Only showing posts tagged with "ASP.NET"

Automatically recording the Mercurial revision hash using MSBuild

On one of the websites I’ve worked on recently we chose to display the website’s version ID at the bottom of each page. Since we use Mercurial for version control (it’s totally awesome, by the way. I hope to never go back to Subversion), that means we display a truncated copy of the revision’s hash. The website is a pet project and my friend and I manage it informally, so having the hash displayed there allows us to easily remember which version is currently running on Live. It’s an ASP.NET MVC site, so I created a ConfigurationSection that I separated out into its own Revision.config file, into which we manually copy and paste the revision hash just before we upload the new version to the live server. As VS2010’s new web publishing features means that publishing a directly deployable copy of the website is literally a one-click affair, this manual step galled me. So I set out to figure out how I could automate it.

I spent a while digging around in the undocumented mess that is the MSBuild script that backs the web publishing features (as I discussed in a previous blog) and learning about MSBuild and I eventually developed a final implementation which is actually quite simple. The first step was to get the Mercurial revision hash into MSBuild; to do this I developed a small MSBuild task that simply uses the command-line hg.exe to get the hash and parses it out of its console output. The code is pretty self-explanatory, so take a look:

public class MercurialVersionTask : Task
    public string RepositoryPath { get; set; }

    public string MercurialVersion { get; set; }

    public override bool Execute()
            MercurialVersion = GetMercurialVersion(RepositoryPath);
            Log.LogMessage(MessageImportance.Low, String.Format("Mercurial revision for repository \"{0}\" is {1}", RepositoryPath, MercurialVersion));
            return true;
        catch (Exception e)
            Log.LogError("Could not get the mercurial revision, unhandled exception occurred!");
            Log.LogErrorFromException(e, true, true, RepositoryPath);
            return false;

    private string GetMercurialVersion(string repositoryPath)
        Process hg = new Process();
        hg.StartInfo.UseShellExecute = false;
        hg.StartInfo.RedirectStandardError = true;
        hg.StartInfo.RedirectStandardOutput = true;
        hg.StartInfo.CreateNoWindow = true;
        hg.StartInfo.FileName = "hg";
        hg.StartInfo.Arguments = "id";
        hg.StartInfo.WorkingDirectory = repositoryPath;

        string output = hg.StandardOutput.ReadToEnd().Trim();
        string error = hg.StandardError.ReadToEnd().Trim();

        Log.LogMessage(MessageImportance.Low, "hg.exe Standard Output: {0}", output);
        Log.LogMessage(MessageImportance.Low, "hg.exe Standard Error: {0}", error);


        if (String.IsNullOrEmpty(error) == false)
            throw new Exception(String.Format("hg.exe error: {0}", error));

        string[] tokens = output.Split(' ');
        return tokens[0];

I created a new MsBuild project in DigitallyCreated Utilities to house this class (and any others I may develop in the future). At the time of writing, you’ll need to get the code from the repository and compile it yourself, as I haven’t released an official build with it in it yet.

I then needed to start using this task in the website’s project file. A one-liner near the top of the file imports it and makes it available for use:

<UsingTask AssemblyFile="..\lib\DigitallyCreated.Utilities.MsBuild.dll" TaskName="DigitallyCreated.Utilities.MsBuild.MercurialVersionTask" />

Next, I wrote the target that would use this task to set the hash into the Revision.config file. I decided to use the really nice tasks provided by the MSBuild Extension Pack project to do this. This meant I needed to also import their tasks into the project (after installing the pack, of course), in at the top of the file:

<Import Project="$(ExtensionTasksPath)MSBuild.ExtensionPack.tasks" />

Writing the hash-setting target was very easy:

<Target Name="SetMercurialRevisionInConfig">
    <DigitallyCreated.Utilities.MsBuild.MercurialVersionTask RepositoryPath="$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)">
        <Output TaskParameter="MercurialVersion" PropertyName="MercurialVersion" />
    <MSBuild.ExtensionPack.Xml.XmlFile File="$(_PackageTempDir)\Revision.config" TaskAction="UpdateAttribute" XPath="/revision" Key="hash" Value="$(MercurialVersion)" />

The MercurialVersionTask is called, which gets the revision hash and puts it into the MecurialVersion property (as specified by the nested Output tag). The XmlFile task sets that hash into the Revision.config, which is found in the directory specified by _PackageTempDir. That directory is the directory that the VS2010 web publishing pipeline puts the project files while it is packaging them for a publish. That property is set by their MSBuild code; it is, however, subject to disappear in the future, as indicated by the underscore in the name that tells you that it’s a ‘private’ property, so be careful there.

Next I needed to find a place in the VS2010 web publishing MSBuild pipeline where I could hook in that target. Thankfully, the pipeline allows you to easily hook in your own targets by setting properties containing the names of the targets you’d like it to run. So, inside the first PropertyGroup tag at the top of the project file, I set this property, hooking in my target to be run after the PipelinePreDeployCopyAllFilesToOneFolder target:


This ensures that the target will be run after the CopyAllFilesToSingleFolderForPackage target runs (that target is run by the PipelinePreDeployCopyAllFilesToOneFolder target). The CopyAllFilesToSingleFolderForPackage target copies the project files into your obj folder (specifically the folder specified by _PackageTempDir) in preparation for a publish (this is discussed in a little more detail in that previous post).

And that was it! Upon publishing using Visual Studio (or at the command-line using the process detailed in that previous post), the SetMercurialRevisionInConfig target is called by the web publishing pipeline and sets the hash into the Revision.config file. This means that a deployable build of our website can literally be created with a single click in Visual Studio. Projects that use a continuous integration server to build their projects would also find this very useful.

