Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

For Windows Development I mean.

Looking over other questions there are alternatives to VS, but they seem to be web based ones, which is fine, or you could program an entire .net website in notepad, should the urge drive you to.

But is there more to it than just an IDE for Windows Development? I.E. Is it possible for me to create an application in just notepad, is the compiler part of Visual Studio, or is it separate, which could be called via command line or something?

I don't want to not use VS, I'm happy with it, does what I need etc etc, just more a facet I'm curious about.

share|improve this question
I don't entirely know what you mean by "just an IDE". – David Thornley Dec 8 '10 at 14:46
It's not an IDE, it's a way of life. – Maxpm Dec 8 '10 at 15:02
Why don't you just ask if you can compile plain text files outside of VS? – JeffO Dec 8 '10 at 15:33
Its a way of life for .NET Devs. I love you intellisense!! – Terrance Dec 8 '10 at 20:04
Yes. And a Ferrari is just a car. – WernerCD Dec 8 '10 at 22:11
up vote 32 down vote accepted

Compilers are available separately.

For C# it would be the csc.exe. You could call it from the command line any time. Pass along the name of the source files to compile, the libraries to reference, compilation option and here you go.

I believe Visual Studio itself calls the compiler over the command line when you ask it to build your project. The build output messages you see is what the command-line compiler returns.

Apart from this Visual Studio is more than just a GUI for a compiler. It has a nice text editor, debugger, designer tools, SQL browser, also integrates with test tools, versioning control and other instrumentary (it's extendable through plug-ins). You'd be striving hard to find an equivalent product (for the Microsoft stack) with a comparable level of consolidation.

share|improve this answer
csc.exe is the C# compiler. cl.exe would be needed for C/C++ compilation etc. – Fanatic23 Dec 8 '10 at 14:27
@Fanatic23: Yes of course, thank you. – user8685 Dec 8 '10 at 14:57
Debugger. An awesomely good debugger. You don't know it's there and it's really good until you've tried another IDE. – romkyns Jan 22 '11 at 12:31

Not only is the compiler completely separate, so is anything else you might need to build a .net project. Visual Studio solution and project files are just XML that is understood by MSBuild (another command line tool), which in turn calls the relevant compiler.

Yes, Visual Studio is just an IDE. That integrates most of the individual tools that you might use during the SDLC (SQL Server, StyleCop, etc.) into a single application.

That's all!

share|improve this answer

I would like to add my two cents. I would say you can't use the words "just an IDE". The way you word your question it's almost that you are saying "is Visual Studio just a fancy text editor?". Remember it has a debugger, tools for SQL, a visual designer, tools for mobile development, viewers for inspecting memory, etc. Visual Studio is an IDE and an IDE is a suite of development/debugging tools.

I think you got the answer you were searching for, which was compilers can be downloaded separately, but I want develpors to realize how much an IDE brings to the table. Even the ability to organize your project is a beautiful thing. I guess this soap box is more "please learn the tools" than anything else. You could use visual studio to debug system problems as well.

share|improve this answer
Agreed. Calling Visual Studio 'just an IDE' is like calling Donald Knuth 'just some college professor.' – Adam Crossland Dec 8 '10 at 14:47
Well, I agree, but those things do belong in an Integrated Development Environment (IDE.) In that sense, it is "just an IDE", but one that's pretty damn loaded with features out of the box. – MetalMikester Dec 8 '10 at 19:01

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.