Create an extension with a menu command

Applies to: yesVisual Studio noVisual Studio for Mac


This article applies to Visual Studio 2017. If you're looking for the latest Visual Studio documentation, see Visual Studio documentation. We recommend upgrading to the latest version of Visual Studio. Download it here

This walkthrough shows how to create an extension with a menu command that launches Notepad.


Starting in Visual Studio 2015, you do not install the Visual Studio SDK from the download center. It is included as an optional feature in Visual Studio setup. You can also install the VS SDK later on. For more information, see Install the Visual Studio SDK.

Create a menu command

  1. Create a VSIX project named FirstMenuCommand. You can find the VSIX project template in the New Project dialog by searching for "vsix".
  1. When the project opens, add a custom command item template named FirstCommand. In the Solution Explorer, right-click the project node and select Add > New Item. In the Add New Item dialog, go to Visual C# > Extensibility and select Custom Command. In the Name field at the bottom of the window, change the command file name to FirstCommand.cs.
  1. Build the project and start debugging.

    The experimental instance of Visual Studio appears. For more information about the experimental instance, see The experimental instance.

  1. In the experimental instance, open the Tools > Extensions and Updates window. You should see the FirstMenuCommand extension here. (If you open Extensions and Updates in your working instance of Visual Studio, you won't see FirstMenuCommand).

Now go to the Tools menu in the experimental instance. You should see Invoke FirstCommand command. At this point, the command brings up a message box that says FirstCommand Inside FirstMenuCommand.FirstCommand.MenuItemCallback(). We'll see how to actually start Notepad from this command in the next section.

Change the menu command handler

Now let's update the command handler to start Notepad.

  1. Stop debugging and go back to your working instance of Visual Studio. Open the FirstCommand.cs file and add the following using statement:

    using System.Diagnostics;
  2. Find the private FirstCommand constructor. This is where the command is hooked up to the command service and the command handler is specified. Change the name of the command handler to StartNotepad, as follows:

    private FirstCommand(AsyncPackage package, OleMenuCommandService commandService)
        this.package = package ?? throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(package));
        commandService = commandService ?? throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(commandService));
        CommandID menuCommandID = new CommandID(CommandSet, CommandId);
        // Change to StartNotepad handler.
        MenuCommand menuItem = new MenuCommand(this.StartNotepad, menuCommandID);
  3. Remove the Execute method and add a StartNotepad method, which will just start Notepad:

    private void StartNotepad(object sender, EventArgs e)
        Process proc = new Process();
        proc.StartInfo.FileName = "notepad.exe";
  4. Now try it out. When you start debugging the project and click Tools > Invoke FirstCommand, you should see an instance of Notepad come up.

    You can use an instance of the Process class to run any executable, not just Notepad. Try it with calc.exe, for example.

Clean up the experimental environment

If you are developing multiple extensions, or just exploring outcomes with different versions of your extension code, your experimental environment may stop working the way it should. In this case, you should run the reset script. It's called Reset the Visual Studio Experimental Instance, and it ships as part of the Visual Studio SDK. This script removes all references to your extensions from the experimental environment, so you can start from scratch.

You can get to this script in one of two ways:

  1. From the desktop, find Reset the Visual Studio Experimental Instance.

  2. From the command line, run the following:

    <VSSDK installation>\VisualStudioIntegration\Tools\Bin\CreateExpInstance.exe /Reset /VSInstance=<version> /RootSuffix=Exp && PAUSE

Deploy your extension

Now that you have your tool extension running the way you want, it's time to think about sharing it with your friends and colleagues. That's easy, as long as they have Visual Studio 2015 installed. All you have to do is send them the .vsix file you built. (Be sure to build it in Release mode.)

You can find the .vsix file for this extension in the FirstMenuCommand bin directory. Specifically, assuming you have built the Release configuration, it will be in:

<code directory>\FirstMenuCommand\FirstMenuCommand\bin\Release\FirstMenuCommand.vsix

To install the extension, your friend needs to close all open instances of Visual Studio, then double-click the .vsix file, which brings up the VSIX Installer. The files are copied to the %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\VisualStudio<version>\Extensions directory.

When your friend brings up Visual Studio again, they'll find the FirstMenuCommand extension in Tools > Extensions and Updates. They can go to Extensions and Updates to uninstall or disable the extension, too.

Next steps

This walkthrough has shown you only a small part of what you can do with a Visual Studio extension. Here's a short list of other (reasonably easy) things you can do with Visual Studio extensions:

  1. You can do many more things with a simple menu command:

    1. Add your own icon: Add icons to menu commands

    2. Change the text of the menu command: Change the text of a menu command

    3. Add a menu shortcut to a command: Bind keyboard shortcuts to menu items

  2. Add different kinds of commands, menus, and toolbars: Extend menus and commands

  3. Add tool windows and extend the built-in Visual Studio tool windows: Extend and Customize tool windows

  4. Add IntelliSense, code suggestions, and other features to existing code editors: Extend the editor and language services

  5. Add Options and Property pages and user settings to your extension: Extend properties and the Property window and Extend user settings and options

    Other kinds of extensions require a little more work, such as creating a new type of project (Extend projects), creating a new type of editor (Create custom editors and designers), or implementing your extension in an isolated shell: Visual Studio isolated shell