MSBuild Tasks

A build platform needs the ability to execute any number of actions during the build process. MSBuild uses tasks to perform these actions. A task is a unit of executable code used by MSBuild to perform atomic build operations.

The MSBuild XML project file format cannot fully execute build operations on its own, so task logic must be implemented outside of the project file.

The execution logic of a task is implemented as a .NET class that implements the ITask interface, which is defined in the Microsoft.Build.Framework namespace.

The task class also defines the input and output parameters available to the task in the project file. All public settable non-static non-abstract properties exposed by the task class can be accessed in the project file by placing a corresponding attribute with the same name on the Task element.

You can write your own task by authoring a managed class that implements the ITask interface. For more information, see Task Writing.

Before executing a task in your project file, you must first map the type in the assembly that implements the task to the task name with the UsingTask element. This lets MSBuild know where to look for the execution logic of your task when it finds it in your project file.

To execute a task in an MSBuild project file, create an element with the name of the task as a child of a Target element. If a task accepts parameters, these are passed as attributes of the element.

MSBuild item lists and properties can be used as parameters. For example, the following code calls the MakeDir task and sets the value of the Directories property of the MakeDir object equal to the value of the BuildDir property declared in the previous example.

<Target Name="MakeBuildDirectory">
    <MakeDir
        Directories="$(BuildDir)" />
</Target>

Tasks can also return information to the project file, which can be stored in items or properties for later use. For example, the following code calls the Copy task and stores the information from the CopiedFiles output property in the SuccessfullyCopiedFiles item list.

<Target Name="CopyFiles">
    <Copy
        SourceFiles="@(MySourceFiles)"
        DestinationFolder="@(MyDestFolder)">
        <Output
            TaskParameter="CopiedFiles"
            ItemName="SuccessfullyCopiedFiles"/>
     </Copy>
</Target>

MSBuild ships with many tasks such as Copy, which copies files, MakeDir, which creates directories, and Csc, which compiles Visual C# source code files. For a complete list of available tasks and usage information, see MSBuild Task Reference.

MSBuild looks for tasks in several locations. The first location is in files with the extension .OverrideTasks stored in the .NET Framework directories. Tasks in these files override any other tasks with the same names, including tasks in the project file. The second location is in files with the extension .Tasks in the .NET Framework directories. If the task is not found in either of these locations, the task in the project file is used.

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