Visual Studio publish profiles for ASP.NET Core app deployment

By Sayed Ibrahim Hashimi and Rick Anderson

This document focuses on using Visual Studio 2019 or later to create and use publish profiles. The publish profiles created with Visual Studio can be used with MSBuild and Visual Studio. For instructions on publishing to Azure, see Publish an ASP.NET Core app to Azure with Visual Studio.

The dotnet new mvc command produces a project file containing the following root-level <Project> element:

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Web">
    <!-- omitted for brevity -->
</Project>

The preceding <Project> element's Sdk attribute imports the MSBuild properties and targets from $(MSBuildSDKsPath)\Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Web\Sdk\Sdk.props and $(MSBuildSDKsPath)\Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Web\Sdk\Sdk.targets, respectively. The default location for $(MSBuildSDKsPath) (with Visual Studio 2019 Enterprise) is the %programfiles(x86)%\Microsoft Visual Studio\2019\Enterprise\MSBuild\Sdks folder.

Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Web (Web SDK) depends on other SDKs, including Microsoft.NET.Sdk (.NET Core SDK) and Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Razor (Razor SDK). The MSBuild properties and targets associated with each dependent SDK are imported. Publish targets import the appropriate set of targets based on the publish method used.

When MSBuild or Visual Studio loads a project, the following high-level actions occur:

  • Build project
  • Compute files to publish
  • Publish files to destination

Compute project items

When the project is loaded, the MSBuild project items (files) are computed. The item type determines how the file is processed. By default, .cs files are included in the Compile item list. Files in the Compile item list are compiled.

The Content item list contains files that are published in addition to the build outputs. By default, files matching the patterns wwwroot\**, **\*.config, and **\*.json are included in the Content item list. For example, the wwwroot\** globbing pattern matches all files in the wwwroot folder and its subfolders.

The Web SDK imports the Razor SDK. As a result, files matching the patterns **\*.cshtml and **\*.razor are also included in the Content item list.

The Web SDK imports the Razor SDK. As a result, files matching the **\*.cshtml pattern are also included in the Content item list.

To explicitly add a file to the publish list, add the file directly in the .csproj file as shown in the Include Files section.

When selecting the Publish button in Visual Studio or when publishing from the command line:

  • The properties/items are computed (the files that are needed to build).
  • Visual Studio only: NuGet packages are restored. (Restore needs to be explicit by the user on the CLI.)
  • The project builds.
  • The publish items are computed (the files that are needed to publish).
  • The project is published (the computed files are copied to the publish destination).

When an ASP.NET Core project references Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Web in the project file, an app_offline.htm file is placed at the root of the web app directory. When the file is present, the ASP.NET Core Module gracefully shuts down the app and serves the app_offline.htm file during the deployment. For more information, see the ASP.NET Core Module configuration reference.

Basic command-line publishing

Command-line publishing works on all .NET Core-supported platforms and doesn't require Visual Studio. In the following examples, the .NET Core CLI's dotnet publish command is run from the project directory (which contains the .csproj file). If the project folder isn't the current working directory, explicitly pass in the project file path. For example:

dotnet publish C:\Webs\Web1

Run the following commands to create and publish a web app:

dotnet new mvc
dotnet publish

The dotnet publish command produces a variation of the following output:

C:\Webs\Web1>dotnet publish
Microsoft (R) Build Engine version {VERSION} for .NET Core
Copyright (C) Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

  Restore completed in 36.81 ms for C:\Webs\Web1\Web1.csproj.
  Web1 -> C:\Webs\Web1\bin\Debug\{TARGET FRAMEWORK MONIKER}\Web1.dll
  Web1 -> C:\Webs\Web1\bin\Debug\{TARGET FRAMEWORK MONIKER}\Web1.Views.dll
  Web1 -> C:\Webs\Web1\bin\Debug\{TARGET FRAMEWORK MONIKER}\publish\

The default publish folder format is bin\Debug\{TARGET FRAMEWORK MONIKER}\publish\. For example, bin\Debug\netcoreapp2.2\publish\.

The following command specifies a Release build and the publishing directory:

dotnet publish -c Release -o C:\MyWebs\test

The dotnet publish command calls MSBuild, which invokes the Publish target. Any parameters passed to dotnet publish are passed to MSBuild. The -c and -o parameters map to MSBuild's Configuration and OutputPath properties, respectively.

