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Launch a foreground app with voice commands in Cortana (HTML)

In addition to using voice commands within Cortana to access system features, you can also use voice commands through Cortana to launch a foreground app and specify an action or command to execute within the app.


A voice command is a single utterance with a specific intent, defined in a Voice Command Definition (VCD) file, directed at an installed app through Cortana.

A voice command definition can vary in complexity. It can support anything from a single, constrained utterance to a collection of more flexible, natural language utterances, all denoting the same intent.

A VCD file defines one or more voice commands, each with a unique intent.

The target app can be launched in the foreground (the app takes focus) or activated in the background (Cortana retains focus but provides results from the app), depending on the complexity of the interaction. For example, voice commands that require additional context or user input (such as sending a message to a specific contact) are best handled in a foreground app, while basic commands can be handled in Cortana through a background app.


We demonstrate these features here with a trip planning and management app named Adventure Works.

To create a new Adventure Works trip without Cortana, a user would launch the app and navigate to the New trip page. To view an existing trip, a user would launch the app, navigate to the Upcoming trips page, and select the trip.

Using voice commands through Cortana, the user can instead just say, "Adventure Works add a trip" or "Add a trip on Adventure Works" to launch the app and navigate to the New trip page. In turn, saying "Adventure Works, show my trip to London" will launch the app and navigate to the Trip detail page, shown here.

Cortana launching foreground app

These are the basic steps to add voice-command functionality and integrate Cortana with your app using speech or keyboard input:

  1. Create a VCD file. This is an XML document that defines all the spoken commands that the user can say to initiate actions or invoke commands when activating your app. See VCD elements and attributes v1.2.
  2. Register the command sets in the VCD file when the app is launched.
  3. Handle the activation-by-voice-command, navigation within the app, and execution of the command.

Objective: To learn how to enable foreground voice commands.


If you're new to developing apps using JavaScript:

To complete this tutorial, have a look through these topics to get familiar with the technologies discussed here.

User experience guidelines:

See Cortana design guidelines for how to integrate your app with Cortana and Speech design guidelines for helpful tips on designing a useful and engaging speech-enabled app.

1. Create a VCD file

  1. In Visual Studio, right-click the project name, select Add->New Item, and then select XML File.
  2. Type a name for the VCD file. For example, "AdventureWorksCommands.xml". Select Add.
  3. In Solution Explorer, select the VCD file.
  4. In the Properties window, set Build action to Content, and then set Copy to output directory to Copy if newer.

2. Edit the VCD file

For each language supported by your app, create a CommandSet of voice commands that your app can handle.

Each Command declared in a VCD file must include this information:

  • A command Name used by the application to identify the the voice command at runtime

  • An Example element that contains a phrase describing how a user can invoke the command. Cortana shows this example when the user says "What can I say?", "Help", or they tap See more.

  • A ListenFor element that contains the words or phrases that your app recognizes to initiate a command. Each command needs to have at least one ListenFor element.

  • A Feedback element that contains the text for Cortana to display and speak as the application is launched.

  • A Navigate element with a Target attribute to indicate that the voice command is to launch the app in the foreground. Specify a VoiceCommandService element if the voice command launches the app in the background instead. See [Cortana Extensibility] for more details.

See the VCD elements and attributes v1.2 reference for more detail.

You can specify multiple language versions for the commands used to activate your app and execute a command. You can create multiple CommandSet elements, each with a different xml:lang attribute to allow your app to be used in different markets. For example, an app for the United States might have a CommandSet for English and a CommandSet for Spanish.


To activate an app and initiate an action using a voice command, the app must register a VCD file that contains a CommandSet with a language that matches the speech language that the user selected on their device. This language is set by the user on the device Settings > System > Speech > Speech Language screen.


Here's a VCD file that defines a voice command for the Adventure Works app.

