StudioTools > File Explorer

The Solution Explorer is a logical representation of your project tree, and not necessarily a reflection of the files on disk. Many times there are other files that are important to the project, but which aren't officially part of the solution itself.

The File Explorer gives you a fully functional File Explorer to let you get at those files. Copy, delete, rename, its all there. You aren't limited to your solution either. You can use the File Explorer to access files anywhere on your workstation or across the network.

Using the File Explorer

The concept behind the File Explorer is simple enough, a real life Windows explorer integrated into Visual Studio. Just like other views in Visual Studio, you can dock it, float it, hide it, and so forth. It lets you perform file management operations without leaving your development environment, and through shell extensions provide convenient access to source code management and other file operations.

The File Explorer can be accessed from the Studio Tools menu. It is a fully functional Windows explorer panel, allowing you access to your file system. Use the parent folder button on the File Explorer window to move back up a directory. Right click on any file to access the shell menu for that item. Double click to execute items, drag and drop, its all there. Same old Windows Explorer functionality, conveniently inside Visual Studio.

The File Explorer Toolbar

Briefly, here's what the toolbar buttons in the File Explorer do:

Exploring your solution folder

The solution icon on the File Explorer tool bar will navigate you directly to the parent folder of the current solution file. This makes it easy to explore all of the files in your solution folder.

Unlike the Solution Explorer, the File Explorer will show you all of the files that fall under your solution and project folders. The distinction is an important one. While the Solution Explorer certainly shows you the files in your solution, it's structure is a virtual one. Solution folders are logical containers, and do not necessarily represent the folder structure on disk. Files can be located under your solution folder on disk, but not be part of the solution. For example, using the file explorer you can access your compiled code and object files. Likewise, if you add or remove files from the File Explorer, these changes will not be reflected in the solution. One exception to this rule is Web projects, which have no project file and are rooted at a particular directory.

Exploring a particular folder

You can open a particular folder in the File Explorer by clicking on the Open Folder icon on the File Explorer's toolbar. This will bring up a file browser and allow you to choose a folder. Alternatively, you can type the path to the folder you want to view into the text box at the top of the File Explorer. The path field is automatically updated to the current location as you navigate around the file explorer.

Using the File Explorer for source code control

The File Explorer is compatible with most Windows shell extensions. This means you can make use of excellent tools like TortoiseSVN and TortoiseCVS to manage your source tree from inside Visual Studio. These programs include dynamic icons that indicate the status of each file, making it easy to spot modified files or files not under version control. You can right click on files or folders to commit changes or update your source tree from the repository.