My 15 Indispensible Tools for .NET Development

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My 15 Indispensible Tools for .NET Development

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I guess the title of my blog is a giveaway to the fact that I am primarily an ASP.NET developer; at the moment mostly MVC 3, which is all kinds of awesome, for all kinds of reasons.

So here is a list of the tools that I can’t do without and that I think would be useful for anyone else out there who is wanting to build web apps on the Microsoft stack. This is the stuff that I would automatically install onto a new machine before I started development work on it.

Post any tools you love in the comments and I will check them out. I’ll keep the list updated as I find new cool stuff ™, so keep checking back. So here they are, in the order that my mind blurted them out:


Microsoft Visual Studio 2010


It’s Visual Studio. If you can afford it get it – it’s the best. If not, have a look at BizSpark, WebsiteSpark or Visual Web Developer 2010 Express (below).  And you definitely need to check out the upcoming Visual Studio 2012.  Find some awesome articles about it here, here, and here.


Microsoft Visual Web Developer 2010 Express


The Microsoft Express products are basically FREE cut-down versions of full applications (in this case Visual Studio 2010). It is not as feature-rich as Visual Studio, but has all the tools necessary to develop ASP.NET applications. Ideal if you are a hobbyist programmer or a student. All projects created in Visual Web Developer Express 2010 are compatible with Visual Studio 2010. And did I mention it’s FREE?




Notepad++ is a free code editor, designed as a replacement for Windows Notepad with code syntax highlighting. Ideal for those times when you just want to edit a bit of source code, some HTML, or some CSS without having to fire up the whole of Visual Studio.




NuGet is a free open-source package manager for Visual Studio and Visual Web Developer Express that just makes it so ridiculously easy to integrate third-party libraries and tools into your projects it is untrue. Truly brilliant, I can’t recommend this enough.

Take a look at this brief introduction to NuGet by Phil Haack (note that this is for an older version)

Firebug and IE8 Developer Tools

http://getfirebug.com/ or press F12 in IE8

Firebug and the IE8 Developer Tools both do essentially the same job, although each has it’s own strengths – they both let you inspect the source code, CSS and Scripts of any web page and any element within it. This is a fantastic way to learn how other developers have achieved a certain CSS effect or to inspect your output at runtime to find out what is really going on.


.NET Reflector


Another tool aimed at helping you to find out what is really going on. Reflector enables you to analyse compiled .NET assemblies in C#, Visual Basic and MSIL and is an invaluable learning and debugging tool.




I love Ninject. It is a Dependency Injection container which makes it possible to achieve real separation of concerns between your applications components. Ninject is very easy to use and does a good job of all the usual dependency chain resolution and object lifetime management stuff that you would expect from a DI container. Also very simple to install, thanks to NuGet!




NUnit is a unit-testing framework for .NET, ported from JUnit – the popular Java based framework. This is a completely standalone product, which is particularly useful if you are using Visual Web Developer 2010 Express which has no built in unit-testing.




If you are doing Test Driven Development then life is going to be even harder without a good mocking library. Moq is one.




Fiddler allows you to inspect all incoming and outgoing HTTP traffic. I find this particularly useful for debugging ASP.NET applications on your local machine by inspecting the HTTP requests and responses to localhost to look at cookies, header information, etc.




ELMAH stands for Error Logging Modules and Handlers and is an open-source error logging facility for ASP.NET. It will log almost any unhandled exceptions and display them back to you via the web. In many cases you can look back to see the original "Yellow Screen of Death", even if you have customErrors turned off. If you have NuGet installed (which you really should), just type “install-package elmah” into the Package Manager Console” and browse to elmah.axd to see the error logs. It really is that easy.




At some point you gotta ship stuff right? And to the web developer that means uploading it. Well there are loads of free FTP solutions out there, but my favourite at the moment is FileZilla.




SketchFlow is a prototyping tool released by Microsoft as part of Expression Studio. It gives you the ability to quickly map out workflow and basic functionality to show end users, without having them concentrate on the UI. For once you may get some useful feedback instead of, "Can we try that in green?".




I was never a fan of mind-mapping, but I sat at in a meeting with an avid user of XMind and was very impressed. I have used it a few times since just to blurt out all my "neat ideas" about an application before I start a more formal design.




If you are a real hardcore developer you will run at least two monitors. I run three and I don’t think I could go back to anything less than that now. Windows can handle all this extended desktop goodness for you, but Ultramon just does a far, far better job. Go and download the free trial and you’ll see what I mean.


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