Though the Microsoft marketing drums have begun beating to the rhythm of Visual Studio 2010, most of us workaday code monkeys are still using Visual Studio 2008. And while VS 2008 is a great IDE for development — especially once you add ReSharper — it has a few configuration quirks that drive me up the wall.
Most of these quirks are hidden from the typical developer and only appear once you try to package and deploy your software. It’s the dreaded Works on My Machine syndrome.
And if there’s one Visual Studio build configuration setting that causes me to scream in anguish, it’s the CopyLocal property.
When you add a reference to another .dll in Visual Studio 2008, some default settings get applied.
Here’s how the settings look after I added log4net to one of my projects. As you can see, the CopyLocal setting is set to True. Or is it?
If you move your solution to your build server, you might be surprised to find that CopyLocal isn’t actually copying the .dll. I was certainly surprised to find that my builds failing for inexplicable reasons.
It took me a while to figure out that Visual Studio 2008 is a dirty liar when it comes to CopyLocal. Let’s have a look at our .csproj file, shall we? You can load the XML in the .csproj file by following these directions.
Ah, there’s the contents of our csproj file. And there’s our reference to log4net, but…
The CopyLocal setting isn’t there! Within the log4net reference, we should see an XML element called Private. It should look like this:
But it’s clearly not there. Uh oh.
And because it’s not there, it might work on your machine but not on other machines. Even though the Visual Studio IDE represents CopyLocal as a Boolean value, it’s actually a ternary value. Where Booleans have two states, usually represented as True/False, Yes/No, or 1/0 pairs, ternary logic has three states:
Yikes! That’s a classic interface failure mode.
It turns out that the default for the CopyLocal setting is… something not quite True and not quite False. If you read the documentation for how to set the CopyLocal property, it mentions the weird logic Visual Studio uses to determine what the “default” should be. Argh.
To fix the problem, we reload our project in Visual Studio again. Then we toggle the CopyLocal setting from “not quite True, exactly” to “False” and then back to “totally, literally True”.
With apologies to the Violent Femmes, when I say CopyLocal, you best CopyLocal, motherf***er!!!
And now it’s really, truly TRUE. Honest. Take a look at our .csproj file now.
And there it is, the CopyLocal setting. The way it should be. The way it should have been all along.
I don’t know whether Visual Studio 2010 fixes this problem. I haven’t looked at the VS 2010 Beta release to find out. I’m too busy manually editing all my .csproj files to get our Infovark builds working. But I really, really, really hope that the folks at Microsoft have done something to address the problem.
Here’s the simple interface design rule: If it isn’t a Boolean setting, it shouldn’t look like a Boolean setting.
Unless of course, you want to make the pages of The Daily WTF.