MSBuild properties can be passed using either of the following formats:

  • p:<NAME>=<VALUE>
  • /p:<NAME>=<VALUE>

For example, the following command publishes a Release build to a network share. The network share is specified with forward slashes (//r8/) and works on all .NET Core supported platforms.

dotnet publish -c Release /p:PublishDir=//r8/release/AdminWeb

Confirm that the published app for deployment isn't running. Files in the publish folder are locked when the app is running. Deployment can't occur because locked files can't be copied.

Publish profiles

This section uses Visual Studio 2019 or later to create a publishing profile. Once the profile is created, publishing from Visual Studio or the command line is available. Publish profiles can simplify the publishing process, and any number of profiles can exist.

Create a publish profile in Visual Studio by choosing one of the following paths:

  • Right-click the project in Solution Explorer and select Publish.
  • Select Publish {PROJECT NAME} from the Build menu.

The Publish tab of the app capabilities page is displayed. If the project lacks a publish profile, the Pick a publish target page is displayed. You're asked to select one of the following publish targets:

  • Azure App Service
  • Azure App Service on Linux
  • Azure Virtual Machines
  • Folder
  • IIS, FTP, Web Deploy (for any web server)
  • Import Profile

To determine the most appropriate publish target, see What publishing options are right for me.

When the Folder publish target is selected, specify a folder path to store the published assets. The default folder path is bin\{PROJECT CONFIGURATION}\{TARGET FRAMEWORK MONIKER}\publish\. For example, bin\Release\netcoreapp2.2\publish\. Select the Create Profile button to finish.

Once a publish profile is created, the Publish tab's content changes. The newly created profile appears in a drop-down list. Below the drop-down list, select Create new profile to create another new profile.

Visual Studio's publish tool produces a Properties/PublishProfiles/{PROFILE NAME}.pubxml MSBuild file describing the publish profile. The .pubxml file:

  • Contains publish configuration settings and is consumed by the publishing process.
  • Can be modified to customize the build and publish process.

When publishing to an Azure target, the .pubxml file contains your Azure subscription identifier. With that target type, adding this file to source control is discouraged. When publishing to a non-Azure target, it's safe to check in the .pubxml file.

Sensitive information (like the publish password) is encrypted on a per user/machine level. It's stored in the Properties/PublishProfiles/{PROFILE NAME}.pubxml.user file. Because this file can store sensitive information, it shouldn't be checked into source control.

For an overview of how to publish an ASP.NET Core web app, see Host and deploy ASP.NET Core. The MSBuild tasks and targets necessary to publish an ASP.NET Core web app are open-source in the aspnet/websdk repository.

The following commands can use folder, MSDeploy, and Kudu publish profiles. Because MSDeploy lacks cross-platform support, the following MSDeploy options are supported only on Windows.

Folder (works cross-platform):

dotnet build WebApplication.csproj /p:DeployOnBuild=true /p:PublishProfile=<FolderProfileName>

MSDeploy:

dotnet publish WebApplication.csproj /p:PublishProfile=<MsDeployProfileName> /p:Password=<DeploymentPassword>
dotnet build WebApplication.csproj /p:DeployOnBuild=true /p:PublishProfile=<MsDeployProfileName> /p:Password=<DeploymentPassword>

MSDeploy package:

dotnet publish WebApplication.csproj /p:PublishProfile=<MsDeployPackageProfileName>
dotnet build WebApplication.csproj /p:DeployOnBuild=true /p:PublishProfile=<MsDeployPackageProfileName>

In the preceding examples:

  • dotnet publish and dotnet build support Kudu APIs to publish to Azure from any platform. Visual Studio publish supports the Kudu APIs, but it's supported by WebSDK for cross-platform publish to Azure.
  • Don't pass DeployOnBuild to the dotnet publish command.

For more information, see Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Publish.

Add a publish profile to the project's Properties/PublishProfiles folder with the following content:

<Project>
  <PropertyGroup>
    <PublishProtocol>Kudu</PublishProtocol>
    <PublishSiteName>nodewebapp</PublishSiteName>
    <UserName>username</UserName>
    <Password>password</Password>
  </PropertyGroup>
</Project>

Folder publish example

When publishing with a profile named FolderProfile, use either of the following commands:

  • dotnet build /p:DeployOnBuild=true /p:PublishProfile=FolderProfile
  • msbuild /p:DeployOnBuild=true /p:PublishProfile=FolderProfile

The .NET Core CLI's dotnet build command calls msbuild to run the build and publish process. The dotnet build and msbuild commands are equivalent when passing in a folder profile. When calling msbuild directly on Windows, the .NET Framework version of MSBuild is used. Calling dotnet build on a non-folder profile:

  • Invokes msbuild, which uses MSDeploy.
  • Results in a failure (even when running on Windows). To publish with a non-folder profile, call msbuild directly.

