Customize your build

MSBuild projects that use the standard build process (importing Microsoft.Common.props and Microsoft.Common.targets) have several extensibility hooks that you can use to customize your build process.

Add arguments to command-line MSBuild invocations for your project

A Directory.Build.rsp file in or above your source directory will be applied to command-line builds of your project. For details, see MSBuild response files.

Directory.Build.props and Directory.Build.targets

Prior to MSBuild version 15, if you wanted to provide a new, custom property to projects in your solution, you had to manually add a reference to that property to every project file in the solution. Or, you had to define the property in a .props file and then explicitly import the .props file in every project in the solution, among other things.

However, now you can add a new property to every project in one step by defining it in a single file called Directory.Build.props in the root folder that contains your source. When MSBuild runs, Microsoft.Common.props searches your directory structure for the Directory.Build.props file (and Microsoft.Common.targets looks for Directory.Build.targets). If it finds one, it imports the property. Directory.Build.props is a user-defined file that provides customizations to projects under a directory.

Note

Linux-based file systems are case-sensitive. Make sure the casing of the Directory.Build.props filename matches exactly, or it won't be detected during the build process.

See this GitHub issue for more information.

Directory.Build.props example

For example, if you wanted to enable all of your projects to access the new Roslyn /deterministic feature (which is exposed in the Roslyn CoreCompile target by the property $(Deterministic)), you could do the following.

  1. Create a new file in the root of your repo called Directory.Build.props.

  2. Add the following XML to the file.

    <Project>
     <PropertyGroup>
       <Deterministic>true</Deterministic>
     </PropertyGroup>
    </Project>
    
  3. Run MSBuild. Your project’s existing imports of Microsoft.Common.props and Microsoft.Common.targets find the file and import it.

Search scope

When searching for a Directory.Build.props file, MSBuild walks the directory structure upwards from your project location ($(MSBuildProjectFullPath)), stopping after it locates a Directory.Build.props file. For example, if your $(MSBuildProjectFullPath) was c:\users\username\code\test\case1, MSBuild would start searching there and then search the directory structure upward until it located a Directory.Build.props file, as in the following directory structure.

c:\users\username\code\test\case1
c:\users\username\code\test
c:\users\username\code
c:\users\username
c:\users
c:\

The location of the solution file is irrelevant to Directory.Build.props.

Import order

Directory.Build.props is imported very early in Microsoft.Common.props, and properties defined later are unavailable to it. So, avoid referring to properties that are not yet defined (and will evaluate to empty).

Properties that are set in Directory.Build.props can be overridden elsewhere in the project file or in imported files, so you should think of the settings in Directory.Build.props as specifying the defaults for your projects.

Directory.Build.targets is imported from Microsoft.Common.targets after importing .targets files from NuGet packages. So, it can override properties and targets defined in most of the build logic, or set properties for all your projects regardless of what the individual projects set.

When you need to set a property or define a target for an individual project that overrides any prior settings, put that logic in the project file after the final import. In order to do this in an SDK-style project, you first have to replace the SDK-style attribute with the equivalent imports. See How to use MSBuild project SDKs.

Note

The MSBuild engine reads in all imported files during evaluation, before starting build execution for any project (including any PreBuildEvent), so these files are not expected to be modified by the PreBuildEvent or any other part of the build process. Any modifications do not take effect until the next invocation of MSBuild.exe or the next Visual Studio build.

Use case: multi-level merging

Suppose you have this standard solution structure:

\
  MySolution.sln
  Directory.Build.props     (1)
  \src
    Directory.Build.props   (2-src)
    \Project1
    \Project2
  \test
    Directory.Build.props   (2-test)
    \Project1Tests
    \Project2Tests

It might be desirable to have common properties for all projects (1), common properties for src projects (2-src), and common properties for test projects (2-test).

To make MSBuild correctly merge the "inner" files (2-src and 2-test) with the "outer" file (1), you must take into account that once MSBuild finds a Directory.Build.props file, it stops further scanning. To continue scanning and merge into the outer file, place this code into both inner files:

<Import Project="$([MSBuild]::GetPathOfFileAbove('Directory.Build.props', '$(MSBuildThisFileDirectory)../'))" />

A summary of MSBuild's general approach is as follows:

  • For any given project, MSBuild finds the first Directory.Build.props upward in the solution structure, merges it with defaults, and stops scanning for more
  • If you want multiple levels to be found and merged, then <Import...> (shown above) the "outer" file from the "inner" file
  • If the "outer" file does not itself also import something above it, then scanning stops there
  • To control the scanning/merging process, use $(DirectoryBuildPropsPath) and $(ImportDirectoryBuildProps)

Or more simply: the first Directory.Build.props that doesn't import anything is where MSBuild stops.

Choose between adding properties to a .props or .targets file

MSBuild is import-order dependent, and the last definition of a property (or a UsingTask or target) is the definition used.

When using explicit imports, you can import from a .props or .targets file at any point. Here is the widely used convention:

  • .props files are imported early in the import order.

  • .targets files are imported late in the build order.

