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# Up-to-date Check (SDK-Style projects)


This document relates to SDK-style .NET projects only!

Other project types use different mechanisms for their up-to-date checks:

  • Legacy C#/VB projects (.NET Framework-era) have a different check (documentation)
  • Visual C++ projects (.vcxproj) use .tlog files, which contain all build inputs and outputs (documentation).

The Project System's Fast Up-to-Date Check (FUTDC) saves developers time by quickly assessing whether a project needs to be built or not. If not, Visual Studio can avoid a comparatively expensive call to MSBuild.

The check compares timestamps between the project's inputs and its outputs. If any input is newer than one of the outputs, the project is considered out-of-date and will be built. There are other conditions that can lead to builds, but the most common cases relate to file system timestamps.

Note that the fast up-to-date check is intended to speed up the majority of cases where a build is not required, yet it cannot reliably cover all cases correctly. Where necessary, it errs on the side of caution as triggering a redundant build is better than not triggering a required build. MSBuild performs its own checks, so even if the fast up-to-date check incorrectly determines the project is out-of-date, MSBuild may still not perform a full build.

Default inputs and outputs

The FUTDC determines the input and output files to use from the project itself.

Input items are specified via MSBuild items in evaluation data. The set of item types considered as inputs is controlled by CPS's ProjectSchemaDefinitions. All <ItemType> entries that do not specify UpToDateCheckInput="false" will be treated as input items that contribute to the primary output of the project. As an example, the definitions for C# projects are given here and here. Note how None and Content items have UpToDateCheckInput set to false, meaning they are ignored by the FUTDC. Project systems may customize these item types to meet their needs.

The primary output of the project is determined by the OutputPath MSBuild property. If that property is not defined, OutDir is used instead.

Additional inputs are obtained from design-time build results:

  • ResolvedAnalyzerReference (sourced from the CollectAnalyzersDesignTime target, with the file identified in ResolvedPath item metadata)
  • ResolvedCompilationReference (via CollectResolvedCompilationReferencesDesignTime target, with files identified via ResolvedPath, OriginalPath and CopyUpToDateMarker item metadata)
  • CopyToOutputDirectoryItem (via CollectCopyToOutputDirectoryItemDesignTime target, with source path from the item spec and target path from TargetPath item metadata)
  • UpToDateCheckInput (via CollectUpToDateCheckInputDesignTime target, discussed below)

Additional outputs are obtained from design-time build results:

  • UpToDateCheckOutput (via CollectUpToDateCheckOutputDesignTime target, discussed below)
  • UpToDateCheckBuilt (via CollectUpToDateCheckBuiltDesignTime target, discussed below)


For most projects the up-to-date check works automatically and you won't need to know or think about this feature. However if your build is highly customized then you may need to provide some extra information to help the up-to-date check work correctly.

For customized builds, you may add to the following item types:

  • UpToDateCheckInput — Describes an input file that MSBuild would not otherwise know about
  • UpToDateCheckOutput — Describes an output file that MSBuild would not otherwise know about
  • UpToDateCheckBuilt — Describes an output file that's produced from a single input file, that MSBuild would not otherwise know about

You may add to these item types declaratively. For example:

  <UpToDateCheckInput Include="" />
  <UpToDateCheckOutput Include="MyCustomBuildOutput.def" />

Alternatively, you may override the MSBuild targets that Visual Studio calls to collect these items. Overriding targets allows custom logic to be executed when determining the set of items. The relevant targets are defined in Microsoft.Managed.DesignTime.targets with names:

Note that changes to inputs must result in changes to outputs. If this rule is not observed, then an input may have a timestamp after all outputs, which leads the up-to-date check to consider the project out-of-date after building indefinitely. This can lead to longer build times.

For the targets above, you can update the DependsOn attribute by setting these properties respectively:

  • CollectUpToDateCheckInputDesignTimeDependsOn
  • CollectUpToDateCheckOutputDesignTimeDependsOn
  • CollectUpToDateCheckBuiltDesignTimeDependsOn

Grouping inputs and outputs into sets

For some advanced scenarios, it's necessary to partition inputs and outputs into groups and consider each separately. This can be achieved by adding Set metadata to the relevant items.

For example, an ASP.NET project may use sets to group Razor .cshtml files with their output assembly MyProject.Views.dll, which is distinct from the other compilation target MyProject.dll. This could be achieved with something like:

  <UpToDateCheckInput Include="Home.cshtml" Set="Views" />
  <UpToDateCheckOutput Include="MyProject.Views.dll" Set="Views" />

Items that do not specify a Set are included in the default set. Items may be added to multiple sets by separating their names with a semicolon (e.g. Set="Set1;Set2").

Filtering inputs and outputs

It may be desirable for a component within Visual Studio to schedule a build for which only a subset of the up-to-date check inputs and outputs should be considered. This can be achieved by adding Kind metadata to the relevant items and passing the FastUpToDateCheckIgnoresKinds global property.

