The SharePoint Toolbox

SharePoint provides an enormous amount of functionality but can be challenging for new developers trying to deploy solutions to a server. Fortunately, there are several free Microsoft and third-party tools that can be used to create Web parts, site definitions, event receivers and more. Here's a quick rundown of a few timesaving tools that can significantly increase your productivity when building SharePoint applications.

WSPBuilder
WSPBuilder provides a nice way to build manifest.xml, .DDF and .WSP solution files quickly and easily from the command line or through a Visual Studio add-in. It traverses a "12" folder structure in VS and generates the appropriate files needed to deploy a solution. It can be downloaded from www.codeplex.com/wspbuilder.

STSDev
STSDev can be used to build different SharePoint components such as Web parts and features more easily. Once a project type is selected (note that C# is currently the only supported language), it will create a VS 2005 or 2008 project automatically with the necessary SharePoint files and folder structure. STSDev can be downloaded here.

CAML Query Builder
Collaborative Application Markup Language (CAML) can be challenging to build from scratch. Fortunately, U2U has released a free tool called CAML Query Builder that can be used to build CAML queries visually without having to know a lot about CAML. It will output the proper CAML syntax for use with objects such as SPSiteDataQuery. CAML Query Builder can be downloaded here.

Business Data Catalog Definition Editor
The Business Data Catalog (BDC) allows external data to be integrated into SharePoint that can be bound to built-in MOSS Web Parts or custom controls. To use BDC functionality you create custom .XML metadata files that define connection information, queries to execute, plus much more. Although the tool isn't as flexible to work with as some of the other tools out there, the price can't be beat. It's part of SharePoint 2007's SDK 1.2 release. Read more about it here.

Visual Studio Extensions for SharePoint
Microsoft has released extensions for VS 2005 and 2008 that can simplify the process of building and deploying List items, Web Parts, Site Definitions and more. At press time version 1.3 for VS 2008 was released as a community technology preview. Additional information can be found here.

SPDisposeCheck
Unwary SharePoint developers can easily run into a situation where COM-based memory doesn't get released by CLR garbage collection. The resulting memory leakage can cripple performance and cause unexpected crashes and failures. The Microsoft SharePoint Dispose Checker Tool, known as SPDisposeCheck, analyzes custom compiled assemblies so developers can ensure proper disposal of unused resources. Check it out here.

-- Dan Wahlin

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