Invoke text transformation in the build process

Applies to: yesVisual Studio noVisual Studio for Mac noVisual Studio Code

Text transformation can be invoked as part of the build process of a Visual Studio solution. There are build tasks that are specialized for text transformation. The T4 build tasks run design-time text templates, and they also compile run-time (preprocessed) text templates.

There are some differences in what the build tasks can do, depending on which build engine you use. When you build the solution in Visual Studio, a text template can access the Visual Studio API (EnvDTE) if the hostspecific="true" attribute is set. But that isn't true when you build the solution from the command line or when you initiate a server build through Visual Studio. In those cases, the build is performed by MSBuild and a different T4 host is used. This means that you can't access things like project file names in the same way when you build a text template using MSBuild. However, you can pass environment information into text templates and directive processors by using build parameters.

Configure your machines

To enable build tasks on your development computer, install Modeling SDK for Visual Studio.


The Text Template Transformation component is automatically installed as part of the Visual Studio extension development workload. You can also install it from the Individual components tab of Visual Studio Installer, under the SDKs, libraries, and frameworks category. Install the Modeling SDK component from the Individual components tab.

If your build server runs on a computer that doesn't have Visual Studio installed, copy the following files to the build computer from your development machine:

  • %ProgramFiles(x86)%\Microsoft Visual Studio\2019\Community\MSBuild\Microsoft\VisualStudio\v16.0\TextTemplating

    • Microsoft.VisualStudio.TextTemplating.Sdk.Host.15.0.dll
    • Microsoft.TextTemplating.Build.Tasks.dll
    • Microsoft.TextTemplating.targets
  • %ProgramFiles(x86)%\Microsoft Visual Studio\2019\Community\VSSDK\VisualStudioIntegration\Common\Assemblies\v4.0

    • Microsoft.VisualStudio.TextTemplating.15.0.dll
    • Microsoft.VisualStudio.TextTemplating.Interfaces.15.0.dll
    • Microsoft.VisualStudio.TextTemplating.VSHost.15.0.dll
  • %ProgramFiles(x86)%\Microsoft Visual Studio\2019\Community\Common7\IDE\PublicAssemblies

    • Microsoft.VisualStudio.TextTemplating.Modeling.15.0.dll


If you get a MissingMethodException for a Microsoft.CodeAnalysis method when running TextTemplating build targets on a build server, make sure the Roslyn assemblies are in a directory named Roslyn that's in the same directory as the build executable (for example, msbuild.exe).

Edit the project file

Edit your project file to configure some of the features in MSBuild, for example, importing the text transformation targets.

In Solution Explorer, choose Unload from the right-click menu of your project. That allows you to edit the .csproj or .vbproj file in the XML editor. When you've finished editing, choose Reload.

Import the text transformation targets

In the .vbproj or .csproj file, find the last Import Project line.

After that line, if it exists, insert the Text Templating import:

<Import Project="$(MSBuildExtensionsPath)\Microsoft\VisualStudio\v17.0\TextTemplating\Microsoft.TextTemplating.targets" />
<Import Project="$(MSBuildExtensionsPath)\Microsoft\VisualStudio\v16.0\TextTemplating\Microsoft.TextTemplating.targets" />

Transform templates in a build

There are some properties that you can insert into your project file to control the transformation task:

  • Run the Transform task at the start of every build:

  • Overwrite files that are read-only, for example, because they are not checked out:

  • Transform every template every time:


    By default, the T4 MSBuild task regenerates an output file if it's older than:

    • its template file
    • any files that are included
    • any files that have previously been read by the template or by a directive processor that it uses

    This is a more powerful dependency test than is used by the Transform All Templates command in Visual Studio, which only compares the dates of the template and output file.

To perform just the text transformations in your project, invoke the TransformAll task:

msbuild myProject.csproj /t:TransformAll

To transform a specific text template:

msbuild myProject.csproj /t:Transform /p:TransformFile=""

You can use wildcards in TransformFile:

msbuild dsl.csproj /t:Transform /p:TransformFile="GeneratedCode\**\*.tt"

Source control

There is no specific built-in integration with a source control system. However, you can add your own extensions, for example, to check out and check in a generated file. By default, the text transform task avoids overwriting a file that is marked as read-only. When such a file is encountered, an error is logged in the Visual Studio Error List, and the task fails.

