Introducing: Community TFS Build Manager

The latest release of the Community TFS Build Extensions include a brand new tool called Community TFS Build Manager and has been created for two reasons:

  1. An implementation of the Team Foundation Build API which is referenced by the Rangers Build Customization Guidance V2 (available H1 2012)
  2. Provide a solution to a real problem. The Community TFS Build Manager is intended to ease the management of builds in medium to large Team Foundation Server environments, though it does provide a few features which all users may find useful.

The first version of the tool has been implemented by myself and Mike Fourie. You can download the extension from the Visual Studio Gallery here:

Note 1:
The full source is available at the Community TFS Build Extension site

Note 2: The tool is still considered alpha, so you should be a bit careful when running commands that modify or delete information in live environments, e.g. try it out first in a non-critical environment.

Note 3: The tool is also available as a stand alone WPF application. To use it, you need to download the source from the CodePlex site and build it.


Getting Started

You can either install the extension from the above link, or just open the Visual Studio Extension Manager and go to the Online gallery and search for TFS Build:



After installing the build manager, you can start it either from the Tools menu or from the Team Explorer by right-clicking on the Builds node on any team project:



This will bring up a new tool window that will by default show all build definition in the currently selected team project.

View and sort Builds and Build Definitions across multiple Build Controllers and Team Projects
This has always been a major limitation when working with builds in Team Explorer, they are always scoped to a team project. It is particularly annoying when viewing queued builds and you
have no idea what other builds are running on the same controller. In the TFS Build Manager, you can filter on one/all build controllers and one/all team projects:



The same filters apply when you switch between Build Definitions and Builds. In the following screen shot, you can see that three builds from three different team projects are running on the same controller:


You can easily filter on specific team projects and/or build controllers. Note that all columns are sortable, just click on the header column to sort it ascending or descending.
This makes it easy to for example locate all build definitions that use a particular build process template, or group builds by team project etc.


Bulk operations on Build Definitions

The main functionality that this tool brings in addition to what Team Explorer already offers, is the ability to perform bulk operations on multiple build definitions/builds. Often you need to modify or
delete several build definitions in TFS and there is no way to do this in Team Explorer.


In the TFS Build Manager, just select one or more builds or build definitions in the grid and right-click. The following context menu will be shown for build definitions:



Change Build Process Templates

This command lets you change the build process template for one or more build definitions. It will show a dialog with all existing build process templates in the corresponding team projects:




This will queue a “default” build for the the selected build definitions. This means that they will be queued with the default parameters.



Enables or disables the selected build definitions. Note that disabled build definitions are by default now shown. To view disabled build definitions, check the Include Disabled Builds checkbox:





This lets you delete one ore more build definitions in a single click. In Team Explorer this is not possible, you must first delete all builds and then delete the build definition. Annoying! Ler

TFS Build Manager will prompt you with the same delete options as in Team Explorer, so no functionality is lost:



Set Retention Policies

Allows you to set retentions policies to several build definitions in one go. Note that only retention policies for Triggered and Manual build definitions can be updated, not private builds. 
This feature also gives you the same options as in Team Explorer:



Clone to Branch

My favorite feature Ler Often the reason for cloning a build definition is that you have created a new source code branch and now you want to setup a matching set of builds for the new branch. When using the Clone build definition feature of the TFS Power Tools, you must update several of the parameters of the build definition after, including:

  • Name
  • Workspace mappings
  • Source control path to Items to builds (solutions and/or projects)
  • Source control path to test settings file
  • Drop location
  • Source control path to TFSBuild.proj for UpgradeTemplate builds

All this is done automagically when using the Clone to Branch feature! When you select this command, the build manager will look at the Items to build path (e.g. solution/projects) and find all child branches to this path and display them in a dialog:


When select one of the target branches, the new name will default to the source build definition with the target branch name appended. Of course you can modify the name in the dialog. After pressing OK, a new build definition will be created and all the parameters listed above will be modified accordingly to the new branch.


