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.net development and other geeky stuff

nAnt: The project build file

Posted on February 13th, 2009


Next in the series surrounding nAnt is the process of creating the individual build files for each project. This is assuming of course that you are wanting a DLL, EXE, or what have you for each project in your visual studio solution. If you just want everything to compile into 1 dll or exe you can do that too with some minor adjustments of course.

This project file will assume that you have the common.xml file that we built in the last nAnt article. If you do not have it that is ok, it is included with the sample code for this article.

First things first lets create our build file by adding a new xml document object to our project.

Below is a basic project file we will use.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding='iso-8859-1' ?>
<project
	name="NantSupportLibrary"
	default="build"
	xmlns="http://nant.sf.net/release/0.85/nant.xsd"
>

	<property name="root.dir" value="../." />
	<include buildfile="${root.dir}/common.xml" />

	<target name="init" depends="common.init">
		<assemblyfileset id="project.references" basedir="${build.output.dir}">
			<include name="System.dll" />
			<include name="System.Core.dll" />
		</assemblyfileset>
    <resourcefileset id="project.resources">
    </resourcefileset>
	</target>

	<target name="build" description="Build ${project::get-name()}" depends="init common.compile.dll.cs" >
	</target>
</project>

You will notice that the first thing we have is the Project tag. This is the most root level element you can have. Just like the common.xml file you need to set the name and default command to run for the project. Also, make sure you have the xmlns element set correctly for the version of nAnt you are running.

The very first thing we need to do is set our root element. Basically we have the root.dir element to help ground everything to a consistent path structure. Makes having a common file and build process much easier. The root.dir property should use the syntax needed to get back to the root of your source tree. So if root level for the project is down one level you use “..” if it’s two levels “../..” etc.

Next we need to include our common.xml build file. The syntax as you can see if very straight forward. Now if you have not seen it before anything enclosed in a “${}” is special command for nAnt to do something. It is effectively a token, variable, parameter, etc. In the case of this include line it is concatenating the value of the variable root.dir with “/common.xml”.

Once we have that our project file will have access to all the targets we setup in the common file. So let’s setup a “init” target to initialize the filesets and other various things we need for this particular project. Since this project is pretty basic, as you can see, we do not have a whole lot in here. First we depend upon the “common.init” target from our common build file that defines our fileset for build files. Next we setup our assembly and resource file sets. In the Assembly fileset you will add a line for each reference you need in your project. If you have project references to other projects in your solution then add the appropriate project output reference here. In the sample I have this so you can see what I mean. If this was a windows forms app you would have resx files included in your resourcefileset element.

Last but not least we create our build target. This is what will be called when we run this build file. As you can see it depends on our “init” target we just created and “common.compile.dll.cs” from our common.xml build file. The description element actually will output the project name from the top of the build file.

One thing to remember the name attribute of the project element must be the name of the compiled object that you want to output. So if you wanted it to be “MyApp.Is.Awesome.dll” your project name would be “MyApp.Is.Awesome”.

In the next article we will walk through creating the master build file which will actually run all this stuff and provide what you want. A working build of a project.

Download the sample code

nAnt: Desiging your common build file (Updated)

Posted on February 2nd, 2009


In this article we will walk you through desiging a basic common build file. If done properly it’s one you can carry with you to all your projects and help you get your automated builds kicked off pretty quick.

Download the Common.xml file.

The Basics

The first thing we need to do is make sure you understand the basics of nAnt. At it’s heart it is just an xml document. As such you always need to be mindful of the strict nature of xml. Case if very important. Beyond that you have the next two items, Targets and Properties. Through these two constructs you can do just about anything. From within targets are where you will call into other tasks like, csc, vbc, or event the nant contrib and custom tasks you can build yourself.

The basic structure of a property looks like this:

<property name="MyPropName" value="MyValue"/>

As you can see it’s pretty straight forward at this level. There are other features of the property we will cover a bit later. These objects will be very important in our construction of a common build file.

