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Visual Basic 2005 programming: Ten tips and time-savers

Programming in Visual Basic 2005 can be relatively painless, thanks to templates, the My namespace, refactoring and snippets. These 10 tips and time-savers come from Tech Ed 2006.

Visual Basic 2005 may be the latest incarnation of the 15-year-old programming language, but an ongoing survey of readers indicates that more developers are still coding in VB 6 that in VB.NET. On top of that, Visual Basic 9, code-named Orcas, is due for release at the end of 2007. Each new release brings productivity enhancements but also questions about performance and migration.

At Tech Ed 2006, attended several breakout sessions focused on Visual Basic 2005. This three-part series looks at the language's past, present and future.

Visual Basic 2005 introduces a plethora of new programming features -- an improved IDE, reusable code snippets, the My namespace and so on. Kit George, a program manager for Microsoft's VB team, demonstrated a variety of these time-saving improvements in a Visual Basic 2005 tutorial at Tech Ed 2006.

In no particular order, here are 10 of the tips George presented.

  • Generics. The Generics class in .NET 2.0 gives developers the flexibility to write methods once and let the .NET Framework handle type issues. There is no boxing of objects or casting of exceptions, which improves performance, and compile errors show up earlier in the coding process. "The primary objective is not performance. The primary objective is to help the consumers write their code more easily and discover problems earlier," George said.
  • Debugger ToolTips. Debugging in Visual Basic 2003 was "pretty vanilla," as developers had to go to the Watch window to find it and it didn't say much. In VB 2005, users can expand the box, to see the properties of a particular type, or hold down Ctrl to male the box transparent, George said.
  • Edit and Continue. Speaking of debugging, this feature lets developers edit code while they're debugging it. "You don't have to keep stop-starting all the time. That can be a very laborious process," George said, and VB veterans concurred.
  • The My namespace. Along with giving developers a place to find and store "the stuff you're going to do 90% of the time," George said the My namespace lets developers do things like retrieve information with a single line of code -- My.Computer.FileSystem.ReadAllText(filename.txt) -- and add code from another file through a partial class. (Read more about this topic in Visual Basic 2005 'My' Space set to help developer and Customizing the My Namespace.) 
  • Templates. These are stored as zip files containing an XML file, a VB file set to transport, a designer file and all other files related to the template. To add a template, just go to "Add New Item" and the appropriate file from the template will appear there.
  • Snap lines. This graphical form-building tool, likely familiar to designers, gives developers granular control, such as alignment to the top left of a form or to existing controls.
  • Application settings. With this feature, a developer can name a pointer variable, indicating the location of a stored form. Thus the values of a property, set up once, can be used in many places.
  • Renaming. By right-clicking on a code identifier like a class name, field or type, a developer can rename it and update all calls and references to that identifier.
  • Refactoring. This functionality is not available from Microsoft, but third-party vendors like Developer Express, Know DOT NET and JetBrains have filled the void nicely. George showed the many benefits of refactoring, such as encapsulating private fields, graphically reordering parameters and saving oft-repeated code as a method. (Read more on refactoring in Revisiting VB refactoring again.
  • Snippets. Visual Basic 2005 comes with 500 pre-installed code snippets, categorized by task. They are accessible by right-clicking, by the keyboard shortcut "Tab+?" or by typing the individual snippet's shortcut. Developers can also create snippets for the custom code they use regularly.

Go on to Part 3 of the series,  What to expect from Vista development, VB 9
Go back to Part 1 of the series, Can VB 6 and VB.NET forms coexist? 

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