Bulk operations on Builds

You can also perform several actions on builds, and more will be added shortly. In the first release, the following features are available:



This will delete all artifacts of the build (details, drops, test results etc..). It should show the same dialog as the Delete Build Definition command, but currently it will delete everything.

Open Drop Folders

Allows you to open the drop folder for one or more builds


Retain Indefinitely

Set one or more builds to be retained indefinitely.


Bonus Feature – Generate DGML for your build environment

This feature was outside spec, but since I was playing around with generating DGML it was easy to implement this feature and it is actually rather useful. It quickly gives you an overview of your build resources, e.g. which build controllers and build agents that exist for the current project collection, and on what hosts they are running. The command is available in the small toolbar at the top, next to the refresh button:


Here is an example from our lab environment:


The dark green boxes are the host machine names and the controller and agents are contained within them.

Note: Currently the only way to view DGML files are with Visual Studio 2010 Premium and Ultimate.


I hope that many of you will find this tool useful, please report issues/feature requests to the Community TFS Build Extensions CodePlex site!

December 2011 TFS Power Tools Release

Brian Harry just posted an update on the latest version of the TFS 2010 Power Tools. This will most likely by the last version of the Power Tools for the TFS 2010 version, next version will target Dev11!

The main improvements in this release are:

  • Team Foundation Server Power Tools for Eclipse
  • MSSCCI Provider for 64-bit IDE’s
  • VS 2010 Power Tools update
    • Improved Work item Search
    • Best Practice Analyzer now also analyzes the integration with Project Server, if you are using it

Check out the early Christmas gift here:

TF237165: Team Foundation could not update the work item because of a validation error on the server.

I often use the VS 2010/TFS 2010 evaluation virtual machines that Microsoft publishes every 6 months with the latest bits. It’s a great timesaver to use an image where everything is already setup and also contains a bit of sample data that is useful when you want to demo something for customers.


There is one thing that has always been a, albeit small, but still very annoying problem and that is that the builds always partially fail when you start using the image. When you want to demo the powerful feature of associated work items in a build, you’ll find yourself with your pants down since the build fails when trying to update the associated work item! Even when looking at the historical builds for the Tailspin Toys project, you will notice that they also partially failed:



If you look at the error message in the build details, you’ll see the following error:



The work item ‘XX’ could not be updated: ‘TF237165: Team Foundation could not update the work item because of a validation error on the server. This may happen because the work item type has been modified or destroyed, or you do not have permission to update the work item.’

The problem here is that the build agent by default is running as the NT AUTHORITYSYSTEM account, which is an account that do not have permission to modify work items. Your best option here is to switch account and use the Network Service account instead. Open TFS Administration Console, and select the Build Configuration node. Press the Stop link in the Build Service section:




Select Properties and select NT AUTHORITYNetworkService as Credentials




Press Start to start the build service with the new credentials.


If you would queue a new build now, the build would fail because of conflicting workspace mappings. The reason for this is that we haven’t changed the working folder path for the build agents, so when the build agent try to create a new workspace, the local path will conflict with the workspace previously created by NT AUTHORITYSYSTEM.

So to resolve this we can do two things:

  1. (Preferred). Delete the team build workspaces previously created by the SYSTEM account. To do this, start a Visual Studio command prompt and type:

    tf.exe workspace /delete <workspacename>;NT AUTHORITYSYSTEM

    If you need to list the workspaces to get the names, you can type:

    tf workspaces /owner:NT AUTHORITYSYSTEM /computer: <buildserver>

  2. (Less preferred, but good if you want to switch back later to the old build service account) 

    You can also modify the working folder path for the build agents, so that they don’t conflict with the existing workspaces. Click Properties on the build agent(s) and modify the Working Directory proprerty:


    In this case, you can for example change it to $(SystemDrive)BuildsNS$(BuildAgentId)$(BuildDefinitionPath)  where NS = Network Service.

