Tools to understand new code: Enhanced Syntax Coloring

In my previous posts as guest contributor to this blog, I showed you how to use Go-To tools and different Find commands in Visual Assist. In this post, I describe improvements to syntax coloring available in Visual Assist, then close with a description of a tool window that combines several functions of the IDE and Visual Assist.

As in my previous posts, I will use Irrlicht Engine as my example project.

Enhanced Syntax Coloring

Syntax coloring in the IDE—whatever the version—makes code nice to read, and for me, faster to write. But, it’s the enhancements to coloring in Visual Assist that make code really easy to understand.

Let me compare default coloring of an older IDE, VS2008, with that of Visual Assist. (The comparison is similar for newer IDEs.) To the observant programmer, there are some real differences in what the IDE and Visual Assist provide:


If you look carefully, Visual Assist uses separate colors for meaningful separation of symbols:

  • classes/structures/types – these appear blue by default, as if they were keywords. I know they won’t change, and I won’t change them.
  • variables – dark blue, or navy to be precise, so I know the symbols have values and can be modified.
  • preprocessor macros – fuchsia, so I know to be cautious in how I use these.
  • methods – also brown, which lets me find quickly the external references in a block of code.

In addition to more meaningful coloring, I can display so-called stable symbols, like function names from third-party libraries, in italics. (See GetSystemInfo and QueryPerformanceFrequency in my example.) The italics tell me nobody has overridden a well-known symbol, and that I can trust its behavior. When I’m surprised not to see a symbol in italics, sometimes I take time to find out what’s different about it.

VA View

I’m going to jump abruptly to one last feature of Visual Assist that is handy for the new user: the VA View. The learning curve for the VA View is a bit steeper than it is for the other commands I’ve described, but I think the effort is worth it.

The VA View is a handy tool that combines several functions of the IDE and Visual Assist, all in a compact interface. I usually make the VA View a tab in the same docked tool window as the Solution Explorer and Class Browser. The VA View gives me most of what I use in the other two tool windows, and I switch to the Solution Explorer or Class Browser only when absolutely necessary.

Here is an example of the VA View, docked to the left of my source window in VS2008:


From top to bottom, the VA View has:

  • a drop-down for quick opening of any file in my solution. I can type partial matches in the list that opens, letting me find most files faster than I can with the Solution Explorer.
  • a drop-down for quick locating of symbols in my solution. This drop-down also supports filtering. If I know the name of a symbol, or most of it, I can jump to its definition faster than any other method of the IDE.
  • a most-recently-used (MRU) list of files and methods—ones that I’ve recently modified or visited. (Right+click in the MRU to adjust its settings.) Typically, the MRU lets me jump faster than tabbing windows or navigating back with Ctrl+-.
  • a hovering class browser (HCB) that tells me about the symbol I’m hovering over, or class I’m in. (Right+click to adjust this one as well.) In my example, the HCB is showing me SParticle members because my caret is somewhere in SParticle.

Again, the learning curve for the VA View is a little steeper than simpler features of Visual Assist—like syntax coloring. But, the VA View is ready handy and worth the little bit of time it takes to know it. And if you’re a keyboard user, you’ll be happy to know the entire interface to the VA View is available without a mouse.


In my three-part series, I tried to show new users of Visual Assist how to make use of the tool, especially when you land in front of a completely new code base. The stock IDE has many features to help you, but Visual Assist goes well beyond in functionality and performance.

Learn More

You can learn more about Enhanced Syntax Coloring and the VA View in the documentation for Visual Assist:

This article was contributed by Bartlomiej Filipek, who writes at Code And Graphics — a technical blog about C++ and OpenGL.

Tools to understand new code: Find

In my previous post as a guest contributor, I talked about moving between declaration and implementation of various symbols: methods, classes, variables… and even include files. The functionality helps a lot, but there are other tools in Visual Assist that we definitely need to know. This time, let’s have a look at some find commands in Visual Assist.

As in my last post, I will use Irrlicht Engine as my example project.

Find References

With Go To, we can jump from declaration to implementation smoothly. This is nice, but unfortunately, life is not that easy. Usually when we see an interesting variable or function, we would like to see not only its declaration or implementation, but how and where is it used.

Previously, we were curious about MaxAngleDegrees from CParticleBoxEmitter.cpp. We know than it’s a 32-bit integer variable used to generate rotations. But, where it is actually initialized?

With Visual Assist, press Shift+Alt+F (the default shortcut for its Find References) and you will see a dialog like this:


The window lists places where our variable is used. It seems that the variable is loaded from a settings file.

The basic list is, of course, nothing special—Visual Studio has a similar feature. But with Visual Assist, we have more benefits:

  • You can see a context of each line in a tooltip
  • You can view only Read or Write references
  • As with most Visual Assist tools, it works faster than the equivalent in Visual Studio. (Also, I’ve found that the results with Visual Assist are a bit more narrow.)

We can extend our search and go further:

  • MaxAngleDegrees is deserialized in CParticleBoxEmitter::deserializeAttributes
  • This method is called from CParticleSystemSceneNode::deserializeAttributes
  • It’s also polymorphic and might be called from CSceneLoaderIrr::readSceneNode

We can even track the whole system of loading scene nodes. We can now see the flow of this functionality. Without Find References, it would be very problematic.

Tip: You can also use Find References in File to, as the name suggests, see references to a symbol in the file you are actually in.

Find Symbol

Finding references for a given symbol is very useful, but what if you do not know an exact name? Maybe you just have some basic idea of what you want to find.

For instance, in Irrlicht Engine, we might want to see the implementation and an interface of a scene manager. Find References would not work well this time because we don’t have a reference. You could use the normal search box of Visual Studio, but you will probably end up with too many symbols and lines to check.

