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date icon May 21, 2024

Visual Studio vs Visual Studio Code: What’s the Difference?

CEO & Founder at CodeOp

Let’s just put this out of the way first. Yes, I agree. Microsoft did a pretty bad job of naming these two softwares.

Despite their similar names, Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code are tailored to different aspects of the software development process. While both tools aim to enhance your efficiency as a developer and simplify code management, they’re designed with distinct purposes and user bases in mind.

If you’re confused, it’s okay. Back when I was an absolute beginner, I used to think that VS Code is a simplified version of Visual Studio for people who don’t have powerful systems.

The one thing you must remember is that Visual Studio is a full-fledged IDE while VS Code is simply a code editor.

Visual Studio

Visual Studio is a full-featured integrated development environment (IDE) created by Microsoft. It is a great support for developers who are working on complex projects that demand a deep code analysis and debugging features.

visual studio

Its robust suite of tools and services can assist in everything from planning and design to testing and deployment

Visual Studio caters primarily to .NET and C# developers but also supports a variety of programming languages, including VB.NET,C, C++, Python, F#, Web Languages(HTML, CSS, JavaScript) and more.

If you’re a Java developer, tough luck. VS supported JAVA earlier but it was removed in 2017.

Visual Studio (current version VS 2022) is compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems However, note that Microsoft is retiring Visual Studio for Mac by 31st August 2024.

The IDE is available in three editions: community (free), professional (paid), and enterprise (paid).

Visual Studio Code (VS Code)

Visual Studio Code (VS Code) is a streamlined code editor that supports almost every programming language natively.

Visual Studio Code

How does it do that, you ask? By having super awesome and easy-to-use extensions for EVERYTHING. VS Code is highly extensible, letting you customise every aspect of your environment.

When I say every aspect, I mean every single aspect. You can add additional languages, themes, and debuggers through extensions. You can add emojis and even beautify your code using these extensions.

VS Code is an open-source and lightweight text editor available on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

It’s designed to provide a more focused coding experience for developers who need a fast and efficient editor that can also handle some tasks of a full IDE, like debugging and task running.

By design, Visual Studio Code aims to be faster and more lightweight than Visual Studio, catering to developers who prefer a quick-edit and run cycle, and those working on cross-platform projects.

Visual Studio v/s Visual Studio Code

Here’s a detailed comparison table that provides an in-depth look at the distinguishing features, platform capabilities, and specific functionalities of Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code:

FeatureVisual StudioVisual Studio Code
TypeComprehensive Integrated Development Environment (IDE)Streamlined Code Editor
Core FeaturesComprehensive IDE with full-fledged tools for developing, debugging, testing, and deploying applications. Includes features like IntelliTrace, live unit testing, and integrated development server.Lightweight code editor with powerful editing and debugging tools. Includes syntax highlighting, intelligent code completion, snippets, and embedded Git control.
Language SupportExtensive support for .NET languages such as C#, VB.NET, F#, and C++. Also supports common languages(except JAVA) like Python, JavaScript, and TypeScript through additional workloads and extensions.Broad language support through extensions, with excellent built-in support for JavaScript, TypeScript, Python, PHP, C++, and C#.
Platform CompatibilityOptimised for Windows; available on macOS(to be discontinued from 31st August 2024) and Linux via Mono for basic functionalityFully cross-platform with consistent performance and user experience on Windows, macOS, and Linux
Size( Download/Disk Space)Large installation footprint, https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/visualstudio/releases/2022/system-requirements, depending on features installed. Typical Installation takes between 20 GB to 50 GB of free spaceLightweight installation: https://code.visualstudio.com/docs/supporting/requirements. VS Code has a disk footprint of < 500 MB.
RAM UsageRequires more system resources; ideal for systems with higher specs for smooth operation(16 GB Ram recommended for typical professional solutions). Minimum of 4GB Ram required.Designed for efficiency, using significantly less RAM, suitable for less powerful machines. Recommended to use with 1 GB RAM
Community and SupportProfessional support from Microsoft, extensive documentation, community forums, and paid support optionsExtensive community-driven support, with active forums and online communities, comprehensive documentation
PricingOffers a free Community edition; Professional and Enterprise editions require a subscriptionCompletely free and open-source, with no paid versions or subscriptions
Extensions and CustomisationsExtensive marketplace with a wide variety of extensions specifically designed for enterprise use.
Limitations of Visual Studio Code & Visual Code

Limitations of Visual Studio

Visual Studio is a powerful development tool and a comprehensive IDE that excels in managing large-scale applications, but it is not without its limitations:

  1. Resource Intensity: One of the most significant drawbacks is its heavy demand on system resources. Visual Studio is much more comprehensive and requires a robust setup, which can be a barrier for developers working on older or less powerful hardware.
  2. Complexity: The comprehensive nature of Visual Studio can be overwhelming, especially for beginners or those who require a simple development environment. Navigating through its MANY features and configurations may slow down simpler project developments.
  3. Platform Dependency: While Visual Studio has expanded to support macOS and Linux via Mono, it is primarily optimised for Windows. You may find it limiting quite often when working on cross-platform applications.
  4. Cost: Although there is a free Community version, it is restricted under certain conditions such as enterprise use, which requires purchasing a subscription for the Professional or Enterprise versions. $45 per member on a professional subscription and $250 per person on an enterprise subscription is a quite big and often unnecessary investment for small businesses.

