Visual Studio Turbo – DIY AppHarbor with Nant.Builder

In the final part of this series I look at automating uploading your app into the Windows Azure Cloud, or as I like to think of it a Do It Yourself AppHarbor, hopefully with no leftover screws ;-).  The series so for:

  1. Visual Studio 2010 Workflow
  2. Automating Your Builds with Nant.Builder
  3. DIY AppHarbor – Deploying Your Builds onto Windows Azure

Update 08/08/12 – Updated Nant.Builder and links to reflect changes for Azure 1.7 and Azure Powershell Commandlets


1.  You’ll hopefully not be surprised to learn you’re going to need a Windows Azure account (there’s a rather stingy 90 day free trial, if you haven’t signed up already).  Within your account you’re going to need to set up one Hosted Service where we’ll deploy the app to, and one Storage Account where the package gets uploaded to prior to deployment.  If you’re stuggling just Google for help on configuration and setting up Windows Azure, there’s plenty of good guides out there.

2. You’ll also need to install the .net Windows Azure SDK v1.7.  Again I’ll assume you know how to add and configure an Azure project to your solution.

3.  Finally, you need to download the Windows Azure Powershell Cmdlets.  This will be installed automatically using Web Platform Installer.  Follow the Getting Started instructions here to ensure it was successfully installed.  You can get a list of available commands, here.

Getting Started – Importing your Azure Credentials

  • You’re going to need to download your Azure credentials, so Nant.Builder can contact Azure on your behalf.  We can do this by clicking here:
  • You should now have file called <your-sub>-<date>-credentials.publishsettings
    • Unhelpfully you can’t seem to rename the file on the portal to make it more meaningful
  • If you open the file you’ll see it’s an XML file containing your subscription details.
    • IMPORTANT– if you have multiple azure subscriptions you’ll need to edit the file so that it only includes the one subscription that you want to deploy your app into.
  • With the file downloaded open powershell and run the following commands, note you’ll need to change the path and filename to your .publishsettings file:

  • If the above command run successfully you should have an xml containing your subscriptionId and thumbprint in c:\dev\tools\windowsazure\subscriptions
  • ** REALLY IMPORTANT** – The subscription xml file is basically the keys to your Azure account, so you DO NOT want to be casually emailing it around, take it to the pub etc.  Ensure you save it behind a firewall etc etc.
  • OK that’s us got our Azure credentials organised, next we can configure Nant.Builder

Configure Nant.Builder for Azure Deployment

Packaging your solution for Azure

  • Install and configure Nant.Builder as described in Part 2 of this series.
  • Open the file and navigate to the Azure Settings section.
  • Set the parameter to true, this will call CSPack to package your solution in a format suitable for deployment to Windows Azure.  If you’re interested in what’s happening here I’ve talked about CSPack in depth here and here
  • Set the parameter to the name of the Azure project in your solution.
  • Set the parameter to the name of the project which contains the entrypoint to your app.  This will most likely be the Web project containing your MVC views etc.
  • Finally set the azure.service.config.file parameter to the name of the *.cscfg file containing the Azure config you want to deploy.  The default is *.cloud.cscfg but may be different if you have a test config, live config etc.
  • You can run Nant.Builder now and your solution should be packaged and output in C:\dev\releases\<your-solution-name>

Deploying your solution to Azure

  • If packaging has succeeded, you can now finally automate deployment to Azure.  Navigate to the Azure deployment section within Nant.Build
  • Set the parameter to true
  • Set the azure.subscription.credentials.file parameter to the name of the the file you created in the Import your Azure Credentials section above, ie C:\dev\tools\WindowsAzure\Subscriptions\yourSubscription.xml
  • Set the parameter to the name of the hosted service you want to deploy your app into.  IMPORTANT – be aware that this is the name listed as the DNS Prefix not the actual service name

  • Set the azure.deployment.environment parameter to the environment type you wish to deploy your app into.  Valid values are either staging or production
  • Finally set the parameter to the name of the storage account you set up earlier, this is where the app will be uploaded to temporarily when it’s being deployed.
  • That’s it we should now be ready to test our DIY App Harbor.  Your Azure Config section should look similar to this, obviously with your app details replaced:
 <!--Azure Settings-->

<!-- Packaging -->
 <!--The name of the project containing the Azure csdef, cscfg files-->
 <!-- This is the name of the project containing your app entry point, probably the Web project, but may be a library if using a worker role-->
 <!-- The name of the file containing the azure config for your app, default is .Cloud but may be custom if you have multiple configs, eg test, live etc -->

<!-- Deployment -->
 <!-- The name of the file containing your exported subcription details - IMPORTANT keep this file safe as it contains very sensitive credentials about your Azure sub -->
 <!-- The name of a azure hosted service where you want to deploy your app-->
 <!-- The environment type either Staging or Production-->
 <!-- The name of a storage account that exists on your subscription, this will be used to temporarily load your app into while it's being deploed-->

One Click Deployment

So we have hopefully achieved the dream of all modern developers being able to deploy our app into the cloud with one click.  If it’s successful you should see something similar to


     [exec] 27/05/2012 22:54 - Azure Cloud App deploy script started.
     [exec] 27/05/2012 22:54 - Preparing deployment of ContinuousDeploy to your service
     [exec] or inception with Subscription ID your subid
     [exec] 27/05/2012 22:54 - Creating New Deployment: In progress
     [exec] 27/05/2012 22:56 - Creating New Deployment: Succeeded, Deployment ID
     [exec] 27/05/2012 22:56 - Starting Instances: In progress
     [exec] 27/05/2012 22:56 - Starting Instance 'Nant.Builder.Sample.Web_IN_0': Stopped
     [exec] 27/05/2012 22:57 - Starting Instance 'Nant.Builder.Sample.Web_IN_0': Initializing
     [exec] 27/05/2012 23:00 - Starting Instance 'Nant.Builder.Sample.Web_IN_0': Busy
     [exec] 27/05/2012 23:01 - Starting Instance 'Nant.Builder.Sample.Web_IN_0': Ready
     [exec] 27/05/2012 23:01 - Starting Instances: Succeeded
     [exec] 27/05/2012 23:01 - Created Cloud App with URL http://xxx
     [exec] 27/05/2012 23:01 - Azure Cloud App deploy script finished.


Note – You are better to run Nant from the command line to see the above output, as the powershell script that deploys your build echos progress to the command line, but not to Visual Studio, if you are running Nant as an external tool


I’ve created a sample project on GitHub that shows Nunit.Builder integrated into it, so it should be more obvious how it all wires up.  Download Nant.Builder.Sample here


I hope you’ve found the series useful, and that you benefit from turbo-charging your workflow.  Over the next month I’m going to refactor Nant.Builder to be a bit more modular, so it will be easy for other to extend the platform with different targets.  Stay tuned for further exiting announcements :-)

Working with SSL certificates on Azure and IIS7

Recently I’ve had cause to set-up a SSL secured site on Windows Azure.  Never having worked with SSL before I thought I’d quickly blog about a few of the gotcha’s I experienced along the way.

You are here

Before I started, naturally, and as usual, I hit Google to find all Azure SSL wisdom.  I found a great post by SondreB – Windows Azure: Secure Site with SSL certificate.  This is a great guide and I urge you to follow it, however, as an SSL amateur I found it had a couple of gaps.  Which I’ll expand on below.

.crt != .pfx

First off Azure expects to work with SSL certificates that are saved in the .pfx format.  However, when you request a SSL from an authority like Verisign, it comes in .crt format.  These are both valid X.509 formats but you need to convert the cert you receive from Verisign to a format readily understood by Azure.

