If you ever worked with SniFF+, IBM’s VisualAge or its successor Eclipse/JDT
you get used to some features that are hard to miss if you have to change the
IDE. I.E VisualAge provides excellent visual class browsers and SniFF+ has the
most advanced source code browsers I’ve seen yet. Although Visual Studio
provides a visual class browser, it’s absolutely unusable because it’s only
updated on a compiler run, doesn’t show inheritance and last but no least shows
all classes of the project in a single tree (uuhhm… very funny to search for a
class within 300 other classes). Or you know there is class FooManager uuhhm or
is it named FooMgr and hell, in which file does it reside ?… while
VisualAge/Eclipse provides a very nice class browser which lets you search a
class by its name with simple regular expressions, you are completely left on
your memory with VS.
While some of the missing features can be “upgraded” by installing some 3rd
party addins (like VisualAssist or WorkspaceWhizz) none of them satisfied all my
needs. So after complaining and moaning around for almost a year, I decided to
start my own little project, the "Be Sweet" project.
This leaves only one remaining point for the introduction... how comes the
Well, when I initially started the project, it was named "Eclipse Style
Browsers". While, technically speaking, this would have been the correct name,
it's quite long, isn't it ? So, then I was thinking about Browser-Suite which
then turned into B-Suite and that sounds like "Be Sweet" and in deed, it's
sweet to have them
Currently, there are 5 different kind of browser implemented.
All browsers have an auto-raise feature. They can be brought to foreground by
hovering the mouse over them (without any mouse click) and when the mouse leaves
the dialog, it disappears into the background while Visual Studio is brought to
foreground instead. It needs some time to get used to that feature, but it's
very handy once you are used to it. I sometimes catch my self, holding the mouse
over MsWord wondering why it doesn't come to foreground
It's IMPORTANT to note that you must specify a corner that is used as
measure point to determine the window currently (partially) covering the
browser. By default this is the top-right corner but can be adjusted in the
preferences. Therefore you should place the browser at the left edge of your
screen to make the auto-raise work properly.
Oh yeah, all browsers are resizable of course.
The Outline Browser
This is probably the most used browser while working; well at least in my
case. It displays the content of the active Visual Studio editor. It's updated
every time you switch to another file or if save your changes.
The mouse behavior is context sensitive. Clicking onto a class/struct will
open an editor containing the declaration of the class (usually this will be a
header file) and the declaration line is highlighted. If you left click on a
method or function, the editor containing the definition (implementation) will
be opened at the appropriate position and if you right click on that same
method/function the appropriate declaration will be opened. The middle button
will popup a little menu, allowing you to switch to the header, source or
displaying the hierarchy of the selected class/struct/union.
If the outline browser was brought to foreground by it's auto-raise-feature,
you can move the mouse back into the Visual Studio (the outline browsers will
then automatically disappear). The editor will automatically get the focus so
you just can start typing without the need to activate/focus any window manually
by any mouse click!
The Hierarchy Browser
This view shows the hierarchy of a type. The Type Hierarchy view consists of
- Type Hierarchy tree pane
- Member list pane
The view can be adjusted to show the type in it's full context(i.e.
subclasses and superclasses). If the type has multiple super classes, only the
longest "super-path" will be displayed. It can be set to show the super types
only (be aware the the hierachy-tree is displayed upside down) and last but not
least the view can be restricted to show sub-types only.
The member list pane displays the members of the currently selected type in
the type hierarchy tree pane. It can be adjusted to show "own" members only or
to show inherited methods and fields also.
The Tag Browsers
What shall I say about them? Well, they are quite handy if you are looking
for something, but can't remember the full name or it's location, i.e. was that
TextMgr?. All tag browsers provide an incremental search and
support simple regular expressions (sorry, the "?" doesn't work yet)
If the Matches-List is focused, the typed characters will be used as
search-arguments (ESC/Delete to clear the filter, Backspace to erase the last
The Visual Studio AddIn
The addin is one of the two main parts of the system and implements the role
of the BeSweet client. It it's registered to several Visual-Studio-events and
triggers the appropriate action on the server, i.e. loads the workspace if you
open a new workspace or triggers a reparse of a source file if that file has
There is also an Addin for Visual Studio .Net, but thats still very
exprerimental and should be used with caution.
Selected text in the Visual Studio editor will be validated and used as
search-arguments when opening a browser via the addin buttons
For your convenience, Hot-Keys can be bound via
Tools->Customize->Keyboard->Add-In. All commands start with "ESB", i.e.
ESBShowTypeBrowser which would bring the type browser to foreground.
When I started the project, I had to decide to either fully integrate the
browsers inside Visual Studio or to build an external application. After reading
a couple of articles about how to integrate custom-apps into VS on
www.codeproject.com and www.codeguru.com, I decided to build an external client
server application based on the following reasons. First, I wanted to
concentrate my effort on the fun part and reading those articles, integrating an
app into VS didn’t sound like fun. Second, which is IMO the much more important
reason, if the external app crashes it won’t crash VS as well !
As mentioned above, the system is designed with a client-server architecture,
where the client is implemented as a Visual Studio Addin and interacts with the
server via COM. The server’s architecture is a very traditional MVC pattern. Not
all of the blocks above are currently implemented, i.e. there are no
Although there isn’t/wasn’t any need for multi platform support, I tried to
avoid too many platform specific dependencies. STL is used where ever possible ,
MFC is strictly used in the renderers only and the COM interface implementation
is completely encapsulated in it’s own module. That said, the effort to port it
to another platform shouldn’t be too big.
- Unzip the package into a folder of your choice.
- Register/Load the Visual Studio Addin via Tools->Customize->Macros and
- Customize the key binding. I personally use Alt-T to pop up the Type Browser, Alt-O for the Outline Browser, and so forth.
- start the ESBServer.exe
- open a workspace in visual studio
It might be neccessary to reboot your computer if you have already
installed an older version of BeSweet. If nothing works do the following
- uninstall the addin from visual studio
- unregister the dll with regsvr32
- reboot your pc
- start the ESBServer.exe
- open visual studio and reinstall the addin
- press the 1st addin-button and ensure that BeSweet is enabled (only for VC6)
- open a workspace in Visual Studio
- right click on the BeSweet-SystemTray-Icon and maximize --> your
workspace should be listened here
How to Build
It's not possible to build BeSweet with the default STL shipped with VC++
6.0. The reason is, that the VC-STL is based on a pre-existing standard (i think
before 1998) and is therefore missing some (important) features. To build the
project, any recent STL implementation should work. I personally use STLPort 4.5.3 which is based on the original
SGI implementation and can be freely donwloaded here.
Credits & Thanks To
- Darren Hiebert for his ctags parser... the enabling part of this project!
- Davide Calabro for his excellent flat-style bitmap button class
- Richard Hazlewood for his formidable multi selection tree control
- Andy Brown for providing his easy
- Chris Maunder and his
- special thanks goes to Ulf Niewoehner, Tsvetan Tsvetanov and Xiaoming Zhao
for their help in testing BeSweet and suggestions for improvements