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The latest release of the Visual Studio GitHub Copilot Chat Extension introduces two unique productivity features, slash commands and context variables. Additionally, developers can explore a couple of preview features such as Exception Assistant, Test failure Analysis, Suggestions for Breakpoint Expressions, Commit message suggestions and more.

The first notable addition is the inclusion of slash commands, which are a set of special directives that developers can use within the chat interface to trigger specific code-related actions. There are a couple of commands introduced, by use /docusers can easily add a comment to the code documentation.

Similarly, the /explain The command brings a detailed explanation of the code, while /fix suggests solutions to identified issues within selected code. Developers can also try /generate to start Copilot to generate code that answers their questions, /help to find help within Copilot Chat, /optimize to analyze and improve the runtime of selected code, and /tests to generate unit tests for the selected code.

(Using the slash command within the Visual Studio text editor, Source: Microsoft Dev Blogs)

In addition, the second notable feature added is the context variables feature that allows developers to easily include files from solutions to questions with the use of the # symbol.

This feature allows Copilot to access the content of referenced files and provide more targeted responses. For example, developers may ask about the functionality of a specific file, for example, #Main.cs, and receive relevant insights from Copilot Chat. With the note that multiple files can be included in one query.

To view the referenced files in the chat, developers can check under the responses section, where links to the added files can be found. Clicking on these links will redirect users to the attached content, offering a convenient way to navigate and understand the referenced files.

In addition to the main Visual Studio Copilot Chat features released, several experimental preview features are also available. These features include the debugger’s Exception Assistant, providing information on exceptions, breakpoint expression suggestions for conditional breakpoints, and commit message generation to describe code changes.

Another unique feature of the preview is Solution Reference, which allows users to find and navigate to references to code elements within their solution. By using the #solution directive, Copilot automatically includes the relevant code in the context of the query.

The Suggestions in the Performance Profiler feature analyzes performance data collected by the Visual Studio Performance Profiler, showing insights to optimize code speed, memory usage, and responsiveness. Also, Copilot helps debug and fix unit test failures through the Test Failure Analysis feature.

(Test failure analysis, Source: Microsoft Dev Blogs)

For developers interested in activating these preview features, the process involves accessing Options, going to GitHub, and selecting Copilot Chat. In the Preview features section, developers can check the boxes corresponding to the features they want to explore.

Community feedback on Visual Studio Copilot Chat has been mostly positive, with users praising features like #solution references. However, specific concerns include challenges with certain slash commands, such as /doc for multiple code selections, and the general nature of /explain. Users suggest customization options, such as choosing the language for creating messages. There is also a visionary proposal for future enhancements, such as monitoring abilities and emotional expressions.

Some users have compared Copilot to other tools, highlighting its value in inline suggestions but expressing consideration for tools with advanced features. Overall, the community’s feedback highlighted an appreciation for the existing tools and a desire for continued tool improvements.

Finally, for Visual Studio Copilot Cha application developers must use Visual Studio 2022 version 17.8 or higher. Additionally, developers must verify that the GitHub account signed into Visual Studio is associated with an active GitHub Copilot subscription.

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