Enable repeatable package restore using lock file

Anand Gaurav edited this page Nov 12, 2018 · 47 revisions


Enable repeatable package restores for PackageReference based projects #5602


This feature will enable repeatable package restores (thereby aiding repeatable builds) for your projects, solutions (or repos) irrespective of when and where you invoke the restore command. If the package graph changes, NuGet will let you know about it so that you take corrective steps.

Today, NuGet operates on per project level i.e. you can add/remove/update/restore packages for a project. However, there has been a requirement to enable package management at a solution (or a repo) level. The following specs cover more details on the proposal (State: Incubation):

In the context of enabling repeatable package restores using a lock file, the proposal is to generate lock files at different levels depending on the way packages as managed:

  • If the packages are managed at a project level (current situation), then the lock files will be generated at per project level.
  • If the packages are managed at a solution/repo level (future - proposal: Centrally managing NuGet packages), then the lock file will be managed at the same level at which the packages are managed.


Developers would like to have repeatable builds (restores) across time and space

# Problem statement
1 Developers do not have confidence that NuGet will restore to the same full closure of package dependencies when they build it on Dev machine vs. CI/CD machines
2 Developers would like to be aware of any unintended changes to their package dependency closure including transitive ones

Input to NuGet is a set of Package References from the project file (Top-level/Direct dependenices) and the output is a full closure/graph of all the package dependencies including transitive dependencies. Ideally, NuGet should always produce the same full closure of package dependencies if the input PackageReferences do not change. NuGet tries to do this but in some cases it is unable to do this:

  • You use floating versions like <PackageReference Include="My.Sample.Lib" Version="4.*"/>. While your intention is to float to the latest version as required but only with an explicit gesture but also want to lock to specific version even with floating version across time/space, unless I ask NuGet to float during the restore.

  • A newer version of the package matching PackageReference version requirements is published. E.g.

    Day 1: if you specified <PackageReference Include="My.Sample.Lib" Version="4.0.0"/> but the versions available on the NuGet repositories were 4.1.0, 4.2.0 and 4.3.0. In this case, NuGet would have resolved to 4.1.0 (nearest match)

    Day 2: Version 4.0.0 gets published. NuGet will now find the exact match and start resolving to 4.0.0

  • A given package version is removed from the repository. Though nuget.org does not allow package deletions, not all package repositories have this constraints. Private/Internal repositories including folder/share based repositories may allow package deletions as well. This will result in NuGet finding the best match when it cannot resolve to the deleted versions and thereby changing the full closure of dependencies for the project.

  • A repository you installed the package version from is no longer online or is degraded. In case when you have listed multiple repositories as sources in the nuget.config file, NuGet picks the package from the repository that responds fastest. So if other repositories have the same package but different versions of the package, the resolved version may be different.

    The same problem can happen if you have different nuget.config files with different sources (repositories) at different places. E.g. Dev machines may have an additional local share repository while CI/CD machine may not.

  • If the same package ID+version resolves to different packages across different sources, NuGet cannot ensure the same package(with the same hash) will be resolves every time. It will also not warn/error out in such cases.

  • [Future] Users have been asking for an ability to define the resolution strategy of transitive dependencies as it existed with package.config. Once we implement this feature, when a then any update to a transitive package on repository can change the full closure of package dependencies.

    E.g. If Project1 depends on PackageA(v1.0.0) which depends on PackageB(>=2.0.0)

    Project1--> PackageA(1.0.0) --> PackageB(>=2.0.0)

    Today NuGet, by default, pins to the lowest version for any transitive dependency. And hence any update to PackageB does not have any impact on the resolved packages graph in the above case. But once we enable this feature and let users decide to float to the latest version, with every update to PackageB on the repository, will have an impact on the resolved version in your project during restore.

