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Visual Web Developer with ASP.NET and VB

The free alternative to Visual Studio for the web!


Updated April 08, 2012

Hopefully, you reached this page from the About Visual Basic ASP.NET Hub Page. If not, you might want to click the link above and go there.

Visual Web Developer ... and by that I actually mean "Visual Web Developer Express Edition" ... is Microsoft's free tool for developing web sites. If you open Microsoft's free developer system Visual Basic Express and select New > Project, you'll see that there are no templates for web sites. In the full, and not free, Visual Studio product, there is a ton of them, all available in the same system. That's one of the benefits you get from the not-free version. You can read an introduction to Visual Studio for ASP.NET development here. But in their free products, Microsoft has partitioned web development into a different tool. Hey! You can't complain about the price!

To get Visual Web Developer, you should use another system from Microsoft - the Web Platform Installer - starting to be known as WebPI.

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WebPI is an intelligent downloader. It installs on your system and when you need to download a system from Microsoft, it checks to see if you've already got it and downloads not only that system, but implements chained downloads so you get other systems that you might also need. You also get a menu of choices of other downloads to tempt you. For example, lots of code from other developers using the "Applications" can be downloaded with WebPI.

Once installed, you'll see that VWD has the "look and feel" of Visual Studio. And there are plenty of templates for the Web here.

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Just like the full Visual Studio system, VWD allows you to create either "website oriented" or "project oriented" web developments. A website oriented system only has the actual files you need for your website and it's a streamlined way to code preferred by many professional developers. VWD also offers project oriented development. This uses auxiliary files, like WebApplication1.vbproj, to support your development.

With VWD 2010, when you select the "New Web Site" - for website oriented developments - or "ASP.NET Web Application" - for project oriented development - you may get more than you actually want "baked in" as part of your site or application. The template creates a master page, a login component, an initial navigation system that you can expand, an About page and a main page with a welcome message. You might decide that it would be easier to start with a blank slate rather than one already filled up like this. But if you choose "Empty Web Site" or "Empty Web Application" you get nothing but the startup directory and a web.config file (plus the supporting files for a project). To get a blank default page (which is only named Default for you when you use a website oriented template), you have to select Add New Item and then Web Form. Then you're ready to start coding.

VWD offers a "Database Explorer" feature that lets you create and connect to databases that has many of the features in Visual Studio and the ability to create and manage CSS styles. It supports both JavaScript and XML. And there's an integrated web server to make it easy to test your system. Or, you can use IIS for testing - Microsoft's full featured web server. But VWD is not a design oriented system. For that, you might want to consider Microsoft's "Expression Web" software.

One technique that works in all of Microsoft's current generation of developer tools, including VWD, is the ability to hide or "drag and dock" the window areas. You can even drag them completely out of VWD. If, for example, you want to have your Database Explorer window open beside the main VWD window, you can just drag it over there. (You have to "window" the main system to provide room, of course.) If you get your environment too jumbled up, remember that you can always get it back to normal by choosing "Reset Window Layout" on the Window menu. (In VWD 2010, choose the menu on the down arrow in the title and select Dock to put a window back where it was. Some Microsoft documentation will say that you can double click the title to do that. It doesn't work that way anymore.)

VWD also gives you a choice of HTTP (if you have a hosting service or if you're hosting your own website), FTP (same, but using the FTP protocol to transfer files) or your local file system for the website files. Most people will choose File System for development. You don't need any kind of a web server to use your local file system. You can always install the finished product anywhere you like.

If you've used Visual Basic Express or Visual Studio, VWD will feel as comfortable as an old glove.

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