Hosting DNX RC1 Web Applications in IIS Express

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Here’s the situation:

  • I have a .NET Core / ASP.NET Core (DNX) web app. (Currently it’s an RC1 app.)
  • When I start it in Visual Studio, I get IIS Express listening for requests and handing off to DNX.
  • When I start the app from a command line, I want the same experience as VS - IIS Express listening and handing off to DNX.

Now, I know I can just dnx web and get Kestrel to work from a simple self-host perspective. I really want IIS Express here. Searching around, I’m not the only one who does, though everyone’s reasons are different.

Since the change to the IIS hosting model you can’t really do the thing that the ASP.NET Music Store was doing where you copy the AspNet.Loader.dll to your bin folder and have magic happen when you start IIS Express.

When Visual Studio starts up your application, it actually creates an all-new applicationhost.config file with some special entries that allow things to work. I’m going to tell you how to update your per-user IIS Express applicationhost.config file so things can work outside VS just like they do inside.

There are two pieces to this:

  1. Update your applicationhost.config (one time) to add the httpPlatformHandler module so IIS Express can “proxy” to DNX.
  2. Use appcmd.exe to point applications to IIS Express.
  3. Set environment variables and start IIS Express using the application names you configured using appcmd.exe

Let’s walk through each step.

applicationhost.config Updates

Before you can host DNX apps in IIS Express, you need to update your default IIS Express applicationhost.config to know about the httpPlatformHandler module that DNX uses to start up its child process.

You only have to do this one time. Once you have it in place, you’re good to go and can just configure your apps as needed.

To update the applicationhost.config file I used the XML transform mechanism you see in web.config transforms - those web.Debug.config and web.Release.config deals. However, I didn’t want to go through MSBuild for it so I did it in PowerShell.

First, save this file as applicationhost.dnx.xml - this is the set of transforms for applicationhost.config that the PowerShell script will use.

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<configuration xmlns:xdt="">
        <sectionGroup name="system.webServer"
            <section name="httpPlatform"
                     xdt:Transform="InsertIfMissing" />
    <location path=""
                <add name="httpPlatformHandler"
                     xdt:Transform="InsertIfMissing" />
            <add name="httpPlatformHandler"
                 image="C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Web Tools\HttpPlatformHandler\HttpPlatformHandler.dll"
                 xdt:Transform="InsertIfMissing" />

I have it structured so you can run it over and over without corrupting the configuration - so if you forget and accidentally run the transform twice, don’t worry, it’s cool.

Here’s the PowerShell script you’ll use to run the transform. Save this as Merge.ps1 in the same folder as applicationhost.dnx.xml:

function script:Merge-XmlConfigurationTransform



    Add-Type -Path "${env:ProgramFiles(x86)}\MSBuild\Microsoft\VisualStudio\v14.0\Web\Microsoft.Web.XmlTransform.dll"

    $transformableDocument = New-Object 'Microsoft.Web.XmlTransform.XmlTransformableDocument'
    $xmlTransformation = New-Object 'Microsoft.Web.XmlTransform.XmlTransformation' -ArgumentList "$TransformFile"

        $transformableDocument.PreserveWhitespace = $false
        $transformableDocument.Load($SourceFile) | Out-Null
        $xmlTransformation.Apply($transformableDocument) | Out-Null
        $transformableDocument.Save($OutputFile) | Out-Null

$script:ApplicationHostConfig = Join-Path -Path ([System.Environment]::GetFolderPath([System.Environment+SpecialFolder]::MyDocuments)) -ChildPath "IISExpress\config\applicationhost.config"
Merge-XmlConfigurationTransform -SourceFile $script:ApplicationHostConfig -TransformFile (Join-Path -Path $PSScriptRoot -ChildPath applicationhost.dnx.xml) -OutputFile "$($script:ApplicationHostConfig).tmp"
Move-Item -Path "$($script:ApplicationHostConfig).tmp" -Destination $script:ApplicationHostConfig -Force

Run that script and transform your applicationhost.config.

Note that the HttpPlatformHandler isn’t actually a DNX-specific thing. It’s an IIS 8+ module that can be used for any sort of proxying/process management situation. However, it doesn’t come set up by default on IIS Express so this adds it in.

Now you’re set for the next step.

Configure Apps with IIS Express

I know you can run IIS Express with a bunch of command line parameters, and if you want to do that, go for it. However, it’s just a bunch easier if you set it up as an app within IIS Express so you can more easily launch it.

Set up applications pointing to the wwwroot folder.

A simple command to set up an application looks like this:

"C:\Program Files (x86)\IIS Express\appcmd.exe" add app /"MyApplication" /path:/ /physicalPath:C:\some\folder\src\MyApplication\wwwroot

Whether you use the command line parameters to launch every time or set up your app like this, make sure the path points to the wwwroot folder.

Set Environment Variables and Start IIS Express

If you look at your web.config file in wwwroot you’ll see something like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
            <add name="httpPlatformHandler"
                 resourceType="Unspecified" />
        <httpPlatform processPath="%DNX_PATH%"
                      startupTimeLimit="3600" />

The important bit there are the two variables DNX_PATH and DNX_ARGS.

  • DNX_PATH points to the dnx.exe executable for the runtime you want for your app.
  • DNX_ARGS are the arguments to dnx.exe, as if you were running it on a command line.

A very simple PowerShell script that will launch an IIS Express application looks like this:

$env:DNX_PATH = "$($env:USERPROFILE)\.dnx\runtimes\dnx-clr-win-x86.1.0.0-rc1-update1\bin\dnx.exe"
$env:DNX_ARGS = "-p `"C:\some\folder\src\MyApplication`" web"
Start-Process "${env:ProgramFiles(x86)}\IIS Express\iisexpress.exe" -ArgumentList "/site:MyApplication"

Obviously you’ll want to set the runtime version and paths accordingly, but this is basically the equivalent of running dnx web and having IIS Express use the site settings you configured above as the listening endpoint.