Microsoft Visual Studio

From Bellman
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I am using the 2017 Community edition.

  • 2019-03-15 15.9.9 at work.
  • 2018-08-09 15.7.6 and Node.JS workload installed on Murre.
  • 2018-07-07 Now have 15.7.4 on Plover.
  • 2018-04-15 Updated to 15.6.4 (on Murre) and .Net Framework 4.7.1

INSTALL ArcGIS Desktop and Pro first. Then VS will be able to find and use the ESRI versions of Python.

My "installation details":

  • Visual Studio core editor
  • Python development (uncheck Python 3)
  • Node.js development


Originally I wanted to try to develop some ArcObjects tools and I want to access those tools from Python.

I have ESRI versions of Python. I originally installed the Anaconda versions to use Spyder. At the moment I am just using the Pythons that comes with ESRI.

Going forward ESRI has blessed Anaconda by including it in ArcGIS Pro. Microsoft is supporting it now too.

I used to be a Windows developer so I was in Visual Studio sessions all day, every day. So far it's working nearly as well with Python as it did with C#. Integration with ESRI/ArcPy has been seamless.

Digression: VS on a Mac

There is a full development environment based on the Mac OS, it is true; but there is no Python support. Not yet anyway. So it's useless for me there.

Installation notes

For downloads and official help go to

Make sure you get the Community Edition, unless you have reasons to want to pay Microsoft.


When you install VS, you don't get tons of different languages installed, you have to pick what you want. The packages are called "workloads", see

For reasons I mention on the Anaconda page, do NOT install the versions of Python and Anaconda that are available in the Visual Studio installer. Install them separately. Install only the "Python development" workload and turn off Python 3x64; Visual Studio won't have any problem finding and using external ESRI and Anaconda packages that you install separately.

As mentioned in my Anaconda page), if you install the Microsoft Anaconda workload, you will have to run to your administrator every time you need a new Python package.


For Javascript I installed the Node.JS workload. I had to install Node.JS separately from See my Javascript page for more.

VS works quite well for Javascript but I am currently using Atom for most web dev tasks.

Set up

Select the Python you want

  1. Tools->Python->Python Environment
  2. Select the one for ESRI Python 2.7.14 64-bit for modern ArcMap work or 32-bit if you need to use old Personal Geodatabases.
  3. Choose "Make this the default for new projects"

You can change the python that a project uses anytime later.

Edit PYT files

By default VS only recognizes .py files as being python source, so the ESRI Python Toolbox files (.pyt) are not recognized. Change this in Visual Studio by going to Tools->Options->Text Editor and under File Extension enter pyt and select Python Editor and click "Add".

You still can't directly execute PYT files in the VS debugger, but at least you can edit them and it will recognize them as python code.

Tabs at 4, really?

Microsoft is still clinging to settings tabs in the text editor at 4. It should be tabs at 8 and insert spaces not "Keep tabs". Set it thus and avoid a world of pain*. "Insert spaces" means it will use spaces instead of mixing tabs and spaces.

Tools -> Options -> Python -> Tabs


  • world of pain - you really are curious about this?

Since Python cares (a lot) about indentation, having the indents look consistent is not enough, eventually you will end up with a mixture of spaces and tabs in your .py file, and one line will have for example two tabs (2 X "tabs at 4" = 8) and it lines up with all the others which have 8 spaces. Then it will no longer compile, giving you the error about indentation being wrong even though everything looks just fine. (There will be a yellow line in the editor that you will ignore because everything looks okay.)

So the answer is to set it to "insert spaces", never put tabs anywhere, it's 2018 and saving a few hundred bytes by substituting tabs for spaces is no longer important.

Use Git for version control

Go to "Tools -> Options -> Source Control" and under "Plug-in Selection", switch to Git.

I set it this way, but so far I still use git from the command line.

I tried out the Github extension for VS and it works but I don't really see it as an advantage over using the commands. I use the git bash shell all day on Windows 7. I suppose if you never use bash it might be more difficult.

In Windows 10 there is the WSL "Windows Subsystem for Linux", comes from Microsoft, and gets you a variation on the same things: a bash command shell and git commands.

Enable the experimental support for Intellisense

This is a checkbox under Tools->Options->Python->Experimental

Intellisense is one of the main reasons to use Visual Studio. That's the code completion feature, where for example you type "arcpy.ListDataSets(" and VS pops up what arguments ListDatasets needs.


(Reminder to self: Visual Studio likes to keep your projects in %HOME%/source/repos)

I got tired of having to manually add "import arcpy" etc each time I created a new py file so I made an ArcPy template. Then I made one for Python tools, too. They are timesavers. I posted them on github as brian32768/visual_studio_templates I am building Javascript OpenLayers templates now, they will be in the same repository.

A template is comprised of a set of files in a zip. The code, a .vstemplate file, and an icon. Deployment is just dropping the zip file into your template folder, which for me is set to in J:\VisualStudio2017\Templates\

The repository will have more details, but refer to this page too.

Developing extensions in C#

I built some ESRI code samples to prove to myself it works but have not really gone further yet.

If you want to try to compile C# ArcObjects code, you will need the "workload" for C# and .Net. You will need to install the ArcObjects SDK from ESRI.

ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Engine, or ArcGIS Server is required to develop with ArcObjects SDK.

Microsoft .NET Framework 4.5 or higher; I am using 4.7.1 Note you can download additional .Net Frameworks from inside Visual Studio.

Code samples will be found in C:\Program Files (x86)\ArcGIS\DeveloperKit10.6


I have not done much with Add-ins but I did start this page: ArcGIS Add-ins

I have a section on setting up Anaconda#ArcGIS Pro + Visual Studio

More help

Tutorial from Microsoft: