Monday, June 8, 2009

Finding stuff in Visual Studio 2008

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Usually when I try to find something in my code, instead of relying on my memory to help me locate it, I just press Ctrl+F on my keyboard, and let Visual Studio do the finding. If you didn't already know, you can also press Ctrl+H and go directly to the replace dialog (where you can search with wildcards, but you can't replace with them - that would have been a nice feature!).

However, the find and replace dialog is a pretty powerful tool to locate stuff in your code, if you know how to use the options: Match case, match whole word, Search up, Search Hidden text, and Use. The first four are pretty straight-forward but if you don't know them or understand them from their names, here's a very quick update:
Match case - if you write CONST, VS will not find const, Const or COnSt.
Match whole word - if you write sum, VS will only find that, and not summary.
Search up - default is down, but you can search up. "Search up" feels buggy for me if you search in anything else than current document.
Search hidden text - collapsed or otherwise hidden sections

If you check the "Use" checkbox, you can select an option from the dropdown, either Wildcards or Regular Expressions. Let's try the first one first, it is by far the easiest and for my part, most used. Wildcards are ?, * and #, ? representing a single character, # a single digit, and * being pretty much anything, like you would expect.

If you want to find a single digit, you can search for #, double digit is ##, and you get the picture. The same goes for ?, search for ?nt and get and, int, ent... I really don't use it that much. If you'd like to find all numbers in their forties, type 4# and there they are. Or use Int## if you would like to avoid other types of Int in your code. Might come in handy if you are looking for that special number...

The * is my favorite. If I'm looking through a project to find a string that says "Sql-something", I'll just write Sql* and go. That's not very much different from searching for Sql without checking "Match whole word" though, so try finding "*yste*" and see if you find System. Or combine with # and ? for interesting effects.

You can even look for things like using( ... ), search for "using(*)" will help you. Tip: What if you want to find places you aren't using using? Search for example for *Connection(); or *Context(); - the semicolon will not be there if there is a using( ) wrapped around it. Or even search for new *(); to find any instance of an object that's not inside a using block.

And if you do want to search for # or * or ? in your code, and still use the wildcards, you can escape the characters using the backslash (\).

Regular expressions
For the regular expressions, or regex as most developers call them, there is a very good cheat sheet available at (previously It's a very powerful feature, but thankfully I don't come across many situations where I need it.

Microsoft has a reference to some short-hand expressions that VS understands,

You could imagine having to find e-mail addresses referenced in an old app that you have inherited from another developer, who was fond of using @ in his code, perhaps in sql script written inline? You could go with regex and find only valid e-mail addresses. Or hex numbers, or all caps or all lowercase or enclosed in quotes, any kind of text that matches a given pattern.

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