NuGet pack and restore as MSBuild targets

NuGet 4.0+

NuGet 4.0+ can work directly with the information in a .csproj file without requring a separate packages.config or project.json file. All the metadata that was previously stored in those configuration files can be instead stores in the .csproj file directly, as described here.

NuGet is also a first-class MSBuild citizen with the pack and restore targets as described below. These targets allow you to work with NuGet as you would with any other MSBuild task or target.

In this topic:

Target build order

Because pack and restore are MSBuild targets, you can access them to enhance your workflow. For example, let’s say you want to push your package to a network share after packing it. You can do that by adding the following in your project file:

    <Target Name="CopyPackage" AfterTargets="Pack">

Similarly, you can write an MSBuild task, write your own target and consume NuGet properties in the MSBuild task.

pack target

In order for MSBuild to be able to gather all the inputs, all metadata from project.json and .nuspec will move into the .csproj file. The table below describes the MSBuild properties that can be added to a .csproj file within the first <PropertyGroup> node. You can make these edits easily in Visual Studio 2017 and later by right-clicking the project and selecting Edit {project_name} on the context menu. For convenience the table is organized by the equivalent property in a .nuspec file.

Attribute/NuSpec Value MSBuild Property Default Notes
Id PackageId AssemblyName $(AssemblyName) from msbuild
Version PackageVersion Version New $(Version) property from msbuild, is semver compatible. Could be “1.0.0”, “1.0.0-beta”, or “1.0.0-beta-00345”.
Authors Authors username of the current user will be the default value
Owners N/A Not present in NuSpec
Description Description "Package Description"
Copyright Copyright empty
RequireLicenseAcceptance PackageRequireLicenseAcceptance false
LicenseUrl PackageLicenseUrl empty
ProjectUrl PackageProjectUrl empty
IconUrl PackageIconUrl empty
Tags PackageTags empty
ReleaseNotes PackageReleaseNotes empty
RepositoryUrl RepositoryUrl empty
RepositoryType RepositoryType empty
PackageType <PackageType>DotNetCliTool,;Dependency,</PackageType>
Title Not supported
Summary Not supported
n/a PackageOutputPath The bin{configuration} folder
n/a Configuration Debug
n/a AssemblyName
n/a IncludeSymbols
n/a IncludeSource If true, there must also be a <SourceFile> node.
n/a IsTool
n/a NoPackageAnalysis
n/a MinClientVersion
n/a TargetPath
See cross-targeting below.

pack scenarios

Output assemblies

The nuget pack command will copy the output files, that is, those with extensions .exe, .dll, .xml, and .winmd. The output files that are copied depend on what MSBuild provides from the BuiltOutputProjectGroup target.

There are two MSBuild properties that you can use in your project file or command line to control where output assemblies go:

  • IncludeBuildOutput: A boolean that determines whether the build output assemblies should be included in the package.
  • BuildOutputTargetFolder: Specifies the folder in which the output assemblies should be placed. The output assemblies (and other output files) are copied into their respective framework folders.

Package references

See Package References in Project Files.

Including content in package

To include content, add extra metadata to the existing <Content> item. By default everything of type "Content" gets included in the package unless you override with entries like the following:

     <Content Include="..\win7-x64\libuv.txt">

Everything gets added to the root of the content and contentFiles folder within a package and preserves the relative directory structure, unless you specify a package path:

    <Content Include="..\win7-x64\libuv.txt">

PackagePath can be a semicolon-delimited set of target paths. Specifying an empty package path would add the file to the root of the package. For example, the following adds libuv.txt to content\myfiles, content\samples, and the package root:

    <Content Include="..\win7-x64\libuv.txt">

Packing of content files is also recursive. Content files from any project to project reference, which has TreatAsPackageReference set to false, are also copied in the similar manner and the same rules apply.

If you wish to prevent copying of a content from another project into your nuget package, use the following form:

    <Content Include="..\..\project2\readme.txt">

Similarly, you can override the behavior in the referenced project and include a file to be packed which would have otherwise been excluded:

    <Content Include="..\..\project2\readme.txt">

Setting Visible to false prevents Visual Studio from showing the file in the Solution Explorer.

There is also an MSBuild property $(IncludeContentInPack), which defaults to true. If this is set to false on any project, then the content from that project or it's project to project dependencies are not included in the nuget package.


Apart from Content items, the Pack and PackagePath metadata can also be set on files with a build action of Compile or None. For pack to append the filename to your package path, your package path must end with the directory separator character, otherwise the package path is treated as the full path including the file name.


At present, target frameworks are defined in the .csproj file in an item list called TargetFrameworks where the identity maps to $(TargetFrameworkIdentity),$(TargetFrameworkVersion) (not using NuGet short names).

The @(TargetPath) will be a list of all the output paths (path to the output assembly) with their associated TargetFramework metadata. nuget pack will convert these full target framework names to short folder names in the resulting package.


When using msbuild /t:pack /p:IncludeSymbols=true, the corresponding pdb files are copied along with other output files (.dll, .exe, .winmd, .xml). Note that setting IncludeSymbols=true creates a regular package and a symbols package.


This is the same as IncludeSymbols, except that it copies source files along with pdbs as well. All files of type Compile are copied over to src\&lt;ProjectName&gt;\ preserving the relative path directory structure in the resulting package. The same also happens for source files of any ProjectReference which has TreatAsPackageReference set to false.

If a file of type Compile, is outside the project folder, then it is just added to src\&lt;ProjectName&gt;\.


When using msbuild /t:pack /p:IsTool=true, all output files, as specified in the Output Assemblies scenario, are copied to the tools folder instead of the lib folder. Note that this is different from a DotNetCliTool which is specified by setting the PackageType in .csproj file.

restore target

As part of the move to MSBuild, package restore becomes an MSBuild target; nuget restore and dotnet restore use this target to restore packages in .NET Core projects.

Restore properties

Additional restore settings may come from MSBuild properties; values are set from the command line.

Property Description
RestoreSources List of package sources separated by semicolons
RestorePackagesPath User packages directory path
RestoreDisableParallel Limit downloads to one at a time
RestoreConfigFile nuget.config file
RestoreNoCache If true, avoids using the web cache
RestoreIgnoreFailedSource If true, ignores failing or missing package sources

Restore outputs

Restore creates the following files in the build obj folder:

File Description
project.assets.json Previously project.lock.json
{projectName}.projectFileExtension.nuget.g.props References to msbuild targets contained in packages
{projectName}.projectFileExtension.nuget.g.targets References to msbuild props contained in packages


PackageTargetFallback is the MSBuild equivalent of Imports.

MSBuild syntax to support PackageTargetFallback

<PackageTargetFallback Condition="'$(TargetFramework)'=='Net45'">portable-net45+win81</PackageTargetFallback>

PackageTargetFallbacks may have been set in one of Microsoft targets (we are considering), or other ones. If you'd like to add the list already provided, you can add additional values to the PackageTargetFallback property:

    <PackageTargetFallback Condition="'$(TargetFramework)'=='Net45'">
    </PackageTargetFallback >

Replacing one library from a restore graph

If a restore is bringing the wrong assembly, it is possible to exclude that packages default choice, and replace it with your own choice. First with a top level PackageReference, exclude all assets:

    <PackageReference Include="Newtonsoft.Json" Version="9.0.1">

Next, add your own reference to the appropriate local copy of the DLL:

    <Reference Include="Newtonsoft.Json.dll" />