To specify that read-only files should be overwritten, insert this property:


Unless you customize the postprocessing step, a warning will be logged in the Error List when a file is overwritten.

Customize the build process

Text transformation happens before other tasks in the build process. You can define tasks that are invoked before and after transformation, by setting the properties $(BeforeTransform) and $(AfterTransform):

<Target Name="CustomPreTransform">
    <Message Text="In CustomPreTransform..." Importance="High" />
<Target Name="CustomPostTransform">
    <Message Text="In CustomPostTransform..." Importance="High" />

In AfterTransform, you can reference lists of files:

  • GeneratedFiles - a list of files written by the process. For those files that overwrote existing read-only files, %(GeneratedFiles.ReadOnlyFileOverwritten) will be true. These files can be checked out of source control.

  • NonGeneratedFiles - a list of read-only files that were not overwritten.

For example, you define a task to check out GeneratedFiles.

OutputFilePath and OutputFileName

These properties are used only by MSBuild. They do not affect code generation in Visual Studio. They redirect the generated output file to a different folder or file. The target folder must already exist.

  <None Include="">

A useful folder to redirect to is $(IntermediateOutputPath).

If you specify an output filename, it takes precedence over the extension specified in the output directive in the templates.

  <None Include="">

Specifying an OutputFileName or OutputFilePath isn't recommended if you are also transforming templates inside Visual Studio using Transform All or running the single file generator. You'll end up with different file paths depending on how you triggered the transformation. This can be confusing.

Add reference and include paths

The host has a default set of paths where it searches for assemblies referenced in templates. To add to this set:

    <T4ReferencePath Include="$(VsIdePath)PublicAssemblies\" />
    <!-- Add more T4ReferencePath items here -->

To set the folders that will be searched for include files, provide a semicolon-separated list. Usually you add to the existing folder list.


Pass build context data into the templates

You can set parameter values in the project file. For example, you can pass build properties and environment variables:

  <T4ParameterValues Include="ProjectFolder">

In a text template, set hostspecific in the template directive. Use the parameter directive to get values:

<#@template language="c#" hostspecific="true"#>
<#@ parameter type="System.String" name="ProjectFolder" #>
The project folder is: <#= ProjectFolder #>

In a directive processor, you can call ITextTemplatingEngineHost.ResolveParameterValue:

string value = Host.ResolveParameterValue("-", "-", "parameterName");


ResolveParameterValue gets data from T4ParameterValues only when you use MSBuild. When you transform the template using Visual Studio, the parameters have default values.

Use project properties in assembly and include directives

Visual Studio macros like $(SolutionDir) don't work in MSBuild. You can use project properties instead.

Edit your .csproj or .vbproj file to define a project property. This example defines a property named myLibFolder:

<!-- Define a project property, myLibFolder: -->

<!-- Tell the MSBuild T4 task to make the property available: -->
    <T4ParameterValues Include="myLibFolder">

Now you can use your project property in assembly and include directives:

<#@ assembly name="$(myLibFolder)\MyLib.dll" #>
<#@ include file="$(myLibFolder)\MyIncludeFile.t4" #>

These directives get values from T4parameterValues both in MSBuild and in Visual Studio hosts.

Q & A

Why would I want to transform templates in the build server? I already transformed templates in Visual Studio before I checked in my code.

If you update an included file or another file read by the template, Visual Studio doesn't transform the file automatically. Transforming templates as part of the build makes sure that everything's up to date.

What other options are there for transforming text templates?

See also

  • There's good guidance in the T4 MSbuild template at %ProgramFiles%\Microsoft Visual Studio\2022\Enterprise\MSBuild\Microsoft\VisualStudio\v17.0\TextTemplating\Microsoft.TextTemplating.targets
  • There's good guidance in the T4 MSbuild template at %ProgramFiles(x86)%\Microsoft Visual Studio\2019\Enterprise\msbuild\Microsoft\VisualStudio\v16.0\TextTemplating\Microsoft.TextTemplating.targets