Gotcha #1 – you have to create the Certificate Request from the same PC that you plan to generate the .pfx from.  So if you were working with on-prem IIS you’d generate the Certificate Request from the IIS server that you’re planning to host the app on.  However, when working with Azure do all SSL work on your dev PC that has both Visual Studio and IIS7 installed.

Creating a Certificate Request

Open IIS7 locally and double-click Server Certificates.  In the left hand side you should have the option to Create Certificate Request.  Complete the wizard as SondreB advises and save the .txt file to your local PC.  If you open the .txt file you’ll see it contains a Certificate Request cryptographic key.

Creating a SSL Certificate

Verisign have a great free service to allow you to create multiple temporary SSL certificate which lasts for 30 days.  Which is great, as if like me, you’ll probably create one or two before you get the process down.  You can purchase a real one once you are happy you’ve got everything worked out.

Complete the contact form, then you’ll be invited to input your Certificate Request.  Ensure you select Microsoft and IIS7 in the Platform details section, then paste in your Certificate Request key.  Complete the process and you’ll be emailed your certificate shortly afterwards.

Importing your SSL Certificate

The email from Verisign will contain another cryptographic key.  Copy it out of the email and paste it into a new file, ensuring you give it a .crt extension – ie myVerisignCert.crt.

Gotcha #2 – SondreB states in the blog you can right-click the .crt and import it into your PC.  This didn’t work for me.  Luckily, however, there’s a free tool that did.  Download the DigiCertUtil.exe and run it.  You should now be able to import the .crt into your certificate store on your local PC (nb – ensure you run as admin or you won’t be able to import the cert).

Export the .pfx

With your .crt successfully imported, you can export it in .pfx format again as SondreB outlines.  You can then simply upload the .pfx to the appropriate host in Azure.  The .crt should now also be available to your Azure cloud project within Visual Studio and again can be imported, as outlined by SondreB.

You looking at my endpoints?

The final gotcha to be aware of, is that you can’t VIP Swap a project that has more endpoints than the one you’re attempting to replace.  If the solution you’re running only has the standard http endpoint you’ll have to delete the running live instance to swap in the package with the additional 443 endpoint.

This could be a major pain, as you’ll be assigned a new IP address etc, and in my experiments it’ll take around 30 minutes for your site to appear on line again, as the CName record seems to take a while to catch up to the new IP address.

So if you know you’re working on a site that will be SSL enabled it would be a good idea to create the 443 endpoint from the start, not at the end of the project, as I discovered.

Otherwise that should be it, SSL happiness awaits

Update – Auto Packaging using CSPack and Azure SDK 1.6

This post is related to two of my previous posts:

Azure 1.5 ate my diagnostics

I had diagnotics working quite happily until SDK 1.5 came out.  Then all of a sudden data was no longer being transferred to  Azure storage.  Even more mysteriously diagnostics would happily transfer data to Azure storage when being emulated locally, but not when on the Azure cloud (in other words a nightmare problem)

I didn’t get around to investigating why till this week.  I saw that several people had the same problem, and assumed that the problem was that I wasn’t configuring the diagnostics correctly in the OnStart method.

Finally I saw this forum thread.  The thead described that if you upload your solution from visual studio diagnostic works correctly, but not when deployed from the build process.  I tried for myself, and yep diagnostics would magically work when the solution was deployed from Visual Studio.  This finally clued me into the fact that the problem had nothing to do with the code, but everything to do with packaging.  Which leads us to this update on Auto Packaging your Azure solution.

Configuring Your Azure Continuous Integration process with CSPack and SDK 1.6

My previous post on using CSPack to automatically build your deployment packages is largely still correct.  But as of (I assume SDK 1.5) there’s a new EntryPoint property.

So you need to specify the name of the DLL that is the entrypoint to your solution.  In mycase HuzuSocial.App.dll.  So my AzureProperties.txt file now looks like this:


Now configured correctly, Diagnostics works as expected from our Continuous Integration process.