MSBuild/C#: How to Manage the Application Version Using a Text-File


C# applications have an “AssemblyInfo.cs” file that describe the assembly and executable versions of a project. Unfortunately, sometimes it is not possible to access this from the code. Other times, you need to drive this version from external sources (like a build system) and then use it for the build.

The approach this by keeping the version in a text-file:

  1. Manually set/update the version in a text-file.
  2. Install a package that helps us with string-replacements.
  3. Inject this to AssemblyInfo.cs during the build.
  4. Embed this file into the executing assembly.
  5. Extract this file file the executing assembly when you need to know it during execution.

The title of this post is a simplification for lack of an easy way to succinctly describe five steps in a couple of words.

Do It

Feel free to modify/customize these steps as suits your needs.

1. Create the Version File

Create a file called “executable.version” in the “Properties\” folder of your executable project. Make sure to include this in your project. In the “Properties” window, set “Build Action” to “Embedded Resource”.

2. Install the “MSBuild Community Tasks” NuGet Package

This is the “MSBuildTasks” package. This provides us a regular-expression string-replacement MSBuild task.

3. Create a template “AssemblyVersion.cs” File

Copy “Properties\AssemblyInfo.cs” to “Properties\AssemblyInfo.cs.use_this” and update the two version attributes as the bottom to be the following:

[assembly: AssemblyVersion("__EXECUTABLE_VERSION__")]
[assembly: AssemblyFileVersion("__EXECUTABLE_VERSION__")]

Make sure to include this new file in the project. Note that we name this so as to not have the “.cs” extension because, otherwise, Visual Studio will try to parse it and complain about the attributes being duplicated from the “AssemblyInfo.cs” file.

4. Add the Build Step

We are going to add a custom build target to inject the version. We personally chose to put this into a separate rules file in order to make it clear which of the build-logic was ours, but this is up to you. It would just as easily work if it were included at the bottom of your project-file. Create “Properties\build.targets” with the following:


<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<Project ToolsVersion="12.0" xmlns="">

<!-- Inject a version from a text-file into AssemblyVersion.cs . We do this 
 so that it's easier for the application to know its own version [by 
 reading the text file].
 <Import Project="$(ProjectDir)..\packages\MSBuildTasks.\tools\MSBuild.Community.Tasks.Targets" /> 
 <Target Name="InjectVersion" BeforeTargets="BeforeBuild">
 <!-- Read the version from our text file. This appears to automatically 
 trim (probably per line). This is located in the project root so 
 that we copy the file to the output-path rather than establishing 
 a whole Properties/ directory in the output path.
 <ReadLinesFromFile File="$(ProjectDir)Properties\executable.version">
 <Output TaskParameter="Lines" PropertyName="ExecutableVersion" />

<!-- Print it to the build output whether we're in debug-mode or not. -->
 <Message Importance="High" Text="Executable version is [$(ExecutableVersion)]"/>

<!-- Copy our template file to the output file. -->
 <Copy SourceFiles="$(ProjectDir)Properties/AssemblyInfo.cs.use_this" DestinationFiles="$(ProjectDir)Properties/AssemblyInfo.cs"/>

<!-- Do an RX replace of the version on to the token. -->

 <WriteFiles Include='$(ProjectDir)Properties/AssemblyInfo.cs' />


<!-- Replace the cautionary note about how to use the file with one 
 saying that any changes will be lost (if made to the output file). 
 Regex="// TEMPLATE:.+"
 ReplacementText="// THIS FILE IS GENERATED! Apply any changes to 'AssemblyInfo.cs.use_this', instead."

IMPORTANT: Notice that we have to import the build targets provided by the “MSBuildTasks” package:


For us, NuGet packages go into the “packages” directory that is in the parent directory of our project directory. Also notice that we have to embed the version for this NuGet package. If your package is a different version or is located in a different place, you will have to update the example to be accurate.

NOTE: One way to get around having to embed the version is to bypass putting this package in your “packages.config file” and, instead, do a manual NuGet install of this package from a build-task to your packages directory (whereever it is) while also passing the “-ExcludeVersion” argument so as to not put the version in the package’s directory name.

Now, import the “build.targets” file from your project file. Put it somewhere near the bottom. Since it will run before the “BeforeBuild” target, we put it before that (which will be commented-out unless you use it):

 <Import Project="$(MSBuildToolsPath)\Microsoft.CSharp.targets" />
 <Import Project="Properties\build.targets" />

5. Reading the Version From the Application

At this point, you should be able to build your project. The only thing that might be considered a disadvantage to this method is that, every time you build your project from inside Visual Studio, you will be prompted to reload the “AssemblyInfo.cs” file because it has been updated from outside of VS even if it has not changed (which is no stupider than the amount of work that we are required to do in order to find our own version). It would be easiest to check the box in this popup that says to only tell you if you happen to have unsaved changes to a file that has been changed from outside VS.

In our case, we are using the CLAP command-line parser. So, we added a private “ExecutableVersion” getter on the class that we are using to handle our subcommands. Then, we added a “version” subcommand that reads and prints the new property. Code for the property:


private string executableVersion = null;

private string ExecutableVersion
        if (executableVersion == null)
            Assembly assembly = Assembly.GetExecutingAssembly();
            string assemblyName = assembly.GetName().Name;

            // "Properties" is required since it is located in the 
            // Properties folder of the project and was thusly embedded 
            // as such.
            string filepath = assemblyName + @".Properties.executable.version";

            string[] names = assembly.GetManifestResourceNames();
            var stream = assembly.GetManifestResourceStream(filepath);
            if (stream == null)
                throw new Exception(String.Format("Could not get resource-stream with name [{0}] for version content from assembly [{1}]. Available: {2}", filepath, assembly.FullName, String.Join(",", names)));

            TextReader tr = new StreamReader(stream);
            executableVersion = tr.ReadToEnd().Trim();

        return executableVersion;