Next we have Targets. This is the meat and potatoes of nAnt. Without it you don’t really have anything. The basic structure of a Target looks like this:

<target name="MyTarget">
  <!-- do something here -->
</target>

As you can see not much here either. Where it’s power comes in is from the depends attribute that allows you to chain multiple targets together into one call. There are other tasks and attributes that you can apply to your build file. If you want to see them all go to the nAnt sourceforge site.

I said it was the basics and that is just about it. The rest will depend upon what you are trying to do. Our main focus in this article will be around build C# projects, however if you need to compile to VB or some other language it would be just as easy to apply these concepts and change your tasks inside the build targets.

Basic Properties

Next we will look at setting up some of our basic properties that will be used throughout the build files. All the way from the common file to your individual build files. The first thing that you need to address though is your folder layout. How are you going to structure your project(s) on disk. This makes a difference on how you configure your project files and with a small degree your common file. The structure we will be using will be one that I’ve used for a while, it works for multiple projects to single projects. Below is a screenshot of the basic folder structure. There is nothing in the child folders as of yet.
folderlayout
The common.xml file we will be building will go into the build folder. As you add projects to your solution each project should have it’s own build file in the same folder as the project file. In addition if you have multiple distributions, say a Web site, Desktop component, and windows service as part of your deployment you can have a root distrib build file. It can be stored in the build folder or at the root of your folder structure. These extra build files can be used to control the build for each individual section of your build output.

Now let’s start by creating our first couple of properties.

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<project xmlns="http://nant.sf.net/release/0.85-rc3/nant.xsd">
  <property name="build.output.dir" value="${root.dir}\output" />
  <property name="build.dir" value="${root.dir}\build" />
  <property name="lib.dir" value="${root.dir}\build\references" />
  <property name="build.debug" value="true" overwrite="false"/>
  <property name="build.optimize" value="true"/>
  <property name="build.rebuild" value="true"/>
</project>

Now you will probably ask yourself what the ${root.dir} thing is. Well it’s essentially another property. The syntax to use a property, method, or other defined item is the syntax ${}. So in our project files which you will see later they will have a root.dir property in them. This is used to help make sure everything knows how to find what it needs. The other thing you probably noticed is the overwrite=”false” command. What this does is tells the nAnt application to only allow the build.debug command to be defined once. The reason we do this so that we can use the command line to tell the compiler if we want a debug or release build. Then we don’t need to change anything in our build files.

Now most of these property names make perfect sense. We are essentially trying to setup some variables that will hold all our path data so when it comes time to compile or run any ancillary tasks we are covered and know where everything is.

The references folder under the build folder is for 3rd party dll’s. This is where I’d put things like the log4net, nHibernate, vendor control, microsoft, etc. objects that my project needs to compile. You can also move this to a root folder called something like vendor or 3rdParty (I’ve used both before). It’s really up to you. Just change the property value to match whatever folder structure you plan on using.

Build Information

Now the next part of the common build file has a target that we will call to output some helpful information that you can use in case you have a build failure. Things like SDK paths, framework versions, etc. This can help you debug the case where say you are in a web farm and one of the machines does not have the latest .net framework and your build keeps failing. With this data you will be able to quickly see what versions are present and could adjust acordingly.

<target name="display-current-build-info">
  <echo message=""/>
  <echo message="----------------------------------------------------------" />
  <echo message=" ${framework::get-description(framework::get-target-framework())}" />
  <echo message="----------------------------------------------------------" />
  <echo message="" />
  <echo message="framework : ${framework::get-target-framework()}" />
  <echo message="description : ${framework::get-description(framework::get-target-framework())}" />
  <echo message="sdk directory : ${framework::get-sdk-directory(framework::get-target-framework())}" />
  <echo message="framework directory : ${framework::get-framework-directory(framework::get-target-framework())}" />
  <echo message="assembly directory : ${framework::get-assembly-directory(framework::get-target-framework())}" />
  <echo message="runtime engine : ${framework::get-runtime-engine(framework::get-target-framework())}" />
  <echo message="" />
  <echo message="----------------------------------------------------------" />
  <echo message="Current Build Settings"/>
  <echo message="----------------------------------------------------------" />
  <echo message="build.debug=${build.debug}"/>
  <echo message="build.rebuild=${build.rebuild}"/>
  <echo message="build.optimize=${build.optimize}"/>
  <echo message="lib.dir=${lib.dir}"/>
  <echo message="build.output.dir=${build.output.dir}" />
  <echo message="build.dir=${build.dir}"/>
  <echo message=""/>
</target>

Yes there are a lot of echo message calls. :) The methods and what are available can be found on the nAnt sourceforge site. Basically what we have done is made use of some of the core items that nAnt provides to you to display a bunch of helpful information. Now you can break this down into smaller targets, say one with build specific and framework specific data, or you could ignore this altogether. It is helpful though so I’d urge you to keep the framework stuff at the least.

