But it works on my PC!

The random thoughts of Richard Fennell on technology and software development

Updates to my StyleCop task for VSTS/TFS 2015.2

Tracking the current version of StyleCop is a bit awkward. Last week I got an automated email from CodePlex saying had been released . I thought this was the most up to date version, so upgraded my StyleCop command line wrapper and my VSTS StyleCop task from to

However, I was wrong about the current version. I had not realised that the StyleCop team  had forked the code onto GitHub. GitHub is now the home of the Visual Studio 2015 and C# 6 development of StyleCop, while Codeplex remains the home of the legacy Visual Studio versions. I had only upgraded to a legacy patch version, not the current version.

So I upgraded my StyleCop Command Line tool and my VSTS StyleCop task to wrapper, thus I think bringing me up to date.

How to build a connection string from other parameters within MSDeploy packages to avoid repeating yourself in Release Management variables

Whilst working with the new Release Management features in VSTS/TFS 2015.2 I found I needed to pass in configuration variables i.e. server name, Db name, UID and Password to create a SQL server via an Azure Resource Management Template release step and a connection string to the same SQL instance for a web site’s web.config, set using an MSDeploy release step using token replacement (as discussed in this post)

Now I could just create RM configuration variables for both the connection string and ARM settings,



However, this seems wrong for a couple of reason

  1. You should not repeat your self, too easy to get the two values out of step
  2. I don’t really want to obfuscate the whole of a connection string in RM, when only a password really needs to be hidden (note the connection string variable is not set as secure in the above screenshot)

What did not work

I first considered nesting the RM variables, e.g. setting a the connection string variable to be equal to ‘Server=tcp: $(DatabaseServer).database.windows.net,1433;Database=$(DatabaseName)….’, but this does not give the desired results, the S(DatabaseServer) and $(DatabaseName) variables are not expanded at runtime, you just get a string with the variable names in it.

How I got want I was after….

(In this post as a sample I am using the Fabrikam Fiber solution. This means I need to provide a value for the FabrikamFiber-Express connection string)

I wanted to build the connection string from the other variables in the MSDeploy package. So to get the behaviour I want…

  1. In Visual Studio load the Fabrikam web site solution.
  2. In the web project, use the publish option to create a publish profile use the ‘WebDeploy package’ option.
  3. If you publish this package you end up with a setparameter.xml file containing the default connection string
    <setParameter name="FabrikamFiber-Express-Web.config Connection String" value="Your value”/>
    Where ‘your value’ is the value you set in the Publish wizard. So to use this I would need to pass in a whole connection string, where I only want to pass parts of this string
  4. To add bespoke parameters to an MSDeploy package you add a parameter.xml file to the project in Visual Studio (I wrote a Visual Studio Extension that help add this file, but you can create it by hand). My tool will create the parameters.xml file based on the AppSettings block of the projects Web.config. So if you have a web.config containing the following
        <add key="Location" value="DEVPC" />
    It will create a parameters.xml file as follows
    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
      <parameter defaultValue="__LOCATION__" description="Description for Location" name="Location" tags="">
        <parameterentry kind="XmlFile" match="/configuration/appSettings/add[@key='Location']/@value" scope="\\web.config$" />
  5. If we publish at this point we will get a setparameters.xml file containing
    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
      <setParameter name="IIS Web Application Name" value="__Sitename__" />
      <setParameter name="Location" value="__LOCATION__" />
      <setParameter name="FabrikamFiber-Express-Web.config Connection String" value="__FabrikamFiberWebContext__" />
    This is assuming I used the publish wizard to set the site name to __SiteName__ and the DB connection string to __FabrikamFiberWebContext__
  6. Next step is to add my DB related parameters to the paramaters.xml file, this I do by hand, my tool does not help
    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
      <parameter defaultValue="__LOCATION__" description="Description for Location" name="Location" tags="">
        <parameterentry kind="XmlFile" match="/configuration/appSettings/add[@key='Location']/@value" scope="\\web.config$" />

      <parameter name="Database Server" defaultValue="__sqlservername__"></parameter>
      <parameter name="Database Name" defaultValue="__databasename__"></parameter>
      <parameter name="Database User" defaultValue="__SQLUser__"></parameter>
      <parameter name="Database Password" defaultValue="__SQLPassword__"></parameter>
  7. If I publish again, this time the new variables also appear in the setparameters .xml file
  8. Now I need to supress the auto generated creation of the connection string  parameter, and replace it with a parameter that uses the other parameters to generate the connection string. You would think this was a case of added more text to the parameters.xml file, but that does not work. If you add the block you would expect (making sure the name matches the auto generated connection string name) as below
      defaultValue="Server=tcp:{Database Server}.database.windows.net,1433;Database={Database Name};User ID={Database User}@{Database Server};Password={Database Password};Encrypt=True;TrustServerCertificate=False;Connection Timeout=30;"
      description="Enter the value for FabrikamFiber-Express connection string"
      name="FabrikamFiber-Express-Web.config Connection String"
        scope="\\web.config$" />

    It does add the entry to setparameters.xml, but this blocks the successful operations at deployment. It seems that if a value needs to be generated from other variables there can be no entry for it in the setparameters.xml. Documentation hints you can set the Tag to ‘Hidden’ but this does not appear to work.

    One option would be to let the setparameters.xml file be generated and then remove the offending line prior to deployment but this feels wrong and prone to human error
  9. To get around this you need to added a file name <projectname>.wpp.target to the same folder as the project (and add it to the project). In this file place the following
    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
    <Project ToolsVersion="4.0" xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/developer/msbuild/2003">
    <Target Name="DeclareCustomParameters"
          <MsDeployDeclareParameters Include="FabrikamFiber-Express">
            <Description>Enter the value for FabrikamFiber-Express connection string</Description>
            <DefaultValue>Server=tcp:{Database Server}.database.windows.net,1433;Database={Database Name};User ID={Database User}@{Database Server};Password={Database Password};Encrypt=True;TrustServerCertificate=False;Connection Timeout=30;</DefaultValue>

    The first block declares the parameter I wish to use to build the connection string. Note the ‘ExcludeFromSetParameter’ setting so this parameter is not in the setparameters.xml file. This is what you cannot set in the parameters.xml

    The second block stops the auto generation of the connection string. (Thanks to Sayed Ibrahim Hashimi for various posts on getting this working)
  10. Once the edits are made unload and reload the project as the <project>. wpp.targets file is cached on loading by Visual Studio.
  11. Make sure the publish profile is not set to generate a connection string

  12. Now when you publish the project, you should get a setparameters.xml file with only the four  SQL variables, the AppSettings variables and the site name.
    (Note I have set the values for all of these to the format  __NAME__, this is so I can use token replacement in  my release pipeline)
    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
      <setParameter name="IIS Web Application Name" value="__Sitename__" />
      <setParameter name="Location" value="__LOCATION__" />
      <setParameter name="Database Server" value="__sqlservername__" />
      <setParameter name="Database Name" value="__databasename__" />
      <setParameter name="Database User" value="__SQLUser__" />
      <setParameter name="Database Password" value="__SQLPassword__" />
  13. If you deploy the web site, the web.config should have your values from the setparameters.xml file in it
       <add key="Location" value="__LOCATION__" />
         <add name="FabrikamFiber-Express" connectionString="Server=tcp:__sqlservername__.database.windows.net,1433;Database=__databasename__;User ID=__SQLUser__@__sqlservername__;Password=__SQLPassword__;Encrypt=True;TrustServerCertificate=False;Connection Timeout=30;" providerName="System.Data.SqlClient" />

You are now in a position manage the values of the setparameters.xml file however you wish. My choice is to use the ‘Replace Tokens’ build/release tasks from Colin’s ALM Corner Build & Release Tools Extension, as this tasks correctly handles secure/encrypted RM variables as long as you use the ‘Secret Tokens’ option on the advanced menu.




