If you’re like me, you probably thought Visual Studio was short for Visual Studio Code when you first learned about these Microsoft programs. Many others have also been caught in Microsoft’s awkward naming convention.

So which should you choose? Does the choice come down to whichever is readily available? Is VS Code merely a free alternative to Visual Studio? This article will help you simplify the Visual Studio vs. VSCode dilemma by reviewing their differences and capabilities. 

That way, you can see which serves your needs better. But first, you need to learn the basics about Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code. Let’s begin.

What Is Visual Studio (VS)?

For over two decades, Microsoft’s Visual Studio has been one of the most popular IDEs (integrated development environments) for developers. IDEs provide software editing, building, debugging, testing, and packaging capabilities to allow developers to do everything in one app.

Microsoft Visual Studio is a powerful IDE for creating websites, web applications, mobile applications, and more. It offers a lot more native features, including functionalities for collaboration and professional tools, such as its architectural diagrams. 

Key Visual Studio features include:

  • Built-in support for C, C++, C++/CLI, Visual Basic .NET, C#, F#, JavaScript, TypeScript, XML, XSLT, HTML, and CSS, with a few others like PHP requiring plugins. 

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  • Complete debugging and code editing tools with syntax highlighting. 
  • Collaboration capabilities so you can co-create across large teams and complex projects.
  • The IntelliSense feature which offers code suggestions for more efficiency and a better experience.
  • Feature rich: It comes ready with pre-installed and extensive development tools, so you won’t need to worry about making separate installations. The 2022 Visual Studio comes with 17 workloads, making it a comprehensive development environment for you.
  • Code profiling: It is equipped with deep code analysis capabilities to help developers spot potential issues and generally improve the quality of their codes.
  • Collaboration: Visual Studio facilitates real-time team collaboration. This capability allows large teams to work on complex projects together, increasing productivity and reducing redundancy.
  • Code assistance: Visual Studio provides real-time code assistance for improved efficiency, regardless of the programming language.
  • Community: There are dedicated communities where you can connect with other developers. For a lot of developers, this robust support system makes the difficulty of learning Visual Studio a fair trade-off.
  • Steep learning curve: Some developers find that the many features native to the tool make it quite overwhelming and difficult to master.
  • Heavy: As the more comprehensive tool in the Microsoft Visual Studio vs. Visual Studio Code debate, the former is the much heavier option. Downloading it may take up to 64GB. Beginners with less powerful computers may have to free up hard drive space or struggle to download and install the tool.
  • Minimal flexibility: Programmers have to install the Visual Studio complete package, including features and tools they may not need.

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What Is Visual Studio Code (VS Code)?

At its most basic, Visual Studio Code is a lightweight and flexible code editor designed for developers to easily edit source codes. However, it also offers extra customizable capabilities for debugging, testing, and more with the help of plugins.

Visual Studio Code is favored by programmers working on smaller projects because it offers a more streamlined and user-friendly interface. It has built-in support for Node.js, JavaScript, and TypeScript. It also supports rich extension options for Python, C++, C#, Java, GO, and PHP.

Key Visual Studio Code features:

  • IntelliSense for code completing and parameter tracking;
  • Support for hundreds of languages;
  • Auto-indentation, syntax highlighting, and keyboard shortcut mapping;
  • Debugging and diagnostics;
  • Refactoring;
  • Git integration.

But what is Visual Studio Code used for? Why should you consider it for code editing? Read on to learn more. 

  • Lightweight: VS Code doesn’t require too much hard drive space to install, unlike VS. With no more than 200 MB, you are good to go, which is 99% less than what you’d need to download Visual Studio on Windows.
  • Fast and responsive: Being lightweight also makes it a faster and more responsive option. While extensions may be added to the package, you get to choose which ones and may not ever reach the level of Visual Studio.
  • High customizability: Visual Studio Code is highly customizable through any number of the plugins available. Whether it is configuring keyboard shortcuts or the interface to your liking, developers who are particular about tailoring their coding environment can make the changes they need on VS Code.
  • Rich support: There is support for each of the programming languages available on VS Code. While you will depend on plugins to access them, they are all easy to set up, and the extensions are updated often and as needed.
  • Large community: With a large and continuously growing community of developers, there are always fresh extensions available to users.
  • Restricted debugging capabilities: When it comes to debugging capabilities, Visual Studio could easily take the win since it has the best integrated debugging tools.
  • Heavy reliance on plugins: As robust as the features of Visual Studio Code are, it relies heavily on plugins even for basic functionalities like debugging and syntax highlighting. This may lead to some compatibility issues.
  • Requires extensive configurations: Unlike Visual Studio, VS Code requires a lot of setup, making it tasking for developers who are in the market for a more streamlined tool. A beginner using it will have to set up language-specific features, debuggers, compilers, etc.

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Visual Studio vs. VSCode: What to Choose?

Choosing between Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code is not as simple as making an IDE vs. editor comparison. You can customize Visual Studio Code to feel like an IDE, thanks to extensions.

To make the decision easier, let’s look at different factors.


Your need for certain features can swing your decision.

You can go for Visual Studio if you want all the programming capabilities you need out of the box instead of custom installing extensions. On the other hand, Visual Studio Code is better if you want to fine-tune your app and decide which features to use.

Purpose and project scope

If you major in large-scale, complex projects, especially technologies such as .NET and C#, you should lean towards Visual Studio. Its all-inclusive feature set is also the better option for developing enterprise-level applications.

Visual Studio Code is the more sensible option for smaller to medium projects, exploring new languages, and working across different operating systems.

Operating system

Your operating system also plays a critical role.

Visual Studio is primarily designed for Windows, as macOS support is being phased out by 2024.

Conversely, Visual Studio Code is built to run on Windows, macOS, and Linux. This robust support makes it the obvious choice if you switch between operating systems or if Linux is your main system.

Specific development needs

There are also clear cases favoring one tool over the other in specific cases.

For example, architects would prefer Visual Studio Enterprise because of its architectural diagrams, and teams needing robust collaboration tools might opt for Visual Studio instead of installing extensions to support that capability.

Visual Studio Code is popular for data science and works on Linux (which Visual Studio doesn’t).


Cost can be the ultimate tie-breaker, as both tools are almost opposites in this regard.

While Visual Studio’s Community Edition is free, its Professional and Enterprise versions are subscription-based services. However, Visual Studio Code is completely free, unless you want to install specific paid extensions.

If you or your small team run a tight budget, Visual Studio Code is the better option. But Visual Studio could be a good investment if you’re willing to pay for more powerful features.

Here is a quick snapshot of the differences between Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code

Microsoft Visual Studio vs. Visual Studio Code: What’s the Right Choice?

Deciding between these tools can be a challenge, especially as a beginner. But your approach shouldn’t be figuring out which is better. Instead, weigh options based on what you specifically need. You can also try out both, if you can, to learn which works best for you.

Head to the comments section to tell us which tool you prefer.


The main difference is that the first is a code editor that relies on extensions, while the second is a comprehensive integrated development environment. 
It depends on what you are working on. However, as a beginner, consider that VS Code is open source, faster, free, and has a friendly learning curve.
Yes. It is free for both individual and commercial users.