Visual Studio Code (aka VS Code) is a widely used open-source code editor. Made by Microsoft, VS Code is known for being versatile, fast, and lightweight and offering a long list of features, including a user-friendly interface, intelligent code completion, debugging, Git integration, live editing, hundreds of thousands of extensions, and more. We break down Microsoft’s popular coding tool in terms of its features, pricing, advantages, and disadvantages to help determine if it is the ideal fit for your development needs.
Overview of Visual Studio Code
Visual Studio Code was initially released by Microsoft in 2015 as a cross-platform, open-source, and lightweight alternative to the Windows-focused Visual Studio IDE. Microsoft released VS Code to cater to a wider audience of developers familiar with various operating systems, including Windows, macOS, and Linux.
VS Code’s popularity quickly grew thanks in large part to its massive extension ecosystem bolstered by developers who contributed added functionalities for different tools, programming languages, and services. Beyond its extensions, VS Code also caught developers’ eyes due to its versatile and lightweight nature, making it a viable solution for web development, data science, and many other development tasks. VS Code continues to be a top choice for software and web developers seeking a multi-language and cross-platform code editor for efficiently writing, debugging, and managing code and boosting productivity.
Features of Visual Studio Code
Visual Studio Code’s top features include:
- Multi-language support
- Cross-platform support
- Interactive debugging
- Keyboard shortcuts
- Git support
- Extension Marketplace
Developers from differing backgrounds can use Visual Studio Code thanks to its support for multiple programming languages (C#, C++, Java, Python, etc.) and platforms (Windows, macOS, Linux). The IntelliSense feature offers time-saving smart code completion and suggestions based on imported modules, function definitions, and variable types, and VS Code lets you debug directly from the editor with an interactive console, breakpoints, code stepping, variable inspection, call stacks, and more. You can refactor code to make it more readable and maintainable to improve its quality and customize VS Code’s features to meet your specific needs. There are also keyboard shortcuts to make navigating your code a breeze.
VS Code’s Git support lets you review diffs, make commits, stage files, etc., without leaving the editor, and it lets you push/pull from any hosted source code management service. VS Code integrates with many of the top scripting and build tools to tackle everyday tasks and streamline your workflows, and its Extension Marketplace lets you add debuggers, languages, and other tools to meet your unique needs.
Visual Studio Code Pricing
Microsoft released Visual Studio Code as an open-source code editor in 2015 that was free to use, and such status continues to this day. In other words, if you are part of a development team with a limited budget, you will be glad to know that you can enjoy VS Code’s long list of features at no cost.
It is worth noting that while Visual Studio Code is free, you may incur costs for other tools, services, or extensions that you choose to combine with the open-source code editor.
Advantages of Visual Studio Code
Visual Studio Code has many advantages that have allowed it to grow in popularity over the years, such as:
- User interface
- Large community
- Frequently updated
- Long list of features
VS Code’s free and open-source nature makes it easily accessible to developers of all budgets.
The code editor is fast and lightweight, with a user-friendly interface that makes for an enjoyable development experience. VS Code is highly extensible thanks to its massive extension ecosystem, and it is also quite flexible, with support for multiple platforms and programming languages.
Visual Studio Code’s large community offers added support, resources, themes, and extensions, and Microsoft frequently updates the editing tool to fix issues and release new features. Speaking of features, VS Code has plenty of them to boost developer productivity and increase code quality, including IntelliSense, debugging, version control, collaboration, and more.
Disadvantages of Visual Studio Code
While VS Code has many advantages that have made it a top editing tool in the web and software development world, it also has disadvantages. Here are its weaknesses:
- Learning curve
- Complex configuration
- Unstable extensions
- IDE competition
Since it has so many features and customization options, beginners may need extra time to adapt to VS Code, especially if they are new to code editing or transitioning from another tool. VS Code’s configuration may seem more hands-on and complex than other editors, and it can become quite resource-intensive if you are running several plugins simultaneously or working with large projects despite being lightweight on its own.
While its massive extension ecosystem is a plus, it can also be a minus since some extensions have been noted for their instability. Lastly, VS Code is a robust code editor, but it is not a full-fledged integrated development environment (IDE). Some developers may seek more functionality and tools that only an IDE can provide and could feel a bit underwhelmed by what VS Code has to offer.
Alternatives to Visual Studio Code
There are many reasons to choose Visual Studio Code for your code editing needs. It is fast, lightweight, user-friendly, extensible, and flexible. It also has a large community, a long list of features, and is frequently updated. Unfortunately, there are also several reasons to pass on Visual Studio Code, as beginners may find it complex, it can be resource-intensive in certain situations, it may have unstable extensions, and it may lack a more comprehensive feature set that only a true IDE can provide.
If you find that Visual Studio Code’s cons outweigh its pros, here are some of the top VS Code alternatives that may be a better fit.
IntelliJ IDEA is a full-fledged IDE primarily used for Java but supports other programming languages. The VS Code alternative increases coding efficiency with intelligent code assistance and other built-in tools for code analysis, refactoring, debugging, collaboration, and more. While more resource-intensive than VS Code, IntelliJ IDEA may be the preferred alternative for Java and Kotlin developers seeking a comprehensive IDE with a wider range of specialized features.
IntelliJ IDEA has a free and open-source Community Edition with basic features. It also has commercial plans for individuals and organizations starting at $169 and $599 per year, respectively.
PyCharm is an easy-to-set-up and easy-to-use Python IDE. It offers plenty of productivity-boosting features, including intelligent code completion, code analysis, refactoring, testing, debugging, and more. PyCharm is an ideal VS Code alternative for developers seeking a more comprehensive development tool and full-fledged IDE for Python development. However, it may be more resource-intensive than VS Code and less versatile since it focuses on Python, while Microsoft’s code editor supports various programming languages.
PyCharm’s open-source Community Edition is free with basic features. Its individual and organizational plans start at $99 and $249 per year, respectively.
Developers working on larger, more complex projects involving C#, .NET, and other Microsoft technologies may find Visual Studio the ideal VS Code alternative. The full-featured Microsoft IDE supports multiple programming languages, platforms, and frameworks and offers various features for code analysis, advanced debugging, testing, project management, and more. Whether you use Visual Studio or VS Code typically depends on the complexity and scale of your project, but some developers use both to fulfill their needs.
The Visual Studio Community version is free for individuals. There are also Business and Enterprise editions that start at $5 per user, per month.
Final Thoughts on VS Code IDE
Microsoft’s lightweight and fast code editor is flexible, extensible, user-friendly, and feature-rich. VS Code can also be complex, resource-intensive at times, unstable with some extensions, and fall behind full-fledged IDEs in some developers’ eyes. If, after reading this Visual Studio Code review, you find that the code editor does not meet your needs, try one of the alternatives listed above, as IntelliJ IDEA, PyCharm, or Visual Studio may be a better fit. And if none of those suffice, know that there are plenty of other options on the market.