Format Configuration Files on Build

net, build, xml comments edit

We have a large group of devs all working on a single web application. As part of that, we have different folks all working in different branches, making changes to configuration files.

Visual Studio does a nice job of letting you keep code formatted via plugins like CodeRush and PowerCommands (“format on save”). Config files? Not so much.

As you can imagine, this creates no end of churn in merge conflicts as things switch from tabs to spaces and back, NuGet mucks around with dependency redirects, and entries get added and removed.

To address some of this, I decided to add some automatic config file formatting to our build so when you run the build, things automatically get cleaned up. Here’s how you can do this, too.

First, you’ll need a copy of HTML Tidy. HTML Tidy actually does work on config file XML as well as HTML as long as you specify that it’s not processing HTML. I grabbed this Windows executable since the main installer site seems to be gone.

Next, get the MSBuild Community Tasks in your build. There’s a nice FileUpdate task that will help during formatting and you’ll need it.

Finally, add the MSBuild script to your build. I have mine set up as a separate target that gets called just before compiling things.

<Target Name="FormatConfig">
      Exclude="$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)\**\packages.config;$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)\**\NuGet.config;$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)\**\repositories.config" />
    Command="tidy.exe --input-xml yes --output-xml yes --preserve-entities yes --indent yes --indent-spaces 4 --input-encoding utf8 --indent-attributes yes --wrap 0 &quot;%(ConfigFiles.FullPath)&quot; > &quot;%(ConfigFiles.FullPath).formatted&quot;"
    WorkingDirectory="path\to\tidy\folder" />
    ReplacementText="&lt;add $1=&quot;$2&quot; value=&quot;$3&quot; /&gt;" />
    SourceFiles="%(ConfigFiles.FullPath).formatted" />
  <Delete Files="%(ConfigFiles.FullPath).formatted" />

This block of script…

  • Locates all of the config files to format. I’m formatting every config file except the ones associated with NuGet because I don’t manually tweak those. If you have other config files to format, include those in the ConfigFiles item.
  • Executes tidy.exe against the config files. The options here indicate that I’m processing XML, I want it nicely indented with four spaces, and I want attributes nicely wrapped and indented. You can modify the settings yourself if this isn’t to your taste. Formatted file output gets created as a new file with the original filename suffixed by “formatted”, like “Web.config.formatted” so if anything goes wrong, it didn’t make changes to the actual item.
  • FileUpdate cleans up simple name/value pairs. The downside to wrapping attributes is that simple name/value pairs get broken across lines. This makes things like appSettings harder to read, not easier. This little regex action running after tidy puts them back on one line.
  • Replaces the original files with the nicely formatted versions. Simple copy/overwrite and delete of the temp file.

All in all, it’s pretty simple to get working and the end result is nice. Now as long as you can maintain a consistent element order in your config files, you’ll not get a merge conflict due to file formatting.