So yes, it all seems a but too complex, but it does work, and I think it makes for a cleaner deployment solution, less prone to human error. Which is what any DevOps solution must always strive for.

Depending on the values you put in the <project>.wpp.targets you can parameterise the connection string however you need.

Announcing release of my vNext build tasks as extensions in the VSTS/TFS Marketplace

In the past I have posted about the vNext TFS build tasks I have made available via my GitHub repo. Over the past few weeks I have been making an effort to repackage these as extensions in the new VSTS/TFS Marketplace, thus making them easier to consume in VSTS or using the new extensions support in TFS 2015.2

This it is an ongoing effort, but I pleased to announce the release of the first set of extension.

  • Generate Release Notes – generates a markdown release notes file based on work items associated with a build
  • Pester Test Runner – allows Pester based tests to be run in a build
  • StyleCop Runner – allows a StyleCop analysis to be made of files in a build
  • Typemock TMockRunner – used TMockrunner to wrapper MSTest, allowing Typemock test to be run on a private build agent

To try to avoid people going down the wrong path I intend to go back through my older blog posts on these tasks to update them to point at new resources.

Hope you find these tasks useful. If you find any log any issues on Github

A vNext build task and PowerShell script to generate release notes as part of TFS vNext build.

Updated 22 Mar 2016: This task is now available as an extension in the VSTS marketplace

A common request I get from clients is how can I create a custom set of release notes for a build? The standard TFS build report often includes the information required (work items and changesets/commits associate with the build) but not in a format that is easy to redistribute. So I decided to create a set to tools to try to help.

The tools are available on my github account in two forms:

Both generate a markdown release notes file based on a template passed into the tool. The output report being something like the following:

Release notes for build SampleSolution.Master

Build Number: 20160229.3
Build started: 29/02/16 15:47:58
Source Branch: refs/heads/master

Associated work items
  • Task 60 [Assigned by: Bill <TYPHOONTFS\Bill>] Design WP8 client
Associated change sets/commits
  • ID bf9be94e61f71f87cb068353f58e860b982a2b4b Added a template
  • ID 8c3f8f9817606e48f37f8e6d25b5a212230d7a86 Start of the project

The Template

The use of a template allows the user to define the layout and fields shown in the release notes document. It is basically a markdown file with tags to denote the fields (the properties on the JSON response objects returned from the VSTS REST API) to be replaced when the tool generates the report file.

The only real change from standard markdown is the use of the @@TAG@@ blocks to denote areas that should be looped over i.e: the points where we get the details of all the work items and commits associated with the build.

#Release notes for build $defname  
**Build Number**  : $($build.buildnumber)   
**Build started** : $("{0:dd/MM/yy HH:mm:ss}" -f [datetime]$build.startTime)    
**Source Branch** : $($build.sourceBranch) 
###Associated work items 
* **$($widetail.fields.'System.WorkItemType') $($widetail.id)** [Assigned by: $($widetail.fields.'System.AssignedTo')] $($widetail.fields.'System.Title') 
###Associated change sets/commits 
* **ID $($csdetail.changesetid)$($csdetail.commitid)** $($csdetail.comment)   

Note 1: We can return the builds startTime and/or finishTime, remember if you are running the template within an automated build the build by definition has not finished so the finishTime property is empty to can’t be parsed. This does not stop the generation of the release notes, but an error is logged in the build logs.

Note 2: We have some special handling in the @@CSLOOP@@ section, we include both the changesetid and the commitid values, only one of there will contain a value, the other is blank. Thus allowing the template to work for both GIT and TFVC builds.

What is done behind the scenes is that each line of the template is evaluated as a line of PowerShell in turn, the in memory versions of the objects are used to provide the runtime values. The available objects to get data from at runtime are

  • $build – the build details returned by the REST call Get Build Details
  • $workItems – the list of work items associated with the build returned by the REST call Build Work Items
  • $widetail – the details of a given work item inside the loop returned by the REST call Get Work Item
  • $changesets – the list of changeset/commit associated with the build build returned by the REST call Build Changes
  • $csdetail – the details of a given changeset/commit inside the loop by the REST call to Changes or Commit depending on whether it is a GIT or TFVC based build

There is a templatedump.md file that just dumps out all the available fields in the PowerShell repo to help you find all the available options

Differences between the script and the task

The main difference between the PowerShell script and the build task is the way the connection is made to the REST API. Within the build task we pickup the access token from the build agent’s context. For the PowerShell script we need to pass credentials in some form or the other, either via parameters or using the default Windows credentials.



