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Quick guide: Create a new plugin using Visual Studio

We assume that you have obtained the source as described in Quick guide: Download and build sources. We assume your directory structure looks as follows:

A new solution

We will now create a new Visual Studio solution and add a class library project which will become the HeuristicLab plugin.

  • In Visual Studio select "File > New > Project..." or press <Ctrl+Shift+N>
  • Use the "Blank Solution" template
  • In this guide we'll use "GreatIdea" as name and choose the extension folder as location

No image "create_solution.png" attached to Documentation/DevelopmentCenter/CreateNewPluginUsingVS

Next we add a new project to this solution.

  • In the Solution Explorer right-click the "GreatIdea" solution and select "Add > New Project..."
  • On the right choose "Visual C#" and select the "Class Library" template
  • In this guide we'll pick "HeuristicLab.GreatIdea.ThePlugin"

No image "create_project.png" attached to Documentation/DevelopmentCenter/CreateNewPluginUsingVS

Your working directory should now look something like this:

Configuring the project

Project properties

In the project's properties we configure: Assembly information, build, debug, and signing. If you open the properties please also make sure the target framework is set to .NET Framework 4.0.

Assembly information

We set the assembly version to the same value as the current HeuristicLab version by convention. It should only include major and minor, build and revision should always remain 0. In the official HeuristicLab repository the revision part is synchronized with the SVN revision number, it can be simply set to 0 in our case. The assembly file version can include the whole version string.


We want to automatically put the plugin into the StableRoot\bin folder when we compile it. On the "Build" tab change the configuration box from "Active (Debug)" to "All Configurations" and enter ..\..\..\stable\bin in the output path.


On the "Debug" tab choose "Start external program" and select HeuristicLab.exe inside StableRoot\bin - this setting is stored in the .csproj.user file.


Activate "Sign the assembly" and create a new key or use the HeuristicLab.snk inside the plugins of StableRoot. Otherwise call the new key "TheKey", but deselect the password option.

Save and close the project's properties. These changes ensure that the generated plugin is automatically added as a plugin to the HeuristicLab build and that we can use our solution to start a debugging session (shortcut <F5>). Now, we want to make this class library a HeuristicLab plugin.


Every plugin has at least a reference to the PluginInfrastructure as this is needed to identify as a plugin.

  • For the project add a reference to HeuristicLab.PluginInfrastructure.dll in StableRoot\bin
  • Important: Since we're building into a common bin folder you have to open the properties of this reference and set "Copy Local" to false

Plugin file

Visual Studio has already created a cs file when creating the project. Rename this file to Plugin.cs:

Every HeuristicLab plugin needs a Plugin file. This file contains information about the plugin itself (Name, Filename, Version) and it's dependencies. The dependencies are used by the plugin infrastructure to check if all required plugins for a certain plugin are found. Therefore we will write the following code in our Plugin.cs file:

using HeuristicLab.PluginInfrastructure;

namespace HeuristicLab.GreatIdea.ThePlugin {
  [Plugin("HeuristicLab.GreatIdea.ThePlugin", "Provides an implementation of a great idea", "")]
  [PluginFile("HeuristicLab.GreatIdea.ThePlugin.dll", PluginFileType.Assembly)]
  public class Plugin : PluginBase {

Important: The plugin class needs to derive from HeuristicLab.PluginInfrastructure.PluginBase so that the dll is realized as a plugin. The attributes specify the details of the plugin and which files it provides. The filename given in PluginFile has to be the same as the assembly output filename in the "Application" tab of the project's properties.

Important: Changing major or minor version numbers in the course of development marks a breaking change to previously saved files. If HeuristicLab wants to load an item of a plugin with version 3.3.8 it will accept the same plugin in version 3.3.9 to open it. However, it will reject the plugin when its major or minor is different (e.g. 3.2.7, 3.4.3 or 4.0.1). The "Assembly file version" is not used by HeuristicLab and can be set without any restrictions.

Testing the plugin

  • Build the project and press <Ctrl+F5> to start it without a debugger attached
  • You will see the starter window again, but you already know the switches to hide it
  • Inside the starter open the "Plugin Manager" and see that it is correctly loaded

Now we have created an empty plugin that we can use to implement a new great idea. Please refer to the Documentation pages and the various HowTos on how to write views, operators, algorithms, etc.

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