Compatibility Problem with Microsoft Test Manager 2010 and Visual Studio 2011

UPDATE 10.01.2012:

The issue has been resolved by Microsoft and will be addressed in patch soon. Here is the full description from the Connect site:

“We’ve identified the rootcause. This bug was introduced in the compatibility GDR patch released for VS 2010 to work against 2011 TFS Server. We shall be releasing a patch soon. Till then, please follow the workaround mentioned to unblock yourselves. “

When setting up a physical environment for a new test controller on our TFS 2010 server, I ran into a problem that seems to be related to having installed the Visual Studio 2010 SP1 TFS Compatibility GDR and/or Visual Studio 2011 Developer Preview

on the same machine as Visual Studio 2010 (SP1)


The problem occurs when trying to add a test agent to the physical environment, MTM gives the following error:

Failed to obtain available machines from the selected test controller.

Clicking on the View details link shows the following error dialog:


Error dialog: Cannot communicate with the Controller due to version mismatch


I have investigated the problem together with Microsoft, and they are working on finding out why this is happening. I have posted the issue on the Connect site here:



Fortunately, we found a workaround that is not too bad. When facing this problem, go the the Controllers tab that list all the controllers. If you select the controller from the list, it will actually show the test agent.



Then go back to the Environments tab and voila, the test agent appears now on the list. It seems like the

I’ll post an update when the issue has been resolved by MS

TFS 2010 Build – Troubleshooting the TF215097 error

Anyone working with developing custom activities in TFS 2010 Build has run into the following dreadful error message when running the build:

TF215097: An error occurred while initializing a build for build definition TeamProjectMyBuildDefinition: Cannot create unknown type ‘{clr-namespace:[namespace];assembly=[assembly]}Activity

What the error means is that when the TFS build service loads the build process template XAML for the build definition, it can’t create an instance of the customer workflow activity that is referenced from it.

The problem here is that there are several steps that all need to be done correctly for this process to work.

Make sure that:

  • When developing custom workflow, you keep the XAML builds template workflows in one project, and the custom activities in another project. The template workflow project shall reference the custom activities project.
    This setup also makes sure that your custom activities show up in the toolbox when designing your workflow.
  • You have checked in the modified version of the XAML workflow (easy to forget)
  • Your custom activity has the the BuildActivityAttribute:


  • Your custom activity is public (common mistake…)
  • You have configured your build controller with the path in source control where the custom activities are located


  • Verify that all dependencies for the custom activity assembly/assemblies have been checked into the same location as the assembly
    NB: You don’t need to check in TFS assemblies and other references that you know will be in the GAC on the build servers.
  • The reference to the custom activity assembly in the XAML workflow is correct:
  • xmlns:obc="clr-namespace:Inmeta.Build.CustomActivities;assembly=Inmeta.Build.CustomActivities"

But, even if you have all these step done right, you can still get the error. I had this problem recently when working with the code metrics activities for the community project.

The thing that saved me that time was the Team Foundation Build Service Events eventlog. This is a somewhat hidden “feature” that is very useful when troubleshooting build problems. You find it under Custom View

in the event log on the build servers


In this case I had the following message there:

Service ‘LT-JAKOB2010 – Agent1’ had an exception:

Exception Message: Problem with loading custom assemblies: Method ‘get_BuildAgentUri’ in type ‘TfsBuildExtensions.Activities.Tests.MockIBuildDetail’ from assembly ‘TfsBuildExtensions.Activities.Tests, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=null’ does not have an implementation. (type Exception)

Which made me realize that I had by accident checked in one of the test assemblies into the custom activity source control folder in TFS.

Unfortunately this whole process with developing you own custom activities is problematic and error prone, hopefully this will be better in future versions of TFS. Once you have your setup working however, changing and adding new custom activities is easy. And deployment is a breeze thanks to the automatic downloading and recycling of build agents that the build controller handles.