Invoking app/web.config File Transformations on Build

MSBuild provides the functionality to generate a production web.config (or app.config) from the developer’s web.config merged with a web.*.config transformation file named after the current Configuration. This web.config File Transformation is applied when you Deploy a (web) application.

But what if you want to apply the same file transformation during build? The scenario occurs if a team checks in the web.config file, but needs customization for each developer of the team (e.g. different local SQL connection strings, log directories etc).

Digging through the various .targets files that configure the VS build system, I found a reference to the <TransformXml> command in Microsoft.Web.Publishing.targets deep inside the Visual Studio installation directory. (see the answers on this SO question)

Putting it all together, I came up with an AfterBuild step in the .csproj file which applies the web.config transformation on build, rather than on deploy:

  <Target Name="AfterBuild">
	<TransformXml Source="web.common.config"
	        Destination="web.config" />

(add the parameter $(Configuration) where necessary.)

Essential NuGet packages for ASP.Net MVC

Here are some useful packages I came across in recent years:

Topic Package NuGet Source
log4net nuget apache
Error Logger
elmah.corelibrary nuget github
Elmah.Mvc nuget github
ElmahAppender.log4net nuget github
Glimpse nuget github
Glimpse.AspNet nuget
Glimpse.Mvc5 nuget
NHibernate.Glimpse nuget github
Minifier, Bundler
BundleTransformer.Core nuget github
BundleTransformer.Yui nuget github
Data Access
Nhibernate nuget github
Identity Management
NHibernate.AspNet.Identity nuget github
Handlebars.Net nuget github
RazorEngine nuget github
EPPlus nuget github
CsvHelper nuget github
PdfSharp nuget pdfsharp
HtmlRenderer.PdfSharp nuget github
DocuVieware Lite
HTML5 Document Viewer For ASP.NET

SMO and .Net Frameworks and nuget

As I upgraded my tool SMOscript to .Net version 4.5, things compiled and ran nicely again.

Only after a while I noticed the Build warnings

1>C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio\2017\Community\MSBuild\15.0\Bin\Microsoft.Common.CurrentVersion.targets(2110,5): warning MSB3274: The primary reference “Microsoft.SqlServer.Assessment, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=89845dcd8080cc91, processorArchitecture=MSIL” could not be resolved because it was built against the “.NETFramework,Version=v4.6.1” framework. This is a higher version than the currently targeted framework “.NETFramework,Version=v4.5”.
1>C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio\2017\Community\MSBuild\15.0\Bin\Microsoft.Common.CurrentVersion.targets(2110,5): warning MSB3275: The primary reference “Microsoft.SqlServer.Management.Assessment, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=89845dcd8080cc91, processorArchitecture=MSIL” could not be resolved because it has an indirect dependency on the assembly “Microsoft.SqlServer.Assessment, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=89845dcd8080cc91” which was built against the “.NETFramework,Version=v4.6.1” framework. This is a higher version than the currently targeted framework “.NETFramework,Version=v4.5”.
1>C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio\2017\Community\MSBuild\15.0\Bin\Microsoft.Common.CurrentVersion.targets(2110,5): warning MSB3274: The primary reference “Microsoft.SqlServer.Management.Assessment, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=89845dcd8080cc91, processorArchitecture=MSIL” could not be resolved because it was built against the “.NETFramework,Version=v4.6.2” framework. This is a higher version than the currently targeted framework “.NETFramework,Version=v4.5”.
1>C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio\2017\Community\MSBuild\15.0\Bin\Microsoft.Common.CurrentVersion.targets(2110,5): warning MSB3274: The primary reference “Microsoft.SqlServer.Management.SqlParser, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=89845dcd8080cc91, processorArchitecture=MSIL” could not be resolved because it was built against the “.NETFramework,Version=v4.6.2” framework. This is a higher version than the currently targeted framework “.NETFramework,Version=v4.5”.

So whatever functionality is implemented in the Management and Assessment assemblies, they come with the nuget package (latest version 150.18208.0 in my case) and are also copied to the project output.

