Visual Studio: default build action for non-default file-types

July 2, 2010 at 11:12 AMAndre Loker

With a simple file you can tell Visual Studio to use a certain default Build Action for specific file types. This reduces the chance of missing files on the server when using the built-in publishing functionality. 


Updated: if you don’t feel like hacking pkgdef files manually, check out my little helper tool at

For each file in the solution you can define a build action by selecting the file and choosing the appropriate “Build Action” in the properties window.

The build action defines how Visual Studio handles the file when building and publishing the solution. For example, the default build action for C# source file is “Compile”. Files that have no special meaning for Visual Studio get the build action “None” by default, telling VS to basically ignore the file and just leave it as is.

In an ASP.NET MVC project that uses a view engine different from the default one (such as Spark or Brail) one will frequently add such “meaningless” files to the solution, namely the view files: .spark, .brail, .brailjs etc.

Publishing in Visual Studio

This section only provides the context of this article. You may skip it if you know about publishing.

deploy Visual Studio offers a nice publishing function that makes publishing applications rather easy (Build -> Publish). The Web Deploy method is pretty cool, because it can deploy the project to a remote web server with one button click.

The publishing functionality can be configured in the project properties, tabs Package/Publish Web (and Package/Publish SQL for that matter).

One essential option is the choice of the “Items to deploy”. There are three choices: “Only files needed to run this application”, “All files in the project” and All files in the project folder. “All files in the project directory” publishes, well, all files in the directory where the project files lives and all subdirectories. “All files in the project” only deploys files that are part of the solution, that is, all files shown in the solution explorer (with “Show All Files” off, of course), plus the build results. publishAs a result, this will copy among other things all source files to the web server. It is not much of a security problem, because by default IIS is configured to not serve those files at all. Still, I don’t see the need to publish unnecessary files. That’s where the first option comes in: “Only files needed to run this application”. It basically deploys all compilation results and all files with the “Content” Build Action defined. For many file types, VS sets the Build Action to Content by default, for example .css, .js and .config files. For “unknown” file types, such as .spark or .brail, the Build Action is “None”. As a result, those files are not deployed to the server on publish with the “Only files needed to run this application” setting on. Of course, you can change the Build Action for each and every file, but it is a tedious task and can easily be forgotten, causing missing files on the server. Luckily, you can tell Visual Studio to use a different default Build Action for any file type.

Changing the default Build Action for a file-type

The default build action of a file type can be configured in the registry. However, instead of hacking the registry manually, we use a much better approach: pkgdef files (a good article about pkgdef files). In essence, pkdef are configuration files similar to .reg files that define registry keys and values that are automatically merged into the correct location in the real registry. If the pkgfile is removed, the changes are automatically undone. Thus, you can safely modify the registry without the danger of breaking anything – or at least, it’s easy to undo the damage.

Finally, here’s an example of how to change the default build action of a file type:

   1: [$RootKey$\Projects\{FAE04EC0-301F-11D3-BF4B-00C04F79EFBC}\FileExtensions\.spark]
   2: "DefaultBuildAction"="Content"

The Guid in the key refers to project type. In this case, “{FAE04EC0-301F-11D3-BF4B-00C04F79EFBC}” means “C# projects”. A rather comprehensive list of project type guids can be found here. Although it does not cover Visual Studio 2010 explicitly, the Guids apply to the current version as well. By the way, we can use C# as the project type here, because C# based MVC projects are in fact C# projects (and web application projects). For Visual Basic, you’d use “{F184B08F-C81C-45F6-A57F-5ABD9991F28F}” instead.

$RootKey$ is in abstraction of the real registry key that Visual Studio stores the configuration under: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\VisualStudio\10.0_Config (Note: Do not try to manually edit anything under this key as it can be overwritten at any time by Visual Studio).

The rest should be self explanatory: this option sets the default build action of .spark files to “Content”, so those files are included in the publishing process.

All you need to do now is to put this piece of text into a file with the extension pkgdef, put it somewhere under %PROGRAMFILES(x86)%\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\Common7\IDE\Extensions (on 64-bit systems) or %PROGRAMFILES(x86)%\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\Common7\IDE\Extensions (on 32-bit systems) and Visual Studio will load and apply the settings automatically the next time it starts. To undo the changes, simply remove the files.

Finally, I’ve attached a bunch of pkgdef files that are use in production that define the “Content” default Build Action for C# and VB projects for .spark, .brail, .brailjs and .less files respectively. Download them, save them somewhere in the Extensions folder and you’re good to go.

brail - Content.pkgdef (528.00 bytes)

brailjs - Content.pkgdef (534.00 bytes)

less - Content.pkgdef (525.00 bytes)

spark - Content.pkgdef (528.00 bytes)

Posted in: Visual Studio

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ASP.NET MVC with Windsor – programmatic controller registration

March 28, 2009 at 11:29 AMAndre Loker

Although I’m a loyal MonoRail user, I’m playing with ASP.NET MVC a bit sometimes if time permits. One of the first things I wanted to do is using an IoC container such as Windsor to resolve controllers. ASP.NET MVC was built with extensibility in mind, so that’s not much of a problem, and it has been written about, for example by Matt Hall.

The problem is that the articles I read use the Windsor XML configuration for this. Frankly, I don’t like to configure my IoC container using XML if I don’t have to. Its syntax is pretty verbose and honestly I don’t need the controllers to be configured externally. Therefore, I prefer to use programmatic registration. Windsor has such a sweet registration API, you got to love it.

Alright, so what do you have to do to make programmatically registered controllers available to ASP.NET MVC?

Step 1 – create the container instance

This is easy: in the Application_Start event create the WindsorContainer and store it in a static(!) field. It has to be static, because more than one instance of the HttpApplication can potentially be created.


   1: public class MvcApplication : System.Web.HttpApplication {
   2:   static IWindsorContainer container;
   4:   protected void Application_Start() {
   5:     CreateWindsorContainer();
   6:     RegisterRoutes(RouteTable.Routes); // has been there before!
   7:   }
   9:   static void CreateWindsorContainer() {
  10:     container = new WindsorContainer();
  11:   }
  12: }

Did I mention that the container field needs to be static?

Step 2 – register controllers

This is where the nice API of Windsor comes into play. Extend the application as follows:

   1: public class MvcApplication : System.Web.HttpApplication{
   2:   ...
   4:   protected void Application_Start() {
   5:     CreateWindsorContainer();
   6:     RegisterRoutes(RouteTable.Routes);
   7:     RegisterControllers(); // added
   8:   }
  10:   ...
  12:   static void RegisterControllers() {
  13:     container.Register(
  14:       AllTypes
  15:         .FromAssembly(Assembly.GetExecutingAssembly())
  16:         .BasedOn<IController>()        
  17:     );
  18:   }
  19: }

This is simple, isn’t it? No per-controller-entry in some XML file, just a simple piece of code.

Step 3 – create your own controller factory

To create the controller instances, ASP.NET MVC uses an object that implement IControllerFactory. So all we need to do is roll our own controller factory that uses Windsor and tell ASP.NET MVC to use that.

OK, so here’s our controller factory:

   1: public class WindsorControllerFactory : IControllerFactory {
   3:   readonly IWindsorContainer container;
   5:   public WindsorControllerFactory(IWindsorContainer container) {
   6:     this.container = container;
   7:   }
   9:   public IController CreateController(RequestContext requestContext, string controllerName) {
  10:     var componentName = GetComponentNameFromControllerName(controllerName);
  11:     return container.Resolve<IController>(componentName);
  12:   }
  14:   public void ReleaseController(IController controller) {
  15:     container.Release(controller);
  16:   }
  18:   /// <summary>
  19:   /// Maps from a simple controller name to the name of the component
  20:   /// that implements the controller.
  21:   /// </summary>
  22:   /// <param name="controllerName">Name of the controller.</param>
  23:   /// <returns>Name of the controller component.</returns>
  24:   static string GetComponentNameFromControllerName(string controllerName) {
  25:     var controllerNamespace = typeof(HomeController).Namespace;
  26:     return string.Format("{0}.{1}Controller", controllerNamespace, controllerName);
  27:   }
  28: }

Nothing fancy here: first, we’ll need the windsor container instance, so we pass it as a constructor dependency. CreateController and ReleaseController are the two methods of IControllerFactory – their purpose should be self-explanatory. GetComponentNameFromControllerName maybe needs some further explanation. ASP.NET MVC will ask for controllers by their simple name, that is “Home” or “About” etc. However, by the way we registered the controller components Windsor knows them by their full type name, e.g. “MyApplication.Controllers.HomeController” and “MyApplication.Controllers.AboutController”. GetComponentNameFromControllerName simply converts from the simple controller name to the full component name.

