Package Restore

To promote a cleaner development environment and to reduce repository size, NuGet Package Restore installs all referenced packages before a project is built. This widely-used feature ensures that all dependencies are available in a project without requiring those packages to be stored in source control (see Packages and Source Control on how to configure your repository to exclude package binaries).

In this topic:

Restore behavior does vary by version; to check your NuGet version, simply run nuget.exe on the command line and look at the first line of output.

For additional details on package restore on build servers, see Package restore with TFBuild.


Projects configured for package restore also work with xbuild on Mono.

Quick guide to package restore

  • Package Manager UI (Visual Studio): right-click the solution in Solution Explorer and select Restore NuGet Packages. If one or more individual packages are still not installed properly (meaning that Solution Explorer shows an error icon), then use the Package Manager UI to uninstall the affected packages and reinstall them. See Reinstalling and updating packages

  • Command line: use the nuget restore command. Simply running nuget restore in the project folder attempts to restore the project's dependencies.


If you see the error "This project references NuGet package(s) that are missing on this computer" or "One or more NuGet packages need to be restored but couldn't be because consent has not been granted," turn on automatic restore by following the instructions under Enabling and disabling package restore.

Package restore overview

First, package references are maintained in one of the following package management formats, depending on project type and NuGet version. (Note that NuGet 4 and MSBuild 15.1 are installed with Visual Studio 2017.)

Method NuGet Version Description
packages.config 2.x+ Lists the complete deep set of dependencies. Packages added to packages.config must also be added to the project file, and Targets and Props must also be added to the project file. This is the baseline method for all versions of NuGet, but has slower performance compared with the other options. (See packages.config schema.)
project.json 3.x+ Used only by default with UWP projects, but projects can be converted from packages.config. project.json lists only top-level dependencies. References, Targets, and Props are added dynamically to the project during build, resulting in better performance compared with packages.config. (See project.json schema.)
PackageReference 4.x+ Lists dependencies directly in the project file in the <PackageReference> node, alongside <Reference> and <ProjectReference>. Works similarly to project.json; see Package references in project files.

Second, you start a restore using the reference list in a variety of ways:

From the command line or Package Manager Console:

Command Applicable scenarios
nuget restore All versions of NuGet and all reference types. See Command-line restore below.
dotnet restore Same as nuget restore for .NET Core projects. See dotnet restore.
msbuild /t:restore Nuget 4.x+ and MSBuild 15.1+ with package references in project files only. nuget restore and dotnet restore both use this command for applicable projects. See NuGet pack and restore as MSBuild targets- restore target.

Visual Studio itself also restores packages at different times:

Type When restore happens
Template restore During creation of a new project, as some templates depend on external packages.
Build restore As the first step of a build.
Solution restore When user right-clicks a solution and selects Restore NuGet Packages.
Restore on project change (NuGet 4.x only) When a .NET Core SDK-based project is used, including when project state changes.

Enabling and disabling package restore

Package restore is primarily enabled through Tools > Options > NuGet Package Manager in Visual Studio:

Controlling package restore behaviors through NuGet Package Manager options

  • Allow NuGet to download missing packages: controls all forms of package restore by changing the packageRestore/enabled setting in the %AppData%\NuGet\NuGet.Config file as shown below.

            <!-- The 'enabled' key is True when the "Allow NuGet to download missing packages" checkbox is set.
                 Clearing the box sets this to False, disabling command-line, automatic, and MSBuild-Integrated restore. -->
            <add key="enabled" value="True" />


    The packageRestore/enabled setting can be overridden globally by setting an environment variable called EnableNuGetPackageRestore with a value of TRUE or FALSE before launching Visual Studio or starting a build.

  • Automatically check for missing packages during build in Visual Studio: controls automatic restore for NuGet 2.7 and later by changing the packageRestore/automatic setting in the %AppData%\NuGet\NuGet.Config file as shown below.

            <!-- The 'automatic' key is set to True when the "Automatically check for missing packages during
                 build in Visual Studio" checkbox is set. Clearing the box sets this to False and disables
                 automatic restore. -->
            <add key="automatic" value="True" />

For reference, see the NuGet config file - packageRestore section.