Build Initialization

Next we are going to create the initialization tasks. This is where we will setup basic things like making sure our output folder is clean, fileset definitions, and generally just anything you want to setup every time you need to do a build.

<target name="cleanup" if="${directory::exists(build.output.dir)}">
  <!-- do any folder clean up before we start -->
  <delete dir="${build.output.dir}" failonerror="false"/>
</target>

<target name="common.init">
  <fileset id="project.sources.cs">
    <include name="**/*.cs" />
  </fileset>
  <fileset id="project.sources.vb">
    <include name="**/*.vb" />
  </fileset>
  <mkdir dir="${build.output.dir}" if="${ not directory::exists(build.output.dir)}"/>
</target>

You will notice that we have a couple of new items introduced in this seciton. Namely the depends command and the if condition. First lets cover the if condition. Just about every task (at least that I’ve looked at) supports the if and unless conditionals. This is a great way to control your tasks. So in the case of our cleanup task what would happen if the output directory did not exist. Well we’d fail the build. We don’t want that to happen so we can add an if condition to make sure the directory exits first. If it does then we run it otherwise we just ignore this altogether.

Next the depends list. This is an important attribute to understand. Namely you need to grasp the chaining ability and order of execution for the subsequent tasks. You can add multiple targets as a dependency as long as you put a space between them. They are executed in left to right order and if you have a target that is called that has it’s own dependencies, you have to wait for them to finish too before the next one in your parent chain starts.

Next and an important one. We have setup a fileset task that allows us to define the types of items we want to be compiled. We will use the id to tell the csc task what to do. This can be very handy. We will do something similar for resources and references but they will be handled in the actuall project build files since they vary from project to project.

Now for the fileset I’ve included a sample of how you can setup your common build file to support both vb and cs. Do you need to do this? No, however if you know you need to support split languages within your build you might want to set it up for it. All you would need to do is setup multiple compile targets with the language extension as part of the target name. In the next section we will be looking at this.

Build Targets

Next we are going to setup the build targets. These are going to be the things we need to actually compile our code. Which in this case will be the csc task. As this is a common.xml file to be used with multiple projects we will setup the tasks needed to compile to DLL, EXE, and the web. The web one does not really have anything special or really all that different than the DLL task but it will allow you to add custom tasks to it that you may or may not need without impacting the other task.

<target name="common.compile.dll.cs">
  <csc
      target="library"
      debug="${build.debug}"
      optimize="${build.optimize}"
      warnaserror="${build.warnaserror}"
      output="${build.output.dir}/${project::get-name()}.dll"
      doc="${build.output.dir}/${project::get-name()}.xml"
      rebuild="${build.rebuild}"
  >
    <nowarn>
      <warning number="1591" /> <!-- No XML comment for publicly visible member -->
    </nowarn>
    <sources refid="project.sources.cs" />
    <references refid="project.references" />
    <resources refid="project.resources" />
  </csc>
</target>
<target name="common.compile.exe.cs">
  <csc
      target="exe"
      debug="${build.debug}"
      optimize="${build.optimize}"
      warnaserror="${build.warnaserror}"
      output="${build.output.dir}/${project::get-name()}.exe"
      doc="${build.output.dir}/${project::get-name()}.xml"
      rebuild="${build.rebuild}"
  >
    <nowarn>
      <warning number="1591" /> <!-- No XML comment for publicly visible member -->
    </nowarn>
    <sources refid="project.sources.cs" />
    <references refid="project.references" />
    <resources refid="project.resources" />
  </csc>
</target>
<target name="common.compile.dll.forweb.cs">
  <csc
      target="library"
      debug="${build.debug}"
      optimize="${build.optimize}"
      warnaserror="${build.warnaserror}"
      output="${build.output.dir}/${project::get-name()}.dll"
      doc="${build.output.dir}/${project::get-name()}.xml"
      rebuild="${build.rebuild}"
  >
    <nowarn>
      <warning number="1591" /> <!-- No XML comment for publicly visible member -->
    </nowarn>
    <sources refid="project.sources.cs" />
    <references refid="project.references" />
    <resources refid="project.resources" />
  </csc>
</target>

