Visual Studio 2017 Extension tutorial 7: Insert buttons between text characters with Adornments

Tutorial Table of Contents:

Part 1: Introduction to VS extensibility
Part 2: Add Menu Item
Part 3: Add command to context menu and get selected code
Part 4: Show a popup Window
Part 5: Highlight code in Editor
Part 6: Follow a span of code with TrackingSpan
Part 8: Add UI in the indicator margin with Glyphs

During the tutorial we are going to build a VS extensions called CodyDocs and place it on GitHub. Each tutorial part is a standalone tutorial on a specific topic and can be viewed individually. CodyDocs will save code documentation in a separate file and the extension will allow to view and edit the documentation in the editor itself.

Part 7: Insert Button between text characters with Adornments

In this tutorial we’re going to start using Adornments. Adornments are graphics effects in the Editor that aren’t related to Font and color manipulation of the text itself. All Adornments are WPF elements.

When inserting WPF elements, we can insert them in between characters, expanding the text. Or we can insert Adornments in front, hiding the text.

Here’s the end result of what we’re going to do:

As you can see, there’s a WPF element (the yellow notepad) in between character, expanding the text.

How to add Adornment to the extension between text characters

There are two ways to add Adornments to the View. The first way uses IAdornmentLayer. We’re not going to cover this, since there’s a more robust way to do this, but here’s an example to give you an idea of how it works:

An instance of this class is created for each document open in the editor. we listen to the LayoutChanged event and add an Adornment whenever the event fires. LayoutChanged happens when new lines are exposed to the screen. This usually happens after scrolling.

To create a template of this, go to Project -> Add New Item -> Extensibility -> Editor Text Adornment.

We are going to use a more robust method, using IntraTextAdornmentTag.

Create Adornments with IntraTextAdornmentTag

If you are new to Taggers, I suggest reading this tutorial first.

IntraTextAdornmentTag is a special Tag, built for Adornments that are inserted in between text characters. It accepts a WPF element in the constructor. When creating IntraTextAdornmentTags with ITagger, VS draws that WPF element in the editor.

To use IntraTextAdornmentTag, we will need to add 2 classes to  out project :

IViewTaggerProvider – For each TextView, will create ITagger.

ITagger – This class implements GetTags method, which return a collection of our IntraTextAdornmentTags, and the Spans where they should be placed.

The IViewTaggerProvider and ITagger classes are Exported with MEF and Visual Studio will know to:
1. Call CreateTagger whenever a new document (TextView) is opened in the Editor.
2. Call GetTags whenever a document is first opened, and whenever an update is needed (Maybe due to the user editing the code, or when scrolling).

So, for example, to draw a Yellow Notepad picture, like in the example, in row 20 and column 5, I’d do something like this:

  • Position is represented in “Stream” position, which means the character number from the start of the document.
  • “view” is of type IWpfTextView and should be saved as a member in the constructor. ITextView can be casted to IWpfTextView.
  • YellowNotepadAdornment is a regular WPF element.
  • PositionAffinity.Predecessor means the WPF element will be drawn before the character in ‘position’.
  • Span is of length 0, so that the Adornment won’t take any character space, and won’t hide any code. Instead, it will expand the space between characters.

Use Microsoft’s Tagger base class

Creating adornments, which are WPF elements, is expensive and can cause performance issues when combined with editor text changes (user editing the code). In Microsoft’s sample on Intra-Text-Adornment, you can see a base class for all adornment taggers. You can overcome the performance issues by deriving from this class.

The base Tagger does two things:

  1. It draws the adornments with a delay and asynchronously.
  2. It caches the adornments.

Deriving from this class is the recommended way and we’ll co that in the following example

Implementing Intra Text Adornments in CodyDocs

In the previous tutorials, we created an extension called CodyDocs. CodyDocs allows the user to select text and add documentation (comments). The documentation is saved in a separate file (.cs.cdocs). The extension highlights documented text, to indicate which parts have documentation.

In this tutorial, we’ll also add a button in the end of each documented text. The purpose is for the user to hover over the button and see the documentation. On click, a popup will open to edit or remove the documentation.

Adding the code

We’re going to use IntraTextAdornments, with the yellow-notepad picture. We will need to add several classes to the code.

The Adornment (yellow-notepad) WPF element

This is a regular WPF UserControl, with an image.

Unlike a regular WPF project, in a VSIX extension, it was difficult to add an image resource. The only way I was able to do that is to mark the file as a Resource, and use a Relative Path in Source property.


We are creating an ITagger for each open document in the editor (aka Text View).

We import ViewTagAggregatorFactoryService, which is a factory to create TagAggregator.


Tag Aggregator provides functionality to get all exported Tags of type T. So, if we are implementing ITagger in some class and want to use the created Tags in another class, we can do that with Tag Aggregator.

In our case, we already create Tags to highlight the text (DocumentedCodeHighlighterTag). The IntraTextAdornment Tags, which we need to create, are directly dependent on the highlight tags. So instead of duplicating the same functionality to create our tags in the same place, we can use TagAggregator to find the highlight tags.


We are deriving from Microsoft’s IntraTextAdornmentTagger base class for the performance issues.

Here, we create the Adornments for each open Text View. Well, actually we create Tags that implement IntraTextAdornmentTag, and Visual Studio takes care to create an Adornment for each created Tag. In our case, the Adornment is a yellow notepad image.

Let’s examine this class:

  • We are using Tag Aggregator to collect the highlight Tags (DocumentedCodeHighlighterTag). For each highlight Tag, we are creating our own Tag starting with the end of the highlight Tag span and with length 0. Length 0 is important for the Adornment to take no space and not to hide code.
  • TagsChanged event in Tag Aggregator indicates that the highlight tags might have been changed and we call our own TagsChanged with InvokeTagsChanged
  • Note the AdditionalData empty class. This is a way to pass data from GetAdornmentData to CreateAdornment and UpdateAdornment.
    In our case, the Adornment is also the same – a yellow notepad, so there’s no additional data to pass.
    In other scenarios, if using ITagAggregator<T>, you can pass the original tag T, which might hold data that affects the desired Adornment.
  • CreateAdornment creates the Adornment WPF element.
  • UpdateAdornment is an optimization. When Tags changed, this is called with new “additional data”. Here the Adornment should be modified with whatever changes in “additional data”. If UpdateAdornment returns true, then the Adornment will be removed from cache and re-created. In our case, the yellow notepad never changes.
  • GetSnapshotSpan mapping method is needed because The TagsChanged parameters in ITagAggregator are a bit different than the ones in ITagger:

That’s it, our yellow notepad adornment should now work.

The Result

I added some more functionality:

  1. Hover over the Adornment will show the documentation text in a popup.
  2. Clicking on the Adornment will open a window to edit or delete the documentation.

Here’s the result:


We saw how to add any UI element to the editor, in between character with Adornment. To do that, we used a special Tag IntraTextAdornmentTag.

To see how to make the Adornment replace text, you can look into this sample.

There are more ways to use Adornments. We can place adornments in a fixed position in the editor, or even expand lines and place them above or below code (This is more difficult), and we’ll probably cover that in a later tutorial.

The code is available on GitHub. To checkout to the extension code right after this tutorial part, use the Tag Part7:

Hope you learned something from this, happy coding.


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