Apparently the package definition contains the requirement for Framework “>= 4.6.0”, allows installation in a 4.5 project, but really requires 4.6.2. Reminds me of the dependency inconsistencies back in 2013.

Anyway, upgrading the project to .Net 4.7 got rid of these warnings.


VS Solution Dependency Visualizer supports .NET Core Project Files

When I tried to analyze an unknown Visual Studio solution in my tool VS Solution Dependency Visualizer, I noticed that the project dependencies were not analyzed correctly. In fact, the dependencies were completely ignored.

A bit of research turned up that the solution in question was partly migrated to .NET Core, and the .csproj project files have a slightly different structure than good old .Net project files.

First, the classic .Net project files use a namespace

<Project xmlns="">

whereas .NET Core project files come without XML namespace, and have the root attribute Sdk:

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk">

Also, files are not compiled if they are explicitly contained in the .csproj file, but rather by a rule-based Default Compilation mechanism which decides whether files in or below the project directory are compiled, embedded, or ignored.

For a detailed documentation of .NET Core project files, see MS docs or the dotnet GitHub docs.

The latest version of VS Solution Dependency Visualizer with support for .NET Core projects is available for download here.

BTW: In previous versions of this tool, I tried to register VS Solution Dependency Visualizer as an External Tool in all installed versions of Visual Studio.

However, things change all the time, and VS 2013 was the first version that did not support registration via registry, and with VS 2017 things got even more different, and finally I had to give up.

Instructions on how to add VS Solution Dependency Visualizer as an External Tool in your version of Visual Studio can be found in the readme file that comes with the installer.

Fixing PDFSharp hangs

To analyse a couple of PDF files whether they contain only images, I used the latest release build of PDFsharp, version 1.32.

However, when processing a certain file (of unknown origin) using code found in an SO answer

public static IEnumerable ExtractText(this PdfPage page)
    var content = ContentReader.ReadContent(page);      
    var text = content.ExtractText();
    return text;

the ExtractText() function simply would not return.

I upgraded to the most current build 1.50 beta 3, included the source in my project, and ran it in Debug mode, where execution halted in the file PDFsharp\src\PdfSharp\Pdf.Content\CParser.cs line 163 failing an assertion:


Without digging too deep into the analysis of PDF files, it was clear that the PDF contained a CSymbol that is not being handled by the library, and thus (most likely) ended up in an infinite loop inside CParser.ParseObject().

I fixed this by replacing the Debug.Assert statement with

        throw new Exception("unhandled PDF symbol " + symbol);

which fixed the situation for me.

Unit Testing ASP.Net MVC 5 Controllers using Rhino Mocks

Unit Testing ASP.Net MVC Controllers is not as straight-forward as you may thing, because as you get started, you face questions such as: how to create an HttpContext, an HttpContextBase, should you prefer mocking, and which mocking framework, etc.

After a day of googling and tinkering, I finally came up with a working solution using Rhino.Mocks and MvcContrib, both downloaded via nuget. To analyze Owin black magic, I used the source code repositories of Katana on Codeplex and symbolsource.

public class HomeIndexControllerTests
  public void HomeIndexTest()

The authentication routine uses async calls, such as FindByNameAsync(). I tried to declare the test method as public async Task, but after starting the test, the IDE claimed it’s busy, but did not execute the test.

Without Task.Run(), the async method would fail throwing an AggregateException.

I found the work-around to encapsulate the whole test inside a Task.Run():

    Task.Run(() =>
      var builder = new TestControllerBuilder();

First, we mock the ApplicationUserManager

      var us = MockRepository.GenerateStub<IUserStore<AppUser>>();
      var aum = MockRepository.GenerateStub<ApplicationUserManager>(us);

My class for storing users in the user database is called AppUser. The variable appuser is set to null for unauthenticated requests, and contains a valid object if authenticated:

      AppUser appuser = null;
      //appuser = new AppUser { .... values .... };  // uncomment for authenticated request

