If you weren’t working remotely before 2020 then we’ve all had to guess used to it this year. Collaboration tools like Teams are invaluable for keeping up with teammates during the day, discussing work and bouncing ideas and banter off each other. Video calls, screen sharing, chat, shared documents, gifs – that’s all great – but not quite a replacement for sitting at the same desk and looking at some code together.
There is a better way.
What is Live Share?
If you’re not already using VS Code Live Share then check it out. Get the extension pack rather than just the Live Share extension itself which adds audio calling through the sharing session. Sign in with a Microsoft or GitHub account and then start a live share session. A URL is generated that you can share for others to join, from VS Code, Visual Studio or even a browser.
Others will be able to see the source code, navigate and edit it. You can see each other’s cursors and choose to follow someone or work independently. Just like real-time collaborating on a shared Google doc or Word document but in the IDE. Your own extensions, your own theme, but working on shared code.
Whether you’re into pair-programming or just occasionally want a colleague to look at your code and help with something this is a great solution. Being able to independently navigate the source code and go-to definitions is far better than simply screen sharing.
However, seeing the source code is one thing, you really want to be able to publish the changes and see them in the web client.
Sharing a Server
We develop against local Docker containers. Which is great for giving each of us complete control over our own environment. It’s not so great for sharing that environment with others. But wait, you can share your local Docker container through the Live Share session.
First, make sure that you are publishing all ports when you create the Docker container. This will publish the container’s internal ports (80, 443, 7045-7049, 8080) to ports on the host. You’ll be able to access ports inside the container via the ports they are mapped to on the host.
Run docker ps to see the which host ports the container has been hooked up to. In my example, I’m accessing the web client over http so I’m interested in what port 80 is mapped to.
0.0.0.0:60425->80 indicates that port 60425 on the host (my local machine) has been mapped to port 0 in the container. In which case, http://localhost:60425/bc should load the web client. Check that you can open a browser to that address and log in.
Now we can share that address as a shared server. Click on Share server… and enter the web client URL in the dialog box. You can give a friendly name to the shared server as well if you like.
Once you’ve shared the container anyone else who has joined the session will be able to click on the link under Shared Servers. That will load the web client to your local Docker container through the Live Share session.
I’ll say that again – it will load the web client, running in your local Docker container, through the Live Share session 👀 As far as your collaborator is concerned they just load the same URL as you (http://localhost:60425/bc) and have access.
Before you ask, I don’t know. Probably magic.
Now you can genuinely collaborate on some code, in real-time and publish to the same Docker container to see the results and test. Maybe you want to work together on some code, maybe you need want some help with a tricky bug or requirement. Last week I used it to ask a colleague to quickly test a fix for a bug that he had reported.
Use your imagination. This is just one of the many benefits that moving our development to VS Code has brought. Good times.