silver toolbox with multicolored tools organized inside

50+ Great Free Tools for .NET Developers

A cross-section of useful, no-cost software development tools offered by vendors and the developer community

Editor's note: Downloadable Free Tools for .NET Developers spreadsheet now includes 70 free tools. Zip file includes table as an Excel spreadsheet and .htm file.

"It's free...!" That tantalizing descriptor is a tried-and-true tactic for drawing attention to a product or a company. Everyone loves free stuff, and .NET developers are no exception. Indeed, the .NET and ASP.NET developer world is an exceptional treasure trove of software development tools and other useful free resources. For instance, most developers are familiar with CodePlex, the Microsoft-hosted .NET community code site as well as open source code-sharing sites, such as SourceForge.net. (See Richard Campbell's editorial " Free Tools? Don't Forget About Microsoft," for his list of notable CodePlex projects.)

But there are other sources of free developer tools. Many free tools are community projects, authored by individual developers or multiple contributors—such as Don Ho's Notepad++ editor and the Firebug Firefox add-on. And third-party developer software vendors are another rich resource for free tools; a number of vendors,  offer either scaled-down free versions of their mainline products—such as Developer Express's CodeRush Xpress, Telerik's JustMock, Kentico CMS for ASP.NET Free Edition, and Atalasoft's DotImage Photo—or tools that perform a specific task, such as Devart's T4 template editor and JetBrains' dotPeek.

This article presents a cross-section of some of the most popular and useful free software development tools available. The vast majority of the tools listed in the table are geared toward .NET development, but there are a few others thrown in for those who are doing cross-platform development.

50 tools are listed in nine categories that represent a cross-section of the types of tools most widely available:

  • Code-generation/editing/templates
  • Content management systems (CMSs)
  • Controls/Components
  • ata access and Object-Relational Mapping (ORM)
  • Documentation & Project Management
  • Performance Analysis/Management
  • Software Configuration Management/Version Control
  • Testing and Debugging
  • Visual Studio add-ins

There's also a "miscellaneous" category listing tools that don't quite fit in any of the other categories. Some of the tools listed were suggested by DevProConnections authors (more about our authors' favorite tools in the next section). Others came from the DevProConnections "files": press releases and briefings with tool providers. Tools were selected with an eye toward including those that .NET developers would find most useful. In other words, even though a tool is "free," it still must provide value and practical benefit to developers.

DevProConnections Authors' Favorite Free Tools

DevProConnections' authors are first and foremost developer professionals, who spend much of their time developing applications and managing and troubleshooting development projects for their clients and employers in the "real world." I asked some of them to list the free tools they regularly use in their projects. Here is a list of some of their favorites.

Michael K. Campbell, DevProConnections contributing author and columnist and SQL Server Magazine contributing editor and president of OverAchiever Productions

"Ionic.zip: I can't say enough about how awesome Ionic.zip is. If you're a .NET developer (or a heavy BI/SSIS developer), then you've likely run across the need to manage compression from within your applications or solutions. I've looked at gobs of different solutions or offerings (free and otherwise) and would happily pay a fortune for Ionic.Zip. Only I don't have to because it's a completely free library that's hosted on CodePlex.com.

"Expresso: I've been using Expresso now for years, and love how painlessly it allows me to quickly test out regular expressions—under a variety of different scenarios or use cases. Expresso also includes a great overview and introduction to using Regular Expressions.

"ReverseDOS: I've got a bit of an agenda pushing this tool—since I created it. But ReverseDOS is a totally free resource/solution—and it does solve real problems. I use it constantly to put an end to comment spam on my blogs and out on SQLServerVideos.com. Whenever I have problems with a new spammer, I either drop in their IP address (if they keep spamming from the same site), or some of the terms they're spamming and, poof: Problem gone."

Tim Huckaby, DevProConnections contributing author, founder and chairman of InterKnowlogy and Actus Software. "The Silverlight ecosystem has a plethora of good tools that are used by the pros. Personally, I love Charles Petzold's free XAML Cruncher tool.

Don Kiely, DevProConnections contributing author and columnist, senior technology consultant
"World of VS Default Browser Switcher: This extension, available through the Visual Studio 2010 Extension Manager, is mandatory for MVC application development and useful for all web development. It provides a toolbar that lets you easily switch between IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera—whichever ones are installed on the local machine—for the next time you run the application from VS. Changing the default browser requires an ugly kludge in MVC and several keystrokes in other web project types. This extension makes it a one-click operation for any project type.

"LINQPad Standard Edition: This is a great tool for writing and testing LINQ expressions and is invaluable for learning LINQ. It comes with some 500 LINQ samples from the C# 4.0 in a Nutshell book, giving you a lot of samples to learn from and steal for your own projects.

"Other tools I use a lot:
Notepad++
Firebug add-in for Firefox
NoScript add-in for Firefox (for turning client-side scripting on and off to test web page degradation when JavaScript isn't available)
Filezilla FTP client"

Mike Riley, DevProConnections contributing editor
"Two of my favorites were actually in the April 2011 issue of Windows IT Pro, both in Michael Otey's ' Free Tools for Managing Windows' article:

  • FreeFileSync: Extremely helpful file copy utility that keeps files in the folders being constantly watched in sync, all in real-time.
  • ExamDiff: One of the best freeware file graphical difference tools available today."

Robin Shahan, DevProConnections contributing author, director of engineering for GoldMail
"These are the free tools that I use the most: FileZilla is a free FTP client. I used the command-line FTP for years until someone sent me a link to FileZilla. It's awesome, and the multi-threaded file upload/download is very fast.

"Fiddler is a HTTP Debugging Proxy that lets me see all network traffic to and from my computer. This is invaluable when testing my Azure services to ensure I'm pointing to the right services and that I'm sending up the right information.

"Virtual Clone Drive is software that allows you to mount ISO files as if they were drives. It will also retain the drive mapping and reload the file when the computer reboots. This is great for installing software without having to burn it to a DVD, and for exploring what is in an ISO file without having to unfurl it."

Zoiner Tejada: DevProConnections contributing author, president of TejadaNET
"Here are two of my current favorites:

"For testing, Telerik JustMock: A really fantastic, easy-to-use mocking framework that helps you author straightforward unit tests. A tremendous help in isolating dependencies for any bit of code including items most other frameworks cannot support like static classes, sealed classes, and non-virtual methods. It plays very well with Visual Studio 2010's Unit Tests, and the fluent syntax API it exposes makes for very pleasant authoring. Comes in both free and paid versions.

"For data access: Cloud Storage Studio: Pretty much the de facto tool for working with Azure tables. Makes both schema changes and data uploads from a file/downloads to a file painless, not to mention provides a helpful UI for issuing custom queries.  But it is even more than that: It's the SQL Management Studio for all things Azure storage: blobs, tables, and queues. Comes in both free and paid versions."

Dan Wahlin, DevProConnections contributing author, founder of The Wahlin Group
"Here are a few I like:

  • ILSpy: Provides a great way to inspect assemblies and reverse engineer IL code back to C#.
  • SPDeploymentWizard: Nice SharePoint tool for moving content between databases in a SharePoint environment.
  • SharePoint Manager 2010: Provides a great view into nearly all aspects of SharePoint sites.
  • Nuget: New tool from Microsoft that allows 'packages' to be installed into projects without much effort on the developer's part.
  • Glimpse: Provides a client-side look into what's happening on the server.
  • FireBug: An awesome tool for inspecting HTML, the DOM, JavaScript debugging and much more.
  • T4 Templates: Visual Studio provides a built-in template engine that can be used to generate just about any type of code you'd like."

...And More Free Tools Lists!

Scott Hanselman's Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tool List for Windows

" Great Free Tools for .NET Developers and IT Pros," by Michael K. Campbell

" The Mega Guide to Free SQL Server Tools," by Megan Keller

Kevin Kline's Tool Time blog: Tools and resources for SQL Server, Visual Studio, Windows, and more

Free XAML Tools—as listed in Miguel Angel Carrasco's blog post, "The Complete List of XAML Tools"

Add Your FreeTools Favorites to the List

You can download the free tools list Excel spreadsheet at the top of this article. It is meant to be used it as a reference that you can update, as you come across free tools that you find useful. You can help DevProConnections expand our free tools list by sending your suggestions for additions to the list to [email protected]. Happy free-tools prospecting!

Anne Grubb ( [email protected]) is developer content manager for DevProConnections and its associated publications.

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