For example:

  <UpToDateCheckInput Include="Source1.cs" Kind="Alpha" />
  <UpToDateCheckInput Include="Source2.cs" />
  <UpToDateCheckOutput Include="MyProject1.dll" Kind="Alpha" />
  <UpToDateCheckOutput Include="MyProject2.dll" />

If the FastUpToDateCheckIgnoresKinds global property has a value of Alpha, then the fast up-to-date check will only consider Source2.cs and MyProject2.dll. If the FastUpToDateCheckIgnoresKinds property has a different value, or is empty, all four items are considered.

Multiple values may be passed for FastUpToDateCheckIgnoresKinds, separated by semicolons (;).

Note that global properties are not set in project files (such as .csproj) but are expected to be passed by components of Visual Studio itself. For an example, see SkipAnalyzersGlobalPropertiesProvider in this repo.

Copied files

Builds may copy files from a source location to a destination location. Information about these locations should be captured in the project so that the up-to-date check can determine if the source file is newer than the destination, in which case the project is out-of-date and a build will be allowed.

To model this, use:

<UpToDateCheckBuilt Include="Destination\File.txt" Original="Source\File.txt" />

When specifying Original metadata, the Set property has no effect. Each copied file is considered in isolation, looking only at the timestamps of the source and destination. Sets are used to compare groups of items, so these features do not compose. If both Set and Original metadata are present, Original will take effect and Set is ignored.

Transformed files

Cases where a single input file produces a single output file during build should be modelled in the same way as copied files above. The fast up-to-date check only inspects the timestamps of copied files, not their contents.

To model this, use:

<UpToDateCheckBuilt Include="Destination\MyFile.js" Original="Source\MyFile.ts" />

The same details apply regarding Set metadata as described for copied files.

When multiple inputs produce one or more outputs, use BuildUpToDateCheckInput and BuildUpToDateCheckOutput items with Set metadata, as described earlier in this document.


By default the up-to-date check does not log anything, though you can infer its decision from your build output summary:

========== Build: 0 succeeded, 0 failed, 1 up-to-date, 0 skipped ==========

In this example the up-to-date check determined the project was up-to-date. If succeeded or failed was instead non-zero, then the check would have determined the project was not up-to-date, resulting in a call to MSBuild.

To debug issues with the up-to-date check, enable its logging.

Tools | Options | Projects and Solutions | SDK-Style Projects

Projects and Solutions, .NET Core options

Setting this level to a value other than None results in messages prefixed with FastUpToDate: in Visual Studio's build output.

  • None disables log output.
  • Minimal produces a single message per out-of-date project.
  • Info and Verbose provide increasingly detailed information about the inner workings of the check, which are useful for debugging.

Binary logs

The fast up-to-date check logging will explain the reason for the failure at a high level. Often it's necessary to dig deeper into the build to understand why the failure occurs.

To capture binary logs of builds made by VS:

  1. Open a Developer Command Prompt for the version of Visual Studio you want to use.
  2. Set two environment variables:
    • Command
      set MSBuildDebugEngine=1
      set MSBUILDDEBUGPATH=c:\some\path
    • PowerShell
      $env:MSBuildDebugEngine = "1"
      $env:MSBUILDDEBUGPATH = "c:\some\path"
    You can use whatever path you like for MSBUILDDEBUGPATH, but it must be writeable by the current user.
  3. Type devenv to start Visual Studio with this configuration.
  4. Open the MSBUILDDEBUGPATH path in Windows Explorer to see the captured binlog and other diagnostic files.
  5. Open .binlog files in MSBuild structured log viewer.

For more information, see this documentation section.


If you see The type initializer for ‘Microsoft.Build.Shared.Debugging.DebugUtils’ threw an exception then the path set in MSBUILDDEBUGPATH is not writeable by Visual Studio. Close VS, set a new path and try again.

CopyToOutputDirectory Always vs. PreserveNewest

To copy items to the output directory during build, you have two options:

  1. CopyToOutputDirectory="Always" always copies source over destination.
  2. CopyToOutputDirectory="PreserveNewest" copies the file if the timestamp of the source is newer than the destination.

Many users select Always when they really would be happy with PreserveNewest. Historically, having an Always item caused the fast up-to-date check to immediately schedule a build, even if the files were unchanged. This meant that accidentally selecting Always would break incremental build performance. This is a very common performance issue in real world projects.

There is one valid use case for Always, which is to restore a data file in the output directory back to some initial state, in cases where the executable modifies that data file. If on the next launch the file should be restored to its previous state, then Always is the correct option. If not, you want PreserveNewest.

In VS 17.2, we changed the fast up-to-date check to be less strict about Always items. With this new behaviour, the check verifies the size and timestamps of the source and destination files. If they differ a build will be scheduled. This change can have a massively positive impact on inner loop productivity, when Always items exist.