This convention is enforced by <Project Sdk="SdkName"> imports (that is, the import of Sdk.props comes first, before all of the contents of the file, then Sdk.targets comes last, after all of the contents of the file).

When deciding where to put the properties, use the following general guidelines:

  • For many properties, it doesn't matter where they're defined, because they're not overwritten and will be read only at execution time.

  • For behavior that might be customized in an individual project, set defaults in .props files.

  • Avoid setting dependent properties in .props files by reading the value of a possibly customized property, because the customization won't happen until MSBuild reads the user's project.

  • Set dependent properties in .targets files, because they'll pick up customizations from individual projects.

  • If you need to override properties, do it in a .targets file, after all user-project customizations have had a chance to take effect. Be cautious when using derived properties; derived properties may need to be overridden as well.

  • Include items in .props files (conditioned on a property). All properties are considered before any item, so user-project property customizations get picked up, and this gives the user's project the opportunity to Remove or Update any item brought in by the import.

  • Define targets in .targets files. However, if the .targets file is imported by an SDK, remember that this scenario makes overriding the target more difficult because the user's project doesn't have a place to override it by default.

  • If possible, prefer customizing properties at evaluation time over changing properties inside a target. This guideline makes it easier to load a project and understand what it's doing.

MSBuildProjectExtensionsPath

By default, Microsoft.Common.props imports $(MSBuildProjectExtensionsPath)$(MSBuildProjectFile).*.props and Microsoft.Common.targets imports $(MSBuildProjectExtensionsPath)$(MSBuildProjectFile).*.targets. The default value of MSBuildProjectExtensionsPath is $(BaseIntermediateOutputPath), obj/. NuGet uses this mechanism to refer to build logic delivered with packages; that is, at restore time, it creates {project}.nuget.g.props files that refer to the package contents.

You can disable this extensibility mechanism by setting the property ImportProjectExtensionProps to false in a Directory.Build.props or before importing Microsoft.Common.props.

Note

Disabling MSBuildProjectExtensionsPath imports will prevent build logic delivered in NuGet packages from applying to your project. Some NuGet packages require build logic to perform their function and will be rendered useless when this is disabled.

.user file

Microsoft.Common.CurrentVersion.targets imports $(MSBuildProjectFullPath).user if it exists, so you can create a file next to your project with that additional extension. For long-term changes you plan to check into source control, prefer changing the project itself, so that future maintainers do not have to know about this extension mechanism.

MSBuildExtensionsPath and MSBuildUserExtensionsPath

Warning

Using these extension mechanisms makes it harder to get repeatable builds across machines. Try to use a configuration that can be checked into your source control system and shared among all developers of your codebase.

By convention, many core build logic files import

$(MSBuildExtensionsPath)\$(MSBuildToolsVersion)\{TargetFileName}\ImportBefore\*.targets

before their contents, and

$(MSBuildExtensionsPath)\$(MSBuildToolsVersion)\{TargetFileName}\ImportAfter\*.targets

afterward. This convention allows installed SDKs to augment the build logic of common project types.

The same directory structure is searched in $(MSBuildUserExtensionsPath), which is the per-user folder %LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\MSBuild. Files placed in that folder will be imported for all builds of the corresponding project type run under that user's credentials. You can disable the user extensions by setting properties named after the importing file in the pattern ImportUserLocationsByWildcardBefore{ImportingFileNameWithNoDots}. For example, setting ImportUserLocationsByWildcardBeforeMicrosoftCommonProps to false would prevent importing $(MSBuildUserExtensionsPath)\$(MSBuildToolsVersion)\Imports\Microsoft.Common.props\ImportBefore\*.

Customize the solution build

Important

Customizing the solution build in this way applies only to command-line builds with MSBuild.exe. It does not apply to builds inside Visual Studio. For this reason, it is not recommended to put customization at the solution level. A better alternative for customizing all projects in a solution is to use Directory.Build.props and Directory.build.targets files in the solution folder, as discussed elsewhere in this article.

When MSBuild builds a solution file, it first translates it internally into a project file and then builds that. The generated project file imports before.{solutionname}.sln.targets before defining any targets and after.{solutionname}.sln.targets after importing targets, including targets installed to the $(MSBuildExtensionsPath)\$(MSBuildToolsVersion)\SolutionFile\ImportBefore and $(MSBuildExtensionsPath)\$(MSBuildToolsVersion)\SolutionFile\ImportAfter directories.

For example, you could define a new target to write a custom log message after building MyCustomizedSolution.sln by creating a file in the same directory named after.MyCustomizedSolution.sln.targets that contains

<Project>
 <Target Name="EmitCustomMessage" AfterTargets="Build">
   <Message Importance="High" Text="The solution has completed the Build target" />
 </Target>
</Project>

The solution build is separate from the project builds, so settings here do not affect project builds.

Customize all .NET builds

When maintaining a build server, you might need to configure MSBuild settings globally for all builds on the server. In principle, you could modify the global Microsoft.Common.Targets or Microsoft.Common.Props files, but there is a better way. You can affect all builds of a certain project type (such as all C# projects) by using certain MSBuild properties and adding certain custom .targets and .props files.

