Test Your Deployed Web Site Package with IIS Express and Visual Studio

net, vs, Web Development comments edit

With the ability to transform your web.config file when deploying your web site came, at least for me, a question: How do I test my web site’s behavior without deploying a whole copy of my web site?

I figured out a reasonable, if slightly kludgy, solution and I figured I’d share. The general idea is to have a project in Visual Studio that…

  • Acts as the point of entry for debugging the packaged version of the web site.
  • Automatically updates IIS Express configuration to point to the packaged web site.

What it allows you to do is hit F5 and IIS Express will start up pointed to the packaged version of the web site rather than the one in your source tree. It’ll have the transformed web.config (and any other build-time changes) so you’ll be debugging what would normally be deployed.

First, create an empty class library project in your solution. You won’t actually put code in here; it’s a marker that you can use as the Debug startup project. I called mine DebugPlaceholder.

Next, add a Project Reference in your debug placeholder project to all of the web sites you want to have set up automatically in IIS Express.

Now it’s time to manually edit the debug placeholder project a bit. Open the debug placeholder .csproj in a text editor.

Scroll down until you find the list of project references. Inside each ProjectReference node

  • Add a node called IISExpressUrl. Inside that node put the URL that IIS Express will host the site on.
  • Add a node called IISExpressBindings. This is another way of writing the URL, but in IIS binding format.

A sample modified ProjectReference node looks like this:

<ProjectReference Include="..\MyWebApplication\MyWebApplication.csproj">
  <Project>{8F2D1C2C-E12D-4880-B731-66F5051A6EF1}</Project>
  <Name>ChannelWebApplication</Name>
  <IISExpressUrl>http://localhost:22446</IISExpressUrl>
  <IISExpressBindings>http/*:22446:localhost</IISExpressBindings>
</ProjectReference>

Again, the URL and Bindings listed up there need to match (note the port in each matches) and they need to be unique for each project. (IIS Express can’t host multiple sites at the same listening destination.) The path to the project, the project GUID, and the project Name will, of course, be your own values that were put there when you added the project reference.

IMPORTANT: The endpoint you list in the project references can’t be the same as the one you have set up in the Web settings of your web application. The problem is that you can’t stop VS from launching IIS Express (or the Visual Studio dev server, or whatever) when you start debugging, so if you have your web application, say, configured to listen to port 22446 and you have your debug placeholder set to configure the deployed project to 22446, then you’ll get a failure. I’m not sure this is really a limitation since you probably shouldn’t have anything in your web app that’s glued to the specific port anyway.

What you just did was add some metadata to each project reference that you can use later. We’ll use it in the AfterBuild target.

Scroll down to almost the bottom of the debug placeholder .csproj and uncomment the AfterBuild target.

Inside the AfterBuild target, put these three lines:

<MSBuild Projects="%(ProjectReference.FullPath)" Targets="Package" Properties="Configuration=$(Configuration);Platform=$(Platform)" />
<Exec Command="&quot;$(MSBuildProgramFiles32)\IIS Express\appcmd.exe&quot; delete site %(ProjectReference.IISExpressUrl)" ContinueOnError="true" />
<Exec Command="&quot;$(MSBuildProgramFiles32)\IIS Express\appcmd.exe&quot; add site /name:&quot;%(ProjectReference.Name)&quot; /bindings:%(ProjectReference.IISExpressBindings) /physicalPath:&quot;%(ProjectReference.RootDir)%(ProjectReference.Directory)obj\$(Configuration)\Package\PackageTmp&quot;" />

What those do:

  • Run the “Package” target on the web application projects that you’ve referenced.
  • Deletes and then re-adds the IIS Express configuration that points to the referenced projects. (That way if you’ve got multiple copies of the source checked out, you’ll be sure to always be pointed to the one you’re working on.)

The key thing you’ll note is in that last line - we’re referring IIS Express to the obj folder for each web project where the packaging target stages files.

The last thing you need to do is choose one of the project references as the site you want to start up when debugging. That’s a limitation of this solution - you only get to choose one site to start. You’ll have to start and/or attach to the others manually. (On the other hand, if your solution only has one web site then it’s no big deal.)

Scroll up to the top of the debug placeholder .csproj file and add the following three properties to the very top PropertyGroup (the one without a Condition on it):

<StartAction>Program</StartAction>
<StartProgram>$(MSBuildProgramFiles32)\IIS Express\iisexpress.exe</StartProgram>
<StartArguments>/site:MyWebApplication</StartArguments>

This makes it so you’re checking in the information about what to start up when you debug rather than storing it in an external .csproj.user file. You want to do this so it’s easy for everyone using the source to debug. Note that last property, StartArguments, contains the name of one of your project references. See how the Name property on the project reference matches the name of the site starting up?

