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Working with Visual Web Developer 2005

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By Colin Ramsden, May 2006.

With the announced demise of Microsoft (MS) FrontPage (FP), the only available replacement tool in the MS stable was Visual Web Developer (VWD). Whilst evaluating the free 2005 Enterprise Edition, it became apparent that there were many differences in behaviour between FP and VWD which would cause concern for a web author coming to VWD from FP. This topic is a listing of VWD product behaviour encountered by an experienced FP user.

Important! Update

As of July 2006, Microsoft's Expression Web Designer (EWD) 'Community Technology Preview' version 1 was announced as a free trial tool, available to the general internet public for download, testing and review. Read my synopsis at Jump to separate topic Expression Web Designer.

See Also

Jump to separate topic The Future Of FrontPage | Jump across to separate topic Problems with Visual Web Developer


Making use of the MS ASP.NET VWD online community

Using a new web development tool always involves a steep learning curve, and a large amount of acclimatization. Knowing where to look for information is often the most difficult part of working successfully with a new tool. Knowledge of how a tool works, what it can and can't do, what it should be used for and what it shouldn't, are the very criteria which makes the tool user a critical and important factor in the timely and efficient production of a web site. Microsoft have long recognised the importance of providing support for their product users, and have demonstrated that principle by providing an online forum for their VS 2005 product user community.

Microsoft and Visual Studio provide many opportunities for you to correspond with other developers. With newsgroups, forums, and chats, among others, you can post questions and ideas or just read about how other developers are using Visual Studio to create Windows and Web applications. In the VWD 2005 Express Edition toolbar, you'll notice a new main menu item called "Community", positioned on the right end of the menu bar nestled between the 'Window' and 'Help' menus.

'Community' has six new submenus:

The first five menu items connect you directly to Microsoft online, providing several opportunities to participate in the online developer community, from within Visual Studio. For example, you can post a question to a forum, access Web sites with developer information, and collaborate with others on online projects. See ms-help://MS.VSExpressCC.v80/MS.NETFramework.v20.en/dv_vsintro/html/f1503d98-7a64-41b6-a6c7-0e42a533e9c5.htm in the VS help.

The last item expands to several sub-menu items which allow you to search the online VS 2005 product user community for Components such as starter kits, item templates, controls, code snippets, or add-ins, among others. Components recognized by VS use the .vsi file extension and are installed using the VS Content Installer. See ms-help://MS.VSExpressCC.v80/MS.NETFramework.v20.en/dv_vsintro/html/1bc669a7-d6a5-4e53-b86e-6fab7600f2ab.htm in the VS help. Note that VWDEE is not extensible, however, these menus are still active.


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The MS Visual Web Developer team blog site

On April 21, 2006, just two days after announcing VWDEE as available for free download and use, the team that builds all of the web development related features in Visual Studio, including VWDEE, launched their team blog site. Together with the IIS and the ASP.NET teams, their mission is to make it easy for you to design, build and deploy your .NET web application. Their slogan is "Your websites, our passion".

Check out their blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/webdevtools/archive/2006/04/21/580973.aspx.

Here is the group photo they posted that day: 


The MS Web Development Tools team – April 2006

See the few I've managed to identify at MS Web Dev Personnel below. Here's what they say about themselves:

"Who are we, you ask? Web Development Tools is the team that brought you the awesome Visual Web Developer Express product. Our team also builds all of the web development related features in Visual Studio. Together with the IIS and the ASP.NET teams, we make it easy for you to design, build and deploy your .NET web application. As we like to say, 'Your websites, our passion'. We are working currently on Visual Studio 'Orcas' which is the next version after Visual Studio 'Whidbey'. As we go through our product development cycle, we will be posting on a variety of topics including: - Product plans - Code samples - Best practices - Tips 'n Tricks - Team news - Anything else you'd like to see on this blog (let us know!)"

I shall browse the blog site and harvest any useful and pertinent tid-bits for specific mention in this topic.