In addition to the above, when developers add/remove a package dependency to a project, they would like to be told about any unintended changes in the full package dependency closure. (PRS2)

Consider the following scenario:

Project1 --> PackageA(1.0.0) --> PackageB(>=2.0.0)

Now lets say you bring in another dependency on PackageX(3.0.0) with some transitive dependencies. And suddenly you build breaks because the PackageX(3.0.0) had the following transitive dependencies:

Project1--> PackageA(1.0.0) --> PackageB(>=2.0.0)
       |--> PackageX(3.0.0) --> PackageB(>=4.0.0)

So now instead of PackageB(2.0.0), NuGet resolves to PackageB(4.0.0) that may have breaking changes. Obviously this is due to an intentional package install but the transitive closure happens behind the scenes without letting the users know the changes in transitive dependency versions. Sometimes this is not ideal. Users would like to know the difference in package dependency graphs irrespective of whether the change is related to direct or indirect/transitive dependencies.


packages.config used to list out all the package dependencies as a flat list for a project. Instead of some of the issues this mechanism had, it helped in restoring the exact packages every time packages were restored. As developers have started to use PackageReference with .NET Core and other types of project (more and more project systems are starting to support it), they want to have the same repeatability of package restores with PackageReference as they had with packages.config.

Many existing package managers like yarn, npm, paket, cargo, etc. use lock file to implement repeatable restores (builds).

Solution - Summary

  • A lock file has the package dependency graph for the project/solution/repo that includes both the direct as well as transitive dependencies.
  • The lock file should be checked into the source repository.
  • Lock file will be used if any of the following is true:
    • A lock file is present in the context of the project (either at project level or centrally).
    • If packages are managed centrally, a central lock file is always used.
    • If the property RestoreWithLockFile is set in the context of the project.
  • Lock file will be updated when a package is added or updated.
  • NuGet will use a lock file to restore packages.
    • If a lock file is present and is not out of sync (with user changes), restore will use the lock file to fetch all the packages.
    • If a lock file is not present or out of sync, restore will create/update the lock file with the latest changes.
    • There will be modes (using MSBuild property and command line options) to control the behavior of restore with lock files i.e. whether NuGet can update lock file with restore action.
  • There will be 2 scopes for the creation/working of the lock file:
    • At project level - In this case the lock file is created per project.
    • At a central level when the packages are managed at a solution or a repo level - In this case the lock file is also created centrally in the same folder as the packages.props file.

Solution - Details

Bootstrapping/Enabling the lock file

Lock file will be used if any of the following is true:

  • A lock file is present in the context of the project (either at project level or centrally).
  • If packages are managed centrally, a central lock file is always used.
  • If the property RestoreWithLockFile is set in the context of the project.

The default name of the lock file will be packages.lock.json.

Lock file format and details captured in it

We need to make sure of the following properties for a lock file:

  • The lock file format should be such that it is:
    • Concise
    • Human readable
    • Easy to diff
    • Performant - parsing and processing
  • Perception - The lock file should not be mistaken for a MSBuild props file that users can modify and check in.
  • The integrity of the package SHA512 or equivalent should be also persisted along with the lock file.
    • (Not MVP) There should be an option to opt out of this. Why will this be required?

Sample lock file - packages.lock.json

  "version": 1.0,	
  ...other metadata fields...
  "dependencies": {	
    "netcore2.0": {	
      "Contoso.Base": {	
        "type": "direct",	
        "requested": "3.0.0",	
        "resolved": "3.0.0",
        "dependencies": {
             "Contoso.Core": "1.2.3",
             "Fabrikam.Utilities": "[3.1.0]"
      "Contoso.Core": {
        "type": "transitive",	
        "requested": "1.2.3",	
        "resolved": "1.2.3",
        "dependencies": {

Lock file working

Once the feature is enabled,

  • Install - action will update the lock file, if required. Eg. the following command will not just add PackageReference node in the project file (and CPVMF, if versions are managed centrally) but also update the lock file:

    > dotnet add package My.Sample.Lib
  • Uninstall - action will update the lock file, if required. Eg. the following command will not just remove PackageReference node in the project file (and CPVMF, if versions are managed centrally) but also update the lock file:

    > dotnet remove package My.Sample.Lib
  • Restore - action will use the lock file to get and restore the full closure of the packages if the lock file is not out of sync.

    • If the lock file is out of sync, restore command will update the lock file with the latest resolved closure of packages. It will do so with a warning:
    NU1xxx: <TBD text>
    • There would be an option to control the above restore behavior. Refer to the Extensibility section for details.

