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Standard and Custom Toolset Configurations


This article applies to Visual Studio 2015. If you're looking for the latest Visual Studio documentation, see Visual Studio documentation. We recommend upgrading to the latest version of Visual Studio. Download it here

An MSBuild Toolset contains references to tasks, targets, and tools that you can use to build an application project. MSBuild includes a standard Toolset, but you can also create custom Toolsets. For information about how to specify a Toolset, see Toolset (ToolsVersion)

Standard Toolset Configurations

MSBuild 12.0 includes the following standard Toolsets:

ToolsVersion Toolset Path (as specified in the MSBuildToolsPath or MSBuildBinPath build property)
2.0 Windows installation path\Microsoft.Net\Framework\v2.0.50727\
3.5 Windows installation path\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v3.5\
4.0 Windows installation path\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v4.0.30319\
12.0 %ProgramFiles%\MSBuild\12.0\bin

The ToolsVersion value determines which Toolset is used by a project that Visual Studio generates. In Visual Studio 2013 the default value is "12.0" (no matter what the version specified in the project file), but you can override that attribute by using the /toolsversion switch at a command prompt. For information about this attribute and other ways to specify the ToolsVersion, see Overriding ToolsVersion Settings.

If the ToolsVersion isn't specified, the registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\MSBuild\<Version Number>\DefaultToolsVersion defines the ToolsVersion, which is always 2.0.

The following registry keys specify the installation path of MSBuild.exe.

Registry Key Key Name String Key Value
\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\MSBuild\ToolsVersions\2.0|MSBuildToolsPath .NET Framework 2.0 Install Path
\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\ MSBuild\ToolsVersions\3.5|MSBuildToolsPath .NET Framework 3.5 Install Path
\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\ MSBuild\ToolsVersions\4.0|MSBuildToolsPath .NET Framework 4 Install Path
\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\ MSBuild\ToolsVersions\12.0|MSBuildToolsPath MSBuild Install Path


If the registry key in the previous table has a subkey, MSBuild uses it to determine the path of a sub-toolset may override the path in the parent toolset. The following subkey is an example:


If any properties are defined in both the base toolset and the selected sub-toolset, the property definitions in the sub-toolset are used. For example, the MSBuild 4.0 toolset defines SDK40ToolsPath to point to the 7.0A SDK, but the MSBuild 4.0\11.0 toolset defines the same property to point to the 8.0A SDK. If VisualStudioVersion is unset, SDK40ToolsPath would point to 7.0A, but if VisualStudioVersion is set to 11.0, the property would instead point to 8.0A.

The VisualStudioVersion build property indicates whether a sub-toolset becomes active. For example, a VisualStudioVersion value of "12.0" specifies the MSBuild 12.0 sub-toolset. For more information, see the Sub-toolsets section of Toolset (ToolsVersion).


We recommend that you avoid changing these settings. Nevertheless, you can add your own settings and define computer-wide custom toolset definitions, as the next section describes.

Custom Toolset Definitions

When a standard Toolset does not fulfill your build requirements, you can create a custom Toolset. For example, you may have a build lab scenario in which you must have a separate system for building Visual C++ projects. By using a custom Toolset, you can assign custom values to the ToolsVersion attribute when you create projects or run MSBuild.exe. By doing this, you can also use the $(MSBuildToolsPath) property to import .targets files from that directory, as well as defining your own custom toolset properties that can be used for any project that uses that toolset.

Specify a custom Toolset in the configuration file for MSBuild.exe (or for the custom tool that hosts the MSBuild engine if that is what you are using). For example, the configuration file for MSBuild.exe could include the following Toolset definition if you wished to override the default behavior of ToolsVersion 12.0.

<msbuildToolsets default="12.0">  
   <toolset toolsVersion="12.0">  
      <property name="MSBuildToolsPath"   
        value="C:\SpecialPath" />  

<msbuildToolsets> must also be defined in the configuration file, as follows.

   <section name="msbuildToolsets"         
       Microsoft.Build.Engine, Version=, Culture=neutral,   


To be read correctly, <configSections> must be the first subsection in the <configuration> section.

ToolsetConfigurationSection is a custom configuration section that can be used by any MSBuild host for custom configuration. If you use a custom Toolset, a host does not have to do anything to initialize the build engine except provide the configuration file entries. By defining entries in the registry, you can specify computer-wide Toolsets that apply to MSBuild.exe, Visual Studio, and all hosts of MSBuild.


If a configuration file defines settings for a ToolsVersion that was already defined in the registry, the two definitions are not merged. The definition in the configuration file takes precedence and the settings in the registry for that ToolsVersion are ignored.

The following properties are specific to the value of ToolsVersion that is used in projects:

  • $(MSBuildBinPath) is set to the ToolsPath value that is specified either in the registry or in the configuration file where the ToolsVersion is defined. The $(MSBuildToolsPath) setting in the registry or the configuration file specifies the location of the core tasks and targets. In the project file, this maps to the $(MSBuildBinPath) property, and also to the $(MSBuildToolsPath) property.

  • $(MSBuildToolsPath) is a reserved property that is supplied by the MSBuildToolsPath property that is specified in the configuration file. (This property replaces $(MSBuildBinPath). However, $(MSBuildBinPath) is carried forward for compatibility.) A custom toolset must define either $(MSBuildToolsPath) or $(MSBuildBinPath) but not both, unless they both have the same value.

    You can also add custom, ToolsVersion-specific properties to the configuration file by using the same syntax that you use to add the MSBuildToolsPath property. To make these custom properties available to the project file, use the same name as the name of the value that is specified in the configuration file. You may define toolsets but not sub-toolsets in the configuration file.

See Also

Toolset (ToolsVersion)