The following folder publish profile was created with Visual Studio and publishes to a network share:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<!--
This file is used by the publish/package process of your Web project.
You can customize the behavior of this process by editing this 
MSBuild file.
-->
<Project ToolsVersion="4.0" xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/developer/msbuild/2003">
  <PropertyGroup>
    <WebPublishMethod>FileSystem</WebPublishMethod>
    <PublishProvider>FileSystem</PublishProvider>
    <LastUsedBuildConfiguration>Release</LastUsedBuildConfiguration>
    <LastUsedPlatform>Any CPU</LastUsedPlatform>
    <SiteUrlToLaunchAfterPublish />
    <LaunchSiteAfterPublish>True</LaunchSiteAfterPublish>
    <ExcludeApp_Data>False</ExcludeApp_Data>
    <PublishFramework>netcoreapp1.1</PublishFramework>
    <ProjectGuid>c30c453c-312e-40c4-aec9-394a145dee0b</ProjectGuid>
    <publishUrl>\\r8\Release\AdminWeb</publishUrl>
    <DeleteExistingFiles>False</DeleteExistingFiles>
  </PropertyGroup>
</Project>

In the preceding example:

  • The <ExcludeApp_Data> property is present merely to satisfy an XML schema requirement. The <ExcludeApp_Data> property has no effect on the publish process, even if there's an App_Data folder in the project root. The App_Data folder doesn't receive special treatment as it does in ASP.NET 4.x projects.
  • The <LastUsedBuildConfiguration> property is set to Release. When publishing from Visual Studio, the value of <LastUsedBuildConfiguration> is set using the value when the publish process is started. <LastUsedBuildConfiguration> is special and shouldn't be overridden in an imported MSBuild file. This property can, however, be overridden from the command line using one of the following approaches.

    • Using the .NET Core CLI:

      dotnet build -c Release /p:DeployOnBuild=true /p:PublishProfile=FolderProfile
      
    • Using MSBuild:

      msbuild /p:Configuration=Release /p:DeployOnBuild=true /p:PublishProfile=FolderProfile
      

    For more information, see MSBuild: how to set the configuration property.

Publish to an MSDeploy endpoint from the command line

The following example uses an ASP.NET Core web app created by Visual Studio named AzureWebApp. An Azure Apps publish profile is added with Visual Studio. For more information on how to create a profile, see the Publish profiles section.

To deploy the app using a publish profile, execute the msbuild command from a Visual Studio Developer Command Prompt. The command prompt is available in the Visual Studio folder of the Start menu on the Windows taskbar. For easier access, you can add the command prompt to the Tools menu in Visual Studio. For more information, see Developer Command Prompt for Visual Studio.

MSBuild uses the following command syntax:

msbuild {PATH} 
    /p:DeployOnBuild=true 
    /p:PublishProfile={PROFILE} 
    /p:Username={USERNAME} 
    /p:Password={PASSWORD}
  • {PATH} – Path to the app's project file.
  • {PROFILE} – Name of the publish profile.
  • {USERNAME} – MSDeploy username. The {USERNAME} can be found in the publish profile.
  • {PASSWORD} – MSDeploy password. Obtain the {PASSWORD} from the {PROFILE}.PublishSettings file. Download the .PublishSettings file from either:
    • Solution Explorer: Select View > Cloud Explorer. Connect with your Azure subscription. Open App Services. Right-click the app. Select Download Publish Profile.
    • Azure portal: Select Get publish profile in the web app's Overview panel.

The following example uses a publish profile named AzureWebApp - Web Deploy:

msbuild "AzureWebApp.csproj" 
    /p:DeployOnBuild=true 
    /p:PublishProfile="AzureWebApp - Web Deploy" 
    /p:Username="$AzureWebApp" 
    /p:Password=".........."

A publish profile can also be used with the .NET Core CLI's dotnet msbuild command from a Windows command shell:

dotnet msbuild "AzureWebApp.csproj"
    /p:DeployOnBuild=true 
    /p:PublishProfile="AzureWebApp - Web Deploy" 
    /p:Username="$AzureWebApp" 
    /p:Password=".........."

