Replace Paper with Unit Tests: Code Snippets Edition

In my previous post about making mental notes about condition tests or new features through unit tests I offered an example of making a live template in ReSharper to automate some of the process.

This post is about achieving a similar thing in plain Visual Studio with the help of the Code Snippets feature.

Introduction to Code Snippets

In a nutshell, a code snippet in Visual Studio is either a template or a static chunk of code that is stored in a specific location and is available through IntelliSense. Visual Studio comes with some snippets pre-configured, such as “ctor“, which creates a default constructor for a class.

To use a snippet, start typing out its shortcut – either type the whole thing or wait for IntelliSense to pop up and complete it for you – and then press TAB key twice to expand the snippet into code.

There’s a detailed guide to using and creating snippets available on MSDN. For the rest of this post, I will just show what I did for my purposes.

Snippet Location and Creating New Snippets

Snippets are located in a specific folder under your installation of Visual Studio, so you’ll have a snippet collection per VS version. On my machine, where I used default installation paths, C# snippets for VS 2008 and 2010 are in the following folders:

C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 9.0\VC#\Snippets\1033\Visual C#

C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\VC#\Snippets\1033\Visual C#

You can use the Code Snippet Manager (available through Tools->Code Snippets Manager… menu item) to explore currently installed snippets for various languages.

To create a new snippet, you can simply write its XML definition (see below for my example or read the MSDN guide for more info), save the file with the .snippet extension and drop it in the appropriate folder. Visual Studio will see it without needing to restart.

You can also use a visual editor such as the open source Snippet Editor, which now includes support for Visual Studio 2010.

Unimplemented Unit Test Snippet

Here’s my code snippet in its entirety:

<CodeSnippets xmlns="">
<CodeSnippet Format="1.0.0">
<Title>Unimplemented Unit Test</Title>
<Description>Code snippet for a failing test placeholder</Description>
<Author>Anna Lear (</Author>
<ToolTip>Descriptive test name</ToolTip>
<ToolTip>Test contents</ToolTip>
<Default>Assert.Fail("Implement me!");</Default>
<Code Language="CSharp">
public void $testName$()

I wrote it within Visual Studio 2010 and it helpfully provided IntelliSense support and guidance, which made writing the XML really easy.

Now when I type in “test” in a class and press TAB twice, the code within the CDATA portion of the snippet gets pasted into my code. “NewTest” and “Assert.Fail(“Implement me!”);” lines will be highlighted and I can navigate between then with TAB and Shift-TAB if I need to edit them. I typically always edit the name of the test, and only edit the body when I intend to implement the test at the same time.

Couple things to keep in mind:

1. When you add literals to a snippet, their IDs are case-sensitive.

2. If you want to preserve your formatting (multiple lines, etc.), make sure that you’re code is within a single CDATA element. Otherwise you’ll end up with all your code on the same line, which probably isn’t what you want.


You can either copy the snippet above and do the legwork of placing it in a file and the correct location, or download the .snippet file or the .vsi installer, the latter of which will allow you to easily install the above snippet into any version of Visual Studio (2005 or newer) that you have on your machine.

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