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Web Resources (other than MS sites)

A Google search of the web for "Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition" produced a link to this book: 

Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Book Cover Title: Beginning Visual Web Developer 2005 Express – From Novice to Professional
Publisher: APRESS
Published: December 2005
Series: Beginners/Beginning Guides
ISBN: 1590594827
Pages: 332
Author: Delorme, Richard; Sarknas, Paul

According to the summary at ComputerBookshops.com (/Expert/Supplier/apress/bookdetail.jsp?ref=731132):

"The primary goal of this book is to demonstrate Visual Web Developer 2005 Express's effectiveness when developing applications. The secondary goal is to examine how coding best-practices can be applied with this new product. Beginning Visual Web Developer 2005 Express provides a rigorous overview of the application: how it operates, how it compares to the other versions of Visual Studio .NET 2005 now available, and the best way to use it. The authors demonstrate techniques and concepts that you need to build working ASP.NET 2.0 applications. They use real applications based on VWD's Personal Web Starter Kit. They also compare and contrast VWD and VS .NET, and discuss how to overcome difficulties when moving from one to the other. The book's practical and goal-oriented discussion helps you maximize VWD Express as quickly as possible. This book does not assume any prior coding knowledge, so hobbyists and students alike will be able to glean valuable information from it."

I have not seen the book, so can't comment about it. I only list the item here to inform you of its existence. Perhaps it may help you, perhaps not. ComputerBookshops.com is quoting its price in British Pounds (GBP), although Apress is a US based publisher, so it should be available worldwide. Try your local bookseller first.


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What is VWD? (How does it differ from other MS Web Development tools?)

As described by MS, VWD 2005 Express Edition is a new, easy to use, and easy to learn development tool for building Web sites, and is aimed at the skills and abilities of student, enthusiast, and hobbyist web developers.

The Express Edition is a limited and cut-down version of the web development tools built-in to the fully fledged VS 2005. For details of what's been limited in the Express Edition, see Limitations of VWD Express Edition below.

If you are a Web "developer"—which I interpret to mean an ASP-based (not static HTML-page-based) website "software developer"—Microsoft suggest that you should use (the fully fledged) Microsoft® Visual Studio 2005. Visual Studio 2005 is aimed at (what they call) "professional developers" and enables those developers to build high performance, robust, and enterprise ready Web applications with (based upon) ASP.NET 2.0.

According to the ASP.NET forum thread 619938 entry dated 30Jun2002 by MS MVP Fredrick N:

"If you want to take advantage of several of languages, have the possibility to create different kind of projects like Windows Forms, ASP.Net applications, Console applications and also use the whole Team System you should use the VS 2005 and not the Visual Wed [sic] Development 2005 Express. The VWD2005 is more like Web Matrix with more functionality."

More like 'Web Matrix' eh? Is that part of VS? This requires further investigation.  [COL: Look into this].


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Limitations of VWD Express Edition (as apposed to VWD in VS full version)

According to the VWDEE forum thread 619018 entry dated 20Jun2002 by a MS MVP 'ASP Insider' Jim Ross:

Here's some of the stuff that will be left out: 
a) Class Library Project Support (note: you can build classes with VWD — but you can't compile them into a standalone assembly directly in the IDE).
b) Web Compilation Support (note: you get full intellisense and compilation checking on F5/Ctrl-F5 with VWD — you just can't pre-compile the site into a single set of compiled DLLs for deployment without source files).
c) Source control support (integrated IDE support is only available in higher VS skus)
d) Mobile Web Support (no WYSIWYG support for mobile controls)
e) Accessibility checker (ASP.NET will emit 508/WCAG accessible markup — but express doesn't include the built-in accessibility checker for the IDE)
f) Localization support (this is provided at runtime by ASP.NET — but express doesn't include the built-in resource stripping functionality to easily localize sites; note that VWD itself will be localized into 8 separate languages).
g) Unit Testing support (both class and web project unit testing are only available in the higher skus).
h) Class Designer
i) Web Load Testing
j) Remote Debugging (note: local debugging - including to IIS — is fully supported)
k) Windows Forms and Console Library Support
(this from Scott Guthrie)

OK, it seems that he's quoted this from someone named Scott Guthrie. Who's that? See MS Web Dev Personnel.


