Task Runner Explorer is the Best Visual Studio Feature You Probably Aren’t Using

TL;DR – There is a handy feature in VS 2015 called Task Runner Explorer that you can use to run PowerShell or batch commands to do just about anything. You can also bind these to build events.

A task runner is a program that runs tasks. If you’ve been doing much web development these past couple of years you are probably familiar with this concept and popular task runners like Grunt and Gulp. In fact one or both of these might be essential to your development workflow. And, since many web developers consider these to be essential tools, the Visual Studio team released the Task Runner Explorer extension for Visual Studio 2013 and later made Task Runner Explorer an out of box feature in Visual Studio 2015.

If you aren’t aware that this feature exists, you aren’t alone! I took a poll on twitter.

<sarcasm>I was a bit surprised by this as the feature is prominently available by going to View | Other Windows | Task Runner Explorer.</sarcasm>

JavaScript Task Runner? No Thanks!

If your work isn’t mostly JavaScript, using a JavaScript based task runner probably sounds pretty unappealing. Happily there is an extension that supports .exe, .cmd, .bat, .ps1 and .psm1 files called Command Task Runner.

We use this in the Azure Functions for SharePoint project to automate deployment at build time by binding the script to the build event.

The deploy script is complicated, but there are a couple others that are pretty simple and are not bound to any events. We run them manually and I think they illustrate best why this tool is something that belongs in your everyday toolkit.

For example, each Azure Function for SharePoint relies on a config.json file. It would be an error-prone pain to create them by hand or by copying an existing configuration and so we have a script that creates a new config and puts it on the clipboard:

$scriptdir = $PSScriptRoot
[Reflection.Assembly]::LoadFrom("$scriptdir\AzureFunctionsForSharePoint.Core\bin\Debug\AzureFunctionsForSharePoint.Core.dll")
$config = New-Object AzureFunctionsForSharePoint.Core.ClientConfiguration

#Pretty print output to the PowerShell host window
ConvertTo-Json -InputObject $config -Depth 4

#Send to clipboard
ConvertTo-Json -InputObject $config -Depth 4 -Compress | clip
														

When a new client config.json is needed, all one must do is run the command from Task Runner Explorer.

Pretty cool eh?

–Doug Ware