How to “Add Existing Item” an entire directory structure in Visual Studio?

0 votes
asked Sep 11, 2008 by ian-patrick-hughes

I feel ridiculous for asking this because it seems like it should be so simple, however I have been unable to discover an answer to this question.

I have a free standing set of files not affiliated with any C# project at all that reside in a complicated nested directory structure. I want to add them in that format to a different directory in an ASP.NET web application I am working on; while retaining the same structure. So, I copied the folder into the target location of my project and I tried to “add existing item” only to lose the previous folder hierarchy. Usually I have re-created the directories by hand, copied across on a one-to-one basis, and then added existing items. There are simply too many directories/items in this case.

So how do you add existing directories and files in Visual Studio 2008?

15 Answers

0 votes
answered Sep 11, 2008 by darren-kopp

Drag the files / folders from Windows Explorer into the Solution Explorer. It will add them all. Note this doesn't work if Visual Studio is in Administrator Mode, because Windows Explorer is a User Mode process.

0 votes
answered Sep 11, 2008 by brannon

Enable "Show All Files" for the specific project (you might need to hit "Refresh" to see them)**.

The folders/files that are not part of your project appear slightly "lighter" in the project tree.

Right click the folders/files you want to add and click "Include In Project". It will recursively add folders/files to the project.

** these buttons are located on the mini Solution Explorer toolbar.

** make sure you are NOT in debug mode

0 votes
answered Sep 20, 2011 by nader

You need to put your directory structure in your project directory. And then click "Show All Files" icon in the top of Solution Explorer toolbox. After that, the added directory will be shown up. You will then need to select this directory, right click, and choose "Include in Project."

0 votes
answered Sep 8, 2012 by don-rule

I didn't immediately understand this based upon these descriptions but here is what I finally stumbled on:

  1. Turn on "Show All Files" - there is an icon on the Solution Explorer toolbar
  2. Using Windows Explorer (not solution explorer), move your files into the directory structure where you want them to reside
  3. Click "Refresh" also on the Solution Explorer toolbar
  4. The files that you've moved should be visible "ghosted" in the Solution Explorer tree structure where you've placed them
  5. Right click on your ghosted files or folders and click "Include in Project". All the contents of a folder will be included
0 votes
answered Sep 10, 2012 by tom

In Solution Explorer:

  1. Click Show All Files (Second icon from the left at the top of Solution Explorer)
  2. Locate the folder you want to add
  3. Right-click and select "Include in Project"

I use this to install add-ons like html editors and third-party file browsers.

0 votes
answered Sep 29, 2012 by user1395598

In Windows 7 you could do the following:

Right click on your project and select "Add->Existing Item". In the dialog which appears, browse to the root of the directory you want to add. In the upper right corner you have a search box. Type *.cs or *.cpp, whatever the type of files you want to add. After the search finishes, select all files, click Add and wait for a while...

0 votes
answered Sep 24, 2014 by ilia-broudno

I just want to point out that the both solutions offered above
- Drag and drop from Windows Explorer
- Show All files and then Include in Project.
Do not do what the Question asked for:
At least not in my case (C++/CLI Project Visual Studio 2013 on Windows 7).
In Visual Studio once you are back in the normal view (not Show All files) the files you added are all listed at the top level of the project.
Yes on disk they still reside where they were but in Solution Explorer they are loose.

I did not find any way around it except recreating the directory structure in Solution Explorer and then doing Add Existing Items at the right location.

0 votes
answered Sep 11, 2015 by bjego

This is a little late but you can change your project XML to add existing subfolders and structures automatically into your project like "node_modules" from NPM:

This is for older MSBuild / Visual Studio versions

   <Item Include="$([System.IO.Directory]::GetFiles(&quot;$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)\node_modules&quot;,&quot;*&quot;,SearchOption.AllDirectories))"></Item>

For the current MSBuild / Visual Studio versions:

Just put it in the nodes of the xml:


In this case just change $(MSBuildProjectDirectory)\node_modules to your folder name

0 votes
answered Sep 2, 2016 by lama12345

It's annoying that Visual Studio doesn't support this natively, but CMake could generate the Visual Studio project as a work around.

Other than that, just use QT Creator. It can then export a VS project.

0 votes
answered Sep 2, 2016 by nick

What worked for me was to drag the folder into VS, then right click the folder and select "Open Folder in File Explorer". Then select all and drag them into the folder in VS.

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