Important

The dotnet msbuild command is a cross-platform command and can compile ASP.NET Core apps on macOS and Linux. However, MSBuild on macOS and Linux isn't capable of deploying an app to Azure or other MSDeploy endpoints.

Set the environment

Include the <EnvironmentName> property in the publish profile (.pubxml) or project file to set the app's environment:

<PropertyGroup>
  <EnvironmentName>Development</EnvironmentName>
</PropertyGroup>

If you require web.config transformations (for example, setting environment variables based on the configuration, profile, or environment), see Transform web.config.

Exclude files

When publishing ASP.NET Core web apps, the following assets are included:

  • Build artifacts
  • Folders and files matching the following globbing patterns:
    • **\*.config (for example, web.config)
    • **\*.json (for example, appsettings.json)
    • wwwroot\**

MSBuild supports globbing patterns. For example, the following <Content> element suppresses the copying of text (.txt) files in the wwwroot\content folder and its subfolders:

<ItemGroup>
  <Content Update="wwwroot/content/**/*.txt" CopyToPublishDirectory="Never" />
</ItemGroup>

The preceding markup can be added to a publish profile or the .csproj file. When added to the .csproj file, the rule is added to all publish profiles in the project.

The following <MsDeploySkipRules> element excludes all files from the wwwroot\content folder:

<ItemGroup>
  <MsDeploySkipRules Include="CustomSkipFolder">
    <ObjectName>dirPath</ObjectName>
    <AbsolutePath>wwwroot\\content</AbsolutePath>
  </MsDeploySkipRules>
</ItemGroup>

<MsDeploySkipRules> won't delete the skip targets from the deployment site. <Content> targeted files and folders are deleted from the deployment site. For example, suppose a deployed web app had the following files:

  • Views/Home/About1.cshtml
  • Views/Home/About2.cshtml
  • Views/Home/About3.cshtml

If the following <MsDeploySkipRules> elements are added, those files wouldn't be deleted on the deployment site.

<ItemGroup>
  <MsDeploySkipRules Include="CustomSkipFile">
    <ObjectName>filePath</ObjectName>
    <AbsolutePath>Views\\Home\\About1.cshtml</AbsolutePath>
  </MsDeploySkipRules>

  <MsDeploySkipRules Include="CustomSkipFile">
    <ObjectName>filePath</ObjectName>
    <AbsolutePath>Views\\Home\\About2.cshtml</AbsolutePath>
  </MsDeploySkipRules>

  <MsDeploySkipRules Include="CustomSkipFile">
    <ObjectName>filePath</ObjectName>
    <AbsolutePath>Views\\Home\\About3.cshtml</AbsolutePath>
  </MsDeploySkipRules>
</ItemGroup>

The preceding <MsDeploySkipRules> elements prevent the skipped files from being deployed. It won't delete those files once they're deployed.

The following <Content> element deletes the targeted files at the deployment site:

<ItemGroup>
  <Content Update="Views/Home/About?.cshtml" CopyToPublishDirectory="Never" />
</ItemGroup>

Using command-line deployment with the preceding <Content> element yields a variation of the following output:

MSDeployPublish:
  Starting Web deployment task from source: manifest(C:\Webs\Web1\obj\Release\{TARGET FRAMEWORK MONIKER}\PubTmp\Web1.SourceManifest.
  xml) to Destination: auto().
  Deleting file (Web11112\Views\Home\About1.cshtml).
  Deleting file (Web11112\Views\Home\About2.cshtml).
  Deleting file (Web11112\Views\Home\About3.cshtml).
  Updating file (Web11112\web.config).
  Updating file (Web11112\Web1.deps.json).
  Updating file (Web11112\Web1.dll).
  Updating file (Web11112\Web1.pdb).
  Updating file (Web11112\Web1.runtimeconfig.json).
  Successfully executed Web deployment task.
  Publish Succeeded.
Done Building Project "C:\Webs\Web1\Web1.csproj" (default targets).

Include files

The following sections outline different approaches for file inclusion at publish time. The General file inclusion section uses the DotNetPublishFiles item, which is provided by a publish targets file in the Web SDK. The Selective file inclusion section uses the ResolvedFileToPublish item, which is provided by a publish targets file in the .NET Core SDK. Because the Web SDK depends on the .NET Core SDK, either item can be used in an ASP.NET Core project.