In this instance, you can use Find Symbol (Shift+Alt+S by default) in Visual Assist. Find Symbol opens a dialog box with all symbols from the current solution (and even third-party libraries!) I typed “manager scene” in the edit control of my dialog and got the following:


As you can see, “manager scene” is related to several different classes. We can double-click the most interesting object and go to its definition.

The Find Symbol dialog supports more advanced options as well, like searching only in classes (this will skip defines and free functions) or extending your search to files outside your solution.

Find Symbol is definitely much more convenient that the common search dialog of Visual Studio.


Our tool bag now contains two very important items: Go To and Find. We can now easily search for various symbols in solutions, easily go to their implementation/declarations. And with the Find commands, we are able to search for all occurrences of a given symbol and create a story of how it is used in a project.

Learn More

You can learn more about the Find commands in the documentation for Visual Assist:

This article was contributed by Bartlomiej Filipek, who writes at Code And Graphics — a technical blog about C++ and OpenGL.

Tools to understand new code: Go To

You’ve just started a new job and landed in front of a huge code base. Great! What a challenge! It would be nice to quickly get a general understanding of your project and be able to comfortably move around in the code. How do you do it?

In my series of articles as a guest contributor to this blog, you will learn about my favorite Visual Assist tools that help with code understanding. My tools are:

  • Go To
  • Find
  • Move
  • Additional tips

In this post, let’s take a look at Go To functionality.

As an example project, let’s take a look at Irrlicht Engine.

Go To

The feature in Visual Assist that I probably use most often is Go To. In short, it is an improvement for a very well-known tool from Visual Studio — Go to definition/declaration. But, we all know how this works (or actually doesn’t work) in VS. Sometimes you have to wait for a response from VS, or simply you cannot go anywhere.

With Visual Assist, you get a really nice, working version of the tool: just press Alt+G (the default keyboard shortcut), select where you want to go, and Visual Assist will go to it immediately!

Alt+G is especially useful when:

  • You are reading a class interface and you want to go to the implementation of some method. You can take a glance at the internal code, then quickly go back to the interface.
  • You want to check the declaration of a variable. Use Go To to see where the variable is declared (is it a local variable or maybe a member of a class).

Go To Example

I am in IParticleEmitter.h and I see the class IParticleEmitter interface declaration. There is an interesting method called emitt(...) — how is it implemented?

I can use Go To and get the following result:


Of course, Visual Assist sees that a method can have multiple polymorphic implementations. Go To allows one to select the desired implementation and jump into it. In the list, you can move via arrow keys, mouse, or assigned numbers/letters.

Now, I am in the implementation of this method: CParticleBoxEmitter::emitt. There is some code:

if (MaxAngleDegrees)
    core::vector3df tgt = Direction;
    tgt.rotateXYBy(os::Randomizer::frand() * MaxAngleDegrees);
    tgt.rotateYZBy(os::Randomizer::frand() * MaxAngleDegrees);
    tgt.rotateXZBy(os::Randomizer::frand() * MaxAngleDegrees);
    p.vector = tgt;

What is this MaxAngleDegrees? Is it a static constant or a class member? I can hover my mouse over it and get some basic information, but via Go To , I can go to the place where it is defined so I can see some more context.

When I want to return (to the interface that I was looking at initially), I can do it in several ways:

  • Ctrl+Tab to go to the previous window
  • Ctrl+- to go to the previous location
  • Navigate Back — a Visual Assist command that I will describe in another article

Tip: Additionally, Alt+G works in other situations; for instance, press Alt+G when the caret is in a line with the #include "#xyz" statement. You will simply move to the header!

Go To Related

Visual Assist goes even further than Go To with the implementation of another commend — Go To Related. If you use Shift+Alt+G instead of Alt+G, you will see a much more advanced version of Go To. For instance:


With Shift+Alt+G, I can see base classes, derived classes and even go to the definition a particular member!


Go To  and its related commands, Go To Related and Go To Member, are some of the most important tools in Visual Assist. The Go To commands enable us to move in the code quickly and jump among definition/use/declaration. The implementations in Visual Assist are very advanced and more efficient that the native Visual Studio solution.

Learn More

You can learn more about the Go To commands in the documentation for Visual Assist:

This article was contributed by Bartlomiej Filipek, who writes at Code And Graphics — a technical blog about C++ and OpenGL.

Automatically add C++11 override to virtual methods

The C++11 standard has been approved and C++14 is around the corner. These new standards define a lot of interesting language features, one of them being support for the override identifier. You can append “override” to a virtual function declaration and tell the compiler that you want to override a virtual method inherited from a base class. If the virtual method does not exist in the base class, or has a different signature, the compiler raises an error and the compilation fails.


Use of override is very useful for detecting errors, at compile time, caused by typos and bad copy-pastes.

Visual Studio has supported override since Visual Studio 2010, and so has Visual Assist. But if you want Visual Assist to insert “override” automatically—when using the code generation feature Implement Virtual Methods—you need to tell it via the Windows Registry.

Note: Beginning with Visual Assist build 2042, you can insert “override” automatically via the options dialog of Visual Assist. The following instructions apply to build 2036 and older.

Exit your IDE(s) so Visual Assist does not overwrite your changes, then using the registry editor, navigate to this key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Whole Tomato\Visual Assist X\<IDE_SPEC>

Change the value of UseOverrideKeywordInImplementInterface from 00 to 01.


Restart you IDE, and from now on, Visual Assist will append override to the signatures of your virtual methods.

This article was contributed by Manuel Maier, student at Hochschule der Medien Stuttgart, Germany.