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Sunday, 11. January 2009

How I do Continuous Integration with my C# / F# projects – part IV: Adding a documentation

Filed under: C#,English posts,F#,Tools,Visual Studio — Steffen Forkmann at 12:46 Uhr

In the last 3 posts I show how to set up a Continuous Integration environment for F# or C# projects with Subversion (part I), TeamCity (part II) and NUnit (part III).

This time I want to show how we can set up an automated documentation build.

Installing and using GhostDoc

“GhostDoc is a free add-in for Visual Studio that automatically generates XML documentation comments for C#. Either by using existing documentation inherited from base classes or implemented interfaces, or by deducing comments from name and type of e.g. methods, properties or parameters.”

[product website]

GhostDoc is one of my favorite Visual Studio plugins. It allows me to generate comments for nearly all my C# functions. Of course these generated comments aren’t sufficient in every case – but they are a very good start.

Unfortunately GhostDoc doesn’t work for F# 🙁 – the actual version works for C# and the support for VB.Net is called “experimental”.

Download and install http://www.roland-weigelt.de/ghostdoc/.

Now you should be able to generate XML-based comments directly in your C# code:

Using GhostDoc

Generated XML-comment

The next step is to activate the xml-documentation in your Visual Studio build settings:


Commiting these changes and adjusting the build artifacts will produce the input for the documentation build:

Adjust the build artifacts

Build artifacts

Using Sandcastle to generate a documentation

“Sandcastle produces accurate, MSDN style, comprehensive documentation by reflecting over the source assemblies and optionally integrating XML Documentation Comments. Sandcastle has the following key features:

  • Works with or without authored comments
  • Supports Generics and .NET Framework 2.0
  • Sandcastle has 2 main components (MrefBuilder and Build Assembler)
  • MrefBuilder generates reflection xml file for Build Assembler
  • Build Assembler includes syntax generation, transformation..etc
  • Sandcastle is used internally to build .Net Framework documentation


Download and install “Sandcastle – Documentation Compiler for Managed Class Libraries” from Mircosoft’s downloadpage or http://www.codeplex.com/Sandcastle.

For .chm generation you also have to install the “HTML Help Workshop“. If you want fancy HTMLHelp 2.x style (like MSDN has) you need “Innovasys HelpStudio Lite” which is part of the Visual Studio 2008 SDK.

“HelpStudio Lite is offered with the Visual Studio SDK as an installed component that integrates with Visual Studio. HelpStudio Lite provides a set of authoring tools you use to author and build Help content, create and manage Help projects, and compile Help files that can be integrated with the Visual Studio Help collection.”


Last but not least I recommend to install the Sandcastle Help File Builder (SHFB) – this tool gives you a GUI and helps to automate the Sandcastle process.

“Sandcastle, created by Microsoft, is a tool used for creating MSDN-style documentation from .NET assemblies and their associated XML comments files. The current version is the May 2008 release. It is command line based and has no GUI front-end, project management features, or an automated build process like those that you can find in NDoc. The Sandcastle Help File Builder was created to fill in the gaps, provide the missing NDoc-like features that are used most often, and provide graphical and command line based tools to build a help file in an automated fashion.”

[product homepage]

After the installation process start SHFB to generate a documentation project:

Sandcastle Help File Builder

Add the TestCITestLib.dll to your project and add nunit.framework.dll as a dependency. Now try to compile your help project – if everything is fine the output should look something like this:

Generated Help

Setting up the documentation build

One of the main principles of Continuous Integration is “Keep the Build Fast” – so I am working with staged builds here. The documentation build should only be started if the first build was successful and all UnitTests are positive. For most projects it is enough to generate the documentation daily or even weekly.

First of all we have to create a simple MSBuild file which executes the SHFB project:

<Project ToolsVersion="3.5" xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/developer/msbuild/2003">
  <!-- 3rd Party Program Settings -->
    <SandCastleHFBPath>c:\Program Files (x86)\EWSoftware\Sandcastle Help File Builder\</SandCastleHFBPath>

  <Target Name="BuildDocumentation">
    <!-- Build source code docs -->
    <Exec Command="%22$(SandCastleHFBCmd)%22 %22$(SandCastleHFBProject)%22" />

Add this build file and the SHFB project to your Visual Studio solution folder and commit these changes.

Put the build settings into the solution folder

Now we can create a new TeamCity build configuration:

Create a new build configuration

Take the same Version Control Settings like in the first build but use MSBuild as the build runner:

Take the MSBuild runner

We want the documentation to be generated after a successful main build so we add a “dependency build trigger”:


Now we need the artifacts from the main build as the input for our documentation build:

Set up artifacts dependencies

Be sure you copy the artifacts to the right directory as given in your .shfb-project. Now run the DocumentationBuild – if everything is fine the DocumentationBuild should give you the Documentation.chm as a new artifact:


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