Getting a Free, yet Powerful Web Dev Tool: Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition

By Paul Ferrill  |  eMail Email    Print Print  Post a comment

If you are looking for a powerful web development tool and would like to avoid spending a fortune, then Microsoft's Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition (Community) is worth checking out. It provides a full-featured integrated development environment (IDE) for students, open source contributors, and small teams as a free download. While Microsoft also offers Express for Web Edition, it lacks the support for extensions and advanced code editing, code analysis, debugging and profiling functionality.

Using Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition

In this how-to activity article you will go through downloading and installing Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition as well as the basics of configuring it. This article will serve as a launching pad to other articles that will show you how to take Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition to the next level for specific types of applications.

To get started open a web browser and navigate to the website.

Visual Studio Community Edition Install

Figure 1 Download Visual Studio Community button on the web page

Clicking on the Download Visual Studio Community button as shown in Figure 1 will retrieve a small bootstrap program which will in turn download the files you select and complete the installation process. Click Run to start the process.

Figure 2 shows the initial setup page. It's possible to change the target installation folder if you'd like. To make the change, click on the ellipsis box next to the default path and choose a new directory.

Visual Studio Community Edition Install

Figure 2 Initial setup screen

To customize the components installed on your machine, you can click on the Custom radio button. On the next page you have a number of optional features you can choose to install. For the purpose of this tutorial we'll uncheck the Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.0/8.1 Tools.

Visual Studio Community Edition Optional Features

Figure 3 Optional features

Clicking on Next and then Install will begin the installation process. You will need to click yes when the User Account Control message box appears to approve the system changes.


With Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition now installing, you’ll want to now learn about the different types of things that you can build with your new tool.  While Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition can do web projects with standard Microsoft technologies, it can also go way beyond by using things such as Python, JavaScript, HTML, and third party tools and add-ins such as Xamarin and more.

After the installation completes you'll need to restart your computer to finish the setup (see Figure 4).

Visual Studio CE

Figure 4 Setup completion screen

Once the computer reboots you should have Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition available from the Search menu in Windows 8 (see Figure 5). Once it starts you can right-click on the Visual Studio icon in the taskbar and choose Pin to Taskbar. This will make it easier to launch Visual Studio in the future.

Visual Studio Community Edition Search

Figure 5 Visual Studio 2015 from Search

The first thing you'll see is a welcome page with a Sign in button about two-thirds of the way down the screen (see Figure 6). You have the option at this point to sign in to a Microsoft account if you want your Visual Studio settings kept in sync between multiple devices. This synchronization can come in handy if you use both a desktop and a laptop for your coding. You can also choose to skip the step for now. You will need to sign in within the first 30 days to keep using the product for free.


Figure 6 Visual Studio welcome dialog

The next thing you need to do is choose a color theme and the default development settings. For this series of articles we'll be focusing on Web Development so that's the option selected. You can always change these settings at a later time, if necessary.

Once Visual Studio launches you'll see the Start Page with a list of options to start a new or recently opened project plus a list of resources to help you get the most out of Visual Studio 2015. Microsoft has a wealth of training resources for helping you get your job done with a number of those linked to from the Start Page.

To start a new project click on the New Project link. This will bring up a dialog like the one in Figure 7.

Visual Studio Community Edition New Project dialog

Figure 7 New Project dialog

Visual Studio comes with a wide range of project templates to meet just about any need. Figure 7 shows the Web project options under Visual Basic. Your options are basically the same in the other languages shown like Visual C#. Visual Studio also supports non-Microsoft languages like Python. If you're a Python developer, you'll want to look into the Python Tools for Visual Studio. This add-on for Visual Studio brings all the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) features to the Python language.

Javascript is a first-class citizen in Visual Studio 2015. You can also create and edit HTML pages directly in the Visual Studio editor. What's even better is you'll be able to use Visual Studio  Community 2015 Edition for any of these projects.

Extending Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition

With Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition installed, you now have the option to extend or go beyond the defaults within the tool.

Another great feature available in Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition is the ability to add additional functionality using extensions from the Visual Studio Gallery. Visual Studio 2015 provides a direct link to find the extensions you need right from within the IDE. Click on the Tools menu option and then select Extensions and Updates. This should bring up the dialog shown in Figure 8.

VSCE Extensions and Updates

Figure 8 Extensions and Updates

Clicking on the Online option in the left-hand pane will bring up a new dialog, allowing you to search the Visual Studio Gallery. For our demos we want to use the Web Essentials 2015. Typing web essentials in the search box quickly finds the extension we want (see Figure 9).

Visual Studio highlights the most relevant result and provides a Download button. Clicking on Download will fetch the code and then launch the installer. In this case, once the extension is installed, you will need to restart Visual Studio for the new changes to take effect.

Web Essentials 2015 download

Figure 9 Web Essentials 2015 download

You should take some time to peruse through the Visual Studio Gallery to see if there are other extensions or tools that interest you. Some of the tools that we recommend looking at include:


At this point, you have installed Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition and learned how to apply extensions to customize the tool to fit your needs. Visual Studio Community 2015 Edition is a great way to get started developing your web application with the most powerful IDE for the Windows platform. In the following articles we'll dive deeper into doing just that!

This article was sponsored by Microsoft Corporation.

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