Step 1: Examining the Configuration Files

Assembly binding behavior can be configured at different levels based on three XML files:

  • Application configuration file.

  • Publisher policy file.

  • Machine configuration file.

These files follow the same syntax and provide information such as binding redirects, the location of code, and binding modes for particular assemblies. Each configuration file can contain an <assemblyBinding> element that redirects the binding process. The child elements of the <assemblyBinding> element include the <dependentAssembly> element. The children of <dependentAssembly> element include the <assemblyIdentity> element, the <bindingRedirect> element, and the <codeBase> element.


Configuration information can be found in the three configuration files; not all elements are valid in all configuration files. For example, binding mode and private path information can only be in the application configuration file. For a complete list of the information that is contained in each file, see Configuring Applications.

Application Configuration File

First, the common language runtime checks the application configuration file for information that overrides the version information stored in the calling assembly's manifest. The application configuration file can be deployed with an application, but is not required for application execution. Usually the retrieval of this file is almost instantaneous, but in situations where the application base is on a remote computer, such as in an Internet Explorer Web-based scenario, the configuration file must be downloaded.

For client executables, the application configuration file resides in the same directory as the application's executable and has the same base name as the executable with a .config extension. For example, the configuration file for C:\Program Files\Myapp\Myapp.exe is C:\Program Files\Myapp\Myapp.exe.config. In a browser-based scenario, the HTML file must use the <link> element to explicitly point to the configuration file.

The following code provides a simple example of an application configuration file. This example adds a TextWriterTraceListener to the Listeners collection to enable recording debug information to a file.

      <trace useGlobalLock="false" autoflush="true" indentsize="0">
            <add name="myListener" type="System.Diagnostics.TextWriterTraceListener, system version=1.0.3300.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b77a5c561934e089" initializeData="c:\myListener.log" />

Publisher Policy File

Second, the runtime examines the publisher policy file, if one exists. Publisher policy files are distributed by a component publisher as a fix or update to a shared component. These files contain compatibility information issued by the publisher of the shared component that directs an assembly reference to a new version. Unlike application and machine configuration files, publisher policy files are contained in their own assembly that must be installed in the global assembly cache.

The following is an example of a Publisher Policy configuration file:

        <assemblyBinding xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:asm.v1">

                <assemblyIdentity name="asm6" publicKeyToken="c0305c36380ba429" /> 
                <bindingRedirect oldVersion="" newVersion=""/>  


To create an assembly, you can use the Al.exe (Assembly Linker) tool with a command such as the following:

Al.exe /link:asm6.exe.config /out:policy.3.0.asm6.dll /keyfile: compatkey.dat /v:

compatkey.dat is a strong-name key file. This command creates a strong-named assembly you can place in the global assembly cache.


Publisher policy affects all applications that use a shared component.

The publisher policy configuration file overrides version information that comes from the application (that is, from the assembly manifest or from the application configuration file). If there is no statement in the application configuration file to redirect the version specified in the assembly manifest, the publisher policy file overrides the version specified in the assembly manifest. However, if there is a redirecting statement in the application configuration file, publisher policy overrides that version rather than the one specified in the manifest.

A publisher policy file is used when a shared component is updated and the new version of the shared component should be picked up by all applications using that component. The settings in the publisher policy file override settings in the application configuration file, unless the application configuration file enforces safe mode.

Safe Mode

Publisher policy files are usually explicitly installed as part of a service pack or program update. If there is any problem with the upgraded shared component, you can ignore the overrides in the publisher policy file using safe mode. Safe mode is determined by the <publisherPolicy apply="yes|no"/> element, located only in the application configuration file. It specifies whether the publisher policy configuration information should be removed from the binding process.

Safe mode can be set for the entire application or for selected assemblies. That is, you can turn off the policy for all assemblies that make up the application, or turn it on for some assemblies but not others. To selectively apply publisher policy to assemblies that make up an application, set <publisherPolicy apply=no/> and specify which assemblies you want to be affected using the <dependentAssembly> element. To apply publisher policy to all assemblies that make up the application, set <publisherPolicy apply=no/> with no dependent assembly elements. For more about configuration, see Configuration Files.

Machine Configuration File

Third, the runtime examines the machine configuration file. This file, called Machine.config, resides on the local computer in the Config subdirectory of the root directory where the runtime is installed. This file can be used by administrators to specify assembly binding restrictions that are local to that computer. The settings in the machine configuration file take precedence over all other configuration settings; however, this does not mean that all configuration settings should be put in this file. The version determined by the administrator policy file is final, and cannot be overridden. Overrides specified in the Machine.config file affect all applications. For more information about configuration files, see Configuration Files.

See Also


How the Runtime Locates Assemblies

Step 2: Checking for Previously Referenced Assemblies

Step 3: Checking the Global Assembly Cache

Step 4: Locating the Assembly through Codebases or Probing

Partial Assembly References