Develop code in Visual Studio without projects or solutions

In Visual Studio 2017, you can open code from nearly any type of directory-based project into Visual Studio without the need for a solution or project file. This means you can, for example, clone a repo on GitHub, open it directly into Visual Studio, and begin developing, without having to create a solution or project. If needed, you can specify custom build tasks and launch parameters through simple JSON files.

After you open your code files in Visual Studio, Solution Explorer displays all the files in the folder. You can click on any file to begin editing it. In the background, Visual Studio starts indexing the files to enable IntelliSense, navigation, and refactoring features. As you edit, create, move, or delete files, Visual Studio tracks the changes automatically and continuously updates its IntelliSense index. Code will appear with syntax colorization and, in many cases, include basic IntelliSense statement completion.

Open any code

You can open code into Visual Studio in any of the following ways:

  • On the Visual Studio menu bar, choose File > Open > Folder, and then browse to the code location.
  • On the context (right-click) menu of a folder containing code, choose the Open in Visual Studio command.
  • Choose the Open Folder link on the Visual Studio Start Page.
  • If you are a keyboard user, press Ctrl+Shift+Alt+O in Visual Studio.
  • Open code from a cloned GitHub repo.

To open code from a cloned GitHub repo

The following example shows how to clone a GitHub repo and then open its code in Visual Studio. To follow this procedure, you must have a GitHub account and Git for Windows installed on your system. See Signing up for a new GitHub account and Git for Windows for more information.

  1. Go to the repo you want to clone on GitHub.

  2. Choose the Clone or Download button and then choose the Copy to Clipboard button in the dropdown menu to copy the secure URL for the GitHub repo.

    GitHub clone button

  3. In Visual Studio, choose the Team Explorer tab to open Team Explorer. If you don't see the tab, open it from View > Team Explorer.

  4. In Team Explorer, under the Local Git Repositories section, choose the Clone command and then paste the URL of the GitHub page into the text box.

    Clone the project

  5. Choose the Clone button to clone the project's files to a local Git repository. Depending on the size of the repo, this process could take several minutes.

  6. After the repo has been cloned to your system, in Team Explorer, choose the Open command on the context (right-click) menu of the newly cloned repo.

    Cloned repo

  7. Choose the Show Folder View command to view the files in Solution Explorer.

    Show folder view

    You can now browse folders and files in the cloned repo, and view and search the code in the Visual Studio code editor, complete with syntax colorization and other features.

movie camera icon for video Watch a video on how to clone and open code from a GitHub repo in Visual Studio.

Run and debug your code

You can debug your code in Visual Studio without a project or solution! To debug some languages, you may need to specify a valid startup file in the codebase, such as a script, executable, or project. The drop-down list box next to the Start button on the toolbar lists all of the startup items that Visual Studio detects, as well as items you specifically designate. Visual Studio runs this code first when you debug your code.

Configuring your code to run in Visual Studio differs depending on what kind of code it is, and what the build tools are.

Codebases that use MSBuild

MSBuild-based codebases can have multiple build configurations that appear in the Start button's drop-down list. Select the file that you want to use as the startup item, and then choose the Start button to begin debugging.

Note

For C# and Visual Basic codebases, you must have the .NET desktop development workload installed. For C++ codebases, you must have the Desktop development with C++ workload installed.

Codebases that use custom build tools

If your codebase uses custom build tools, then you must tell Visual Studio how to build your code using build tasks that are defined in a .json file. For more information, see Customize build and debug tasks.

Codebases that contain Python or JavaScript code

If your codebase contains Python or JavaScript code, you don't have to configure any .json files, but you do have to install the corresponding workload. You must also configure the startup script:

  1. Install the Node.js development or Python development workload by choosing Tools > Get Tools and Features, or by closing Visual Studio and running the Visual Studio Installer.

    Node.js and Python development workloads

  2. In Solution Explorer, on the right-click or context menu of a JavaScript or Python file, choose the Set as Startup Item command.

  3. Choose the Start button to begin debugging.

Codebases that contain C++ code

For information about opening C++ code without solutions or projects in Visual Studio, see Open Folder projects for C++.

Codebases that contain a Visual Studio project

If your code folder contains a Visual Studio project, you can designate the project as the startup item.

Set project as startup item

The Start button's text changes to reflect that the project is the startup item.

Project on Start button

See also