The script can be used in a number of ways

To generate a report for a specific build on VSTS

 .\Create-ReleaseNotes.ps1 -collectionUrl https://yoursite.visualstudio.com/defaultcollection -teamproject "Scrum Project" –defname "BuildTest" -outputfile "releasenotes.md" -templatefile "template.md" -buildnumber "yourbuildnum" -password yourpersonalaccesstoken

Or for the last successful build just leave out the buildnumber

 .\Create-ReleaseNotes.ps1 -collectionUrl https://yoursite.visualstudio.com/defaultcollection -teamproject "Scrum Project" –defname "BuildTest" -outputfile "releasenotes.md" -templatefile "template.md" -password yourpersonalaccesstoken

Authentication options

  1. VSTS with a personal access token – just provide the token using the password parameter
  2. If you are using VSTS and want to use alternate credentials just pass a username and password
  3. If your are using the script with an on-premises TFS just leave off both the username and password and the Windows default credentials will be used.

In all cases the debug output is something like the following

VERBOSE: Getting details of build [BuildTest] from server [https://yoursite.visualstudio.com/defaultcollection/Scrum Project]
VERBOSE: Getting build number [20160228.2]
VERBOSE:    Get details of workitem 504
VERBOSE:    Get details of changeset/commit ba7e613388c06b8440c9e7601a8d6fa29d588051
VERBOSE:    Get details of changeset/commit 52570b2abb80b61a4a629dfd31c0ce071c487709
VERBOSE: Writing output file  for build [BuildTest] [20160228.2].

You should expect to get a report like the example shown at the start of this post.

Build Task

The build task needs to be built and uploaded as per the standard process detailed on my vNext Build’s Wiki (am considering creating a build extensions package to make this easier, keep an eye on this blog)

Once the tool is upload to your TFS or VSTS server it can be added to a build process


The task takes two parameters

  • The output file name which defaults to $(Build.ArtifactStagingDirectory)\releasenotes.md
  • The template file name, which should point to a file in source control.

There is no need to pass credentials, this is done automatically

When run you should expect to see a build logs as below and a releases notes file in your drops location.



So I hope some people find these tools useful in generating release notes, let me know if they help and how they could be improved.

Running Pester PowerShell tests in the VSTS hosted build service

Updated 22 Mar 2016 This task is available in the VSTS Marketplace

If you are using Pester to unit test your PowerShell code then there is a good chance you will want to include it in your automated build process. To do this, you need to get Pester installed on your build machine. The usual options would be

If you own the build agent VM then any of these options are good, you can even write the NuGet restore into your build process itself. However there is a problem, both the first two options need administrative access as they put the Pester module in the $PSModules folder (under ‘Program Files’); so these can’t be used on VSTS’s hosted build system, where your are not an administrator

So this means you are left with copying the module (and associated functions folder) to some local working folder and running it manually; but do you really want to have to store the Pester module in your source repo?

My solution was to write a vNext build tasks to deploy the Pester files and run the Pester tests.


The task takes two parameters

  • The root folder to look for test scripts with the naming convention  *.tests.ps1. Defaults to $(Build.SourcesDirectory)\*
  • The results file name, defaults to $(Build.SourcesDirectory)\Test-Pester.XML

The Pester task does not in itself upload the test results, it just throws and error if tests fails. It relies on the standard test results upload task. Add this task and set

  • it to look for nUnit format files
  • it already defaults to the correct file name pattern.
  • IMPORTANT: As the Pester task will stop the build on an error you need to set the ‘Always run’ to make sure the results are published.


