A Year of C++ Improvements in Visual Studio

Sy Brand

As we enter the new year, it’s a good time to look back at all the features and improvements we made for C++ developers in Visual Studio in 2023. We’ve made advancements across the IDE, toolchain, and the vcpkg package manager in both performance and functionality. Some focus areas have been ARM64 support, Unreal Engine development, code safety, and cross-platform development. Let us know what you think of these features below, send us your feedback!

Contents

 

Cross-Platform
Productivity
Game Development
IDE Performance IDE Performance
Toolchain
vcpkg vcpkg

Visual Studio IDE

Cross-Platform

Cross-platform development is a first-class citizen in Visual Studio and has been for many years now. We’ve added many new features for those targeting Linux, Windows Subsystem for Linux, embedded platforms, and those using CMake for their builds.

Integrated Linux Terminal

The Linux Integrated Terminal allows you to debug Linux applications with a fully-featured terminal experience directly inside Visual Studio.

Linux console output appearing in Visual Studio terminal window

Test and Build Multiple CMake Targets

You can now test and build multiple CMake Targets from the CMake Targets view.

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CMake Debugger

Use the CMake Debugger to debug your CMake scripts like you would any other program. You can set breakpoints, see the values of CMake variables at the current point of execution, and more.

Screenshot of Visual Studio in a debugging session showing an exception dialog that originated from a CMake script

Remote File Explorer

Use the Remote File Explorer to see a directory tree of the files on a remote system.

The Remote File Explorer lets you view your files on your remote machines

STM32CubeIDE Project Support

Import STM32CubeIDE projects with the new STM32CubeIDE Project Support.

File menu entry for Import STM32CubeIDE project option

Automatic Windows Subsystem for Linux Installation

Install Windows Subsystem for Linux automatically from Visual Studio with “Install WSL for Me”.

Image WSL Automatic Acquisition

Remote Linux Unit Test Support

Remote Linux unit test support adds your remote Linux tests to the Test Explorer.

View test results from remote environment in the test explorer

Productivity

We want your development to be as fast and low-friction as possible. Our productivity features address this, giving you better ways to complete your day-to-day tasks.

Sticky Scroll

Sticky Scroll gives you context for the current code location in your editor by sticking the top line of nested blocks to the top of the window.

An animation of the Sticky Scroll feature being used in C++ code.

Brace Pair Colorization

Brace Pair Colorization lets you easily see matching brace pairs by making them the same color.

C++ Brace Pair Colorization example

Spell Checker

The new Spell Checker finds and corrects spelling issues in your code.

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All-in-one Search

All-in-one Search joints together the code search and feature search functions into one tool.

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Breakpoint Groups

Breakpoint groups let you organize breakpoints to make large collections easier to manage.

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File Comparison Window

You can now compare files straight from the solution explorer with the File Comparison window.

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Copy-paste with Correct Indentation

Copy-paste with correct indentation makes it easier to accurately share code with others.

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Parallel Stack Filtering

Parallel stack filtering lets you selectively display or hide specific threads or frames.

Doxygen for Overloaded Functions

We improved Doxygen behaviour for overload resolution.

Image Improved Doxygen overload resolution

Macro Expansion Visualization

You can now see macro expansions step-by-step with Macro Expansion Visualization.

Create GitHub Pull Request from Visual Studio

You can now create GitHub pull requests from Visual Studio.

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Structured Diagnostics

Visualize complex, hierarchical compiler errors with structured diagnostics.

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Size and Alignment of Types

See size and alignment of types directly in the editor.

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Memory Layout Visualization

Use our new memory layout visualization tool for seeing how types will be stored in memory.

A GIF displaying an example of Memory Layout

Include Cleanup

Optimize your #includes with #include directive cleanup.

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Game Development

Game development is a key area of focus for us, as game developers often have constraints and workflows which other C++ developers do not. Last year we focused especially on our Unreal Engine support.

Unreal Engine Blueprint References and Asset Inspector

Navigate your Unreal Engine Blueprints with the new Unreal Engine Blueprint References and Asset Inspector.

A screenshot of UE Blueprint references in Visual Studio.

Unreal Engine Log Viewer

Use the Unreal Engine Log Viewer to see your UE logs directly in Visual Studio.

Unreal Engine Log tool window in Visual Studio showing several lines of logs outputted by an Unreal Engine game

HLSL Support

Edit HLSL shaders with improved HLSL editor integration.

HLSL editor showcasing syntax highlighting

Unreal Engine Macro Formatting

Unreal Engine macro formatting ensures that your UE macros are handled appropriately by the autoformatter.

Image Unreal Engine Macros Formatting for C

Unreal Engine Naming Convention Checker

Use the Unreal Engine naming convention checker to ensure your code conforms to expectations.