These stubs return the defined user object:

      us.Stub(u => u.FindByNameAsync(""))
      aum.Stub(m => m.FindByNameAsync((ClaimsIdentity)null, ""))

Create the Owin context and register the user manager:

      var owin = new OwinContext();

Use the builder to create the controller under test:

      var controller = builder.CreateController<C.Home.IndexController>();

To test unauthenticated requests, we check whether the class or the method have an [Authorize] attribute

      if (appuser == null)
        var type = controller.GetType();
        var attributes = type.GetCustomAttributes(typeof(AuthorizeAttribute), true);
        var methodInfo = type.GetMethod("Execute" 
          /*, new Type[] { ....parameter types.... } */
        var methodAttributes = methodInfo.GetCustomAttributes(typeof(AuthorizeAttribute), true);
        Assert.IsFalse(attributes.Any() || methodAttributes.Any(), "Unauthorized request not allowed");

Next, we wire up the HttpContext and Owin, and set the request’s cookies:

      var context = controller.HttpContext; 
      // the context is already mocked, so we can stub() it

      var dict = new Dictionary<object, object>();
      dict.Add("owin.Environment", owin.Environment);
      context.Stub(c => c.Items).Return(dict);
      var request = controller.Request;
      request.Stub(r => r.Cookies).Return(new HttpCookieCollection());

Next, we create a principal from the user object (see here for setting the name claim)

      var user = new GenericPrincipal(
        new ClaimsIdentity(
          new Claim[] { 
            new Claim(ClaimTypes.Name, appuser == null ? "" : appuser.UserName) }),
        new string[0]);
      context.User = user;

Then we create a fake HttpContext which matches the mocked HttpContextBase object created above:

      HttpContext.Current = new HttpContext(
        new HttpRequest("", "", ""),
        new HttpResponse(new StringWriter())
      HttpContext.Current.Items["owin.Environment"] = owin.Environment;
      if (appuser != null)
        HttpContext.Current.User = user;

We are now ready to execute the controller method

      var result = controller.Execute();

And check the results: if the request is successful, the result is typically a ViewResult.

      Assert.IsInstanceOfType(result, typeof(RedirectToRouteResult));
      Assert.IsInstanceOfType(result, typeof(ViewResult));

We can now test the result values, and end the Task definition:



NHibernate SELECT MAX()

A form used to edit or add records was to set a number field to the highest assigned integer value plus one.

This is typically achieved by writing

SELECT Max(NumberField)+1 FROM [Table]

and in NHibernate you write something like

result.Number = session.Query<Table>()
    .Max(t => t.Number) + 1;

where Number is defined as int.

While this solution is principally correct, it fails if the table has no records:

Server Error in '/' Application.
Value cannot be null.
Parameter name: item
Description: An unhandled exception occurred during the execution of the current web request. Please review the stack trace for more information about the error and where it originated in the code.
Exception Details: System.ArgumentNullException: Value cannot be null.
Parameter name: item
Stack Trace:
[ArgumentNullException: Value cannot be null.
Parameter name: item]
 System.ThrowHelper.IfNullAndNullsAreIllegalThenThrow(Object value, ExceptionArgument argName) +4195637
 System.Collections.Generic.List`1.System.Collections.IList.Add(Object item) +32
 NHibernate.Util.<>c__DisplayClass4.<AddAll>b__2() +13
 NHibernate.Util.ArrayHelper.AddAll(IList to, IList from) +445
 NHibernate.Engine.Query.HQLQueryPlan.PerformList(QueryParameters queryParameters, ISessionImplementor session, IList results) +573
 NHibernate.Impl.StatelessSessionImpl.List(IQueryExpression queryExpression, QueryParameters queryParameters, IList results) +329
[GenericADOException: Could not execute query[SQL: SQL not available]]
 NHibernate.Impl.StatelessSessionImpl.List(IQueryExpression queryExpression, QueryParameters queryParameters, IList results) +379
 NHibernate.Impl.AbstractSessionImpl.List(IQueryExpression queryExpression, QueryParameters parameters) +145
 NHibernate.Impl.AbstractQueryImpl2.List() +117
 NHibernate.Linq.DefaultQueryProvider.ExecuteQuery(NhLinqExpression nhLinqExpression, IQuery query, NhLinqExpression nhQuery) +36
 NHibernate.Linq.DefaultQueryProvider.Execute(Expression expression) +50
 NHibernate.Linq.DefaultQueryProvider.Execute(Expression expression) +11
 System.Linq.Queryable.Max(IQueryable`1 source, Expression`1 selector) +283

The problem is, of course, that SELECT MAX(NumberField) on an empty table results in a single record containing a NULL value for the computed column, and the NHibernate mapper throws an exception trying to assign the NULL value to the int property.

Additionally, the SELECT statement above should also be written as

SELECT ISNULL(MAX(Number), 0) + 1

to generate 1 for the first record, which already points in the right direction.

The correct NHibernate statement is therefore

result.Number = session.Query<Table>()
    .Max(t => (int?) t.Number) ?? 0 + 1;

casting the C# int property to a Nullable<int>, which accepts the NULL value resulting from MAX(). The ?? operator is the equivalent of T-SQL’s ISNULL() function.

Fundamentally, the behavior is caused be the definition of the Queryable.Max() method:

public static TResult Max<TSource, TResult>(
  this IQueryable<TSource> source, 
  Expression<Func<TSource, TResult>> selector);

If the selector returns int, then the method also returns int. Could the result type not have been declare as Nullable<TResult>?

What does Linq to Objects do? This simple code

IEnumerable<int> values = new int[0];

throws an InvalidOperationException with the message

Sequence contains no elements

as the corresponding Max() method also does not handle Null values. The correct way in Linq to Objects is to call DefaultIfEmpty() to replace an empty enumerable with one containing a single-element default value:

IEnumerable<int> values = new int[0];
values = values.DefaultIfEmpty();

So, I experimented a bit to find a meaningful solution

public static T? max<T>(IEnumerable<T> values) 
  where T: struct, IComparable<T>
  T? result = null;
  foreach (var v in values)
    if (!result.HasValue || (v.CompareTo(result.Value) > 0))
      result = v;
  return result;
public static T max<T>(IEnumerable<T> values) 
  where T : class, IComparable<T>
  T result = null;
  foreach (var v in values)
   if (result==null || (v.CompareTo(result) > 0))
     result = v;
  return result;

only to find that

  • C# does not include generic constraints into method signatures, causing the code to not compile
  • Enumerable.Max() and Queryable.Max() are separate extension methods

In fact, Enumerable.Max() (which handles arrays, Lists, and everything IEnumerable) defines various overloads for base types, and one generic overload, whereas Queryable.Max() only defines the generic method. So the code above would have to be changed to base type-specific methods and one generic method.

Of course, the above code for IEnumerable would have no effect on how NHibernate handles the IQueryable.Max() method. This would have to be dealt with using NHibernate extensions.

Compile-Safe Links in ASP.Net MVC

One of the drawbacks of the Html.ActionLink() method is that it accepts controller and action as strings. As a consequence, there no compile-time check is performed to ensure that the referenced action is actually implemented. This also applies to Html.BeginForm(), Url.Action() and similar methods.

Recently I found an alternative extension method on SO which accepts the controller class and a controller method as parameters, rather than their names as strings:

public static MvcHtmlString ActionLink<TController>(
    this HtmlHelper htmlHelper,
    Expression<Action<TController>> expression, 
    string linkText, 
    object routeValues, 
    object htmlAttributes) where TController : Controller
    var urlHelper = 
        new UrlHelper(htmlHelper.ViewContext.RequestContext, 

    var attributes = AnonymousObjectToKeyValue(htmlAttributes);

    var link = new TagBuilder("a");

    string actionName = ExpressionHelper.GetExpressionText(expression);
    string controllerName = 
        typeof(TController).Name.Replace("Controller", "");

        urlHelper.Action(actionName, controllerName, routeValues));
    link.MergeAttributes(attributes, true);

    return new MvcHtmlString(link.ToString());

private static Dictionary<string, object> AnonymousObjectToKeyValue(
    object anonymousObject)
    var dictionary = new Dictionary<string, object>();
    if (anonymousObject == null) return dictionary;
    foreach (PropertyDescriptor propertyDescriptor in 
    return dictionary;

Personally, I prefer the single-action controller approach, as sketched here, or here, for example, where each action is implemented by a separate controller class. The meaning of the ActionLink() parameters changes such that the controllerName parameter is really a sub-namespace, and actionName is the controller class name.

