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Setting up Visual Studio .NET 2003 web applications to use a virtual directory

Last modified: 5 October 2005.   Any comments or suggestions - please fill in form below. Chris Cant.
Chris is available for paid-for consultation, software development or web programming - contact us using the form below

Extra tip: making Find in Files work better


This article explains briefly how to set up a web application in Visual Studio .NET 2003 so that the source code is not in the localhost server directory. As far as I can tell, you cannot do this simply in the New Project wizard.

I find it useful to keep all my source on one drive - and this drive is different from the drive that runs my localhost server. I have done the following job a few times before, and have finally decided that it is worth while documenting.

System: Windows XP with IIS 5.1, VS.NET 2003 and ASP.NET 1.1

Example directories used

In this example, I am suggesting that you want your source files to be in this directory: C:\Work\MyWebApp\.
However your localhost web server is on drive D: with the web root at D:\inetpub\wwwroot\.

If you set up an application using the New Project wizard then the source files will be in D:\inetpub\wwwroot\MyWebApp\ which is not what you want.

Task list

  • If desired, create a new Blank Solution, eg name "MyWebApp" in Location "C:\Work"
  • Select New+Project... and "ASP.NET Web Application" in Visual C# Projects or Visual Basic Projects.
    Set the Location to http://localhost/MyWebApp and make sure that "Add to solution" is selected.
    Close VS.NET.
  • Copy all the files and sub-directories in D:\inetpub\wwwroot\MyWebApp\ to C:\Work\MyWebApp\.
  • Start VS.NET
    Right-click on "MyWebApp" in the Solution Explorer, select Properties and show "Web Settings"
    • Set the Path to C:\Work\MyWebApp\
    • I have Web Access mode set to File Share.
    • Click OK.
  • Select "MyWebApp" in the Solution Explorer and select Edit+Remove. Click OK.
    Close VS.NET
  • Delete the entire directory D:\inetpub\wwwroot\MyWebApp\
  • Select Start+All programs+Administrative Tools+Internet Information Services to show the IIS manager.
    On the left, drill down until you see your web site (eg Default Web Site)
    Right-click on "Default Web Site" and select New+Virtual Directory...
    • Click Next
    • Enter an Alias of MyWebApp and click Next
    • Enter a Directory of C:\Work\MyWebApp\ and click Next
    • Leave the settings alone and click Next
    • Click Finish
    Close the IIS Manager
  • Start VS.NET
    Select File+Add Project+Existing Project... and choose filename C:\Work\MyWebApp\MyWebApp.csproj or similar
  • Select File+Save All
    You are now ready to work with your new project in your desired directory.

Extra tip: making Find in Files work better

In VS.NET 2003, if you use "Edit+Find and Replace+Find in Files" or "Replace in Files", I have found that text in code for web page files is NOT found. For example, searching for "InitializeComponent" will not be found in Global.asax.cs;  and "Page_Load" is not found in WebForm1.aspx.cs. This is a complete pain in the neck.

My solution is keep the code associated with a web page to a minimum, ie put your main code elsewhere. So create a new class in the project called MyWebAppGlobal.cs and derive Global in Global.asax.cs from this, eg:
public class Global : MyWebAppGlobal

In MyWebAppGlobal.cs derive MyWebAppGlobal from System.Web.HttpApplication, eg:
public class MyWebAppGlobal : System.Web.HttpApplication

Similarly, create a class MyPage.cs. In WebForm1.aspx.cs, derive WebForm1 from MyPage, eg:
public class WebForm1 : MyPage

Delete the entire function Page_Load() in WebForm1.aspx.cs. In MyPage.cs add this:
protected void Page_Load(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
// Put user code to initialize the page here


Daniel, Mon, 05 Dec 2005 08:43:34 (GMT)
Thanks for the virtual directory tip.

Devang Shah, Fri, 21 Sep 2007 13:51:07 -0700
You need to ask one more thing in the task list. Enable 'Browsing' in virtual directory set up (right near the end)
Reply: Only enable 'Directory Browsing' if you want the list of files in the directory to be shown when the user visits the directory.
Devang Shah: This is an important question. I suspect people develop on development machine, typically behind a firewall and then deploy on a production server. At least, that's what we would hope for a company that can even afford to purchase Microsoft development tools and operating systems, not to mention IIS license. I tried your techniques on a Windows XP machine with 'Internet Information Services' installed as a 'Windows Components'. The machine had all the service packs installed and it was a nightmare to get it going. Allowing browseability was just one of the things that I had to do.
I need to prepare a document with your checklist (I intend to properly attribute your blog) with the modifications.
One other major modification was that IE7 has a security feature that prevented me from adding the existing project too. I will send you the URL once I have the document in place.

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