Performing Checkins in TFS 2010 Build

Update 15.03.2014 – Fixed broken link to download

*** The custom activity is availabe for download here: ***


Often when creating different types of release builds (e.g. where you build something that should be installed or consumed by other applications) there is a need to check in the results of the build back
to source control. A common build type for us at Inmeta is Library Builds, which we use for common libraries that are shared among several applications. We have created a special build process template
for this scenario that handles versioning, copying of the resulting binaries to a pre-defined folder, optionally merges the assemblies using ILMerge, and finally checking that binaries back to TFS as part of the build.

When it comes to communicating with TFS source control during a build, I find that the most flexible appraoch is to wrap the command line tool tf.exe. This tool has all the functionality you need, and if you choose
to implement custom activities for the same functionality you would need to expose a lot of functionality that is very simple to call using tf.exe. There are two major drawbacks of this approach however:

  • You need tf.exe on the build server, e.g. you must install Team Explorer. Generally it is a very good principle to keep the build server as minimal as possible.
  • It is not that easy to invoke command line tools in TFS 2010 Build, it is hard to get the syntax and the paths correct.

If you can live with the first drawback, then we can at least reduce the problems of the other drawback by creating a simple custom activity that wraps some of the nitty gritty details of calling tf.exe.
This is a simple activity, but I have found it useful and hopefully some of you will too.


Here is an example of how it looks when it is used in a build process template:



  • The property Command is an enum type which just enumerates all possible commands to tf.exe. This makes it easy to select the correct command and stop you from getting syntax errors.
    The enum is available as well in the download packages
  • You don’t need to know about how tf.exe is called
  • There is an IgnoreError boolean property that will ignore any errors if true (default is false)
  • The Arguments property is the argument to the tf.exe command. In this case, the resulting command will be tf.exe checkin *.dll /recursive
  • WorkingDirectory is mapped to the InvokeProcess.WorkingDirectory. Generally when performing source control operations using tf.exe, you should point the working directory somewhere inside the workspace.
    By doing so, you don’t need to bother about spefcifying workspace or collection URL:s.

The custom activity itself is pretty simple, it just wraps the call to InvokeProcess, with the standard output/error logging and error checking:


This activity is very simple, and can definitely be exended. Let me know if you find it useful and if you have any suggestions for improvements.

Managing Build Process Templates in TFS 2010 Build

One of the great new features in TFS 2010 Build was the ability to define Build Process Templates that can be reused across build definitions. The Build Process Template file itself is a Windows Workflow 4.0 xaml file
and can be stored anywhere in source control. When a developer creates a new build definition in Team Explorer, he can choose from a list of Build Process Templates:


This list is populated with the following build process templates:

  • The ones that come out of the box (DefaultTemplate.xaml, UpgradetTemplate.xaml and LabDefaultTemplate.xaml). These are created for every new team project (this can be changed by modifying the process template)
  • Any build process templates that have previously been added for any other build definitions in the same team project.

The last bullet is a bit unintuitive, but it means that if a developer creates a new build definition in team project A, and adds a new build process template (for example by by selecting New and then browse to an existing .xaml file), this
build process template will be available in the process dropdown list for all other build definitions in team project A. It will not be available in team project B, but has to be added in the same way.

Managing Build Process Templates
So, how do you manage your build process templates? If you only have a couple of team projects, this night not be a big problem, but if you like us create a team project for every customer this becomes a problem!. We have created a set
of default build process templates (CI builds, release builds etc..) that we want to use across all team projects, but this requires developers to know where these .xaml files are located. We do not want to duplicate or branch them unless necessary
but instead we store inside a special, internal, team project where all of our software factory related stuff is located.

Fortunately, there is an API that lets you manage build process templates per team project. This API is described by Jason Pricket here
I have used the source from his blog post to create a custom activity that lets you deploy your build process templates across all team projects using TFS 2010 Build. This means that when you have added a new team project, or a new build process template,
you just run the build and it will automatically update all team projects with the build process templates.


Custom Activity
The custom activitiy is called DeployBuildProcessTemplates and has 3 parameters:

  • BuildProcessTemplates – The list with the source control paths to the build process templates that you want to deploy
  • ExcludeTeamProjects – A list that lets you exclude one or more team projects, in case you do not want to deploy the build process templates to all team projects
  • Workspace – This is the workspace property from the build process template, and is used to retrieve the list of team projects (using the VersionControlServer property)

(Note that the custom activity inherits from an internal base class that among other things contain the TrackBuildMessage method which is just a helper method for writing to the build output log)

[BuildActivity(HostEnvironmentOption.All)] public sealed class DeployBuildProcessTemplate : BaseCodeActivity { // Define an activity input argument of type string [BrowsableAttribute(true)] [RequiredArgument] public InArgument<StringList> BuildProcessTemplates { get; set; } // Define an activity input argument of type string [BrowsableAttribute(true)] public InArgument<StringList> ExcludeTeamProjects { get; set; } [RequiredArgument] [BrowsableAttribute(true)] // Define an activity input argument of type string public InArgument<Workspace> Workspace { get; set; } // If your activity returns a value, derive from CodeActivity<TResult> // and return the value from the Execute method. protected override void Execute(CodeActivityContext context) { IBuildDetail currentBuild = context.GetExtension<IBuildDetail>(); var vcs = this.Workspace.Get(context).VersionControlServer; foreach (var teamProject in vcs.GetAllTeamProjects(true)) { TeamProject project = teamProject; if( !ExcludeTeamProjects.Get(context).Any(tp => tp == project.Name)) { // Deploy templates to team project BuildProcessTemplateHelper helper = new BuildProcessTemplateHelper(currentBuild.BuildServer, project.Name); foreach (var processTemplate in BuildProcessTemplates.Get(context)) { if (helper.AddTemplate(processTemplate, ProcessTemplateType.Custom)) { TrackMessage(context, string.Format("Deployed build process template {0} to team project {1}", processTemplate, project.Name)); } } } } } }

The custom activity just loops through all team projects that are not part of the ExcludeTeamProjects list, and the calls AddTemplate on another class. This method looks like this:

public class BuildProcessTemplateHelper { private readonly IBuildServer buildServer; private readonly string teamProject; public BuildProcessTemplateHelper(IBuildServer buildServer, string teamProject) { this.buildServer = buildServer; this.teamProject = teamProject; } public bool AddTemplate(String serverPath) { bool templateAdded = false; var template = GetBuildProcessTemplate(serverPath); if (template == null) { template = buildServer.CreateProcessTemplate(teamProject, serverPath); template.Save(); templateAdded = true; } return templateAdded; } public IProcessTemplate GetBuildProcessTemplate(string serverPath) { IProcessTemplate[] templates = buildServer.QueryProcessTemplates(teamProject); return templates.FirstOrDefault(pt => pt.ServerPath.Equals(serverPath, StringComparison.OrdinalIgnoreCase)); } }

Build Process Template

To use the custom activity, just drop it somewhere inside the Run on Agent activity and define the list of build process templates that you want to deploy.

The build service account must have the Edit Build Definition permission in all team projects, otherwise it won’t be able to modify this information.



The AddTemplate method first checks to see if the build process template already exists, otherwise it adds the path to the list of build process templates for the team project.

Rather simple, thanks to Jason for the sample code in his blog post.


When running the build, we can see in the build log which team projects that have been updated: