In a hurry? Jump to my solution.


We’re working on transitioning from a per-customer client/server environment, where each customer has a copy of SQL Server functioning as the server and all other machines connect to it as clients, to a modern web-based client/server setup. We’ll still have some Windows apps here and there, but the bulk of our functionality will run in a browser.

With the current software being a messy VB6 application using a third-party Visual Source Safe clone for source control, we don’t use any modern software development things with it, such as unit tests or continuous integration.

Moving to the modern .NET stack is allowing us to easily use these tools, and starting a fresh code base allows us to more easily write tests.

We are very much a Microsoft shop. At least at this point in our development, we’re working on Windows installs, inside Visual Studio, writing C#, committing our code to Visual Studio Online, and using VMs and hosted SQL Server on Azure. The only piece of our stack that isn’t as MS as it can be is source control; we’re using git instead of Team Foundation Server. (That said, I believe I read that Microsoft had a custom git server, and it’s hosted by them and fully supported by Visual Studio.)

Continuous Integration

Setting up continuous integration in this environment was trivial. It takes a few clicks inside Visual Studio to get set up.

Once that’s configured, every push will cause a build controller to grab a fresh copy of your code and build it. I even set up notifications that email my entire team if one of us breaks a build.

Continuous Deployment

After building our basic project structure and setting up a CI build, my next task was to get our build to automatically deploy to a development server. This way, every time we commit new code, the development site is live. At any given moment, it may or may not function properly, but our bosses could easily check out new features as we finish them without having to tie up our workstations or wait until we have time to deploy it on a server.

This is where I ran into trouble.

I spent countless hours trying to get my CI builds to deploy. Our commit log (I didn’t think to do this on a throwaway project) is filled with commits simply saying “test” where I changed the content of Index.cshtml to see if a deploy worked. Each month, VSO accounts get 60 minutes of build time; I hit that limit multiple times and wasn’t able to continue trying new builds. I lost track of the number of searches I made to try to figure out how to make this happen.

Almost every tutorial or Stack Overflow question I found differed from our environment in one of two ways:

  1. They were deploying to an on-site IIS server, which may allow them to use UNC paths instead of Web Deploy to deploy the application
  2. They were deploying to Azure websites instead of Azure VMs

In theory, every Web Deploy tutorial I found should have worked, but they never did.


My suggested setup for continuous deployments in our environment has two bits, one for setting up the server and one for setting up the build. You should be able to configure Web Deploy on an existing IIS install and have everything work, but since my build definition wasn’t quite right I’m not sure if my previous instructions for WebDeploy were right or not. If you can get away with creating a new VM, it’s easier to let Visual Studio set it up for you anyway.

These instructions are valid today (8 December 2014) using Visual Studio 2013. Newer versions of VS and changes to Visual Studio Online or Azure may require modifications.

Development Server

  1. In Visual Studio, right click on your web project and choose Publish…
  2. Expand More Options and choose Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines
  3. Create a new VM
    1. Set a DNS name; if you choose example, you’ll get
    2. Choose a public image matching the environment you want
      1. I chose Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter, September 2014, which is the latest at this time
      2. Leave Enable IIS and Web Deploy checked
    3. Select a VM size
    4. Specify a username and password to be set up as the default administrator user; for this example, I’ll go with user and password
    5. Select a location
    6. Click OK
  4. Visual Studio will tell you that the VM is being created; click OK to dismiss the prompt
  5. After the VM is created and configured, right click on the web project and choose Publish… again
  6. Click Publish
  7. Visit your site ( and verify that the project was deployed
  8. Once it’s properly deployed, RDP into your server and set the admin user’s password to not expire

If you choose to use an existing server or create one outside of Azure, you will need to configure Web Deploy and create a publish profile.

Build Definition

If you don’t have a CI build definition already, create one. Ensure you select continuous integration on the Trigger tab.

Once you have a CI build definition, edit it (open the Team Explorer pane, click the Home button if necessary, click Builds, right click on the definition and edit).

Go to the Process tab and look for the option to specify arguments to MSBuild. I can’t tell you exactly where this is as it depends on what template the project was created with.

Once you find it, specify the following arguments:

  • /p:VisualStudioVersion=12.0
  • /p:DeployOnBuild=true
  • /p:AllowUntrustedCertificate=true
  • /p:PublishProfile=example.pubxml
  • /p:UserName=user
  • /p:Password=password

Here are those options in a single string to simplify copying and pasting:

/p:VisualStudioVersion=12.0 /p:DeployOnBuild=true /p:AllowUntrustedCertificate=true /p:PublishProfile=example.pubxml /p:UserName=user /p:Password=password

Be sure to set the correct values for the publish profile and user credentials.

The setting I was doing incorrectly was PublishProfile. Most things I saw simply had example and skipped the .pubxml This resulted in MSBuild not attempting to deploy the site, which in turn resulted in me banging my head against the wall.