Editing an MSBuild Project File

It’s a small thing, this one – but not a lot of people seem to know about it, so I thought I’d add it in here.

It’s not uncommon that I find myself wanting to hack at a .csproj or .vbproj file directly (for example, to set a dependency between a XAML file and its code behind file, or simply to rename the code-behind file). As you probably know, in Visual Studio 2005 we revamped the build system with the introduction of a new technology called MSBuild. Project files are now XML descriptions of the various files, dependencies and property settings that make up an application, along with a means to describe how an individual file type gets built. (More details in this month’s MSDN Magazine.)

Unfortunately, you can’t just right-click on the project file in Visual Studio and choose “edit”, which means that quite a lot of the advanced customization capabilities are opaque from the developer environment. In our customer labs, I therefore frequently see people who have opened Notepad to edit the project file, but of course Notepad is hardly the pinnacle of developer editors.

So here’s how to edit a project file within Visual Studio 2005:

  • Open the solution that you’re working with

  • Right-click the specific project that you want to edit

  • Choose Unload Project

  • Right-click the project again

  • Choose Edit <project name>

  • Ooh and aah at the MSBuild Intellisense and tooltip help

  • Save the project

  • Right-click the project file and choose Reload Project

Simple when you know how, isn’t it?

Comments (3)

  1. Thanks for that one. Didn’t even know it existed (and Alex Kipman didn’t tell me either when I beat him up over some MsBuild stuff at TechEd)

  2. Ravi KP says:


    I never knew that we can edit the msbuild like this. usually i’ll launch another editor to edit the file.

    thanks for the valuable tip.

  3. Bill Conroy says:

    Do I seriously need to manage project guids though? I want to hand edit a project that has project references, is the only way to manage those myself to have to know the project’s guid???