Posts Tagged ‘ WinForms ’

ClickOnce Master Build

Previously I have posted about how to publish a ClickOnce release for multiple environments. Whilst this works well there are two reasons (that I can think of) why it is not appropriate or good enough.

First, you or your manager may be a bit of a purist in terms of releasing to Production ‘exactly’ what has been tested, specifically the exact same compiled assemblies.

Second, you may need to create a release for several different customers who each have several of their own ‘environments’ but you do not want to provide them with your source code.

Third…both of the above. 🙂

When you ‘Publish’ with MsBuild it requires the source code and it recompiles your assemblies. So how can we easily create releases for multiple environments but only Publish once? This posting offers one solution which has worked for me in the past, it’s not a complete ‘how to’ guide I just wanted to cover the idea and problems I ran into along the way.

Master Build Environment

Make sure you take a look at my previous posting as this process builds on those ideas.

One of the final steps of this process is to re-sign the setup.exe, however in order for that final step to work you have to change one of your ClickOnce deployment settings in your .csproj file.


SignManifests must be false! Otherwise the signtool gets confused when re-signing the setup.exe. Check this out for a bit more info on this known issue.

So the first thing to do is create a BuildEnvironment called Master. The configuration details of this (web service addresses or database connnection strings etc) should point to nowhere, i.e. if someone deployed this build then it should not work. Publishing this is easy just follow the steps defined in the multiple environment posting, the process of creating a release with environment specific information that is tricky.

MsBuild Changes for Master Build Publish

When you publish with ClickOnce it creates a folder ‘Application Files’ where it puts the contents of the release. The space in that file name causes a problem with MAGE when re-signing the app. Now the only way I could see to change this was to cut and paste the _CopyFilesToPublishFolder target from Microsoft.Common.Targets and modifying the _DeploymentApplicationFolderName property in my version to remove the space. I think it is a really BAD idea to change the Microsoft.Common.Targets directly so that option was ruled out immediately and as you can see in the code below, Application Files (version below already has the space removed) is a hardcoded value, not a settable property…therefore even though it is ugly, cut and paste seems the only viable solution.

	  This Target code has been cut and paste from Microsoft.Common.Targets.
	  Only ONE thing has been changed.
	  Application Files changed to ApplicationFiles (i.e. the space removed)
	  The only other way of changing that value is to modify Microsoft.Common.Targets
	  which is a really bad idea (would have to ensure this was changed on ALL machines.)

	  The space causes a problem when re-signing the app with MAGE

        <!-- Compute name of application folder, which includes the assembly name plus formatted application version.
             The application version is formatted to use "_" in place of "." chars (i.e. "1_0_0_0" instead of "").
             This is done because some servers misinterpret "." as a file extension. -->
        <FormatVersion Version="$(ApplicationVersion)" Revision="$(ApplicationRevision)" FormatType="Path">
            <Output TaskParameter="OutputVersion" PropertyName="_DeploymentApplicationVersionFragment"/>


        <!-- Copy files to publish folder -->
        <FormatUrl InputUrl="$(_DeploymentApplicationUrl)">
            <Output TaskParameter="OutputUrl" PropertyName="_DeploymentFormattedApplicationUrl"/>
        <FormatUrl InputUrl="$(_DeploymentComponentsUrl)">
            <Output TaskParameter="OutputUrl" PropertyName="_DeploymentFormattedComponentsUrl"/>

Note that the space only causes a problem with MAGE.exe, it does not cause a problem with MAGEUI.exe! MAGEUI.exe happily re-signs the release even with the space in the directory name. We cannot use MAGEUI.exe however because this process needs to be automated, if you use MAGEUI.exe someone has to run it and manually set the values…not good enough.

It took a while to figure out that the space in the dir name was causing a problem so I hope this saves someone else some time…

Creating a Release

Ok so now we have a published build that no one can use, the first place we want to release to will be QA, then from there UAT so what we need now is an automated way of creating a release configured for these environments.

Creating a release should be as easy as publishing a build, it should be a one step process.

Create a batch file ‘createRelease.bat’ which performs all of the necessary steps. Those steps are:

  1. Create or clean the ‘working’ directory.
  2. Copy the master build into the working directory.
  3. Run the MsBuild steps.
  4. Create a zip file of the new release. (not necessary just makes it a little easier to move the releases around)

Run the MsBuild Steps

Add a new target in your customized.targets file, ModifyMasterBuildForEnvironment.

<Target Name="ModifyMasterBuildForEnvironment" DependsOnTargets="SetPropertyValues; ConfigureForEnvironment; RecreateManifests" />


There are a few properties which need to be set for the resigning process.

	<Target Name="SetPropertyValues" >
		<Message Text="FullReleasePath $(FullReleasePath)" />

		<MSBuild.ExtensionPack.Framework.TextString TaskAction="Replace" OldString="$(ApplicationVersion)" OldValue="." NewValue="_">
			<Output PropertyName="buildX" TaskParameter="NewString"/>



Add your own target(s) here that does the work to configure the release for a given environment. e.g. update the config file setting database connection strings or web service urls.


Now that you have modified the published release it is no longer a valid ClickOnce release. Try to install it and it will fail. What you need to do is update and re-sign the manifests (the Application Manifest and the Deployment Manifest). You also need to update and resign the Setup.exe!

	<Target Name="RecreateManifests">

		<!-- Application manifest update and resign -->
		<Message Text="Removing .deploy suffix..." />
		<RenameFiles DirectoryPath="$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)\$(FullReleasePath)" RemoveSuffix=".deploy" IncludeSubDirectories="True" />
		<Message Text="Updating application manifest" />
		<Exec Command="mage -Update $(ApplicationManifestPath) -FromDirectory $(FullReleasePath) -ToFile $(ApplicationManifestPath)" />
		<Message Text="Adding .deploy suffix..." />
		<RenameFiles DirectoryPath="$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)\$(FullReleasePath)" AppendSuffix=".deploy" IncludeSubDirectories="True" ExcludedFiles="$(ApplicationManifestName)" />
		<Message Text="ApplicationManifestPath $(ApplicationManifestPath)" />
		<Exec Command="mage -Sign $(ApplicationManifestPath) -CertFile $(CertFileName)" />

		<!-- Deployment manifest update and resign -->
		<Message Text="Updating Deployment manifest (ProviderFullUrl=$(ProviderFullUrl))" />
		<Exec Command="mage -Update $(DeploymentManifestPath) -AppManifest $(ApplicationManifestPath) -ProviderUrl $(ProviderFullUrl)" />
		<Message Text="DeploymentManifestPath $(DeploymentManifestPath)" />
		<Exec Command="mage -Sign $(DeploymentManifestPath) -CertFile $(CertFileName) " />

		<!-- Setup.exe update and resign -->
		<Message Text="Updating $(WorkingDirectory)\Setup.exe..." />
		<Exec Command="$(WorkingDirectory)\Setup.exe /url=$(ProviderBaseUrl)" />
		<Message Text="Signing $(WorkingDirectory)\Setup.exe..." />
		<Exec Command="signtool sign /v /f $(CertFileName) $(WorkingDirectory)\Setup.exe" />


Note that before Updating the Application Manifest we have to remove the .deploy extension from the file names, then add the .deploy extension back onto the file names before Signing. (if you have configured ClickOnce to NOT append .deploy then obviously just remove these steps).

RenameFiles Task

To get the renaming behaviour I wanted I had to create my own MsBuild task. You will need to do the same, it’s a little crude as I had limited time but this is the simple little task I created….

    public class RenameFiles : Task
        public override bool Execute()
            var directory = new DirectoryInfo(DirectoryPath);
            if(directory == null)
                throw new ApplicationException(string.Format("Directory path is invalid: {0}", DirectoryPath));
            Console.WriteLine(string.Format("DirectoryPath:{0}", DirectoryPath));


            return true;

        private void ProcessDirectory(DirectoryInfo directory)
            if(! IncludeSubDirectories)

            var subs = directory.GetDirectories();
            foreach (DirectoryInfo sub in subs)

        private void RenameAllFiles(DirectoryInfo directory)
            var files = directory.GetFiles();

            if(files.Length == 0)

            foreach (FileInfo file in files)
                string fileName = file.Name;
                if (ExcludedFileList.Exists(name => name.Equals(fileName, StringComparison.InvariantCultureIgnoreCase)))
                    Console.WriteLine(string.Format("{0} is excluded from renaming.", file.Name));
                Console.WriteLine(string.Format("Renaming {0}", file.Name));

        private void RemoveExtensions(FileInfo file)
            if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(RemoveSuffix))
            file.MoveTo(file.FullName.Replace(RemoveSuffix, string.Empty));

        private void AppendExtensions(FileInfo file)
            if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(AppendSuffix))
            file.MoveTo(string.Format("{0}{1}", file.FullName, AppendSuffix));

        public string DirectoryPath { get; set; }
        public string RemoveSuffix { get; set; }
        public string AppendSuffix { get; set; }
        public string ExcludedFiles { get; set; }
        public bool IncludeSubDirectories { get; set; }

        private List<string> ExcludedFileList
                if (excludedFileList == null)
                    excludedFileList = CommonFunctions.CreateListFromCommaSeparatedString(ExcludedFiles);
                return excludedFileList;
        private List<string> excludedFileList;


There are a number of other little steps we do to make this release process work here but these are really specific to how we want it to work. What I have outlined above is the core steps involved including some problems you will face and their solutions. I hope this posting helps you get over the most challenging of the hurdles you will face in setting a smooth ‘Master Build’ release process but there is still alot of extra steps you will need to create yourself to get it working end to end.

One thing I would recommend is, once you have a working createRelease.bat (note it doesn’t have to be a batch file, could be an exe or powershell or whatever works best in your situation) then create a createReleaseALL.bat file. In there make n calls to createRelease.bat…one for each environment you need to create releases for. That way if you have a dozen environments you can still create a release for all of them with a one step process 🙂

I have had to do this fairly quickly so if something is not clear please let me know and I will see if I can improve the post over time.

Final note – It does take time to set this up and get it working correctly, but it is so worth it! Over time you will save much more time than you spent setting it up, guaranteed!

Additional Resources

A few links which helped me to piece this puzzle together…

ClickOnce with bootstraper setup.exe need to change URL without any build


Avoid Data Loss – Version Upgrade with ClickOnce

Avoid Data Loss when Upgrading App Version

If you have an occassionally connected smart client, how do you ensure that your clients do not lose any data when they upgrade the application version? This posting has a tip about the UpdateMode property that helps with this question.

We use the Disconnected Service Agent (DSA) to help manage the occassionally connected scenarios. The DSA queues services calls in a local SQL Compact Database, the items in the queue get sent when a network connection is detected.

The Problem Scenario

But there is a problem with the following scenario:

1. User processes data in disco mode. Closes the application.
2. We put a new release on the server.
3. User re-connects to the network then starts the app.
4. ClickOnce advises the user that there is a new releases and asks if they want to upgrade or skip. (at this point there are queued service calls in the local database)

5. User chooses one of the following paths

Skip (good path)

– App starts with the old version
– Data captured in disco mode is sent to the server
– All good! n days later they will be prompted to upgrade their version again (define number of days in your .csproj)

Upgrade (bad path)

– Upgrade is downloaded from the server
– Local version is upgraded, which equates to a new install of the new release (and therefore a new local database)
– App starts with the new version
– Data captured in disco mode is lost, the new version has a new database.

So data loss can be avoided if the user chooses the right path, i.e. skips the upgrade the first time. But the last thing you want to do is rely on the user to make the right choice, if one path leads to data loss it’s really our fault as the developers for making the option available. So how do we take away the option?

ClickOnce UpdateMode

The problem scenario described above will only be an issue if you have set the UpdateMode property to ‘Foreground’.

UpdateMode may either be Foreground or Background. If it is set to Foreground the prompt above will appear when ClickOnce detects a new version and before the application starts. If it is set to Background, if ClickOnce detects a new version it:

  1. Starts the app with the currently installed version
  2. Downloads the new version, ready to go for the next restart.

Importantly what it means is that the first time they reconnect after working in disco mode, the upgrade will automatically be skipped, they’ll login with the old version and the captured data will be sent to the server. Then next time they start the app they will then be prompted to upgrade.

The ‘Background’ mode has the (minor) added advantage of the new version being downloaded in the background. In Foreground mode the user must wait for the download to complete when they click Upgrade.

So unless you have a very strong business case for it using Foreground, I’d recommend always setting the UpdateMode to Background!

Finding a Memory Leak in a .Net Application

Do You Have a Leak?

What do you do when you think your application has a memory leak?

I’m sure there are many options but this posting is about my experience with Red Gates ANTS memory profiler 5.1.

About Memory Management and the GC

There have been books written on this so I’m not going to attempt to explain. However I can’t stress enough how important it is to have at least a basic understanding about how the Garbage Collector works.

To compliment their products Red Gate have created a series of easy to understand on-line video’s about .Net Memory Management nicely broken down into several 5-10 minutes segments. These video’s are FREE so watch them!

If the video’s are not in depth enough for you, any article on the subject by Jeffrey Richter should satisfy your need for detailed explanations. Start with this one.

My Leak

Every time I opened and closed one of my controls, which was getting opened in a modal window, the memory used by the application increased and never went back down again. Which is weird because doesn’t .Net handle all memory management for me?

Do it does not.

So what is going on? The control in question has a dispose method, there’s nothing really tricky going on (no database connections etc) so how do I find out exactly what is causing the leak?

Finding the Leak

Enter ANTS memory profiler. I fire up the profiler, select my .exe and click ‘Start Profiling’.


The app starts like normal but now the profiler has it under a microscope. Expect your app to run more slowly and make sure you have plenty of RAM.

I navigate to the screen where I can ‘launch’ the control that is leaking, then click ‘Take Memory Snapshot’.

Then I open and close the modal window say six times then click ‘Take Memory Snapshot’ once more.

Now we have two memory snapshots which we can compare. Stop Profiling for now, two is enough.

Click ‘Class List’, then in the grid click on the ‘Instance Diff (+/-)’ column header to sort by instance differences.

What we can clearly see now is a list of objects that are ‘alive’ in the program. What we care about is the difference in live instances from the first snapshot to the second. The ‘Instance Diff’ column provides this info. Now if we have a leak we should see an extra 6 live instances for our leaky control. So scroll down to the group of +6 items.

There are a couple of things of interest here in the profiler. First is yes we can see an extra six instance of our leaky control. Secondly, notice that ANTS puts your controls in bold. In this case we are looking for a specific problem but if you wanted to check for general memory leaks you can easily use the app for a while then scroll down until you see which of your objects is regularly increasing its instance count.

Ok great, we know it leaks, now what?

Dig a Little Deeper

Highlight the leaky object and click Instance List.

That will then show all 6 instance, just select one then click the ‘Object Retention Graph’ button.

In my case the graph appears empty, until I uncheck the ‘Hide’ box.

Now there’s some useful info…

In fact this tells me that there are several KeyEventHandlers that are stopping the GC from collecting my control.

Cool so back to the code and I add some code to unregister the handlers in the Dispose method.

_previousButton.Click -= PreviousButtonClick;
 _familyNameText.KeyDown -= Navigate;
 _givenNamesText.KeyDown -= Navigate;

Rebuild the solution and re-run the profiler. Take the initial snapshot, open close the leaky form half a dozen times, take the second snapshot.


Now there are no more live instances of the leaky control! Our memory leak has been resolved.

Very easily!


It is almost certain that somewhere in your application there is a memory leak. With the right tool finding and resolving these leaks can be really easy, it just takes a little bit of time to familiarise yourself with the way the tool works.

The tools aren’t cheap but for any commercial application they are most definately worth the money. In this posting I used ANTS profiler from Red Gate, I am sure there are other tools out there that also do a great job, I just haven’t had the opportunity to use them. ANTS though is excellent (and no I do not have any association with them…beyond having bought a licence).

Events wired up to their handlers are often the ‘hidden’ cause of leaks. But even those of us who know how to manage memory in .Net often forget to do the right thing for whatever reason…usually time pressures. So I’d recommend explicitly building in some time into your project schedule to go hunting for memory leaks, find them before they go into production and everyone will sleep easier at night 🙂

Determine if Internet Connection Available

Smart Client

Be careful with your logic when using


This tells you if any network is available…which doesn’t necessarily mean that you can connect to the internet!

For example if in my app if I unplug my network cable the method returns false…until I plug in my mobile device and suddenly (and accurately) it returns true. Plugging my mobile in does not mean I have internet access BUT IT MIGHT. 

The best way to check for an internet ready connection is to make some call out to the internet and see what happens, there’s a few suggestions for which approach, I like this one:-

Memory Leak in My .Net Application

.Net does not make memory leaks a thing of the past….but it does very nicely take away most of the burden from developers.

Our WinForms app is due to go live very soon and we’ve noticed that we have a memory leak. These are the two errors we were receiving…


We were receiving two differnt types of exceptions:-

  1. Error Creating Window Handle.
  2. A Generic Error Occured in GDI+

The errors intermittently in random parts of the application but it did seem to occur more frequently in one ‘problem’ area.


Open Task Manager, goto Views -> Select Columns and check USER Objects and GDI Objects. Why do we care about these? As it turns out, if either of these numbers hits 10000 you will get an out of memory exception. User objects produces the Handle error and GDI produces the GDI error (oddly enough).


Now run your app and watch those numbers.  Ideally focus on one specific area where you can repeat an activity such as opening and closing a modal window (the memory leaks we had were occuring around creating and disposing controls.) If the numbers go up and never come down then it’s likely you have a leak (allow some time for the Garbage Collector – GC – to run).


So the app had a memory leak, what then? First I checked that IDispose was correctly and that we were calling Dispose where necessary.

I’m not going to discuss how to do this in this post but here’s a couple of links to get you started…

Once this was done the User Objects count was under control. GREAT….but the GDI count was improved but there was no doubt that it was still growing unchecked. So what then? This article led me to ANTS Profiler and few interesting discoveries that I’ll discuss in my next post…

Other Resource/Useful Links

This is a very interesting article about ‘Windows are not cheap objects’