Adding Custom Project Item Templates to VS.NET

This article describes how to add a custom project item wizard to the Add New Item dialog in Visual Studio .NET. Instead of building a custom implementation of IDTWizard and generating the code ourselves, however, we’re going to leverage Microsoft’s implementation using strategically placed template files and script.

The Sample

The sample project item template wizard I built to go along with this article is called My Web Form and adds a custom aspx file along with a custom aspx.cs file (the latter being the hard part), as shown below. It also advertises the Web Services DevCon. Enjoy.

NOTE: If you're going to use this sample in VS.NET 2003, you need to append a “.7.1” onto the Wizard = VsWizard.VsWizardEngine line in the .VSZ file located in the CSharpProjectItems directory, other you’ll get a Wizard can’t run error in VS03 (and thanks to Randy Brown for pointing this out).

The Steps

Feel free to follow along:

  1. Under your VS.NET installation folder, find the ProjectItems folder for the type of template item you’d like to add, e.g. VC#\CSharpProjectItems is the directory for C# project items.
  2. Create a .vsz file to configure your project item wizard, e.g. here’s a sample CSharpAddMyWebFormWiz.vsz:
    VSWIZARD 7.0
    Param="WIZARD_NAME = CSharpAddMyWebFormWiz"
    Param="WIZARD_UI = FALSE"
    Notice that the Wizard value looks like a COM ProgID. It is. Specifically, it’s VS.NET’s built-in VsWizardEngine. That’s so I can skate by using their template expansion engine and their script hosting without having to build it all myself.

    In the part that says WIZARD_NAME, give that the name of your own custom template, e.g. CSharpAddMyWebFormWiz. This name will be used later.

    Click here for more information about .vsz files.
  3. The directory structure underneath the ProjectItems folder mimics the folders in the Add New Item dialog. Navigate to the one you like and add a new .vsdir file to reference the wizard you created in the vsz file above, e.g. here’s a sample mywiz.vsdir for under ProjectItems\WebProjectItems\UI (this is all on a single line):
    My Web Form|0|A special web form|{FAE04EC1-301F-11d3-BF4B-00C04F79EFBC}|4534|0|
    We've got several fields here, all separated by old fashioned pipes. The 1st field is the relative path the vsz file we created earlier. The 3rd field is a short description for the Add New Item dialog. A long description (also shown in the dialog) can be provided in the 5th field.

    The 4th field is the sort order, smaller means close to the top. I assume since you’re going to all the trouble to add a custom project item that you think it’s important, so we’ve promoted it all the way.

    Notice also the last field. It shows the general format of the file to be generated and added to the project. The other fields are GUIDs that we copied from the VS.NET CSharpAddWebFormWiz.vsz to “leverage” their icon for display.

    Click here for more information about .vsdir files.
  4. The mywiz.vsdir file shown above will show your custom template item under the folder you picked, but will not show it at the global level. To show it at the global level, you need to copy your .vsdir file up to the just under LocalProjectItems or WebProjectItems, remembering to update the relative file path, e.g.
  5. Once you’ve set up the pointers to your new project item template, you will need the template that will form the output of your wizard. This information is placed into a folder under the type of template item you’re building, e.g. VC#\VC#Wizards is where the C# wizards live. The directory structure for your item will look like this:

    The contents of the Template\1033 directory is the manifest for the file to generate for your project item in a file called templates.inf and the file that you would like to use as the template. The template file and the templates.inf file use wizard-provided symbols to example statements like [!output SAFE_CLASS_NAME] into strings like “MyClass”. Click here for more information about the template language.

    The following is an example templates.inf file with a single file in it:
    By default, all project items have a single file as specified in the Add New Item dialog, which is why we only have a single file in this templates.inf file. When running, the wizard will expect a file named WebForm1.asmx in the Template folder to serve as the template.
  6. The templates.inf file turns out to be a convention and is not at all required. The default.js file in the Script\1033 directory of your wizard is what uses the templates.inf file to process each template file. Unfortunately, even a simple default.js file is too complex to reprint here, so I recommend that you find one from a wizard that’s close to what you want to do and copy it. If you just want a single file as determined by the templates.inf file, you’re all set.
  7. On the other hand, if you want more, you’re going to be doing some spelunking. For example, I wanted to produce a project item template wizard that output a custom aspx file and the corresponding aspx.cs file. I started by duplicating the CSharpAddWebFormWiz folder, renaming it CSharpAddMyWebFormWiz and following steps 1-6. Then I added another file to the templates.inf file and all heck broke loose.

    First, the default.js file that I duplicated from the Add Wizard Form wizard assumed that it was generating a single file, e.g. WebForm1.aspx, so when I added another file to generate, it reused that file name and VS.NET didn’t like it one bit.

    Second, the IDE itself generates files when certain kinds of files are added to a project, e.g. aspx files. For C# projects, those files live in VC#\DesignerTemplates. Since the aspx.cs file is auto-generated when an aspx file is added to a project, VS.NET didn’t like it when I tried to generate another one right over it.

    Finally, deleting the file in the middle just after the aspx.cs file was generated didn’t work too well either, because default.js tells VS.NET to open the aspx file as soon as it is generated, which causes VS.NET to look for the code behind file, which causes more problems, since we just deleted it.

    So, after digging through the undocumented common functions in VC#\VC#Wizards\1033\common.js that the C# default.js uses to do its work [1], I was able to produce a project item template wizard that produced both an aspx file and an aspx.cs file. See the default.js in the sample for the details.

[1] The VC++ team actually documented the functions in the VC wizard's common.js. Thanks!


Thanks to XP Systems for asking me to help them solve this problem. Also, thanks to Elton Wells for pointing me at some of the docs and the common.js files that the wizards use.