For Windows Development I mean.

Looking over other questions there are alternatives to VS, but they seem to be web based ones, which is fine, or you could program an entire .net website in notepad, should the urge drive you to.

But is there more to it than just an IDE for Windows Development? I.E. Is it possible for me to create an application in just notepad, is the compiler part of Visual Studio, or is it separate, which could be called via command line or something?

I don't want to not use VS, I'm happy with it, does what I need etc etc, just more a facet I'm curious about.

  • 2
    I don't entirely know what you mean by "just an IDE". Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 14:46
  • 31
    It's not an IDE, it's a way of life.
    – Maxpm
    Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 15:02
  • 2
    Why don't you just ask if you can compile plain text files outside of VS?
    – JeffO
    Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 15:33
  • 1
    Its a way of life for .NET Devs. I love you intellisense!!
    – Terrance
    Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 20:04
  • 3
    Yes. And a Ferrari is just a car.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 22:11

3 Answers 3


Compilers are available separately.

For C# it would be the csc.exe. You could call it from the command line any time. Pass along the name of the source files to compile, the libraries to reference, compilation option and here you go.

I believe Visual Studio itself calls the compiler over the command line when you ask it to build your project. The build output messages you see is what the command-line compiler returns.

Apart from this Visual Studio is more than just a GUI for a compiler. It has a nice text editor, debugger, designer tools, SQL browser, also integrates with test tools, versioning control and other instrumentary (it's extendable through plug-ins). You'd be striving hard to find an equivalent product (for the Microsoft stack) with a comparable level of consolidation.

  • 2
    csc.exe is the C# compiler. cl.exe would be needed for C/C++ compilation etc.
    – Fanatic23
    Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 14:27
  • 2
    Debugger. An awesomely good debugger. You don't know it's there and it's really good until you've tried another IDE. Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 12:31

Not only is the compiler completely separate, so is anything else you might need to build a .net project. Visual Studio solution and project files are just XML that is understood by MSBuild (another command line tool), which in turn calls the relevant compiler.

Yes, Visual Studio is just an IDE. That integrates most of the individual tools that you might use during the SDLC (SQL Server, StyleCop, etc.) into a single application.

That's all!


I would like to add my two cents. I would say you can't use the words "just an IDE". The way you word your question it's almost that you are saying "is Visual Studio just a fancy text editor?". Remember it has a debugger, tools for SQL, a visual designer, tools for mobile development, viewers for inspecting memory, etc. Visual Studio is an IDE and an IDE is a suite of development/debugging tools.

I think you got the answer you were searching for, which was compilers can be downloaded separately, but I want develpors to realize how much an IDE brings to the table. Even the ability to organize your project is a beautiful thing. I guess this soap box is more "please learn the tools" than anything else. You could use visual studio to debug system problems as well.

  • 6
    Agreed. Calling Visual Studio 'just an IDE' is like calling Donald Knuth 'just some college professor.' Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 14:47
  • 2
    Well, I agree, but those things do belong in an Integrated Development Environment (IDE.) In that sense, it is "just an IDE", but one that's pretty damn loaded with features out of the box. Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 19:01

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