A Day In The Lyf

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Archive for January 2008

Managing Config Files

There’s a discussion on the altdotnet Yahoo group about managing configuration files. How do you manage updating multiple configuration files to change the appropriate values when deploying to a different environment?

The solution I hit on was to create a custom MSBuild task. When called from our build script, it looks something like this:

    <ConfigFiles Include="$(DeployDir)/**/*.exe.config"/>
    <ConfigFiles Include="$(DeployDir)/**/*.dll.config"/>
    <ConfigFiles Include="$(DeployDir)/**/web.config"/>

    <HibernateFiles Include="$(DeployDir)/**/hibernate.cfg.xml"/>

    <Log4NetFiles Include="$(DeployDir)/**/log4net.config"/>

<Target Name="UpdateConfig">
        Environment="$(Environment)" />
        NamespacePrefix="hbm" />
        Environment="$(Environment)" />

Notice that each call to UpdateConfig takes the list of config files that will be changed and a config mapping file. That mapping file is what is read to update the config files given the environment. Here’s an example of what the mapping file looks like:

    <add xpath="configuration/appSettings/add[@key='dbserver']">
            <add key="dbserver" value="stagingServer"/>
            <add key="dbserver" value="productionServer"/>

Each config file is scanned looking for each XPath expression in the mapping file. On each match, the entire node (and all its child nodes) of the original config file are replaced with the node under the appropriate environment tag in the mapping file. It’s a bit verbose, but simple enough, and it supports as many environments as you want to have.

The MSBuild task itself is fairly simple, delegating most of its work to a separate object called XmlMerger:

private void MergeChanges()
    foreach (ITaskItem item in ConfigFiles)
        string configFile = item.ItemSpec;
        XmlDocument configFileDoc = LoadXmlDocument(configFile);
        XmlDocument configMappingDoc = LoadXmlDocument(configMappingFile);

        XmlMerger merger = new XmlMerger(configFileDoc, configMappingDoc);
        if (!string.IsNullOrEmpty(NamespaceUri) && !string.IsNullOrEmpty(NamespacePrefix))
            merger.AddNamespace(NamespacePrefix, NamespaceUri);


XmlMerger just finds the nodes that need updating and replaces them from the mapping file. Notice that it also accepts namespace information (see the NHibernate example in the build script snippet above), which is occasionally needed:

public class  XmlMerger
    private readonly XmlDocument configFile;
    private readonly XmlDocument configMapping;
    private readonly XmlNamespaceManager namespaces;

    public XmlMerger(XmlDocument configFile, XmlDocument configMapping)
        this.configFile = configFile;
        this.configMapping = configMapping;
        namespaces = new XmlNamespaceManager(configFile.NameTable);

    public void AddNamespace(string prefix, string uri)
        namespaces.AddNamespace(prefix, uri);

    public void Merge(string environment)
        foreach (XmlNode mappingNode in configMapping.SelectNodes("/configOptions/add"))
            string xpath = mappingNode.Attributes["xpath"].Value;
            XmlNode replacementNode = FindNode(mappingNode, environment).FirstChild;
            XmlNode nodeToReplace = configFile.SelectSingleNode(xpath, namespaces);
            if (nodeToReplace != null)
                ReplaceNode(nodeToReplace, replacementNode);

    private void ReplaceNode(XmlNode nodeToReplace, XmlNode replacementNode)
        nodeToReplace.InnerXml = replacementNode.InnerXml;

        // Remove attributes not in nodeToReplace.  There's probably a cleaner solution,
        // but I didn't see it.
        for (int i = nodeToReplace.Attributes.Count - 1; i >= 0; i--)
            if (replacementNode.Attributes[nodeToReplace.Attributes[i].Name] == null)

        foreach (XmlAttribute attribute in replacementNode.Attributes)
            if (nodeToReplace.Attributes[attribute.Name] == null)

            nodeToReplace.Attributes[attribute.Name].Value = attribute.Value;

    private XmlNode FindNode(XmlNode node, string xpath)
        XmlNode result = node.SelectSingleNode(xpath);
        if (result == null)
            throw new ApplicationException("Missing node for " + xpath);
        return result;

That's it. Now the whole process is hands-free, so long as you remember to update the mapping file when needed. The config files we put into subversion are set to work in the development environment (everything is localhost), so anybody can checkout our code and start working without having to tweak a bunch of settings first. The deployment process calls our build script, which ensures that the appropriate config values get changed.


Written by Brandon Byars

January 10, 2008 at 9:39 pm

Posted in .NET, Configuration Management

Tagged with