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According to VWDEE forum thread 647516 dated 26Jun2006 by MS Web Mikhail Arkipov:

"Here is what is not in VWD Express:
1. Extensibility. In Express edition you cannot install and use Web Application Projects, Web Deployment Projects, CSS Properties Window, HTML/ASP.NET Spell Checker, ReSharper and any other add-on or third party tool.
2. Class Libraries. VWD Express only supports a single type of project: Web site. You cannot add a Class Library project or a Web Controls Library project to the solution. Class libraries are popular way to sharing business logic code or any other utility code.
3. Source Code Control. SCC is crucial in team development. I can't imagine my life as professional developer without good Source Code Control system that provides me with change history, branches, merges, etc.
4. Accessibility checker. If you are developing Web sites that must be accessible, Accessibility Checker is indispensible tool.
5. Automatig [sic] generation of resources for localization. If your Web must be localized in multiple languages, you do want to have this feature.
6. Attach debugger to a process. If you need to step through code in existing classic ASP pages in order to understand how it works or you have to maintain classic ASP pages, you need ASP debugging which requires ability to attach debugger to a running process.
7. Native code debugging. Some legacy code, especially in classic ASP code may be using COM objects written in C++. Mixed mode debugging is not supported in Express.
All of the above is available in the Visual Studio Standard Edition. However, Professional Edition gives you XSLT debugging, extensive database tools, it comes with SQL 2005 Developer Edition (as opposed to SQL Express in VS Standard and below) and Crystal Reports."
"Visual Studio Web Tools (VWD or VS any version) do not support opening or editing SharePoint Web sites."

 Who is Mikhail Arkipov? See MS Web Dev Personnel.


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According to Mikhail's blog 665340 dated 14Jul2006:

How to develop and debug ASP.NET custom controls in Visual Web Developer Express

"As you may know, Visual Web Developer Express only supports Web site projects and you can only have a single project open at a time. It does not support creation of Web Control libraries since [a] Web Control Library is, in fact, a client side project like a Class Library project and VWD does not support client side development."
"However, you can create [a] Class Library in Visual C# Express or Visual Basic Express. Web Controls Library is a variety of the Class Library. Now, did you know that you can install all Express editions on the same machine and that you can run multiple Express editions at the same time? Armed with that knowledge, if you really need to create and debug a custom control and you are limited to Express editions, here is what you can do:"

” and he goes on to list the details. If that interests you, then read the full procedure at: http://blogs.msdn.com/mikhailarkhipov/archive/2006/07/14/665340.aspx.

Who is Mikhail Arkipov? See MS Web Dev Personnel.


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Differences between FP and VWD behaviour

These are the immediately apparent differences between product behaviour, (discounting GUI differences).

This list is obviously incomplete, however, is not intended to be an all encompassing review of the products.
The list will be updated over time as further differences are observed. Check the page date for versions.


Action FP behaviour VWD default behaviour Workaround in VWD
Press F5 key Refreshes document or project tree Builds web site Right-click and select 'Refresh'
Press 'Enter' in table cell text Creates new paragraph 'P' tag within table cell Inserts 'BR' tag within table cell text No workaround, this behaviour is better
Press 'Enter' at very end of paragraph tag set pair Creates new paragraph duplicating current properties Creates new plain paragraph with no duplication of properties To duplicate properties of the existing paragraph, type an additional space character at the end, then move left one space before pressing 'Enter'


Action FP command VWD command Comment for VWD
Insert bookmark Ctrl+G Ctrl+Shift+L No visible indication that bookmark exists
Insert hyperlink Ctrl+K Ctrl+L Link text must first be selected in Design view
Find and Replace Ctrl+F/Ctrl+R Ctrl+H Ctrl+F is part of a predefined two key shortcut.


