Call an MSBuild Target Like a Function

net, gists, build comments edit

I’m working on building a bunch of projects that all follow a specific convention for naming, NuGet packaging, and so on. As part of that, I want to run the build for each component – from clean to package – all at once rather than clean everything, then build everything, then package everything. (For the sake of the article, let’s ignore whether that’s a good idea or not and just stick with me.)

MSBuild has batching, which sort of works like “for-each,” but in examples you see you can really only “batch” on tasks. Targets (groups of tasks) allow you to specify inputs and outputs, but the “outputs” list is assumed to be files, so if it finds the outputs are up to date, it won’t run that input.

Anyway, I found this article that explains how to sort of abuse the inputs and outputs on targets so you can effectively do for-each over a target.

First, create an item list with your inputs and metadata. It doesn’t have to be files. For your inputs, pass the list of parameters. For the outputs, put a dummy value that always evaluates to empty/null – that way it’s never seen as up to date and will always run.

Here’s a sample script:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<Project DefaultTargets="Start"
    <SomeValues Include="First">
    <SomeValues Include="Second">
  <Target Name="Start">
    <CallTarget Targets="Parameterized" />
  <Target Name="Parameterized" Inputs="@(SomeValues)" Outputs="%(Identity).Dummy">
    <Message Text="Item = %(SomeValues.Identity)" />
    <Message Text="Meta = %(SomeValues.Meta)" />
    <Message Text="---" />

The output, as you’ll see, is that the “Parameterized” target gets called once for each item in the group.

Build output window