Image Unreal Engine Naming Convention Checker for C

Unreal Engine Blueprint Find All References

Find all UE Blueprint references with a single command using Unreal Engine Blueprint Find All References.

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Unreal Engine Test Adapter

The Unreal Engine test adapter adds your UE tests to the Test Explorer window.

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Unreal Engine Code Snippets

Use Unreal Engine code snippets to quickly generate common UE-specific code.

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Unreal Engine Macro Specifier Suggestions

Unreal Engine macro specifier suggestions gives you a quick description of UE macros without you having to leave your editor.

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Build Insights

C++ Build Insights is a collection of tools that collect data about your C++ builds and present it in a format that can help you answer common questions, like:

  • Are my builds sufficiently parallelized?
  • What should I include in my pre-compiled header (PCH)?
  • Is there a specific bottleneck I should focus on to increase my build speeds?

Last year, we integrated Build Insights into Visual Studio, letting you see details on how your #includes are affecting your builds:

The Included Files view of the Build Insights analysis window

We then added a Functions View for seeing the amount of time the compiler took to process specific functions:

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IDE Performance

As well as the performance of your code, we continue to work on the performance of Visual Studio itself. Here are some of the highlights.

  • Improved time-to-open and time-to-close

Chart showing performance comparison between VS 17.5 and 17.6 on Solution Load and Solution Close. Both charts show significant improvements in the latest release.

  • Improved time-to-colorization

a graph showing time to intellisense bench marked on unreal engine 5.1. VS 17.8 =1.3s VS 17.7 =1.8s

  • Improved debug launch performance

graph showing faster debugger launch speed 24 secs in 17.7 and 19 secs in 17.8

Toolchain

Our toolchain for C++ spans components such as the MSVC compiler, our open-source C++ standard library implementation, and our code analysis tools.

Conformance

For conformance with the C and C++ standards, we added support for C11 atomics and threads. We also extended our C++20 support to C++/CLI projects. We also shipped the standard library modules which are available in both C++23 mode and C++20 mode (the latter is a cross-vendor extension).

You can see the STL changelog for full details of our advances on our open-source standard library. You can also see the live STL Status Chart to see where we’re at for standards conformance. At the time of writing, only 8 standard library features remain for C++23 conformance. Thank you to everyone who contributed features in the last year! Please continue to file issues and create pull requests on the GitHub repository; this is very much a community project.

We also open-sourced the IFC SDK for C++ Modules, which provides an interface for interacting with IFC files. IFC is an on-disk binary format which stores a representation of C++ source code for machine consumption. It was designed to implement C++ Modules, but can be used for other tools which require information about C++ code and don’t want to integrate a full C++ parser. The Microsoft Office Word codebase began adopting header units with MSVC, which you can read about in Integrating C++ header units into Office using MSVC.

Finally, we wrote extensive documentation for C++20 Ranges.

Image view2

Code Performance

We’ve been working on the MSVC backend to improve code generation so that your C and C++ code runs as fast as possible. We’ve introduced new optimizations for ARM64 (particularly the auto-vectorizer for NEON instructions) as well as ones which will benefit all architectures (e.g. optimizations across basic blocks and vectorized loops). We also improved debug build performance by introducing new inlining controls for named type casts (like std::move and std::forward). Here are some blog posts which describe some of the bigger changes we’ve made in the past year:

Code Safety

Code safety has been one of our team’s key focuses for the past several years. In addition to improvements to our Address Sanitizer support and static analysis tools, we produced a set of guidelines on how to build reliable and secure C++ programs. This is a section-by-section companion to the United States government publication NISTIR 8397: Guidelines on Minimum Standards for Developer Verification of Software.

Here are blog posts on some of the key improvements we made:

vcpkg

vcpkg is our free, cross-platform package manager for C and C++. Here are some of the main advancements we made in the last year:

Send us your feedback!

The comments below are open for us to track any requests. You can also find us on Twitter (@VisualC) or via email at visualcpp@microsoft.com. To open a bug, please see Visual Studio Feedback. We look forward to another year of C++!

3 comments

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  • Paulo Pinto 1

    While it has been a great year for Visual C++ improvements, I would like to remark that the best way to use C++ to develop Windows applications in 2024, seems to be via native libraries being called from .NET applications, or React Native.

    Neither MFC nor XAML with C++/WinRT alongside COM/IDL authoriting are that great as developer experience, due to lack of Visual Studio tooling improvements, and lack of public roadmap.

    • Kevin McFarlane 0

      I’ve not done C++ for years and years but aren’t the first two at least dead in terms of further development? I certainly wouldn’t expect to see any tooling improvements for MFC for example.

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