Programming language Python's popular extension for Visual Studio Code revamped

Microsoft's open-source Visual Studio Code is growing hand in hand with Python.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Microsoft has released an updated version of its hugely popular Python Extension for Visual Studio Code. 

The updated Python extension is available for download from Microsoft's Visual Studio Code (VS Code) marketplace, where it's currently the most popular programming language by a long mile. 

The Python extension currently has over eight million installs from the store, up from six million a year ago, and has been downloaded 41 million times. The next most popular extensions, ESLint, C/C++, and Debugger for Chrome have fewer than 20 million downloads. 

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While Python has become the go-to language for data scientists and machine-learning applications, VS Code – Microsoft's lightweight code editor that works on Windows, macOS, and Linux – has become somewhat of a hit with developers, even within Google. 

In 2016, a year after Microsoft open-sourced VS Code it had 500,000 developers using it. By November 2017, VS Code had 2.6 million developers using it each month, representing year-on-year growth of 160 percent. 

In December 2018, Microsoft chief marketing officer Chris Capossela told ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley and fellow Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott that the "majority of Google developers are using it now". 

The open-source Microsoft editor now has 4.5 million users and was ranked the most popular developer environment for two years running in Stack Overflow's global developer survey.     

Meanwhile, Python has seen a huge and sustained rise in popularity among developers, who now ask more questions each month on Stack Overflow about it than JavaScript, which historically has attracted the most questions. 

The updated Python extension fixes 84 issues and now includes a Variable Explore and a Data Viewer within the Python Interactive window. The new features were "highly requested" from users, according to Microsoft, and will allow developers and data scientists to view, inspect and filter variables in their apps. 

Within the Python Interactive window there's also a new expandable variables section when running code in Jupyter code cells, which shows the list of variables in the current session and automatically displays more variables as they get used in code.

Users can click on the column header to sort the variables in the table and double-click a row to view all the data behind an individual variable. 

Microsoft notes that the Data Viewer requires pandas data analysis Python package 0.20 or later and that while it is enabled by default it can be turned off in settings by navigating through File > Preferences > Settings and looking for the Python > Data Science: Show Jupyter Variable Explorer setting.

There are also improvements to the Python Language Server and the processes for configuring the debugger. 

Microsoft is updating the Python extension for VS Code frequently as part of its campaign to make its developer tools more appealing to data scientists and programmers working on AI. Last year the company announced VS Code would now ship with Anaconda, the top Python distribution.  

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