The Visual Studio Output window: It has more to offer than meets the eye

At first glance, the Visual Studio Output window appears to be a boring tool whose only role in life is to display status information. However, look more closely and you will find that it provides several features that can be extremely useful. Below, I’ve listed the most common scenarios where I use the Output window.


Probably the most common reason for why I use the Output window is because of search. Not many people know this but you can search the Output window just like any other text editor. To search in the Output window, put your cursor in the window and press CTRL+F. The Find dialog comes up and you can search for any string. Why is this so useful you ask? The main reason is that you can search through output from the compiler, Code Analysis, your own program (think output from Debug.WriteLine) or any other tool that displays its output in the Output window. This basically makes up for not being able to search the Error List.

 Output window Search


Just like the Error List, you can double-click on an error or warning in the Output window and navigate to it in the source code. There is no visual cue to suggest that you can double-click on a message. You just can!

Navigation in Output window

Automatic log file

During debugging, since all the output from an application goes to the Output window, I often use the Output window as a log file. Specifically, at the end of the debug session, you can put your cursor in the Output window and press CTRL+S to save the output as a text file. No copy and past required!

Log File in Output window

If you use the Output window for other purposes, feel free to leave me a comment.

Habib Heydarian.

Comments (2)
  1. Ooh says:

    IIRC the navigation functionality (double-click or pressing the Enter key) just uses a Regex to find the file and line to open. I’ve used this several times in VS 2003 and 2005 to log things to the Output window. It enabled me to open the files the log entry was referring to 🙂

  2. This is a great tip, thanks for sharing. I’ll give it a try.

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