For this example, CommandPrefix is set to "Adventure Works", Command, identified by Name (" showTripToDestination"), specifies both what the user can say and what feedback is provided by Cortana, ListenFor specifies the text that can be recognized (with a reference to a PhraseList element that constrains the recognized destinations), Navigate indicates that the voice command is handled by launching the app in the foreground, and Feedback specifies what the user will hear when Cortana launches the app.

ListenFor elements cannot be programmatically modified. However, PhraseList elements associated with ListenFor elements can be programmatically modified. Applications should modify the content of the PhraseList at runtime based on the data set generated as the user uses the app. See How to dynamically modify VCD phrase lists.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<VoiceCommands xmlns="">
  <CommandSet xml:lang="en-us" Name="AdventureWorksCommandSet_en-us">
    <CommandPrefix> Adventure Works, </CommandPrefix>
    <Example> Show trip London </Example>

    <Command Name="showTripToDestination">
      <Example> show trip to London  </Example>
      <ListenFor> show trip to {destination} </ListenFor>
      <Feedback> Showing trip to {destination} </Feedback>

    <PhraseList Label="destination">
      <Item> London </Item>
      <Item> Dallas </Item>
      <Item> New York </Item>

    <PhraseTopic Label="newDestination" Scenario="Search">

<!-- Other CommandSets for other languages -->


3. Install the VCD commands

Your app must run once to install the command sets in the VCD.

When your app is activated, call InstallCommandSetsFromStorageFileAsync during Launch to register the commands that the system should listen for.

Note  If a device backup occurs and your app reinstalls automatically, voice command data is not preserved. To ensure the voice command data for your app stays intact, consider initializing your VCD file each time your app launches or activates, or store a setting that indicates if the VCD is currently installed and check the setting each time your app launches or activates.


Here's an example that shows how to install the commands specified by a VCD file (vcd.xml).


4. Handle activation and execute voice commands

Once your app has been launched and the voice command sets installed, specify how your app responds to subsequent voice command activations. For example, your app might navigate to a specific page of content, display a map or other navigation utility, or speak a confirmation or status.

You need to:

  1. Confirm that your app was activated by a voice command.

    In the onactivated event, check whether activationKind is voiceCommand.

  2. Determine the name of the command and what was spoken.

    Get a reference to a VoiceCommandActivatedEventArgs object from the IActivatedEventArgs and query the result property for a speechRecognitionResult object.

    To determine what the user said, check the value of text or the semantic properties of the recognized phrase in the speechRecognitionSemanticInterpretation dictionary.

  3. Take the appropriate action in your app, typically navigating to the relevant page.

For this example, we refer back to the VCD in Step 3: Edit the VCD file.

Once we get the speech-recognition result for the voice command, we get the command name from the first value in the rulePath array. As the VCD file defined more than one possible voice command, we need to compare the value against the command names in the VCD and take the appropriate action.

The most common action an application can take is to navigate to a page with content relevant to the context of the voice command. For this example, we navigate to a TripPage page and pass in the value of the voice command, how the command was input, and the recognized "destination" phrase (if applicable). Alternatively, the app could send a navigation parameter to the speechRecognitionResult when navigating to the page.

You can find out whether the voice command that launched your app was actually spoken, or whether it was typed in as text, from the dictionary using the commandMode key. The value of that key will be either "voice" or "text". If the value of the key is "voice", consider using speech synthesis (Windows.Media.SpeechSynthesis) to provide the user with spoken feedback.

Use the to find out the content spoken in the PhraseList or PhraseTopic constraints of a ListenFor element. The dictionary key is the value of the Label attribute of the PhraseList or PhraseTopic element. Here we show how to access the value of {destination} phrase.


Summary and next steps

Here, you learned how to implement basic voice commands using VCD files to be launched in the foreground from Cortana.

Next, learn how to implement voice commands that display results on the Cortana canvas. See Launch a background app with voice commands in Cortana (HTML).

Or learn How to dynamically modify VCD phrase lists. This can be useful if the voice command action involves transient data generated as your app is being used.

Cortana interactions

How to define custom recognition constraints

VCD elements and attributes v1.2


Cortana design guidelines