Limitations of Visual Studio Code (VS Code)

VS Code feels like a godsend after reading Visual Studios limitations, right? But hold your horses, for this software has its limitations too.

  1. Less Integrated: VS Code doesn’t come with many integrated dev tools. While this makes it lightweight, it also means that significant setup via extensions is often necessary to match the functionality of a full IDE. It also requires manual setup for compilers, debuggers, and language-specific features.
  2. Extension Reliance: The need for extensions for even basic functionalities like syntax highlighting, debugging, etc, can lead to dependency issues or conflicts between extensions. This can sometimes result in an inconsistent development environment or require time spent managing extensions.
  3. Performance with Extensions: While VS Code is inherently fast and efficient, loading it with numerous extensions can bog down its performance, making it less snappy than it is intended to be.
  4. Comparatively Less Advanced Debugging: VS Code’s debugging tools, though robust, are not as advanced or seamless as those found in a full IDE like Visual Studio. For complex applications, particularly large enterprise levels, this might be a constraint.
  5. Less ideal for C# centric Applications: Compare to Visual Studio setting up VS Code to work with C# can be a hassle and would still lack some functionalities provided by Visual Studio.

Which one should you choose b/w Visual Studio and VS Code?

Deciding whether to use Visual Studio or Visual Studio Code largely depends on the nature of your projects, your workflow preferences, and the environment in which you’re most comfortable developing.

Visual Studio might be the right choice if you need to prioritise robust development systems for complex projects and extended support from Microsoft, whereas, if you are looking for a lightweight and versatile option then VS Code is the way to go.

Here’s a detailed guide I curated to help you determine which tool is the best fit for your specific needs:

Choose Visual Studio If:

  1. You’re developing large-scale enterprise applications.

Visual Studio is more suited for large projects, especially those requiring robust architecture, extensive debugging, and strong integration with databases and other enterprise-level systems.

  1. You need comprehensive debugging and diagnostic tools.

Visual Studio’s advanced debugging features like IntelliTrace, Code Metrics, and Profiling tools are invaluable for complex applications where identifying and fixing bugs can be challenging.

  1. Your project is centred around the Microsoft stack.

If you’re working primarily with .NET, C#, or leveraging Microsoft’s Azure services, Visual Studio provides seamless integration and support for these technologies.

  1. You require an integrated development server and tools.

For developers who benefit from having an integrated development server, automated UI tests, and a centralised workflow, Visual Studio offers these out of the box.

Choose Visual Studio Code If:

  1. You’re working on front-end or lightweight applications.

Visual Studio Code is ideal for web development, including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and modern frameworks like React or Angular. Its lightweight nature makes it perfect for small to medium-sized projects.

  1. You prefer speed and efficiency.

VS Code is known for its fast startup time and smooth performance, even on less powerful machines. This makes it suitable for developers who prefer a quick edit-and-continue cycle.

  1. You need a highly customizable editor.

If customization is key in your workflow, VS Code’s extensive array of extensions and themes allows you to tailor your coding environment exactly to your liking. It also supports a broad range of programming languages through these extensions.

  1. You’re developing on multiple platforms.

VS Code offers a consistent development experience across Windows, macOS, and Linux, making it the ideal choice for projects that require cross-platform compatibility.

Special Consideration

  1. Collaboration and Version Control

Both platforms support version control solutions like Git, but VS Code might be preferable if you’re looking for a more straightforward setup and integration.

Visual Studio, however, provides more robust tools for complex merge conflicts and repository management.

  1. Budget Constraints.

For individual developers or small startups, budget might be a concern. Visual Studio Code is free and open-source, which makes it accessible without any financial investment, unlike some editions of Visual Studio that come with a subscription cost.

Conclusion

Visual Studio is your go-to for comprehensive and complex applications, particularly if deeply integrated with the .NET framework.

On the other hand, Visual Studio Code is an excellent choice for developers looking for a versatile, efficient, and customizable coding environment, especially for front-end development and smaller-scale projects.

Author: Katrina Walker
CEO & Founder at CodeOp
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, I relocated to South Europe in 2016 to explore the growing tech scene from a data science perspective. After working as a data scientist in both the public...
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