As you can see I targeted these to the .cs version. If you only want to support one language you can actually just remove the last bit off the target names. The last one is target for the web. Remember the web compiles are pretty much just DLL compiles. However if you needed to do any special copying or resource changes you could do so in this target as a base item. By no means do you need to do this if you don’t want to.

Conclusion

That just about does it for our common build file. As you can see there really is not much to it but it can really help go a long way to creating consistent builds. In the next article we will look at the project build file and how to hook these two pieces together to create a full and working build.

As a task to the reader, maybe you could look at adding tasks to execute unit testing or even building your document output based on the doc comments that are extracted during build.

** Update **

Well as sometimes happens, I fat fingered some of my cut-paste-rebuild of my common file when preparing it for this article. As I used it for the project file article I noticed a couple of things were missing. On the root element I was missing the required fields. The tag should have looked like this:

<project name="common"
	default="build"
	xmlns="http://nant.sf.net/release/0.85/nant.xsd">

Next the other thing I messed up was the dependency chain on the common.init target. It should not have had any dependencies.

nAnt: Getting your machine ready

Posted on January 27th, 2009


In this post we will get your pc ready to use nant.  The examples and links will be geared towards VS2008 however they will also work for VS2005.  VS2003 requires a bit more but can be done in very similar ways.

  1. If you have not already done so go get nAnt.  This example and all future ones will use version 0.85
  2. Extract the file to a location on your c: drive like c:\tools\nant
  3. Add the location of the bin folder to your path.  So in this example it would be: c:\tools\nant\bin or c:\tools\nant\0.85\bin depending on how you extracted your files.
  4. Copy the file nant.xsd from the c:\tools\nant\schemas folder to the following location(s):
    • C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 8\Xml\Schemas — for visual studio 2005
    • C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 9.0\Xml\Schemas — for visual studio 2008

Now that you have done all that we are going to open visual studio. This next bit will work in either 2005 or 2008 so the instructions will be the same. Once you have opened visual studio.

  1. Go to the Menu:  Tools -> Options
  2. Navigate in the left hand tree to the Text Editor section
  3. Select the File Extentions item.  Your options dialog should look like this:

    options_dialogIn the Extension box I want you to enter the word: build

    • Note: I use build as the extension for my build files for nant vs xml so I know what they are out of the box.
    • For this option dialog you do not put any periods in the extension box.
  4. Next select XML Editor from the list and then hit the Add button.  Your options dialog should then look like this:

    options_dialog_with_buildNow select OK and off we go.

That’s it for the setup.  If you want to test this add a new XML File to a project in Visual Studio and call it something like default.build.  You should then get intellisense for your build files.  The root level object will be project.  As you will notice because we added the file extension you also get the auto-complete benefits of the xml editor.  Things like adding the closing tag, quotes, etc.

That takes care of the first part of our nAnt setup.  In the next article I’ll walk you through adding Item and Project templates that you can use and customize for easily adding build files and projects that already have build files to your project.  After which we will get into the usage of nAnt and setting up a common build file that you can reuse from project to project.

Building your code or CI and you

Posted on January 27th, 2009


I’ve been seeing alot of stuff on the web lately considering continuous integration (CI), automated builds, build tools, unit testing, etc.  Figured maybe it’s time I start to post about some of this stuff.  I’ve been using CI in various shapes and sizes as it were for many years.  From custom rolled solutions to full commercial packages.  As such I will be posting many articles around CI, builds, unit testing, etc to help people who maybe have never seen it before or even if I’m lucky have an answer to a problem you have been having.

