Introduction to Visual C++ for UNIX Users

This topic provides information for UNIX users who are new to Visual Studio and want to become productive with C++ and the Visual Studio Integrated Development Environment (IDE).

Getting Started on the Command Line

You can use the C++ compiler from the command line in a similar way that you would use a UNIX command-line environment. You compile from the command prompt by using the command-line C and C++ compiler (CL.EXE), linker (LINK.EXE), and other tools, including NMAKE.EXE, the Microsoft version of the UNIX make utility.

In UNIX, commands are installed in a common folder, such as /usr/bin. In Visual Studio, the command-line tools are installed in your Visual Studio installation directory in the VC\bin subdirectory and its subdirectories. Unlike UNIX, these tools are not available in a plain command prompt window. To use the command-line tools, use a developer command prompt shortcut, or run a developer command file such as vcvarsall.bat. This sets up the path and other environment variables that are necessary to compile C++ programs from the command line. For more information, see Build C/C++ code on the command line and Walkthrough: Compiling a Native C++ Program on the Command Line.

To open a developer command prompt shortcut, enter developer command prompt in the desktop search control and choose the Developer Command Prompt result for your version of Visual Studio. To choose a developer command prompt that is preconfigured for a particular host and target architecture, open the Start menu (the Windows icon in the corner of the desktop) and then scroll to the folder for your version of Visual Studio, such as Visual Studio 2017. Open the folder and choose the command prompt shortcut for your preferred host and target architecture.

To take advantage of more powerful features, such as the Visual Studio debugger, IntelliSense code look-up and statement completion, visual designers, project management, and so on, you need to use the Visual Studio IDE.

Debugging Your Code

If you use the command line and run your applications on your development workstation, you will see that a dialog box to run the Visual Studio debugger is displayed when your code encounters a memory access violation, unhandled exception, or other unrecoverable errors. If you click OK, then the Visual Studio development environment is started, and the debugger will open to the point of failure. It is possible to debug your applications this way, and, in this case, your source code would only be available if you compiled with the /Z7, /Zi, /ZI (Debug Information Format) switch. For more information, see Debugging Native Code and Using the Visual Studio IDE for C++ Desktop Development.

Using the Development Environment

It is easier to use the development environment to edit and build your source code in a project. A project is a collection of source and related files that will be compiled into a single unit, such as a library or executable. A project also contains information on how the files are to be built. Information about projects is stored in a project file with the extension .prj.

An application that consists of multiple libraries and executables, each potentially built with a different set of compiler options or even in a different language, are stored in multiple projects that are part of a single solution. A solution is an abstraction for a container to group multiple projects together. Information about solutions is stored in a solution file with the extension .sln. For more information, see Solutions and Projects in Visual Studio and Using the Visual Studio IDE for C++ Desktop Development.

Importing Your Existing Code

You can use the C++ compiler to build existing code that is set up to compile with or without a makefile and put it into a Visual Studio project. For more information, see How to: Create a C++ Project from Existing Code.

Creating a New Project

You can create new projects in the development environment. Visual Studio provides numerous templates that provide standard code for various common projects. You can use application wizards to generate projects with code outlines for various application types.

You can start with an empty project by using the Console Application (Win32) Wizard. Select the Empty Project check box. You can then add new and existing files to the project later.

When you create a project, you must name the project. By default, the project name equals the name of the dynamic-link library (DLL) or executable that is build from the project. For more information, see Creating Solutions and Projects.

Microsoft-Specific Modifiers

The Microsoft Visual C++ compiler implements several extensions to the standard C++ programming language to support programming for Windows operating systems. These extensions are used to specify storage class attributes, function calling conventions, and based addressing, among other things. For a complete list of all supported C++ extensions, see Microsoft-Specific Modifiers.

You can disable all Microsoft-specific extensions to C++ by using the /Za compiler option. This option is recommended if you want to write code to run on multiple platforms. For more information on the /Za compiler option, see /Za, /Ze (Disable Language Extensions). For more information on C++ compiler conformance, see Visual C++ Language Conformance and Nonstandard Behavior.

Precompiled Headers

The Microsoft C and C++ compilers provide options for precompiling any C or C++ code, including inline code. Using this performance feature, you can compile a stable body of code, store the compiled state of the code in a file, and, during subsequent compilations, combine the precompiled code with code that is still under development. Each subsequent compilation is faster because the stable code does not need to be recompiled.

By default, all precompiled code is specified in the files stdafx.h and stdafx.cpp. The New Project wizard will automatically create these files for you unless you deselect the Precompiled header option. For more information on precompiled headers, see Creating Precompiled Header Files.

For more information, see Porting from UNIX to Win32.

See Also

Building C/C++ Programs