For the last couple of weeks we’ve been thinking here at Imtech ICT Velocity about how we could improve our SharePoint development process. During the last year we have gathered a lot of different tools which help us to automate the routine. And while they all are definitely very useful, they make the development environment quite complex. Maybe even too complex. One of the improvements we thought about was integrating all these different tools we have made into Visual Studio. Imtech Fields Explorer is the first one to go.
Imtech Fields Explorer: how it all started?
Imtech Fields Explorer is one of the tools we really use a lot. It all started with the inability of exploring properties of Site Columns and Content Types and the Internal Names in particular. We needed a simple tool which would allow us to quickly find the field names we need to enter in CAML queries and controls.
When the first version came out we thought that it would be extremely useful and time saving to be able to export the Site Columns and Content Types to XML. Initially I wrote some code to do that but eventually I asked Andrew Connell whether I could include his WCM STSADM commands’ code in Imtech Fields Explorer.
Just recently an idea of yet another improvement was born: why not generate C# wrapper classes to simplify working with Site Columns and Content Types in code? Imtech Fields Explorer was the tool to make it done. Another benefit we got was intellisense: just as you have it for SharePoint built in fields.
Right after that I came up with another idea: how about we let Imtech Fields Explorer generate whole Page Layouts for us? Of course we cannot make it render the complete HTML markup, but even something simple as having all the fields as controls on the page was great. This functionality allowed to cut quite a few hours on the development process.
Imtech Fields Explorer Visual Studio 2008
In the last few months we have discussed it a couple of times how we could create a better experience while developing SharePoint solutions. One of the things we came up with was integrating all our tools inside Visual Studio making it the SharePoint developer’s desktop. Imtech Fields Explorer is only the top of the iceberg but the concept has given us a great start for 2009.
For the last couple of weeks one of my colleagues at Imtech ICT Velocity – Jeffrey Schmitz has worked on moving Imtech Fields Explorer into Visual Studio 2008 IDE. Just last week he finally pulled it off! From now on Imtech Fields Explorer is available as a Visual Studio 2008 plugin.
You can find Imtech Fields Explorer under the View menu: at the same place as other tool panes.
Because we’re using Visual Studio as the environment, we have decided to remove Fields Explorer’s property grid and display properties in the Visual Studio Properties pane:
One of the coolest things of having the Imtech Fields Explorer inside Visual Studio is that when you let it export Site Columns/Content Types to XML or to generate code for you, the file is open inside Visual Studio where you can directly add it to your Solution:
No thing is without a downside. We’ve moved Imtech Fields Explorer to Visual Studio but we’re still using the SharePoint Object Model for communicating with SharePoint. If you’re developing remotely this version of the add-on will be of no use to you, unfortunately. Since we all develop locally here at Imtech ICT Velocity it wasn’t the highest priority to replace the SharePoint API with SharePoint Web Services. It doesn’t mean however that we won’t do it in the future. It’s all up to you and the feedback you will provide us.
Imtech Fields Explorer for Visual Studio 2008 ships with an installer so there are no manual steps required in order to get it working. Simply fire up the MSI, click Next a couple of times and Fields Explorer should be available in your Visual Studio 2008.
I’ve been using Imtech Fields Explorer for Visual Studio 2008 for a couple of days myself and I have to admit that Jeffrey has done a lot of great work in the last few weeks. I really love the idea of having all the tools in one place and I’m quite sure that’s the course we will pick for the 2009.
Go on and check out Imtech Fields Explorer for Visual Studio 2008 (441KB, MSI)