Then we can simply extract the last part of the namespace and the class name of the controller class name, and pass everything else to MVC’s Html.ActionLink():

public static MvcHtmlString ActionLink<C>(this HtmlHelper htmlHelper, 
    string linkText, 
    object routeValues = null, 
    object htmlAttributes = null) where C: BaseController
    if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(linkText))
        return new MvcHtmlString("");

    var rgs = typeof(C).FullName.Split('.');
    return htmlHelper.ActionLink(linkText, 
        rgs[rgs.Length - 1].Replace("Controller", ""), 
        rgs[rgs.Length - 2], 
        routeValues, htmlAttributes);


Avoiding repetitive code using Actions and Funcs

Some coding guidelines require that functions follow a pre-defined scheme, such as

  • log function begin
  • execute function
  • log function end
  • exception handler
  • log exception

to name just the simplest structure.

Since repetitive code is prone to errors, it’s a good idea to encapsulate these steps in a method which in turn calls the “execute function” step.

An example from an MVC project:

public ActionResult Method() {
  logger.Info("begin method");

  try {
    var user = CurrentUser();
    var data = DoSomething(user);
    logger.Info("end method");
    return View("View", data);
  catch (Exception ex) {
    logger.Error("method exception", ex);

We can now extract most of the code into a common method

protected ActionResult Execute(string actionName, 
  Func<User, ActionResult> action) {
  logger.Info("begin " + actionName);

  try {
    var user = CurrentUser();
    var result = action(user);
    logger.Info("end " + actionName);
    return result;
  catch (Exception ex) {
    logger.Error(actionName, ex);

so that the original method can be reduced to

public ActionResult Method() {
  return Execute("method", (user) =>
    var data = DoSomething(user);
    return View("View", data);

Deploying ASP.Net MVC 5 on Windows Server 2008

Developing an MVC application in Visual Studio 2013 (Update 3), I needed to install a demo on a Windows 2008 server.

Since Server 2008 ships with .Net 3, we first need to install .Net 4.5.1, either from the Visual Studio download page, or from MSDN.

After the required reboot and setting up a web application in IIS, browsing to the new site resulted in HTTP errors 403 (refers to directory browsing) and 404 (when navigating to a specific controller action).

Luckily, this issue could be solved by re-adding <modules> to the <system.webServer> section (found on SO):

    <remove name="UrlRoutingModule-4.0" />
    <add name="UrlRoutingModule-4.0" 
        preCondition="" />

After editing the web.config, the web application could be accessed, but all CSS and JavaScript requests, which are served using Bundling and Minification, would result in a 404.

Again, another module wanted to be included

      <remove name="BundleModule" />
      <add name="BundleModule" type="System.Web.Optimization.BundleModule" />

Finally, the web application looked as expected, so I logged in, and

No owin.Environment item was found in the context.

The internets are full of helpful tips to add

<add key=”owin:AppStartup” value=”[Namespace].Startup, [AssemblyName]” />

but that did not change anything. What really solved that last problem was to add the attribute

<modules runAllManagedModulesForAllRequests="true" />

in web.config.

In the end, the web.config section looks like this

    <modules  runAllManagedModulesForAllRequests="true">
      <remove name="FormsAuthentication" />
      <remove name="UrlRoutingModule-4.0" />
      <add name="UrlRoutingModule-4.0"
          preCondition="" />
      <remove name="BundleModule" />
      <add name="BundleModule" 
          type="System.Web.Optimization.BundleModule" />