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Visual Studio vs Visual Studio Code: The Ultimate Guide (2024)

April 15, 2024 8 minutes read

Visual Studio vs Visual Studio Code

In the world of .NET development, two popular tools stand out: Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code.

  • Visual Studio is generally recognized as a comprehensive IDE (Integrated Development Environment) suitable for various .NET development tasks. It only runs on Windows.
  • Visual Studio Code is a lightweight source code editor that offers a wide range of useful extensions. Also unlike Visual Studio, it runs on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.

Selecting your ideal .NET code editor can be a challenging task, and you’re not alone in this dilemma. It’s worth mentioning that both options are developed by Microsoft, as their names suggest. However, despite their name resemblance, their feature sets are distinct and unique.

But which one is right for you? In this ultimate guide, we’ll compare Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code in depth, helping you make an informed decision for your coding needs.

Introduction to Visual Studio

Visual Studio (or VS) was first released in 1997. It is a robust and comprehensive IDE that has been a cornerstone in the software development industry. It offers a rich set of tools and features designed to support developers across various domains, and technologies including websites, cloud services, mobile applications, games, and desktop applications. With a focus on productivity, collaboration, and high-quality code development, Visual Studio has become a go-to choice for many professional developers and organizations.

Visual Studio encompasses a wide array of programming utilities, including a debugger, compiler, intelligent code completion (IntelliSense), and AI-based code editor tools like Intellicode and Copilot all conveniently bundled together.

Visual Studio offers native support for C# and .NET development. It also extends its capabilities to various other programming languages, encompassing F#, VB.NET, C, C++, Python, and web development languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, among many others. Notably, it’s worth mentioning that support for Java was discontinued beginning with Visual Studio 2017.

Introduction to Visual Studio Code

Visual Studio Code (or VS Code or VSC) is a flexible text editor designed for developers. It provides a plethora of customizable features through the use of extensions, allowing developers to craft a highly tailored development environment. Despite its robust feature set, VS Code is remarkably lightweight, making it effortless to install and use across any platform including Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

VS Code provides native support for JavaScript, TypeScript, and Node.js. However, it is adaptable for coding in virtually any programming language of your choice. To do so, simply download the corresponding extensions as needed to get intellisence, compiler, and debugger for the chosen language.

In 2023 Microsoft announced the C# Dev Kit extension for VS Code. This extension is much more advanced than the one previously available. 3 months later Visual Studio for Mac was officially discontinued in August 2023. The message is clear:

  • Visual Studio will remain a Windows-centric IDE.
  • For .NET developments on Linux and MacOS, Microsoft recommends VS Code.

Key Differences

Specs, Performances, and Costs

Visual Studio Visual Studio Code
Kind Comprehensive IDE Extension-based Code Editor
Operating System Windows Centric Windows, Mac OS, and Linux
Download and Disk Space Heavy: Demands between 2.3 GB to 60 GB of free hard disk space, which varies based on the installed features. Lightweight: small download (< 200 MB) and has a disk footprint of less than 500 MB
RAM 16 GB of RAM is recommended to run VS VS Code can run on a 300 MB RAM machine
Cost and Pricing Visual Studio is closed source and comes with 3 editions :

  • Community or Individual is free
  • Professional or Business costs $45 per user per month
  • Enterprise costs $250 per user per month
Entirely free of charge and open-source.
Performance Tends to be more resource-intensive, especially when handling large and complex projects Designed to be lightweight and performant
Startup Time VS’s startup time can be relatively long (a few seconds to a minute) which may be inconvenient if you frequently need to open and close the IDE throughout the day. VS Code is known for its quick startup time, allowing developers to start working on their projects almost instantly.

Tools

Visual Studio Visual Studio Code
User Interface Multiple Panels and Windows: VS features a multitude of panels, windows, and toolbars to support a wide range of development tasks. This can make the user interface appear cluttered and overwhelming for new users, especially when dealing with complex projects. VS Code’s user interface is simplified, focusing on core coding and debugging tasks, which can contribute to a smoother experience.
Debugger Rich and seamless debugging experience tightly integrated into the IDE. Lightweight and modular, designed to work with a wide range of programming languages and frameworks through extensions.
Testing tool VS paid versions offer a comprehensive set of testing tools that cover a wide range of testing tools, including unit testing, performance testing, load testing, manual testing, test explorer, test coverage, Intellitest and code profiling. VS Code provides support for unit testing through extensions. The C# DevKit proposes a test explorer, a test runner and a test debugger.
Collaboration and Teamwork VS seamlessly connects with Azure DevOps and Team Foundation Server (TFS), allowing teams to plan, track, and manage software development projects using agile methodologies. VS Code offers the Live Share extension, which enables real-time collaborative coding sessions. It integrates seamlessly with GitHub and allows developers to manage repositories, create pull requests, and interact with team members directly from the editor.
Extensions Visual Studio has its own extension marketplace, the Visual Studio Marketplace, which provides a wide range of extensions for different purposes, including code editors, templates, project types, and more (like our NDepend extension). VS Code is renowned for its extensive extension ecosystem, offering a wide range of extensions available on the Visual Studio Code Marketplace. Many VS Code extensions are open source and free, making them accessible to a broad audience, including individual developers and students.

