Build custom tool windows

Visual Studio Extensibility Cookbook

Custom tool windows are great options for adding complex UI to Visual Studio.

A tool window is a window that can be moved around and docked just like the Solution Explorer, Error List, and other well-known tool windows. A tool window consists of an outer shell provided by Visual Studio and a custom inner UI control, which is usually a XAML <usercontrol>, provided by the extension.

To create a new extension with a tool window, create a new project using the VSIX Project w/Tool Window (Community) template and skip the rest of this recipe. See getting started for more info.

Adding a tool window to an existing extension requires 4 simple steps:

  1. Create a tool window outer shell class
  2. Add a XAML <usercontrol> to the tool window
  3. Register the tool window
  4. Create a command to show the tool window

Let’s start with step 1.

Create the tool window

Using the BaseToolWindow<T> generic base class, we are asked to provide a few basic pieces of information. We must specify the title of the tool window, create and return the XAML user control, and set the actual ToolWindowPane class used by Visual Studio to create the outer shell of the window.

using System;
using System.Runtime.InteropServices;
using System.Threading;
using System.Threading.Tasks;
using System.Windows;
using Community.VisualStudio.Toolkit;
using EnvDTE80;
using Microsoft.VisualStudio.Imaging;
using Microsoft.VisualStudio.Shell;

public class MyToolWindow : BaseToolWindow<MyToolWindow>
    public override string GetTitle(int toolWindowId) => "My Tool Window";

    public override Type PaneType => typeof(Pane);

    public override async Task<FrameworkElement> CreateAsync(int toolWindowId, CancellationToken cancellationToken)
        await Task.Delay(2000); // Long running async task
        return new MyUserControl();

    // Give this a new unique guid
    internal class Pane : ToolWindowPane
        public Pane()
            // Set an image icon for the tool window
            BitmapImageMoniker = KnownMonikers.StatusInformation;

You must create an instance of your custom user control from the CreateAsync(int, CancellationToken) method, which is then automatically passed to the tool window shell when it is being created by Visual Studio.

But first, you must create the user control.

Add the XAML user control

It can be any XAML with its code-behind class, so here’s a simple example of a <usercontrol> containing a single button:

<UserControl x:Class="MyUserControl"
             d:DesignHeight="300" d:DesignWidth="300"
        <StackPanel Orientation="Vertical">
            <Label Margin="10" HorizontalAlignment="Center">My Window</Label>
            <Button Content="Click me!" Click="button1_Click" Width="120" Height="80" Name="button1"/>

Now we have our tool window class that returns our custom control. The next step is to register our tool window with Visual Studio.

Register the tool window

Registering the tool window means that we are telling Visual Studio about its existence and how to instantiate it. We do that from our package class using the [ProvideToolWindow] attribute.

public sealed class MyPackage : ToolkitPackage
     protected override async Task InitializeAsync(CancellationToken cancellationToken, IProgress<ServiceProgressData> progress)

Note that the package class must inherit from the ToolkitPackage and not from Package or AsyncPackage.

You can specify what style the tool window should have and where it should show up by default. The following example shows that the tool window should be placed in the same docking container as Solution Explorer in a linked style.

[ProvideToolWindow(typeof(MyToolWindow.Pane), Style = VsDockStyle.Linked, Window = WindowGuids.SolutionExplorer)]

To make the tool window visible by default, you can specify its visibility in different UI contexts using the [ProvideToolWindowVisibility] attribute.

[ProvideToolWindowVisibility(typeof(MyToolWindow.Pane), VSConstants.UICONTEXT.NoSolution_string)]

Command to show the tool window

This is the same as any other command, and you can see how to add one in the Menus & Commands recipe.

The command handler class that shows the tool window will look something like this:

using Community.VisualStudio.Toolkit;
using Microsoft.VisualStudio.Shell;
using Task = System.Threading.Tasks.Task;

internal sealed class MyToolWindowCommand : BaseCommand<MyToolWindowCommand>
    protected override async Task ExecuteAsync(OleMenuCmdEventArgs e) =>
        await MyToolWindow.ShowAsync();

The command placement for tool windows is usually under View -> Other Windows in the main menu.

That’s it. Congratulations, you’ve now created your custom tool window.

Get the source code

You can find the source code for this recipe in the samples repository.

Last updated: