MSBuild is a build tool that helps automate the process of creating a software product, including compiling the source code, packaging, testing, deployment and creating documentations. With MSBuild, it is possible to build Visual Studio projects and solutions without the Visual Studio IDE installed. MSBuild is available at no cost. MSBuild was previously bundled with .NET Framework; starting with Visual Studio 2013, however, it is bundled with Visual Studio instead. MSBuild is a functional replacement for the nmake utility, the latter of which remains in use in projects that originated in older Visual Studio releases.
MSBuild acts on MSBuild project files which have a similar XML syntax to Apache Ant or NAnt. Even though the syntax is based upon well-defined XML schema, the fundamental structure and operation is comparable to the traditional Unix make utility: the user specifies what will be used (typically source code files) and what the result should be (typically an application), but the utility itself decides what to do and the order in which to do it.
MSBuild can build a project against a supported .NET Framework version of choice. This feature is called "multitargeting". Any given build of a project, however, can only target one version of the framework at a time.
This section may be confusing or unclear to readers. In particular, it is unclear what this section is talking about and what is the nature of, say, a "Target" or "Task". Examples would help. Please help us clarify the section; suggestions may be found on the talk page.(April 2013)
A Target contains a set of tasks for MSBuild to execute. The focus of MSBuild is the result Target specified when invoking MSBuild with the project file. This is because a Project may contain several Target entries, each executed sequentially (and conditionally). Subsequent dependent Targets are executed before the requested Target. The execution flow of the current Target can be directed using the following attributes: Condition, BeforeTargets, AfterTargets, & DependsOnTargets. Each Target may be self contained with the necessary Tasks to complete itself. A Target is typically an action executed on a file, set of files or directory.
A Task is a command which is executed in order to complete a Target. Tasks are used to group and execute any number of actions during the build process. They are typically implemented in a .NET assembly as a class which inherits from the Task class or implements the ITask interface. Many basic tasks are shipped as part of the .NET Framework, and community developed tasks are freely available. Some examples of Tasks include copying files, creating directories, or parsing XML.
Properties and Items
MSBuild provides Properties and Items, which are conceptually equivalent to make'smacros. Properties specify static values, whereas Items are usually used to define sets of files or folders on which to perform Tasks. Specifying files on Items is made easy by the support of wildcards.