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What is it?

VSColorOutput can change the color of a line emitted to the output window based on specified rules. The rules consist of regular expressions. Rules map to classifications which in turn map to colors.


Download and open the VsColorOutput.visx file. VSColorOutput only supports Visual Studio 2010. To uninstall, go the Tools|Extensions page, find VSColorOutput in the "Installed Extensions" and click uninstall. Registry entries are not removed so later installations will reuse these settings.

How does it work?

VSColorOutput hooks into the the classifier chain of Visual Studio. This allows VSColorOutput to monitor every line sent to the output window. A list of classifiers, consisting of regular expressions and classifications is checked. The first matching expression determines the classification the line of text. If no patterns match, then line is classified as BuildText.

From here, Visual Studio does the heavy lifting of mapping the classification to a color. Colors are stored in the registry.


I originally wrote VSColorOutput to highlight trace output while debugging. It's still the primary reason I use it. I discovered it also highlighted lines in the build window as well. I found this made it much easier to visually parse the output and quickly locate items of interest.

Colors are set in the Tools|Options|Fonts and Colors|Text Editor dialog. VSColorOutput colors start with "VSColor" so they group together in the list and are easy to locate. Logically, it makes sense to add these to the "Output" category of the "Fonts and Colors" dialog but, interestingly, Visual Studio does not support adding colors to this category.

There are nine VSColors classifications. They are:
  • Build Text
  • Build Header
  • Log Information
  • Log Warning
  • Log Error
  • Log Custom1
  • Log Custom2
  • Log Custom3
  • Log Custom4

The names reflect their intended use but are entirely arbitrary.

Build Text is the default classification for any line that does not match the other patterns. It's default color is "Gray". I've found this helps to highlight the other classified lines.

Creating Patterns

The Tools|Options|VSColorOutput dialog contains just one item. If you open it you'll see list of patterns and classifications. The regular expressions use the .NET form (, which varies slightly from those used by Ruby, JavaScript, Python, etc.

At run-time, VSColorOutput will walk this list in order, testing the line of text against the regular expression. If it matches, the line is given the classification associated with the pattern. No additional patterns are tested for the given line. Therefore, the order of the classifiers is significant.


Color Output in the Find Results Window

As 1.4, the Find Results Window is color highlighted. Two additional color settings control the color of the output:
  • Find Results Filename
  • Find Results Search Term

Other Features

Stop Build On First Error

Pretty much does what it says. A real time saver on larger projects.

Show Elapsed Build Time

If you build from the command line, MSBuild tells you how long the build takes. Building within Visual Studio does not. Why? Don't know. It's always bugged me so I fixed it.

Show Debug Window when Debug Starts

Visual Studio has a "Show Build Window when Build Starts". Now you have one for the debug session. If you run your debugger output in a tiled window, this won't have much affect. If you run it in a tabbed window (like I do) then you now won't have to click on the output window tab to see debug output.

Last edited Feb 17, 2012 at 7:30 PM by blueonion, version 14


OldGrouch Dec 28, 2011 at 11:10 PM 
Nice job. I have been looking for this feature.