Monday, March 29, 2021

Here, I made a way to navigate between ANY files in Visual Studio

Being able to navigate between different parts of code is really useful. You simply hold down the ctrl key and click on an item, and you're taken to the definition of a method, or class, or whatever. Or, maybe you use a shortcut or context-menu entry to do the same. However you do it, it makes navigating a codebase much easier and saves untold time.

But what if you want to navigate between files that aren't all code, or in the same programming language?

Visual Studio doesn't support this, but don't worry, I can help. 

Introducing CommentLinks, a Visual Studio extension to enable links between any files from within the Visual Studio code editor.

the extension logo
The idea is simple. In your code, you put "link:" followed by a filename, and then a button (see below) is added that, when clicked, will take you to that file.

button shown next to the text "link:MapManager.js"
It will search for files anywhere in the solution. The file doesn't have to be in the same directory, project, or in any project. It just needs to be visible in the Solution Explorer.
If there are multiple files in the solution with the same name, you can specify the one to find by including the directory name(s) to be clearly unique. e.g.:

link:otherjs\device.js
or
link:otherjs/device.js (either directory separator)

Want more than simply opening a file?

You can open the file at a specific line by adding "#Lnn" (where nn is the line number) after the file name. e.g.:

Link:plainfile.txt#L33

You can open a file and search for specific text by including it after a colon (:) immediately after the filename. Or after "#:~:text=" to match the convention for text fragment anchors.

link:device.js#:~:text=Device.prototype.getInfo
link:device.js:addConstructor

And, it can handle spaces in the search text or filename by using percent-encoding (so a space character is replaced with "%20") or by putting them in quotes (single or double.) e.g.:

link:device.js:"getInfo = function ("
link:"device.js:getInfo = function ("
link:"name with spaces.js"
link:misc%20files/other%20device.js

You can navigate within the same file (to search for subsequent occurrences of text) by specifying the file's name and then the search text.

You can open any file on disk by specifying the full path. e.g.:

link:C:\Temp\TestFile.txt

You can even use it to run arbitrary commands by adding "run>" after "link:" This can be useful to open other applications, open files in their default application, or to run commands with custom schemes/protocols. e.g.:

link:run>cmd.exe
link:run>mockup.pdf  (assuming in the same directory)
link:run>ms-settings:easeofaccess-highcontrast

Don't want to use "link:" before the file name?
That's ok. You can change this to any text you want by going to Tools > Options > CommentLinks and changing the Trigger word.
partial screenshot of options dialog showing the trigger word setting



The name might be misleading. It doesn't just work with comments but anywhere in the code file. The name came from the original intention and the fact it was expected only to be used in comments. It works anywhere.


Get it from the marketplace and let me know what you think.

Want to see it in action? See this quick video I made previously showing some of the features:

This is part of a collection of Visual Studio extensions I have made. You can see them all at https://marketplace.visualstudio.com/publishers/MattLaceyLtd 


I originally created this at the suggestion of one of my GitHub sponsors. Not only am I really grateful to the people who sponsor me (the current ones and those who have sponsored me for a period of time in the past, but I also try and do things to help them.

I can't always build everything my sponsors want or need, but I'm inclined to help them more. 😉

This was built for a specific niche use-case, but other people have already found this extension and requested many of the features it has. It turns out that working with multiple file types in VS isn't something that everyone needs to do, but the people who have to do this are very disappointed with what comes in the box and are keen to see additional capabilities added.

One such person who wanted a new capability even paid for this to be added. They wanted a feature I wasn't sure about adding. I was going to suggest to them that this was the sort of thing I'd be more inclined to do for a sponsor, but before I could email them, they'd sent me some money. Not a lot but not a trivial amount. That feature was added quickly ;)

I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about someone giving me some money and then asking for a feature. Still, I didn't want to discourage someone enthusiastic about the project. I especially didn't want to discourage anyone willing to give money to an open-source project.

Based on the time required to implement and support the feature, it's less than I would charge for regular work at an hourly rate, but it was certainly appreciated.



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