ClickOnce Publishing Process
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You can publish ClickOnce applications from Visual Studio 2008 using an SDK tool named the Manifest Generating and Editing tool (Mage) or a custom tool that uses the ClickOnce publishing APIs. Visual Studio exposes most of the capabilities needed for ClickOnce publishing. However, Visual Studio may not be available or desired for IT administrators who manage ClickOnce deployments on the server. Mage is designed to address most common administrative tasks for ClickOnce; it is a lightweight .NET Framework Windows-based application that can be given to your administrators. However, Mage requires too many very detailed steps, performed in the correct order, for common tasks such as modifying the application files listed in the application manifest. To make these tasks simpler, a custom utility is needed.
The Manifest Manager Utility sample utility included on CodePlex demonstrates how to use the ClickOnce publishing API to manage deployment and application manifests in a simpler way. This utility is used for updating application manifest file lists and deployment manifest settings in automated procedures for the How-to topics.
Figure 1 illustrates the typical structure for a ClickOnce application publication. It includes a root folder for the application, which contains the default deployment manifest (.application file). The default deployment manifest usually points to the most recently published version, but it can be changed to point to whichever version the administrator chooses. The root folder also contains the Setup.exe bootstrapper, which allows you to deploy prerequisites for your application that might require an installer or executable to run before deploying the application using ClickOnce. There is then a subfolder for the application specific files, under which you get a separate subfolder for each version that you publish. The publish version is a separate version than the application assembly version that identifies the publication as a whole. It is also used to determine when to update.
ClickOnce publish folder structure
Under each publish version's application files folder, you have another copy of the deployment manifest (.application file) that can be used to deploy specific versions to a client computer, or it can be copied to the root folder to cause a server-side rollback to a previous version. The application executable, in addition to any dependent libraries and resource files, will also be in this folder and will be suffixed by a .deploy file name extension. The application manifest (.exe.manifest) file is also contained in this folder and is referenced by the deployment manifest.
If you manually generate or update a ClickOnce application publication using either Mage or a custom tool, you are not constrained to this folder and file structure. For any particular ClickOnce publication, the chain of dependencies includes the following:
- It includes a deployment manifest that points to the application manifest through an embedded code base URL.
- It includes an application manifest that contains relative paths to each of the application files. These files must reside in the same folder or a subfolder from where the application manifest resides.
- It includes the application files themselves, usually with a .deploy file name extension appended to the file name to simplify mapping these files to MIME types on the deployment server. ClickOnce automatically strips off the .deploy file name extension on the client side after the file is downloaded.