Once all this is added to your build you can see your Pester test results in the build summary



You can find the task in my vNextBuild repo

A vNext build task to get artifacts from a different TFS server

With the advent of TFS 2015.2 RC (and the associated VSTS release) we have seen the short term removal of the ‘External TFS Build’ option for the Release Management artifacts source. This causes me a bit of a problem as I wanted to try out the new on premises vNext based Release Management features on 2015.2, but don’t want to place the RC on my production server (though there is go live support). Also the ability to get artifacts from an on premises TFS instance when using VSTS open up a number of scenarios, something I know some of my clients had been investigating.

To get around this blocker I have written a vNext build task that does the getting of a build artifact from the UNC drop. It supports both XAML and vNext builds. Thus replacing the built in artifact linking features.


To use the new task

  • Get the task from my vNextBuild repo (build using the instructions on the repo’s wiki) and install it on your TFS 2015.2 instance (also use the notes on the repo’s wiki).
  • In your build, disable the auto getting of the artifacts for the environment (though in some scenarios you might choose to use both the built in linking and my custom task)


  • Add the new task to your environment’s release process, the parameters are
    • TFS Uri – the Uri of the TFS server inc. The TPC name
    • Team Project – the project containing the source build
    • Build Definition name – name of the build (can be XAML or vNext)
    • Artifact name – the name of the build artifact (seems to be ‘drop’ if a XAML build)
    • Build Number – default is to get the latest successful completed build, but you can pass a specific build number
    • Username/Password – if you don’t want to use default credentials (the user the build agent is running as), these are the ones used. These are passed as ‘basic auth’ so can be used against an on prem TFS (if basic auth is enabled in IIS)  or VSTS (with alternate credentials enabled).



When the task runs it should drop artifacts in the same location as the standard mechanism, so can be picked up by any other tasks on the release pipeline using a path similar to $(System.DefaultWorkingDirectory)\SABS.Master.CI\drop


The task in its current form does not provide any linking of artifacts to the build reports, or allow the selection of build versions when the release is created. This removing audit trail features.

However, it does provide a means to get a pair of TFS servers working together, so can certainly enable some R&D scenarios while we await 2015.2 to RTM and/or the ‘official’ linking of External TFS builds as artifacts

vNext Build editor filePath control always returns a path even if you did not set a value

You can use the filePath type in a vNext VSTS/TFS task as shown below 

     "name": "settingsFile",
     "type": "filePath",
     "label": "Settings File",
     "defaultValue": "",
     "required": false,
     "helpMarkDown": "Path to single settings files to use (as opposed to files in project folders)",

to present a file picker dialog in the build editor that allows the build editor to pick a file or folder in the build’s source repository


While doing some task development recently I found that this control did not behave as I had expected

  • If a value is explicitally set then the full local path to selected file or folder (on the build agent) is returned e.g. c:\agent\_work\3\s\yourfolder\yourfile.txt – just as expected
  • If you do not set a value, or set a value then remove your setting when you edit a build, then you don’t get an empty string, as I had expected. You get the path to the BUILD_SOURCESDIRECTORY e.g. c:\agent\_work\3\s – makes sense when you think about it.

So, if as in my case, you wanted to have specific behaviour only when this values was set to something other than the repo root you need to add some guard code

if ($settingsFile -eq $Env:BUILD_SOURCESDIRECTORY )
    $settingsFile = ""

Once I did this my task behaved as a needed, only running the code when the user had set an explicit value for the settings file.

A VSTS vNext build task to run StyleCop

Updated 22 Mar 2016 This tasks is available in the VSTS Marketplace

I have previously posted on how a PowerShell script can be used to run StyleCop as part of vNext VSTS/TFS build. Now I have more experience with vNext tasks it seemed a good time to convert this PowerShell script into a true task that can deploy StyleCop and making it far easier to expose the various parameters StyleCop allows.

To this end I have written a new StyleCop task that can be found in my vNext Build Repo, this has been built to use the release of StyleCop (so you don’t need to install StyleCop in the build machine, so it works well on VSTS).

