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Is Visual Studio Free? Do You Need to Pay to Use Visual Studio in 2022?

If you’ve ever wondered why you should use a full development environment over a text editor like Notepad++, then using Visual Studio will definitely put any questions to bed. Maybe you’ve learned how to create basic programs after reading our guide to becoming a software developer using tools outlined in our essential tools guide.

Now you’re ready to step up your game. Or maybe you have a friend that won’t stop talking about Visual Studio.

But you’ve heard Visual Studio is expensive, so how will you ever learn how to use it if you’re a new developer?

Good news! Microsoft has Visual Studio plans and options for every type of developer and team.

The only problem? Microsoft has made understanding the feature and licensing differences between the many versions of Visual Studio as confusing as possible. Even worse, the feature documentation and product names seem to change every six months.

Instead of fishing through multiple pages of charts and tables, let us guide you through the maze that is Visual Studio’s pricing options in this single, straight forward article.

When we first researched Visual Studio pricing, licensing, and use cases, the differences between the pricing plans wasn’t immediately clear.

Cloud subscriptions, Standard Subscriptions, Standalone purchases, Community, Professional, and Enterprise licenses. Just hearing about it is enough to make your head explode. But you need your head to be a software developer, so we’ll try to help you understand the product and licensing differences in an attempt to save your head and your career.

Further Reading
Be sure to check out our huge guide to becoming a software developer and see how to effectively use Visual Studio to up your developer game.

Cloud Subscription Pricing

Microsoft seems to be pushing their Cloud Subscription option as “the most convenient purchase plan” for developers. We suspect the main reason behind this marketing push is because they can make more money from subscriptions as opposed to standalone purchases (describes more below). Subscriptions additionally introduce people to basic tiers of Azure to hook people into the full Microsoft stack.

Billing for Cloud Subscriptions is tied to an Azure account and its billing preferences. This seems like a weird decision at first, but it does make sense when you consider that some teams have services in Azure and want to start using Visual Studio to support those services without having to set up entirely different billing information.

Be warned: according to Microsoft, under this payment plan, you are merely “renting” Visual Studio for the duration of the subscription. We hope that this doesn’t imply that your software can be revoked whenever Microsoft feels like it. If you’re worried about subscriptions and cloud-based software, check out the standalone purchase options below.

With our new cloud subscriptions, you can rent Visual Studio, Azure DevOps, and the subscriber benefits you need without a long-term contract. Billing is handled through your Microsoft Azure subscription, supporting credit card payment, purchases through the Enterprise Agreement contract, and Cloud Solution Provider partners.

Microsoft

See the pricing options below and check out the full subscription benefits at the pricing details page.

Community

$ 0 / month
  • Open source projects
  • Individual developers
  • Partial CodeLens
  • Unlimited open source users
  • Unlimited extension users
  • Unlimited device driver users
  • Up to 5 individual users

Professional

$ 45 / month
  • Commercial team projects
  • Professional developers
  • Full CodeLens
  • Azure DevOps Basic
  • Single developer license
  • Commercial development
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Enterprise

$ 250 / month
  • Enterprise scale projects
  • Professional developers
  • Full CodeLens
  • Azure DevOps + CI/CD
  • Single developer license
  • Enterprise development
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Note that Visual Studio Community isn’t a subscription. Instead, it’s a standalone product that caters to open source, hobbyist, and tiny team developers. There are a lot of caveats to the Community edition, so make sure to read through the fine print on the licensing pages.

In a nutshell, Community edition has the following major caveats:

  • Unlimited users for open source developers sand projects
  • Unlimited users to develop and test extensions
  • Unlimited users to develop and test device drivers for Windows
  • Unlimited users for SQL Server development through SQL Server Data Tools and similar extensions
  • Unlimited users to develop and test for classroom training or research
  • Cannot be used for enterprise purposes (more than 250 employees or $1,000,000 in annual revenue)
  • All other use cases only allow up to 5 developers

When learning how to program and use Visual Studio, we suggest starting with the Community edition because it gives you everything you need to get started. You won’t need to worry about the licensing restrictions and upper end features of the higher tiers when you’re just starting out. Plus, there’s not many feature differences between the Community and Professional editions, so you won’t be missing out on anything critical by staying on a free product.

Standard Subscription and Standalone Pricing

The Standard Subscription options are the same plans that have been offered by Microsoft for years. These plans were previously named something like “Visual Studio with MSDN,” but Microsoft dropped the “MSDN” part of the title. This aligns with the across-the-board rebranding of MSDN into the “Visual Studio” and “Microsoft Docs” monikers.

These subscriptions are similar to the monthly plans, but offer a host of supporting services like Azure DevOps, Azure credits, Power BI, Office 365, training, support, and a lot more. You’ll probably notice that, as a result, these plans are much more expensive than the monthly Cloud Subscription options.

We think these plans make more sense for professional businesses and teams that need more of the related Microsoft services. For example, you might be developing commercial software that is hosted in Azure, utilizes CI/CD pipelines in Azure DevOps, and you collaborate through documents in Office 365. In that case, it might make sense to splurge for the higher tiers.

Professional

Standalone Edition
$ 499
  • Visual Studio IDE only
  • No subscription benefits
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Professional

Standard Subscription
$ 1,199 / first year
  • Visual Studio IDE
  • Azure DevOps Basic
  • Azure DevOps Artifacts
  • $50 Azure credits / mo
  • Training and support credits
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