#GIS from a .NET developer's perspective

Tools I use for JavaScript and AJAX development

Below is a list of some of my most used features in various web developer tools. The tools can do so much more than I described here. Many of the features are somewhat hidden, so perhaps there’s a few things you might find useful too.

Feel free to share any of your favorite features in a JS and AJAX tool in the comment section below.

Microsoft’s Visual Studio.NET

The tool I use by far the most is Microsoft’s Visual Studio.NET 2005. Its script debugging features far surpasses anything I’ve seen in any other tool. The downside is that this only works for Internet Explorer. What I wouldn’t give for this to work with FireFox too.

The debugging experience is as good as the debugging in a .NET application. You get breakpoints, watches, object inspection and manipulation, step-into/over and so on.

This feature is somewhat hidden, because you need to go through a few hidden steps to enable it (this will change with VS2008).

First you need to enable script debugging in Internet Explorer. Go to internet options, and uncheck “Disable script debugging (Internet Explorer)”.

Then go to “View – Script Debugger – Open” and select a running instance of Visual Studio .NET.

In Visual Studio, go to “Debug – Windows – Script Explorer”. This will bring up the window with the loaded page and scripts. Double-click any of the files in the script explorer to open it and set breakpoints, create watches, inspect objects etc. Open the “Immediate window” to execute any JavaScript you enter. Note that these features only are available while you are at a breakpoint.

A little quirk compared to debugging a .NET application is that you can only hover the mouse on the root object, and not on its sub properties. The workaround is to select the object to get its value, as shown above. The good thing is that this even works on methods, so if you select an object, its method and the ending enclosing parentheses, the tooltip will show you the returned value from that method.

If you are developing a web application in VS.NET and run it in debug more, VS.NET will automatically attach to the browser process if you have enabled script debugging.


My favorite tool for debugging JavaScript in FireFox is FireBug. It’s the Swiss army knife of web development in FF. One of the cool features that a colleague of mine brought to my attention was a neat little feature for tracking all events that happen on a selected DOM element. This is great for analyzing which events are available for listen for, see the order that events are fired etc.

To use this feature, choose the HTML tab and browser to the element you want to track. Right-click it and select “Log events”.

Switch to the Console tab and try moving the mouse over the element and you will see a continuous output of all events occurring on the element:

You can also inspect the properties of each event by clicking them:

Nikhil’s Web Development Helper

Nikhil Kotari has created a great little plug-in for Internet Explorer to assist primarily AJAX development. The most used features it the request logger, that logs all HTTP requests and provides you with some serializers for interpreting the responses. Deserializers included by default are Text, Hex, Image, Microsoft AJAX Partial Postbacks and JSON. The JSON and Partial postback deserializers gives you a nice little tree-view for inspecting the AJAX responses.

The newest release also features a neat JavaScript object class browser. It interprets JavaScript objects in memory and shows them in a familiar Visual Studio/C# like object browser.

IE developer toolbar

IE developer toolbar is a useful tool for DOM inspection and manipulation. My favorite feature here is that it enables me to select any element and modify the DOM and CSS properties on the fly. This gives you a quick trial-and-error approach to getting your CSS to do what you want without the need for modifying HTML and refreshing the page.

It also gives you quick access to clearing the cache, generating image reports, save out the loaded and the generated HTML, a measure tool, and a bunch of other useful tools for inspecting the page.

Fiddler Tool

Fiddler tool inspects all http request and responses from all running applications. I use this for optimizing responses by checking that gzip encoding is used and pages that should be cached is cached (inspect cache header and result code):

This tool is VERY powerful and also includes scripting, altering request/responses etc, but that is a whole other story.

Fiddler Tool works with any browser that respects Windows’ proxy settings (for instance Safari 3b doesn’t, but IE and FireFox do).