Review: AutoCode

AutoCode 2.0 Beta 1

AutoCode is a simple tool for Visual Studio .NET. Its goal is to enable you to easily create and use simple code templates. There are two parts here: a template editor and a runtime replacement engine.

Templates have a pretty straightforward syntax. For example, here's one for VB .NET to create a public class:

''@ Template language="vb"
/*=blanks*/Public Class <%=args(0)%>
/*=blanks*/    Public Sub New()
/*=blanks*/    End Sub
/*=blanks*/End Class

For the most part, this is just text to be dumped directly into your code. But there are some other features here as well. The /*=blanks*/ token represents the leading whitespace at the point where the template is invoked; this makes it easy to maintain indentation. The <%=args(0)%> token is replaced with the first token on the line where the template is replaced; as you'd guess from the number, you can pass an arbitrary number of tokens. The [@] indicates where the cursor should be placed; a slight extension of this syntax lets you highlight a portion of the generated text.

With this template saved under the name cpub, then using it is as simple as typing

Customer cpub

and pressing Ctrl+Enter. The expansion is performed, returning the class with its constructor, and the cursor directly after the constructor.

AutoCode ships with a small selection of templates having to do with properties, regions, methods, and a few other odds and ends. Hopefully it will build up a larger library as it moves through the beta process and into release. It's also very fast; if anything, replacing an AutoCode template is faster than pressing Ctrl+Space to invoke Visual Studio's own AutoComplete feature.

There are still a few rough edges here. For one, the template editor is a separate window, rather than being integrated as a VS .NET tool window. For another, the template language lacks sufficient escapes; if you want [@ to appear in the output, for example, you're out of luck. But as a fast way to inject boilerplate code into your .NET applications, it's certainly priced right.


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