Kind of Application

Visual Studio Visual Studio Code
Web Applications Visual Studio is especially well-suited for ASP.NET Core and Blazor web application development. It offers project templates, debugging, and deployment tools specific to these technologies. VS Code excels in front-end web development, with strong support for modern web technologies, HTML, CSS, JavaScript frameworks, and front-end build tools. ASP.NET Core and Blazor are also supported but you might need to install several extensions to have the same experience as with VS.
Desktop Applications VS offers a wide range of project templates and powerful WYSIWYG Designers for desktop application development, simplifying the setup process for different types of desktop applications (WPF, Winforms, MAUI, WinUI…). VS Code users can develop desktop applications. However, it is strongly recommended to use the free Visual Studio Community edition instead.
Mobile Applications VS offers many project templates for mobile app development, making it easy to start new mobile projects using platforms like Xamarin, .NET MAUI, and Xamarin.Forms. It includes visual designers for mobile app development, providing a drag-and-drop interface for designing user interfaces. Same as for Desktop Applications, VS Code can be used to develop mobile applications. Nevertheless, many components and extensions must be installed manually. See this article that details up to 8 install steps. You better use the free Visual Studio Community edition instead.
Cloud Application VS has strong support for various cloud platforms, including Microsoft Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud. The IDE provides cloud-specific project templates and a rich set of tools, simplifying the setup of cloud applications. Same as for Desktop and Mobile Application explained above.

Scenarios Where One Tool Is More Suitable Than the Other

Visual Studio (VS):

  • Complex Enterprise Applications: VS is more suitable for large-scale, enterprise-level software projects. Such application development requires extensive features, advanced debugging, and tight integration with Microsoft technologies.
  • Windows-Specific Development: When developing primarily for the Windows platform, such as UWP, WPF, or Windows Forms applications VS rules. The IDE offers a richer set of tools and templates for those frameworks.
  • Comprehensive Web and Cloud Development: VS is well suited for web and cloud development involving ASP.NET, .NET Core and Azure. Its integrated capabilities, cloud services, and project templates make it an ideal choice.

Visual Studio Code (VS Code):

  • Lightweight and Cross-Platform Development: VS Code is a versatile choice for developers working on multiple platforms. As a bonus, they get a lightweight and responsive coding environment. In this area, VS made a lot of progress, especially with VS 2022 64 bits support but VS Code is still smoother.
  • Web and Front-End Development: VS Code excels in web and front-end development scenarios. It offers robust support for JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and popular front-end frameworks like React, Angular, and Vue.js.
  • Open-Source and Community Projects: For open-source projects or scenarios where budget constraints are a concern, VS Code’s free and open-source nature is a strong advantage.
  • Scripting and Light Development: VS Code is ideal for scripting tasks, code editing, and light development work where a full-fledged IDE might be overkill.

Ideal Target Audience for Each Tool

Visual Studio (VS):

  • Professional Developers: Visual Studio is designed for professional developers working on complex, enterprise-grade applications or large development teams
  • Windows Developers: Developers targeting the Windows platform, including desktop and server applications, are the ideal audience for Visual Studio.
  • .NET and C# Developers: For .NET and C# developers, while the VS Code C# Dev Kit is available, Visual Studio should remain the primary IDE for pure .NET and C# development, bearing in mind its Windows-centric nature.
  • Full-Stack Developers: Those working on full-stack development, including server-side, front-end, and cloud components, can benefit from Visual Studio’s comprehensive features.
  • Microsoft Ecosystem Enthusiasts: Developers heavily invested in Microsoft’s ecosystem, such as Azure, .NET, and Windows, will find Visual Studio to be a seamless and productive choice.

Visual Studio Code (VS Code):

  • Web and Cross-Platform Developers: Web developers, especially those working on cross-platform applications using open-source technologies. They find VS Code to be highly adaptable and efficient.
  • Individual and Open-Source Developers: Independent developers, hobbyists, and those contributing to open-source projects. This audience can leverage the lightweight, free, and extensible nature of VS Code.
  • Front-End Developers: Front-end developers focusing on building web and mobile app interfaces, as well as using JavaScript and related frameworks. These developers will appreciate VS Code’s simplicity and rich extension ecosystem.
  • Teams with Diverse Platforms: Development teams working on various platforms, including Windows, macOS, and Linux. In this context the VS Code’s cross-platform compatibility is advantageous.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the choice between Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code depends on various factors. It can be the specific project requirements and technologies, target platforms, development team composition, and the developer’s preferences. Visual Studio suits larger, enterprise-level projects, Windows-centric development, and teams closely aligned with the Microsoft ecosystem. Visual Studio Code, on the other hand, is ideal for a broader audience. It includes web developers, cross-platform developments, and those looking for a lightweight, extensible, and cross-platform coding environment.

Nowadays a third IDE named Rider, developed by JetBrains, is gaining popularity in the realm of .NET and C# development. It’s fast and it works on all platforms but Rider does not offer a free edition. Still, you might want to consider this option.

 

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