Friday, July 24, 2009

Seek, and Ye Shall Find - Visual Studio Find & Replace Tips

Today, I want to share with you a few tips to find your way through the real jungle, my code!

Our project is huge. 2500+ files and growing. Those aren't all image files either, wise guy!

Because of the size of our project I have always experienced a extremely slow response when I use the "Find" feature, [ctrl]+[f], in Visual Studio when I did an "Entire Solution" or "Current Project" search. This pause became unbearable. It was like standing in the middle of a jungle just waiting to get eaten. The suspense drove me nuts! Would it find anything? Would I die before I found out?! I couldn't take it.

So, as most adventurers do, I started experimenting.

The first thing I tried was "incremental search" [ctrl]+[i]. This is really cool because you don't get a pop up window, you just type [ctrl]+[i]+{whatever} and Visual Studio will start to search for "w", then "wh", then "wha", then "what", etc... I liked searching without the pop up. It was very convenient. If you find what you are looking for but you need the next match just type [ctrl]+[i] again and it will jump to the next match. [ctrl]+[shift]+[i] will allow you to search backwards through the file. Pretty cool and pretty handy. Another benefit of this is that if you always use incremental search to search within the current file that allows you to leave the traditional "Find" dialog set to "All Open Files." I believe "All Open Files" is the best use for the traditional "Find" dialog.

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Incremental search is nice for small jobs, sort of like an explorer's pocket knife but what should you use when you need a machete?

The answer you seek is "Find in Files." [ctrl]+[shift]+[f].

"Find in Files" is the real secret that ties my whole search strategy together! First of all, loosely speaking it is 4000 times faster than regular find because it runs asynchronously. As soon as it starts to find matches the matches appear where you specify (generally the "Find Results 1" toolbar/window). Once items appear in the "Find Results 1" window you can start double clicking on them to be transported to that spot in the code.

Here's another secret though that makes this even more powerful. That list is persisted in that window even if you do a regular "Find". So, you can have two sets of find results at the same time. There is also a "Find Results 2" pane if you need a 3rd. Now, it gets even more cool!! [Suspense Builds.... sort of like when you wait for the regular find to return a result] Because the next match of a regular find can be accessed using F3 you can move through those regular find results while moving through your list of "Find in Files" results using F8. The 2 lists can really be worked on simultaneously!

Keep in mind that any time you have a code helper window (e.g. the error list, the bookmark window, the build output window, etc...) with code line markers in it you can double click to navigate to that spot in the code AND you can use F8 to move to the next item in the list. This is a huge timesaver for me.

Just as there is a "Replace" [ctrl]+[h] command, there is also a "Replace in Files"[ctrl]+[shift]+[h] command. One thing to keep in mind is to UNCHECK the "Keep modified files open after Replace All" if you are going to modify a large set of files. Generally, loading all of those files into the IDE will slow the operation down tremendously and may cause your IDE to lock up.

So, the next time you are lost in a really big jungle, remember [ctrl]+[shift]+[f].

By the way, when a machete is not enough I like to use a bulldozer. I am currently developing a bulldozer that will do multi-file, multi-line, regular expression enabled find and replace. Keep checking the blog (or subscribe) to see when it becomes available.

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