General file inclusion

The following example's <ItemGroup> element demonstrates copying a folder located outside of the project directory to a folder of the published site. Any files added to the following markup's <ItemGroup> are included by default.

<ItemGroup>
  <_CustomFiles Include="$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)/../images/**/*" />
  <DotNetPublishFiles Include="@(_CustomFiles)">
    <DestinationRelativePath>wwwroot/images/%(RecursiveDir)%(Filename)%(Extension)</DestinationRelativePath>
  </DotNetPublishFiles>
</ItemGroup>

The preceding markup:

  • Can be added to the .csproj file or the publish profile. If it's added to the .csproj file, it's included in each publish profile in the project.
  • Declares a _CustomFiles item to store files matching the Include attribute's globbing pattern. The images folder referenced in the pattern is located outside of the project directory. A reserved property, named $(MSBuildProjectDirectory), resolves to the project file's absolute path.
  • Provides a list of files to the DotNetPublishFiles item. By default, the item's <DestinationRelativePath> element is empty. The default value is overridden in the markup and uses well-known item metadata such as %(RecursiveDir). The inner text represents the wwwroot/images folder of the published site.

Selective file inclusion

The highlighted markup in the following example demonstrates:

  • Copying a file located outside of the project into the published site's wwwroot folder. The file name of ReadMe2.md is maintained.
  • Excluding the wwwroot\Content folder.
  • Excluding Views\Home\About2.cshtml.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<Project ToolsVersion="4.0" 
         xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/developer/msbuild/2003">
  <PropertyGroup>
    <WebPublishMethod>FileSystem</WebPublishMethod>
    <PublishProvider>FileSystem</PublishProvider>
    <LastUsedBuildConfiguration>Release</LastUsedBuildConfiguration>
    <LastUsedPlatform>Any CPU</LastUsedPlatform>
    <SiteUrlToLaunchAfterPublish />
    <LaunchSiteAfterPublish>True</LaunchSiteAfterPublish>
    <ExcludeApp_Data>False</ExcludeApp_Data>
    <PublishFramework />
    <ProjectGuid>afa9f185-7ce0-4935-9da1-ab676229d68a</ProjectGuid>
    <publishUrl>bin\Release\PublishOutput</publishUrl>
    <DeleteExistingFiles>False</DeleteExistingFiles>
  </PropertyGroup>
  <ItemGroup>
    <ResolvedFileToPublish Include="..\ReadMe2.md">
      <RelativePath>wwwroot\ReadMe2.md</RelativePath>
    </ResolvedFileToPublish>

    <Content Update="wwwroot\Content\**\*" CopyToPublishDirectory="Never" />
    <Content Update="Views\Home\About2.cshtml" CopyToPublishDirectory="Never" />
  </ItemGroup>
</Project>

The preceding example uses the ResolvedFileToPublish item, whose default behavior is to always copy the files provided in the Include attribute to the published site. Override the default behavior by including a <CopyToPublishDirectory> child element with inner text of either Never or PreserveNewest. For example:

<ResolvedFileToPublish Include="..\ReadMe2.md">
  <RelativePath>wwwroot\ReadMe2.md</RelativePath>
  <CopyToPublishDirectory>PreserveNewest</CopyToPublishDirectory>
</ResolvedFileToPublish>

For more deployment samples, see the Web SDK repository Readme.

Run a target before or after publishing

The built-in BeforePublish and AfterPublish targets execute a target before or after the publish target. Add the following elements to the publish profile to log console messages both before and after publishing:

<Target Name="CustomActionsBeforePublish" BeforeTargets="BeforePublish">
    <Message Text="Inside BeforePublish" Importance="high" />
  </Target>
  <Target Name="CustomActionsAfterPublish" AfterTargets="AfterPublish">
    <Message Text="Inside AfterPublish" Importance="high" />
</Target>

Publish to a server using an untrusted certificate

Add the <AllowUntrustedCertificate> property with a value of True to the publish profile:

<PropertyGroup>
  <AllowUntrustedCertificate>True</AllowUntrustedCertificate>
</PropertyGroup>

The Kudu service

To view the files in an Azure App Service web app deployment, use the Kudu service. Append the scm token to the web app name. For example:

URL Result
http://mysite.azurewebsites.net/ Web App
http://mysite.scm.azurewebsites.net/ Kudu service

Select the Debug Console menu item to view, edit, delete, or add files.

Additional resources