First let me say that I don’t care if you are a single person shop, team, department, or whole company.  You NEED to be using some form of CI.  There are free versions out there like Cruise Control.net and TeamCity (which is now free for limited installations).  I personnally have setup a TeamCity installation on my big developer desktop and I’m just a one person show for the stuff I do at home.

So, what is CI and why should you use it. CI is a means by which you can have an autonomous process running somewhere either on your machine, server, cloud computing platform, server farm, you name it that will take your code and compile it.  Big whoop-dee-do you say I can do that by just building from my desktop in my IDE.  Ok, that’s great if you are a one person shop.  But what happens if you don’t get the latest from your source control and yeah it builds with the code you have but your buddy in the cube across from you just changed everything.  Now your build won’t work but you don’t find out till later when somebody says something.  This is where CI comes into play.  It does not remove the build check from your box.  You should always do that.  Where CI comes in is a sanity check and a means to automate tedious tasks.  Using the scenario above what happens when two people check in code at the same time such that you both think everything is working but then in the morning you get latest and bam nothing compiles.  Wouldn’t it have been nice to have something email you telling you that it broke and maybe even why.  What about unit tests.  Do you use them, run them, all the time, some of the time, etc.  You could have all this automated for you upfront.

Now setting up a CI system is an upfront task, yes it takes some time, yes there could be integration issues with your code base, yes you may need to change the way you build code.  But in the end it’s all worth it.  Once you get onto a CI system and everything is up and running you will start to get a sense of peace.  Not only that but you will quickly come to rely upon it.  It becomes that great little tool that you wish you had found sooner.

Now the catch.  If you don’t use a Source Control provider at the minimum CI wont’ do much for you.  You really should be using source control.  This comes back into the you MUST do this category.  Again I don’t care if you are just one person or a whole company.  You NEED source control.

Why is this important if you are a single person.  Well what happens when you inadvertantly delete a folder with code and you had no backup.  Come on how many tech people do you know who actively backup there stuff?  If it’s not automated we don’t usually do it.  Let’s even say that you are working on some project that you might want to sell.  How do you know if you have everything.  Just because your folder is there doesn’t count.  What happens if you need to have somebody help you code the app, so you just went from being a one person show to a small team.  If you have source control your golden.  Just give them access and away you go.  It is an important process and does not need to be strictly used for source code.  I’ve used it for word docs so I can go back and pull say a version 1 of a requirement spec to show the business unit / partner how things have changed over the course of say a year or even a month.  You just never know.

CI needs source control.  It provides a means by which you can have a 3rd party verify your code base.  In a single person shop it can tell you if you have really checked in all your code.  So let’s say you the one man team are working on two or more computers.  If you have source control it’s easy to share all your code across the wire and know that you have everything because your CI build is working based on what is in the repository.

Another good use of CI is that in most tools you can even setup scheduled builds, say like a nightly build.  What if you have a project where you want to provide a nightly build to people.  You could setup your build script to actually take all your code build it and zip it.  The CI server can do this for you.  So no late nights, waiting for people to finish.  You can then even have the CI server send you emails when it succeeds or fails.

The advantages to running CI and source control are to many to number.  If you haven’t ever used them I suggest you do so.  Go get Subversion and TeamCity at the minimum and install them.  Work through them, play with them, and use them.  They will save you time, money, and effort in the end.

In the next posts I hope to show you how to get a subversion installation up and running on Windows along with configuring TeamCity to use the same setup.  I’ll even start posting some topics on using nAnt and unit testing.

The more we can test and automate our build and deployments the more time we can spend actually coding our solutions.

Join the Darkside…

Posted on January 19th, 2008


Not that long ago I saw a post on one of the blogs out there about joining the DarkSide for Visual Studio.  I’m proud to say that I’ve been a Dark Sider now for over 10 years…  Yeah I know that’s before Visual Studio.net.  Prior to that I did a lot of VB and VBA work and I used a dark color scheme there as well.  Listed below is a screenshot of my dark scheme.  Which you can also get here for VS2005.  The font I am using here is the BitStream Vera Sans Mono which you can get here.

So come on over to the darkside and give us a try. :)

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