Visual Studio Isolated Shell

The Visual Studio isolated shell allows you to create stand-alone applications that can run side-by-side with other versions of Visual Studio. It is used primarily to host specialized tools that can use Visual Studio services but also have a customized appearance and branding. Visual Studio features and menu command groups can be easily turned on and off. Application titles, application icons, and splash screens are fully customizable. For a list of customizable features, see Customizing the Isolated Shell.

To create an isolated shell application, start with a Visual Studio Shell Isolated project. This project, together with the Visual Studio SDK, contains everything that you need to develop and test your own isolated shell application. When you are ready to write the setup program that deploys your application, you must get the Visual Studio Shell (isolated mode) redistributable package.


For more information about the redistributable package, see the Visual Studio Extensibility Downloads Web site. For more information about how to deploy an isolated shell-based application, see Walkthrough: Creating a Basic Isolated Shell Application.

Working with the isolated shell

A Visual Studio isolated shell application has full access to Visual Studio services and supports special customization and branding. There are several ways you can customize an isolated shell application:

  • You can use VSPackages and Managed Extensibility Framework (MEF) component parts to extend an isolated shell application just as you would use them in any other Visual Studio extension. For more information, see Extending the Isolated Shell.

  • To make Visual Studio features and menu command groups available or unavailable, update the .vsct file in the user interface (UI) project of the application.

  • To remove Options pages or other Visual Studio shell components from the application, update the .pkgundef file of the application.

  • To modify other aspects of the appearance or behavior of the shell, update the .pkgdef file of the application.

  • Some aspects of the shell can also be specified when the application is started. To do this, update the parameters in the call to the Start entry point of the appenvstub.dll.

For more information about the different elements that you can customize, see Elements of the Isolated Shell.

Standard Features of the Isolated Shell

The following features are standard to all editions of Visual Studio.

Feature Category


IDE Features

Import/Export Settings

Toolbox Control Installer

Task List & Error List

Output Window

Start Page

Properties Window


Solution Explorer

Bookmark Window

Class View

Object Browser

Command Window

Document Outline

Resource View

External Tool

Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) Add Service Reference

Language Integrated Query (LINQ) Support


Code browsing tools (unified find, source definition, inheritance)



Code Snippets Manager

Code Snippets


Pretty listing

IntelliSense Filtering

Code Definition Window

Application Designer

Windows Forms Designer

Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) Designer


C# Expression Evaluator

Local debugging

Managed debugging

Edit and Continue

Cross-thread debugging



Native debugging

Script debugging

Interop debugging

Just-in-time (JIT) debugging

Multi-process debugging

XSLT debugging

Attach to local process

Trace Points

Breakpoint Constraints


Server Explorer (Simplified - Data Only)

Data bind to local data (.MDF or .MDB)

Data bind to object

Data bind to Web service

Full set of data controls

XML editor

Data bind to local database server

Data Sources window


HTML Editor

Web Browser

Web Forms Designer

Web Site Project

Web Application Project


Add-in Manager

Consumes VSPackages

See Also


Integrated Shell and Isolated Shell