Microsoft Visual Studio Express
Final release
2017[1] / March 7, 2017; 7 years ago (2017-03-07)[2]
Operating systemWindows
TypeIntegrated development environment
LicenseFreeware, registerware[3]
This article needs to be updated. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (September 2022)

Microsoft Visual Studio Express was a set of integrated development environments (IDEs) that Microsoft developed and released free of charge. They are function-limited version of the non-free Visual Studio and require mandatory registration.[3] Express editions started with Visual Studio 2005.

In 2013, Microsoft began supplanting Visual Studio Express with the more feature-rich community edition of Visual Studio, which is available free of charge[4] with a different license that disallow some scenarios in enterprise settings. The last version of the Express edition is the desktop-only 2017.

2005–2010: Language-centric editions


Visual Studio 2005 Express, the first version of the Express edition, was released in October 2005. It runs on Windows 2000 SP4 and later. The first service pack for 2005 Express was released in December 2006. This version is freeware and requires no registration.

Visual Studio 2008 Express reached general availability in November 2007. Its first service pack was first publicly available in on 11 August 2008. This version requires Windows XP SP3, although it can develop apps compatible with Windows 2000. Microsoft introduced mandatory registration in this version.[5]

Visual Studio 2010 Express was released in April 2010, alongside Visual Studio 2010. While most of its components (see below) ran on Windows XP, its Windows Phone component needed Windows Vista.


The 2005, 2008, and 2010 versions of Visual Studio Express consist of several standalone IDEs, each of which is focused on a single programming language:

Visual Basic Express

Visual Basic Express has the following limitations:[6][7]

Visual Basic 2008 Express includes the following improvements over 2005:

Visual Basic 2005 and Visual Basic 2008 Express feature a Visual Basic 6.0 converter that makes it possible to upgrade Visual Basic 6.0 projects to Visual Basic.NET. The converter is not included with the Visual Basic 2010 Express.

Visual Web Developer Express

Visual Web Developer Express is a freeware web development tool[8] that allows developers to evaluate the web development and editing capabilities of the other Visual Studio editions at no charge. Its main function is to create ASP.NET websites. It has a WYSIWYG interface, drag-and-drop user interface designer, enhanced HTML and code editors, a limited database explorer, support for CSS, JavaScript and XML, and integrated, design-time validation for standards including XHTML 1.0/1.1 and CSS 2.1.

Visual Web Developer 2005 Express lacks certain features, such as the Accessibility Checker, the ability to create standalone class library projects, third-party add-ins and macros.[9] Visual Web Developer 2008 Express SP1 supports both class library and web application projects.[10] It also includes a new integrated HTML designer based on Microsoft Expression Web. However, this edition cannot publish self-developed websites.[clarification needed]

Visual C++ Express

Visual C++ Express compiles .NET and Win32 applications in 32-bit only.[11][12] It includes Windows SDK's compilers and core files, which developers can use to build Win32 applications.

Limitations of Visual C++ Express:

Limitations in earlier versions:

While Microsoft lists memory windows as unavailable in Visual Studio 2010 Express,[15] third parties have reported that they are available when Expert Settings are enabled.[16][17]

Many open-source projects have started providing project files created with Visual C++ Express; noteworthy examples include the Ogre and Irrlicht engines. Modding kits for commercial engines, such as Valve's Source engine, also support this development system.[18]

Visual C# Express

Visual C# Express is a free, lightweight, integrated development environment (IDE) designed for novice developers, students and hobbyists to create applications and (when combined with the XNA Game Studio) video games for Windows, Xbox 360 and Zune. It can build console, Windows Forms and Windows Presentation Foundation applications, and class libraries.

Microsoft has found that a substantial community of game players are taking up C# programming.[19][20][21]

Visual C# Express does not have a breakpoint control panel; breakpoints can only be toggled. The following refactoring modes were also unavailable:[22]

The limitations effectively reduce the refactoring capabilities of Visual C# Express to renaming and extracting methods. According to Microsoft, the reason the listed features are absent is "to simplify the C# Express user experience". Some users remarked that the omission of refactoring capabilities removed useful functionality without actually simplifying use.[23]

The ability to attach the debugger to an already-running process is also unavailable, hindering scenarios such as writing Windows services and re-attaching a debugger under ASP.NET when errors under the original debugging session cause breakpoints to be ignored.

2012–2017: Ecosystem-centric

For the 2012 release of Visual Express, Microsoft changed its distribution of editions so that each version is geared toward an overall solution type, and can contain more than one project type. (This is unlike previous Express editions, each of which was geared around a single programming language.) For example, a web solution might consist of a web application project and a couple of C# class-library projects. This change was made to reflect the wide diversity of applications available for the web and the new WinRT platform used on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft has released five Visual Studio Express 2012 products:

Edition Description Desktop OS Server OS
Visual Studio Express 2012 for Web[24][25] Allows development of web applications. Includes integrated features for deploying to Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud computing platform.
Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows 8[26][27] Allows development of Metro-style applications for Windows Store in C#, VB.NET, C++ and JavaScript. Note: This edition runs only on Windows 8. Windows 8
Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop[28][29] Allows development of conventional Windows desktop applications in C#, VB.NET and C++, targeting Windows client technologies such as Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Windows Forms, and the Win32 API. Unlike previous Express editions, it has built-in support for compiling 64-bit applications through IDE. Update 1 adds support for Windows XP in C++ applications.
Visual Studio Team Foundation Server Express 2012[30] Provides source control, work-item tracking, application lifecycle management and build automation for teams of up to five developers.
Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Phone[31] Consists of the Windows Phone 8 SDK that enables developing applications for Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 8 and testing them on an emulator. Supports C++, .NET Framework and DirectX. As part of its .NET Framework support, it can integrate with Microsoft Expression Blend. Windows 8 (x64 only)

In October 2013, Microsoft released four new versions of its Visual Studio Express products. Like the 2012 Express edition, they are geared toward an overall solution type that may mix different types of projects. However, different IDEs are still offered for different destination platforms. They are:[32][33]

Note that Visual Studio Express for Windows Phone was not released in the set of 2013 products, but Visual Studio Express for Windows Phone is now merged with Visual Studio Express for Windows 2013.2.[35] With this new release, Windows 8.1 x86 is now supported for Windows Phone 8.1 development, but not for Windows Phone 8.0 development or the Windows Phone Emulator, the latter of which also requires a processor that supports Client Hyper-V and Second Level Address Translation (SLAT).

The Visual Studio Express 2015 editions are:

Microsoft terminated the Visual Studio Express lineage with the release of Visual Studio Express 2017 for Windows Desktop. This last release has no siblings specialized in Web or UWP projects. Developers interested a free solution for those projects were instead directed towards Visual Studio Community Edition or Visual Studio Code.[1]


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