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Image file paths navigate via web root by default

All images when inserted onto the HTML page are given a relative file path which navigates from the current folder up to the web project root, then back down to the actual file location. Given that all web addresses within a site are relative, I don't see how the additional trips up and down the tree provide any benefit to the web developer. Although it seems to make little difference to the page functionality, I edit and trim the excess navigation from my HTML source whenever I notice it. I imagine that it may serve a purpose for the developers code in VS if perhaps images were kept in obscure folders somewhere else on the site, and they were regularly moved about the site?


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HTML new paragraph behaviour

The new paragraph behaviour of the VWD HTML text editor appears to be inconsistent. If you press Enter in Design view when the cursor is at the very end of a paragraph (within a "<P></P>" tag set pair), a new empty paragraph tag set is created as expected. However, if the original paragraph tag had a style class applied, this style is not replicated to the following paragraph tag, unless the previous paragraph is split. That is, unless the cursor was positioned anywhere in the previous paragraph other than at the very end of the paragraph.

As expected, list items and address tags are created similarly, however, pressing Enter within a table cell inserts a linebreak tag "<br />" and within a preformatted paragraph inserts an invisible actual linebreak character instead, without splitting the "<pre></pre>" tag set pair, so that the preformatted text contains the linebreak.

The paragraph tag creation question was raised to the VWD users list http://forums.asp.net/thread/1353623.aspx in July 2006, and in answer as an explanation for this behaviour, was directed to a Whidbey Web editor developers blog http://blogs.msdn.com/bencon/archive/2004/05/05/126708.aspx which stated:

"One thing that we got feedback about, and that I did not like myself, was that VS.NET 2003 always seemed to add <P> tags everywhere. Even if you have a document with just a body in it, if you press enter while in design view, you get a <P> tag. Delete everything, get a <P> tag if you didn't have one.
"What I didn't like, and what a lot of other users didn't like, is that they got a <P> tag when they didn't ask for one. It makes sense to split a <P> tag if you actually have one and are inside of it. But if I have no <P> tag, adding one just so there is something to split seems to be thinking a bit too much.
"So the way whidbey works is this: If you press enter inside any block format tag (other than DIV) then the block will split around where you pressed enter. If you press enter at the end of some of these tags (like the heading tags) then a new <P> will start.
"If you press enter inside of a DIV, or a table cell, or the body, then we insert a <BR>. If you hold down shift+enter, you always get a <BR> no matter where you are.
"If you really want a <P> tag, the format dropdown on the formatting toolbar will create one if you are inside of a non-block tag and you select <P> from the list.
"I think that this design works better for most people. If you already have paragraph stuff we respect it and handle it. If you never use paragraph formatting we never put it there for you unless you explicitly ask for it.
Published Wednesday, May 05, 2004 3:23 PM by BenCon.

Note Note

Whidbey is the MS codename for Visual Studio 2005 (ASP.NET 2005) development.

At least this explains the mixed behaviour for some tag types, but does not consider the continuation of existing applied classes issue.


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Validating your HTML pages

Whenever you open (load) an existing HTML page in Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition (VWD) the page is validated against the browser selected in the Tools | Options | Environment | Browser | Validation setting:

VWB Options HTML Validation properties dialog

VWD Options HTML Validation properties settings window

For example, I selected HTML 4.01 as the validation setting for my site, and when I subsequently opened an HTML page (which I had previously created using Frontpage 2002), I was presented with the following notification:

VWD error message

VWD page validation error notification message. See the additional information providing assistance in the message!

This is the result of validation against a particular standard (HTML, CSS, or XML), or browser implementation of that standard. Every instance of non-compliance is listed in the Error tool window (which by default displays docked across the bottom of the text window area). The Error list describes the type of error, the reason for the error, and hyperlinks directly to the exact line in the source file which contains the error.

