yes, this is great. I've always said that if the Microsoft development tools were more usable for non-Microsoft technologies there would be much great acceptance of them across the board.

I second the point, it would be great to know how the syntax highlighting is done. Could some of these be configured as addins? Could they be open sourced?

I would like to see Coffee Script, Ice Coffee Script, Less and other support baked in. Even invoking their compilation scripts on save. It would be good to see the intellisense in Coffee Script too.
April 15, 2012 10:53
I find the support here disappointing. The fact is that in WinJS they'll infer the scripts you're using but in web projects they still require the //reference hack (even _references.js is a hack IMO). I still use WebStorm regularly to do the client-side web stuff as it does a better job of intellisense by far than VS11 for MVC projects.
April 15, 2012 14:36
I agree, WebStrom is the real stuff.
April 15, 2012 18:20
All those colors in the file system browser are distracting me. Think you guys missed those in your grey-washing ;)
April 15, 2012 19:13
'Browse With...' dialog may be more intuitive with checkboxes instead of multi-select list?
April 16, 2012 12:24
I am very interested in your post. the information about the web development is very interesting and useful for the developers. Thanks for share this info.
April 16, 2012 18:16
@Andrew, (C# to Javascript)

I have similiarly posted on scottgu blog, some 3-4 years before that why I have to learn javascript. Why not just "Annotate" a class/class method with "[Server side]" or "[Client side]" in C# and framework automagically know that where to run the code or generate automatically client-side script. The comment never appeared there, don't know why.

I learnt javascript :(.

regards from Kuwait
April 16, 2012 18:57
Hi, I am working on visual basic 2010 trying to figure out how to code a reset button... I have a name box, a phone number box and 4 boxes that allow me to change the color of my font. I put in my reset button which should empty all the boxes, but i only removes the name and phone number, and will not rest my color boxes. I am new to programming, so any help would be great! This is my first programming class in college and I would like to get it right! Any help would be great... My text is not the best.
April 17, 2012 3:25
@Liz send your email and I'll see if I can help
April 17, 2012 5:09
The syntax highlighting that both you and Mads suggested is just not sitting right with me. From the point of view of what is important and needs highlighting, shouldn't the content inside the template tags be more important than the start and close glyphs?

Compare it to the contrast between attribute names and values in HTML tags or the colour of the tag names and it looks in comparison that the template blocks are trying to be hidden or pushed to the background. Which, as a developer is the last thing I want, especially when debugging or changing the template contents. It should be easier to read, not harder.
April 17, 2012 9:07
I like WebStorm & Sublime Text 2
April 17, 2012 12:16
And what templating engine do you consider good? I am using a year ago jquery templates...adn now I am confused...
April 19, 2012 20:09
Interesting stuff! I'm definitely going to install the VS 2011 once I get home just for the java script implementation!

*Question* have you played with node.js in VS 2011 yet? I want to know if I could tweak the hint engine to use the require keyword to automatically load the hints for intellisense!
April 21, 2012 17:24
Awesome post Scott. This will give me some direction in my learning efforts. Thanks a lot.
April 24, 2012 21:18
When I hit the tab key, does VS 2011 enter a tab or four spaces in HTML? VS 2010 Express wouldn't let me set it to tab, which made it worthless for HTML editing (also annoying for JS and CSS, but minification cleans up that mess).
April 24, 2012 21:53
Scoob - I'm pretty sure you can set all that in Tools Options.
April 30, 2012 19:05
Well, I just hate the only two coloured VS 2011. The best VS was 2008.
July 12, 2012 18:45
Can't knock it for free. MS have done a pretty good job of providing a tool that can be used for front-end client side-only development, for free.

One small thing I noticed, though, with respect to colours. Sometimes you just want to use a named colour (one that you can't quite remember the exact name of), rather than the colour palette and I still can't figure out how to get IntelliSense to bring the named colours list up. I know you can do, since I have seen it come up from time to time, completely by accident.

The only other small quibble I have atm is publishing the client side web site via FTP from within VSE 2012.

I can control which files get copied by setting their "Build Action" property from "Content" to "None", so that (for example) my TODO list and the Web.config files don't get uploaded, but VSE 2012 always insists on uploading the "bin" folder, with its related .dll file in it (assuming the "output type" within the project props is set to "Class Library").
August 10, 2012 22:16
Good point John,

Can't really knock a product that is entirely free. Just wish MS would cut back on the dependencies. After you install VS Express there are about 50 new entries in Add / Remove programs. (Exaggeration for effect)

Although Web Matrix doesn't have enough features for coding complex web applications I like how light the install is.
August 10, 2012 22:40
Great Stuff! If only you would give us an option to change new all gray/everybody hates template to good old VS 2010 colorful template ...

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.