Now just set the debug placeholder as your startup project and fire it up. The solution will build, your web application will run through a package process, and IIS Express will start up pointed to the deployed version of the app. Visual Studio will attach to it, and then it’s up to you to start up your browser and do your testing.

Below is an example DebugPlaceholder.csproj with the edits highlighted so you can see what a finished project looks like. Standard disclaimer applies: No warranty, no support, you’re on your own. Works on My Machine! Have fun!

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<Project ToolsVersion="4.0" DefaultTargets="Build" xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/developer/msbuild/2003">
  <PropertyGroup>
    <Configuration Condition=" '$(Configuration)' == '' ">Debug</Configuration>
    <Platform Condition=" '$(Platform)' == '' ">AnyCPU</Platform>
    <ProductVersion>8.0.30703</ProductVersion>
    <SchemaVersion>2.0</SchemaVersion>
    <ProjectGuid>{594FFDF6-6911-47DA-AE93-29CBCE757C19}</ProjectGuid>
    <OutputType>Library</OutputType>
    <AppDesignerFolder>Properties</AppDesignerFolder>
    <RootNamespace>DebugPlaceholder</RootNamespace>
    <AssemblyName>DebugPlaceholder</AssemblyName>
    <TargetFrameworkVersion>v4.0</TargetFrameworkVersion>
    <FileAlignment>512</FileAlignment>
    <StartAction>Program</StartAction>
    <StartProgram>$(MSBuildProgramFiles32)\IIS Express\iisexpress.exe</StartProgram>
    <StartArguments>/site:MyWebApplication</StartArguments>
  </PropertyGroup>
  <PropertyGroup Condition=" '$(Configuration)|$(Platform)' == 'Debug|AnyCPU' ">
    <DebugSymbols>true</DebugSymbols>
    <DebugType>full</DebugType>
    <Optimize>false</Optimize>
    <OutputPath>bin\Debug\</OutputPath>
    <DefineConstants>DEBUG;TRACE</DefineConstants>
    <ErrorReport>prompt</ErrorReport>
    <WarningLevel>4</WarningLevel>
  </PropertyGroup>
  <PropertyGroup Condition=" '$(Configuration)|$(Platform)' == 'Release|AnyCPU' ">
    <DebugType>pdbonly</DebugType>
    <Optimize>true</Optimize>
    <OutputPath>bin\Release\</OutputPath>
    <DefineConstants>TRACE</DefineConstants>
    <ErrorReport>prompt</ErrorReport>
    <WarningLevel>4</WarningLevel>
  </PropertyGroup>
  <ItemGroup>
    <Reference Include="System" />
    <Reference Include="System.Core" />
    <Reference Include="System.Xml.Linq" />
    <Reference Include="System.Data.DataSetExtensions" />
    <Reference Include="Microsoft.CSharp" />
    <Reference Include="System.Data" />
    <Reference Include="System.Xml" />
  </ItemGroup>
  <ItemGroup>
    <Compile Include="Properties\AssemblyInfo.cs" />
  </ItemGroup>
  <ItemGroup>
    <ProjectReference Include="..\MyWebApplication\MyWebApplication.csproj">
      <Project>{8F2D1C2C-E12D-4880-B731-66F5051A6EF1}</Project>
      <Name>MyWebApplication</Name>
      <IISExpressUrl>http://localhost:22446</IISExpressUrl>
      <IISExpressBindings>http/*:22446:localhost</IISExpressBindings>
    </ProjectReference>
  </ItemGroup>
  <Import Project="$(MSBuildToolsPath)\Microsoft.CSharp.targets" />
  <!-- To modify your build process, add your task inside one of the targets below and uncomment it. 
       Other similar extension points exist, see Microsoft.Common.targets.
  <Target Name="BeforeBuild">
  </Target>  -->
  <Target Name="AfterBuild">
    <MSBuild Projects="%(ProjectReference.FullPath)" Targets="Package" Properties="Configuration=$(Configuration);Platform=$(Platform)" />
    <Exec Command="&quot;$(MSBuildProgramFiles32)\IIS Express\appcmd.exe&quot; delete site %(ProjectReference.IISExpressUrl)" ContinueOnError="true" />
    <Exec Command="&quot;$(MSBuildProgramFiles32)\IIS Express\appcmd.exe&quot; add site /name:&quot;%(ProjectReference.Name)&quot; /bindings:%(ProjectReference.IISExpressBindings) /physicalPath:&quot;%(ProjectReference.RootDir)%(ProjectReference.Directory)obj\$(Configuration)\Package\PackageTmp&quot;" />
  </Target>
</Project>

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