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Posted 1 Feb 2011

Does Your App Know Where it's Running

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How to determine if your .Net app is running in the Visual Studio IDE
Have you ever wondered how to determine if your application is running as a standalone app or from within the Visual Studio IDE? I needed to do that today, and it took some scrounging around, but this is what I came up with.

If you go look in your (compiled) project's bin\debug (or bin\release) folder, you'll probably find a file named something like this:


That application is an execution proxy used by Visual Studio to run your actual application. It provides three primary benefits to your development efforts:

It provides the following benefits:

* It improves performance by creating the AppDomain and initializing the debugger.

* It simulates a partial trust environment inside the IDE

* It allows design-time expression evaluation and supports the Immediate window.

Now that we know what it does (not that it really matters), let's exploit it. Essentially, you need to do two things to make this tip work:

0) Calling Application.ExecutablePath returns the full path to your actual application, i.e. C:\dev\MySolution\MyProj\bin\debug\MyApp.exe

1) If you use InteropServices to call GetModuleFileName, the returned path is C:\dev\MySolution\MyProj\bin\debug\MyApp.vshost.exe.

If the two names do NOT match, you're app is running in the IDE (even if the debugger isn't attached).

Ain't life a peach sometimes? Here's the whole code snippet.

using System.Windows.Forms;
using System.InteropServices;
public static class Globals
    [DllImport("kernel32.dll", SetLastError=true)]
    private static extern int GetModuleFileName([In]IntPtr hModule, 
                                                [Out]StringBuilder lpFilename, 
                                                [In][MarshalAs(UnmanagedType.U4)] int nSize);
    public static bool RunningInVisualStudio()
        StringBuilder moduleName = new StringBuilder(1024);
        int result = GetModuleFileName(IntPtr.Zero, moduleName, moduleName.Capacity);
        string appName = Application.ExecutablePath.ToLower();
        return (appName != moduleName.ToString().ToLower());

One caveat exists - This technique can be rendered useless by going to the project's Properties page, clicking on the Debug tab, and then unchecking the check box that reads "Enable the Visual Studio Hosting Process". My advice - don't uncheck that box.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

John Simmons / outlaw programmer
Software Developer (Senior) Paddedwall Software
United States United States
I've been paid as a programmer since 1982 with experience in Pascal, and C++ (both self-taught), and began writing Windows programs in 1991 using Visual C++ and MFC. In the 2nd half of 2007, I started writing C# Windows Forms and ASP.Net applications, and have since done WPF, Silverlight, WCF, web services, and Windows services.

My weakest point is that my moments of clarity are too brief to hold a meaningful conversation that requires more than 30 seconds to complete. Thankfully, grunts of agreement are all that is required to conduct most discussions without committing to any particular belief system.

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Comments and Discussions

GeneralYou can also use Process.GetCurrentProcess().MainModule.File... Pin
Tiefeng You2-Feb-11 12:45
memberTiefeng You2-Feb-11 12:45 
GeneralRe: that's nicer, no interop necessary using System.Diagnostics;... Pin
wknopf7-Feb-11 7:51
memberwknopf7-Feb-11 7:51 

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