Step 4 – tell ASP.NET MVC to use our controller factory

The last step is to tell ASP.NET MVC to actually use our IControllerFactory implementation instead of the default one. Conceptually this is easy, we only need to call ControllerBuilder.Current.SetControllerFactory and pass it either the type of our IControllerFactory implementation or an instance. But let’s not be too quick here and try to keep our application as DI-ish as possible. Here’s how I’d set the controller factory:

   1: public class MvcApplication : System.Web.HttpApplication{
   2:   ...
   4:   protected void Application_Start() {
   5:     CreateWindsorContainer();
   6:     RegisterRoutes(RouteTable.Routes);
   7:     RegisterControllers();
   8:     RegisterControllerFactory(); // new
   9:   }
  11:   void RegisterControllerFactory() {
  12:     container.Register(
  13:       Component
  14:         .For<IControllerFactory>()
  15:         .ImplementedBy<WindsorControllerFactory>()
  16:         .LifeStyle.Singleton
  17:       );
  18:     var controllerFactory = container.Resolve<IControllerFactory>();
  19:     ControllerBuilder.Current.SetControllerFactory(controllerFactory);
  20:   }
  22:   static void CreateWindsorContainer() {
  23:     container = new WindsorContainer();
  24:     // new: register the container with itself 
  25:     //      to be able to resolve the dependency in the ctor
  26:     //      of WindsorControllerFactory
  27:     container.Register(
  28:       Component
  29:         .For<IWindsorContainer>()
  30:         .Instance(container)
  31:       );
  32:   }  
  34:   ...
  35: }

You see, instead of new-ing an instance of WIndsorControllerFactory we register it as a singleton component and resolve it. Also note that we needed to register the Windsor container with itself to have the constructor dependency resolved.

Finally, here’s the complete source code of the global application class so far:

   1: public class MvcApplication : System.Web.HttpApplication {
   2:   static IWindsorContainer container;
   4:   public static void RegisterRoutes(RouteCollection routes) {
   5:     routes.IgnoreRoute("{resource}.axd/{*pathInfo}");
   7:     routes.MapRoute(
   8:       "Default", // Route name
   9:       "{controller}/{action}/{id}", // URL with parameters
  10:       new { controller = "Home", action = "Index", id = "" } // Parameter defaults
  11:       );
  12:   }
  14:   protected void Application_Start() {
  15:     CreateWindsorContainer();
  16:     RegisterRoutes(RouteTable.Routes);
  17:     RegisterControllers();
  18:     RegisterControllerFactory();
  19:   }
  21:   static void CreateWindsorContainer() {
  22:     container = new WindsorContainer();
  23:     container.Register(
  24:       Component
  25:         .For<IWindsorContainer>()
  26:         .Instance(container)
  27:       );
  28:   }
  30:   static void RegisterControllers() {
  31:     container.Register(
  32:       AllTypes
  33:         .FromAssembly(Assembly.GetExecutingAssembly())
  34:         .BasedOn<IController>()
  35:       );
  36:   }
  38:   static void RegisterControllerFactory() {
  39:     container.Register(
  40:       Component
  41:         .For<IControllerFactory>()
  42:         .ImplementedBy<WindsorControllerFactory>()
  43:         .LifeStyle.Singleton
  44:       );
  45:     var controllerFactory = container.Resolve<IControllerFactory>();
  46:     ControllerBuilder.Current.SetControllerFactory(controllerFactory);
  47:   }
  48: }

Controller names and component names revisited

As you saw in step 3, we need to map the controller names to component names. This doesn’t take much effort and is my preferred way of handling this. But of course, you can already register the controller components with the respective controller names in the first place if you like. Just change the controller registration to something like this:

   1: static void RegisterControllers() {
   2:   container.Register(
   3:     AllTypes
   4:       .FromAssembly(Assembly.GetExecutingAssembly())
   5:       .BasedOn<IController>()
   6:       // modify the name with which the component is registered:
   7:       .Configure(component => component.Named(ControllerNameFromType(component.Implementation)))
   8:     );
   9: }
  11: static string ControllerNameFromType(Type implementation) {
  12:   const string ControllerSuffix = "Controller";
  13:   var name = implementation.Name;
  14:   Debug.Assert(name.EndsWith(ControllerSuffix));
  15:   return name.Substring(0, name.Length - ControllerSuffix.Length);
  16: }

If you do this, you can remove the GetComponentNameFromControllerName method and simplify the implementation of IControllerFactory.CreateController to this:

   1: public IController CreateController(RequestContext requestContext, 
   2:                                     string controllerName) {
   3:   return container.Resolve<IController>(controllerName);
   4: }

Which version you choose is more or less a matter of taste. If you keep the full type name as the component’s name you reduce the chance for name clashes. However, if you register the components using the controller name creating the controller is slightly simpler.

More simplifications

You can even simplify the controller factory a bit if you inherit from DefaultControllerFactory instead of implementing IControllerFactory. Because DefaultControllerFactory will resolve the correct component type for you, you can simply override GetControllerInstance instead of implementing CreateController:

   1: public class WindsorControllerFactory : DefaultControllerFactory {
   2:   readonly IWindsorContainer container;
   4:   public WindsorControllerFactory(IWindsorContainer container) {
   5:     this.container = container;
   6:   }
   8:   protected override IController GetControllerInstance(System.Type controllerType) {
   9:     return container.Resolve(controllerType) as IController;
  10:   }
  12:   public override void ReleaseController(IController controller) {
  13:     container.Release(controller);
  14:   }
  15: }

If you need to change the way that the controller name is mapped to a component type, you can also override GetControllerType.

MVC Contrib

As far as I know Windsor integration is also part of the MVC Contrib project. I haven’t looked into it, so bear with me if this article doubles existing code!

Posted in: ASP.NET | Castle

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MonoRail, AspView and ReSharper: skip ViewAtDesignTime

May 24, 2008 at 1:53 AMAndre Loker

AspView and Intellisense

AspView is a MonoRail viewengine which provides compile time checking of views and Intellisense support in Visual Studio. The latter is achieved by using the known ASP.NET WebForms syntax to define views, see below for an example:


It uses the @Page directive and sets the Inherits attribute to a base class called ViewAtDesignTime defined by AspView. This base class contains fake methods and properties that are similar to the ones that are available to the runtime view class - Caslte.MonoRail.Views.AspView.AspViewBase. The only purpose of the ViewAtDesignTimeClass is to make Visual Studio's Intellisense work. It does, as can be seen in the picture. Additionally the user can provide a custom pair of design time and runtime classes that derive from ViewAtDesignTime and AspViewBase.

However, there is a caveat. ViewAtDesignTime derives from System.Web.UI.Page. This is a requirement of Visual Studio to make Intellisense work. As a result Intellisense will show all members of Page, which is at least confusing. More likely, it's misleading as many of the Members won't be available in AspViewBase and will let compilation fail.


In the example above Intellisense shows members like DataBind which will not be available during compilation.

ReSharper to the rescue: skip ViewAtDesignTime

However, as Ken Egozi pointed out on the Castle Developer mailing list, if you use ReSharper (and you should) you can skip the ViewAtDesignTime class altogether and just use the AspViewBase class (or a derived class) in the view. ReSharper will still provide Intellisense. The list of members is much more reliable as those members will definitively be available during compilation.


Advantages of using the AspViewBase based class instead of ViewAtDesignTime:

  • Get better Intellisense: Page members are ommitted
  • Less code: if you provide your own base classes for views because you want to provide some extra members to the view (a good example would be the code generated by CodeGenerator) you do not have to provide a design time counterpart as well.
  • More robust code: similarly, if you have to provide a runtime class and a design time class you have to ensure that both interfaces match exactly, otherwise the design support is misleading (this problem does actually happen). Without the design time view, only one interface has to be maintained.


  • No Intellisense on dev machines without ReSharper (which is a good excuse to ask your boss for a R# licence anyway)

Thanks to Ken Egozi for this neat hint.

Posted in: Castle | Tools

Tags: , , ,