To use this task:

  1. Clone the repo
  2. Build the tasks using Gulp
  3. Upload the task you require to your VSTS or TFS instance

Once this is done you can add the task to your build. You probably won’t need to set any parameters as long as you have settings.stylecop files to define your StyleCop ruleset in the same folders as your .CSPROJ files (or are happy default rulesets).

If you do want to set parameters your options are:

  • TreatStyleCopViolationsErrorsAsWarnings - Treat StyleCop violations errors as warnings, if set to False any StyleCop violations will cause the build to fail (default false).

And on the advanced panel

  • MaximumViolationCount - Maximum violations before analysis stops (default 1000)
  • ShowOutput - Sets the flag so StyleCop scanner outputs progress to the console (default false)
  • CacheResults - Cache analysis results for reuse (default false)
  • ForceFullAnalysis - Force complete re-analysis (default true)
  • AdditionalAddInPath - Path to any custom rule sets folder, the directory cannot be a sub directory of current directory at runtime as this is automatically scanned. This folder must contain your custom DLL and the Stylecop.dll and Stylecop.csharp.cs else you will get load errors
  • SettingsFile - Path to single settings files to use for all analysis (as opposed to settings.stylecop files in project folders)




When you run the build with the new task you sould expect to see a summary of the StyleCop run on the right


A new vNext task to run StyleCop

Update 6 Feb 2016 - I have made some major changes to this task to expose more parameters, have a look at this post that details the newer version

Today a good way to pull together all your measures of code quality is to run SonarQube within your automated build; in a .NET world this can show changes in quality over time for tools such as FxCop (Code Analysis) and StyleCop. However sometime you might just want to run one of these tools alone as part of your automated build. For Code Analysis this is easy, it is built into Visual Studio just set it as a property on the project. For StyleCop it is a bit more awkward as StyleCop was not designed to be run from the command line.

To get around this limitation I wrote a command line wrapper that could be used within a build process, see my blog post for details of how this could be used with vNext build.

Well that was all best part of a year ago. Now I have more experience with vNext build it seems wrong to use just a PowerShell script when I could create a build task that also deploys StyleCop. I have eventually got around to writing the task which you can find in my vNextBuild repo.

Once the task is uploaded to your TFS for VSTS instance, the StyleCop task can be added into any build process. The task picks up the file locations from the build environment variables and then hunts for StyleCop settings files (as detailed in my previous post). The only argument that needs to be set is whether the buidl should fail if there are violations



Once this is all setup the build can be run and the violations will be shown in the build report, whether the build fails or passes is down to how you set the flag for the handling of violations



Nuget restore fails to restore all the files on VSTS build if using project.json files

We are currently working on updating a Windows 8 application to be a Windows 10 Universal application. This has caused a few problem on a TFS vNext automated build box. The revised solution builds fine of the developers box and fine on the build VM if opened in Visual Studio, but fails if built via the VSTS vNext build CI MSBuild process showing loads of references missing.

Turns out the issue was due to Nuget versions.

The problem was that as part of the upgrade the solution had gained some new projects. These used the new project.json file to manage their Nuget references, as opposed to the old packages.config file. Visual Studio 2015 handles these OK, hence the build always working in the IDE, but you need Nuget.exe 3.0 or later for it to handle the new format. The version of Nuget installed as part of my vNext build agent was 2.8. So no wonder it had a problem.

To test my assumptions I added a Nuget Installer task to my build and set an explicit path to the newest version of Nuget.


Once this was done my build was fine.

So my solution options are

  1. Don’t use the agents shipped with TFS 2015, get newer ones fro VSTS this has a current version of Nuget (just make sure your agent/server combination is supported. I have had issues with the latest VSTS agent and a TFS 2015 RTM instance)
  2. Manually replace the version of Nuget.exe in my build agent tools folder – easy to forget you did but works
  3. Place a copy of the version of Nuget.exe I want on each build VM and reference it s path explicitly (as I did to diagnose the problem)

The first option is the best choice as it is always a good plan to keep build agents up to date