In some cases, a developer or company might want to enable or disable package restore on a machine by default for all users. This can be done by adding the same settings above to the global NuGet configuration file located in %ProgramData%\NuGet\Config[\{IDE}[\{Version}[\{SKU}]]]. Individual users can then selectively enable restore as needed on a project level. See Configuring NuGet Behavior for exact details on how NuGet prioritizes multiple config files.

Constraining package versions with restore

When NuGet restores packages through any method, it will honor any constraints specified in packages.config, project.json, or the project file:

  • packages.config: Specify a version range in the allowedVersion property of the dependency. See Reinstalling and Updating Packages. For example:

    <package id="Newtonsoft.json" version="6.0.4" allowedVersions="[6,7)" />
  • project.json: Specify a version range directly with the dependency's version number. For example:

    "Newtonsoft.json": "[6, 7)"
  • Package references in project files: Specify a version range directly with the dependency's version number. For example:

    <PackageReference Include="Newtonsoft.json" Version="[6, 7)" />  

In all cases, use the notation described in Package versioning.

Command-line restore

For NuGet 2.7 and above, use the Restore command to restore all packages in a solution (whether it uses packages.config, project.json, or package references in project files). For a given project folder such as c:\proj\app, the common variations below each restore the packages:

c:\proj\app\> nuget restore
c:\proj\app\> nuget.exe restore app.sln
c:\proj\> nuget restore app

For NuGet 4.0+ and MSBuild 15.1+, you can also use MSBuild /t:restore as described on NuGet pack and restore as MSBuild targets.

Build-time restore in Visual Studio

Visual Studio automatically restores missing packages by default at the beginning of a build. This behavior can be changed by clearing Tools > Options > NuGet Package Manager > General > Automatically check for missing packages during build in Visual Studio.

When enabled, automatic restore works as follows:

  1. When a build begins, Visual Studio instructs NuGet to restore packages.
  2. NuGet recursively looks for all packages.config files in the solution, looks for project.json, or looks in the project file.
  3. For each packages listed in the reference files, NuGet checks if it already exists in the solution (the packages folder, project.lock.json, or project.assets.json depending on whether the project is using packages.config, project.json, or package references in project files).
  4. If the package is not found, NuGet attempts to retrieve the package from its cache first (see Managing the NuGet cache. If the package is not in the cache, NuGet attempts to download the package from the enabled sources as listed in Tools > Options > NuGet Package Manager > Package Sources, in the order that the sources appear. In this case, NuGet does not indicate a failure to find the package until all the sources have been checked, at which time it reports the failure only for the last source in the list. By implication such an error also means that the package wasn't present on any of the other sources either, even though errors were not shown for those sources individually.
  5. If the download is successful, NuGet caches the package and installs it into the solution (again, into either the packages folder, project.lock.json, or project.assets.json); otherwise NuGet fails and the build fails.

During this process, you see a progress dialog with the option to cancel package restore.

Package Restore with Team Foundation Build

Package restore is commonly used when building projects on build servers, as with Team Foundation Server (TFS) and Visual Studio Team Services (as well as other build systems, which are not covered here).

Visual Studio Team Services

When creating a build definition on Team Services, simply include the Restore NuGet Packages task in the definition before any build task. This task is included by default in a number of build templates.

NuGet package restore task in a Visual Studio Team Service build definition

Team Foundation Server

With TFS 2013 and later, packages are automatically restored by default during build, provided that you're using a Team Build Template for Team Foundation Server 2013 or later.

If you're using a previous version of build templates (such as in a project that's been migrated from earlier versions of TFS), you'll need to also migrate those build templates to TFS 2013. This essentially means recreating the custom parts of the Build Templates using the appropriate template for your source control (TFVC or Git).

For earlier version of TFS, you can simply include a build step to invoke command-line restore as described earlier.

For more details see then Walkthrough of Package Restore with Team Foundation Build.