Locally publishing a VS2010 ASP.NET web application using MSBuild

Visual Studio 2010 has great new Web Application Project publishing features that allow you to easy publish your web app project with a click of a button. Behind the scenes the Web.config transformation and package building is done by a massive MSBuild script that’s imported into your project file (found at: C:\Program Files (x86)\MSBuild\Microsoft\VisualStudio\v10.0\Web\Microsoft.Web.Publishing.targets). Unfortunately, the script is hugely complicated, messy and undocumented (other then some oft-badly spelled and mostly useless comments in the file). A big flowchart of that file and some documentation about how to hook into it would be nice, but seems to be sadly lacking (or at least I can’t find it).

Unfortunately, this means performing publishing via the command line is much more opaque than it needs to be. I was surprised by the lack of documentation in this area, because these days many shops use a continuous integration server and some even do automated deployment (which the VS2010 publishing features could help a lot with), so I would have thought that enabling this (easily!) would be have been a fairly main requirement for the feature.

Anyway, after digging through the Microsoft.Web.Publishing.targets file for hours and banging my head against the trial and error wall, I’ve managed to figure out how Visual Studio seems to perform its magic one click “Publish to File System” and “Build Deployment Package” features. I’ll be getting into a bit of MSBuild scripting, so if you’re not familiar with MSBuild I suggest you check out this crash course MSDN page.

Publish to File System

The VS2010 Publish To File System Dialog

The VS2010 Publish To File System Dialog

Publish to File System took me a while to nut out because I expected some sensible use of MSBuild to be occurring. Instead, VS2010 does something quite weird: it calls on MSBuild to perform a sort of half-deploy that prepares the web app’s files in your project’s obj folder, then it seems to do a manual copy of those files (ie. outside of MSBuild) into your target publish folder. This is really whack behaviour because MSBuild is designed to copy files around (and other build-related things), so it’d make sense if the whole process was just one MSBuild target that VS2010 called on, not a target then a manual copy.

This means that doing this via MSBuild on the command-line isn’t as simple as invoking your project file with a particular target and setting some properties. You’ll need to do what VS2010 ought to have done: create a target yourself that performs the half-deploy then copies the results to the target folder. To edit your project file, right click on the project in VS2010 and click Unload Project, then right click again and click Edit. Scroll down until you find the Import element that imports the web application targets (Microsoft.WebApplication.targets; this file itself imports the Microsoft.Web.Publishing.targets file mentioned earlier). Underneath this line we’ll add our new target, called PublishToFileSystem:

<Target Name="PublishToFileSystem" DependsOnTargets="PipelinePreDeployCopyAllFilesToOneFolder">
    <Error Condition="'$(PublishDestination)'==''" Text="The PublishDestination property must be set to the intended publishing destination." />
    <MakeDir Condition="!Exists($(PublishDestination))" Directories="$(PublishDestination)" />
        <PublishFiles Include="$(_PackageTempDir)\**\*.*" />

    <Copy SourceFiles="@(PublishFiles)" DestinationFiles="@(PublishFiles->'$(PublishDestination)\%(RecursiveDir)%(Filename)%(Extension)')" SkipUnchangedFiles="True" />

This target depends on the PipelinePreDeployCopyAllFilesToOneFolder target, which is what VS2010 calls before it does its manual copy. Some digging around in Microsoft.Web.Publishing.targets shows that calling this target causes the project files to be placed into the directory specified by the property _PackageTempDir.

The first task we call in our target is the Error task, upon which we’ve placed a condition that ensures that the task only happens if the PublishDestination property hasn’t been set. This will catch you and error out the build in case you’ve forgotten to specify the PublishDestination property. We then call the MakeDir task to create that PublishDestination directory if it doesn’t already exist.

We then define an Item called PublishFiles that represents all the files found under the _PackageTempDir folder. The Copy task is then called which copies all those files to the Publish Destination folder. The DestinationFiles attribute on the Copy element is a bit complex; it performs a transform of the items and converts their paths to new paths rooted at the PublishDestination folder (check out Well-Known Item Metadata to see what those %()s mean).

To call this target from the command-line we can now simply perform this command (obviously changing the project file name and properties to suit you):

msbuild Website.csproj "/p:Platform=AnyCPU;Configuration=Release;PublishDestination=F:\Temp\Publish" /t:PublishToFileSystem

Build Deployment Package

The VS2010 Build Deployment Package command

The VS2010 Build Deployment Package command

Thankfully, Build Deployment Package is a lot easier to do from the command line because Visual Studio doesn’t do any manual outside-of-MSBuild stuff; it simply calls an MSBuild target (as it should!). To do this from the command-line, you can simply call on MSBuild like this (again substituting your project file name and property values):

msbuild Website.csproj "/p:Platform=AnyCPU;Configuration=Release;DesktopBuildPackageLocation=F:\Temp\Publish\" /t:Package

Note that you can omit the DesktopBuildPackageLocation property from the command line if you’ve already set it by setting something using the VS2010 Package/Publish Web project properties UI (setting the “Location where package will be created” textbox). If you omit it without customising the value in the VS project properties UI, the location will be defaulted to the project’s obj\YourCurrentConfigurationHere\Package folder.


In conclusion, we’ve seen how it’s fairly easy to configure your project file to support publishing your ASP.NET web application to a local file system directory using MSBuild from the command line, just like Visual Studio 2010 does (fairly easy once the hard investigative work is done!). We’ve also seen how you can use MSBuild at the command-line to build a deployment package. Using this new knowledge you can now open your project up to the world of automation, where you could, for example, get your continuous integration server to create deployable builds of your web application for you upon each commit to your source control repository.