To affect all C# or Visual Basic builds governed by an installation of MSBuild or Visual Studio, create a file Custom.Before.Microsoft.Common.Targets or Custom.After.Microsoft.Common.Targets with targets that will run before or after Microsoft.Common.targets, or a file Custom.Before.Microsoft.Common.Props or Custom.After.Microsoft.Common.Props with properties that will be processed before or after Microsoft.Common.props.

You can specify the locations of these files by using the following MSBuild properties:

  • CustomBeforeMicrosoftCommonProps
  • CustomBeforeMicrosoftCommonTargets
  • CustomAfterMicrosoftCommonProps
  • CustomAfterMicrosoftCommonTargets
  • CustomBeforeMicrosoftCSharpProps
  • CustomBeforeMicrosoftVisualBasicProps
  • CustomAfterMicrosoftCSharpProps
  • CustomAfterMicrosoftVisualBasicProps
  • CustomBeforeMicrosoftCSharpTargets
  • CustomBeforeMicrosoftVisualBasicTargets
  • CustomAfterMicrosoftCSharpTargets
  • CustomAfterMicrosoftVisualBasicTargets

The Common versions of these properties affect both C# and Visual Basic projects. You can set these properties in the MSBuild command line.

msbuild /p:CustomBeforeMicrosoftCommonTargets="C:\build\config\Custom.Before.Microsoft.Common.Targets" MyProject.csproj

The best approach depends on your scenario. Using Visual Studio Extensibility, you can customize the build system and provide a mechanism for installing and managing the customizations.

If you have a dedicated build server and want to ensure that certain targets always execute on all builds of the appropriate project type that execute on that server, then using a global custom .targets or .props file makes sense. If you want the custom targets to only execute when certain conditions apply, then use another file location and set the path to that file by setting the appropriate MSBuild property in the MSBuild command line only when needed.

Warning

Visual Studio uses the custom .targets or .props files if it finds them in the MSBuild folder whenever it builds any project of the matching type. This can have unintended consequences, and if done incorrectly, can disable the ability of Visual Studio to build on your computer.

Customize C++ builds

For C++ projects, the previously mentioned custom .targets and .props files cannot be used in the same way to override default settings. Directory.Build.props is imported by Microsoft.Common.props, which is imported in Microsoft.Cpp.Default.props while most of the defaults are defined in Microsoft.Cpp.props and for a number of properties a "if not yet defined" condition cannot be used, as the property is already defined, but the default needs to be different for particular project properties defined in PropertyGroup with Label="Configuration" (see .vcxproj and .props file structure).

But, you can use the following properties to specify .props file(s) to be automatically imported before/after Microsoft.Cpp.* files:

  • ForceImportAfterCppDefaultProps
  • ForceImportBeforeCppProps
  • ForceImportAfterCppProps
  • ForceImportBeforeCppTargets
  • ForceImportAfterCppTargets

To customize the default values of properties for all C++ builds, create another .props file (say, MyProps.props), and define the ForceImportAfterCppProps property in Directory.Build.props pointing to it:

$(MsbuildThisFileDirectory)\MyProps.props

MyProps.props will be automatically imported at the very end of Microsoft.Cpp.props.

Customize all C++ builds

Customizing the Visual Studio installation isn't recommended, since it's not easy to keep track of such customizations, but if you're extending Visual Studio to customize C++ builds for a particular platform, you can create .targets files for each platform and place them in the appropriate import folders for those platforms as part of a Visual Studio extension.

The .targets file for the Win32 platform, Microsoft.Cpp.Win32.targets, contains the following Import element:

<Import Project="$(VCTargetsPath)\Platforms\Win32\ImportBefore\*.targets"
        Condition="Exists('$(VCTargetsPath)\Platforms\Win32\ImportBefore')"
/>

There's a similar element near the end of the same file:

<Import Project="$(VCTargetsPath)\Platforms\Win32\ImportAfter\*.targets"
        Condition="Exists('$(VCTargetsPath)\Platforms\Win32\ImportAfter')"
/>

Similar import elements exist for other target platforms in *%ProgramFiles32%\MSBuild\Microsoft.Cpp\v{version}\Platforms*.

Once you place the .targets file in the appropriate ImportAfter folder according to the platform, MSBuild imports your file into every C++ build for that platform. You can put multiple .targets files there, if needed.

Using Visual Studio Extensibility, further customizations are possible, such as defining a new platform. For more information, see C++ project extensibility.

Specify a custom import on the command line

For custom .targets that you want to include for a specific build of a C++ project, set one or both of the properties ForceImportBeforeCppTargets and ForceImportAfterCppTargets on the command line.

msbuild /p:ForceImportBeforeCppTargets="C:\build\config\Custom.Before.Microsoft.Cpp.Targets" MyCppProject.vcxproj

For a global setting (to affect, say, all C++ builds for a platform on a build server), there are two methods. First, you can set these properties using a system environment variable that is always set. This works because MSBuild always reads the environment and creates (or overrides) properties for all the environment variables.

See also