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MSBuild Targets


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Targets group tasks together in a particular order and allow the build process to be factored into smaller units. For example, one target may delete all files in the output directory to prepare for the build, while another compiles the inputs for the project and places them in the empty directory. For more information on tasks, see Tasks.

Declaring Targets in the Project File

Targets are declared in a project file with the Target element. For example, the following XML creates a target named Construct, which then calls the Csc task with the Compile item type.

<Target Name="Construct">  
    <Csc Sources="@(Compile)" />  

Like MSBuild properties, targets can be redefined. For example,

<Target Name="AfterBuild" >  
    <Message Text="First occurrence" />  
<Target Name="AfterBuild" >  
    <Message Text="Second occurrence" />  

If AfterBuild executes, it displays only "Second occurrence".

Target Build Order

Targets must be ordered if the input to one target depends on the output of another target. There are several ways to specify the order in which targets run.

  • Initial targets

  • Default targets

  • First target

  • Target dependencies

  • BeforeTargets and AfterTargets (MSBuild 4.0)

    A target never runs twice during a single build, even if a subsequent target in the build depends on it. Once a target runs, its contribution to the build is complete.

    For details and more information about the target build order, see Target Build Order.

Target Batching

A target element may have an Outputs attribute which specifies metadata in the form %(Metadata). If so, MSBuild runs the target once for each unique metadata value, grouping or "batching" the items that have that metadata value. For example,

    <Reference Include="System.Core">  
    <Reference Include="System.Xml.Linq">  
    <Reference Include="Microsoft.CSharp">  
<Target Name="AfterBuild"  
    <Message Text="Reference:  
      @(Reference->'%(RequiredTargetFramework)')" />  

batches the Reference items by their RequiredTargetFramework metadata. The output of the target looks like this:

Reference: 3.5;3.5  
Reference: 4.0  

Target batching is seldom used in real builds. Task batching is more common. For more information, see Batching.

Incremental Builds

Incremental builds are builds that are optimized so that targets with output files that are up-to-date with respect to their corresponding input files are not executed. A target element can have both Inputs and Outputs attributes, indicating what items the target expects as input, and what items it produces as output.

If all output items are up-to-date, MSBuild skips the target, which significantly improves the build speed. This is called an incremental build of the target. If only some files are up-to-date, MSBuild executes the target without the up-to-date items. This is called a partial incremental build of the target. For more information, see Incremental Builds.

See Also

MSBuild Concepts
How to: Use the Same Target in Multiple Project Files