See example below:

VWD Error List example

The portion of the VWD screen showing the text edit window (with HTML file loaded and displaying in Source view). See also that the Error List displays at the bottom of the screen below the text edit window.

In the example above, the first item in the Error list (for the 'meta' tag) is highlighted, along with the 'meta' tag in the text edit window above it. The HTML file also has a red wiggly underline to indicate that it has an error. See too that the second error in the list (for the 'script' tag) is also visible in this screenshot of the text window.

The error list needs to be worked through, by correcting each error in the HTML file editable in the text edit window above. This will ensure that the HTML page complies with the HTML 4.1 standard. It is easy to use and works well. Validation has never been easier. This functionality will greatly help to make and keep your websites developed with VWD compliant with the selected standards.


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MS Web Development Personnel

When using the web resources for VWD, developer team member names crop up every now and then. In order to help make some sense of these names, and what these people do, this section lists those that I've encountered.

On 21 April 2006, the VWD team launched a team blog site and posted their group photo.

VWD Team

Person 1 (Row 1) Person 2 (Row 1) Person 3 (Row 1) Person 4 (Row 1) Person 5 (Row 1) Person 6 (Row 1) Person 7 (Row 2) Person 8 (Row 2) Person 9 (Row 2) Person 10 (Row 2) Person 11 (Row 2) Person 12 (Row 2) Person 13 (Row 2) Person 14 (Row 3) Person 15 (Row 3) Person 16 (Row 3) Person 17 (Row 3) Person 18 (Row 3) Person 19 (Row 3) Person 20 (Row 3) Person 21 (Row 3) Person 22 (Row 3) Person 23 (Row 4) Person 24 (Row 4) Person 25 (Row 4) Person 26 (Row 4) Person 27 (Row 4) Person 28 (Row 4) Person 29 (Row 4) Person 30 (Row 4) Person 31 (Row 4)

I've attempted to ID each of these people using head count numbering from left to right, and front to rear. There are four rows, as determined by bust (shoulder and head) positions.  

Row Count Range
4. rear 9 23–31
3. 2nd rear 9 14–22
2. 2nd front 7 7–13
1. front 6 1–6

Position your mouse over each head to see the person ID #.

Person ID # Role Mention
Scott Guthrie scottgu@microsoft.com ?? I am a General Manager within the Microsoft Developer Division. I run the development teams that build the following products / technologies:
  • .NET Common Language Runtime (CLR)
  • .NET Compact Framework
  • Windows Forms
  • ASP.NET / Atlas
  • IIS
  • Commerce Server
  • Visual Web Developer
  • Visual Studio Tools for Avalon (aka "Cider")
Balasubramanyan Ashok (Bash) ?? I’m better known as Bash for obvious reasons. I'm the Product Unit Manager for the team. I've been working at Microsoft for nearly 16 years now and nearly half of that time has been with Web Development Tools dating back to Visual Interdev 6.0. http://blogs.msdn.com/
Mikhail Arkipov 23 http://blogs.msdn.com/
Devindra S. Chainani (Devi) ?? Group Program Manager, Expression Web Designer http://blogs.msdn.com/
Lisa Wollin ?? Recent FrontPage code developer until Jan 2006, then Office developer. http://blogs.msdn.com/
Brian Jones ?? I'm Brian Jones, a program manager in Office. I've been working on the XML functionality and file formats in Office for about 5 years now. http://blogs.msdn.com/
Rob Mauceri ?? Developer, Manager and recent Group Program Manager for FrontPage for past 11 years until Jan 2006. Likely moved to either SharePoint or Office dev teams. http://blogs.msdn.com/

This list does not ID everyone in the photo—only those that I've managed to identify through my wanderings on the web and through dealings with the ASP.NET online "community" resource.
The list also may contain individuals who are not in the MS VWD web team as pictured.
The list is only updated randomly whenever I find someone appropriate to add.


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See Also

Jump across to separate topic Problems with Visual Web Developer | Jump to separate topic Expression Web Designer  | Jump to separate topic Expression Web Help
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