Project vs. Central lock file

  • If the packages are managed centrally at a solution/repo level, then the lock file will be also generated centrally at the same level as the CPVMF - packages.props file.
  • You can also have CPVMF applicable for most projects in a solution/repo but manage versions separately for a few projects (eg. test projects, legacy projects where the versions requirements do not match with the central version required for most of the projects).
    • In this case the lock file will also be generated per packages.props file i.e. a central lock file for the projects that abide by the CPVMF and separate lock files for the rest few projects.

Nuances - per project lock file

  • Per project lock file can have lot of duplicate entries if you are consuming the same packages from other projects in your solution/repo.

  • There could be different versions of the same package listed in different projects even if a project depends on another project. Eg. ProjectA references Project B with following package dependencies:

    |-- Pkg-Q 2.0.0
    |-- ProjectB
        |-- Pkg-Q 3.0.0

    The lock file for ProjectA will list Pkg-Q 2.0.0 while lock file for ProjectB will list Pkg-Q 3.0.0

  • When you have a common project that's a dependency of multiple projects in the repo, you will be required to checkin/commit multiple lock files corresponding to each of the dependent projects in addition to the lock file of the common project.

    E.g. In Project A->B->C->D->...->X dependency tree, if you change the PackageReference for project X, the lock file of not just project X changes but when you build the solution, lock files of all the projects right from A to X will change requiring you to checkin/commit multiple files some of which you never worked on. For these scenarios managing dependencies and lock file at central solution/repo level helps as you have to deal with just one lock file change (+ CPVMF packages.props file change).

  • We recommend that you should not enable lock file for common-code (or library) projects as finally the package graph is locked down at the project that depends on the common-code (library) project.

Nuances - central lock file

  • Whenever you manage package versions centrally at a solution/repo level, you get a central lock file for all your projects.
  • The lock file lists all the packages mentioned in the CPVMF and not the packages referenced in each of your projects. If you run restore centrally i.e. at a solution or a repo folder that has the CPVMF, then the unused packages (packages not referenced by any projects) are garbage collected and removed from the CPVMF and hence the lock file. However there are chances of CPVMF listing more packages than referenced in all the projects under the solution/repo.
  • The lock file for the whole solution and not for individual projects. So when you add/remove packages from individual projects that does not impact CPVMF, then this change is not reflected in the lock file.

Note: Package restores would be repeatable irrespective of whether you use per project lock file or a central solution/repo level lock file.


MSBuild options

Option Values Description
RestorePackagesWithLockFile true| false Enables lock file - packages.lock.json usage with restore. Default is false
RestoreLockedMode false By default restore will update lock file if it is out of sync.
true restore will fail if the lock file is out of sync. Useful for CI builds when you do not want the build to continue if the package closure has changed than what is present in the lock file.
NuGetLockFilePath <PathToLockFile> Path to lock file if you want to rename or change the location of the lock file. The name should always be *lock.json.
IgnoreLockFileForRestore true | false Not MVP Ignores the lock file during restore.

The corresponding command line msbuild options should work too.

restore command line options:

Option MSBuild equivalent option
--use-lock-file RestorePackagesWithLockFile
--locked-mode RestoreLockedMode
--lock-file-path (not MVP) NuGetLockFilePath
--ignore-lock-file (not MVP) IgnoreLockFileForRestore
--force-evaluate* None

* Force restore to recompute the dependencies and update the lock file without any warning.

Visual Studio Experience

We need an option to force recompute of package dependencies and update the lock file explicitly. This will also help in updating the package references using *. image

Additionally we should have the following options on each NuGet reference in the UI (not MVP):

  • update
  • add as direct reference (for transitive package references)

Key terms

Out of sync

The lock file is said to be out of sync with the project when

  • A project has different set of dependencies than listed in the lock file.
  • A project adds reference to another project that changes the full packages closure.

For projects that have centrally managed packages, the lock file will be out of sync with the packages.props when:

  • The packages.props has different set of dependencies than listed in the lock file.

Summary table:

Type of change Modifies lock file?
Add/Remove/Change package reference Yes
Change PrivateAssets/ExcludeAssets/IncludeAssets Yes
Change Target Framework Yes
Change runtime identifier Yes
Add/Remove sources No
Add/Remove fallback folder No
Change project name No
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