Reference assemblies and mixed SDK-style/non-SDK-style projects

Reference assemblies can be used during .NET builds to avoid unnecessary compilation in the following case:

  1. A referencing project has a ProjectReference to a referenced project that specifies ProduceReferenceAssembly as true.
  2. The referenced project is changed in a way that doesn't alter its public API (such as a change within a method body, or the addition of a private method).
  3. A build is requested for the referencing project.
  4. The referenced project is built first, and that build notices that the public API hasn't changed.
  5. The referencing project is build second, and identifies that the referenced public API hasn't changed, so the build needs only to copy the referenced binary, without recompiling itself.

In a large solution with many layers of project references, this feature can avoid many recompilation chain reactions, reducing build times significantly.

Prior to VS 17.5, reference assemblies were not supported for non-SDK-style projects. In a solution that mixes both SDK-style and non-SDK-style projects, the interaction between the two projects in steps 4 and 5 above won't happen correctly. What happens instead is that the referencing non-SDK-style project thinks the referenced SDK-style project is up-to-date, so no build is scheduled. This means that the referenced binary is not copied to the referencing project's output directory. From the perspective of the developer, their changes appear to have no effect when running their program.

If you are experiencing this issue, you may either:

  1. Upgrade to Visual Studio 17.5 or later (ensuring all developers of your solution also upgrade), or
  2. Convert all non-SDK-style projects to SDK-style, or
  3. Set CompileUsingReferenceAssemblies to false for all non-SDK-style projects. Note that you cannot use a Directory.Build.props file to achieve this if any SDK-style projects would also pick up that file. The property would need to be conditional, and non-SDK-style projects do not support conditions in these files (see).

Disabling the up-to-date check

If you do not wish to use the fast up-to-date check, preferring to always call MSBuild, you can disable it by either:

  • unchecking "Don't call MSBuild if a project appears to be up to date" (shown above), or
  • adding property <DisableFastUpToDateCheck>True</DisableFastUpToDateCheck> to your project.

Note that in both cases this only disables Visual Studio's up-to-date check. MSBuild will still perform its own determination as to whether the project should be rebuilt.

⚠️ We do not recommend disabling this! It can have a significant negative impact on your productivity. If you are disabling the check because you feel it is not behaving correctly, please file an issue in this repo and include details from the verbose log so that we can improve the feature.

Reasons a project is not up-to-date

There are several reasons that a project may fail its up-to-date check and be scheduled to build.

Reason Description
InputNewerThanEarliestOutput A project input (such as a .cs file) has a time stamp later than the earliest output time stamp.
InputModifiedSinceLastSuccessfulBuildStart A project input (such as a .cs file) has a time stamp that comes after the last successful build time. This case would usually be covered by InputNewerThanEarliestOutput as builds usually update output files, however there are cases where outputs are not updated, and this check ensures we don't end up in an overbuild loop, as such loops have significant penalties on inner-loop productivity.
FirstRun This is the first build of the project. The FUTD check doesn't have persisted data in the .vs folder, so doesn't know the previous set of inputs that contributed to the current outputs (i.e. we could miss a case of reason ProjectItemsChangedSinceLastSuccessfulBuildStart). We schedule a build just to be sure. Once that build completes, this reason will not resurface unless the .vs folder is deleted.
InputNotFound A project input (such as a .cs file) is not found on disk. A build is scheduled that may either produce this file and copy it, or emit an error about the missing file.
OutputNotFound A project output (such as a .dll file) is not found on disk. A build is scheduled that will likely produce it.
InputMarkerNewerThanOutputMarker This reason is seen when using reference assemblies and ProjectReference. It indicates that the referenced project's implementation assembly was changed, despite its reference assembly being unchanged. This situation occurs when the referenced project changes such that its public API is unmodified. The referencing project may not need to be recompiled, but must copy the updated implementation assembly to its output directory.
ProjectItemsChangedSinceLastSuccessfulBuildStart The set of project items has changed since the time at which the last successful build started. This is required to correctly handle the removal of an input file that is included via globs. Without this check, removing a .cs file would not trigger a build, as no other observable change is present on disk.
CopyDestinationNotFound A file is marked for copy, and the destination does not exist. The build will copy it.
CopySourceNotFound A file is marked for copy, and the source does not exist. A build is scheduled that may either produce this file and copy it, or emit an error about the missing file.
CopySourceNewer A file is marked for copy, and the source file was modified after the destination file. The build will update the destination file.
CopyAlwaysItemDiffers A CopyToOutputDirectory="Always" item in the project has different source/target files (either by time stamp or file size). The build will copy it.
CopyToOutputDirectoryDestinationNotFound A CopyToOutputDirectory input file is not present in the output directory. The build will copy it.
CopyToOutputDirectorySourceNotFound A CopyToOutputDirectory input file does not exist. A build is scheduled that may either produce this file and copy it, or emit an error about the missing file.
CopyToOutputDirectorySourceNewer A CopyToOutputDirectory input file has a newer time stamp than its destination. The build will update the output file.
Disabled The project has DisableFastUpToDateCheck set. More info.
CriticalTasks Critical build tasks are running. This is very uncommon, and is not something the user has control over.
Exception An exception occurred in the implementation of the fast up-to-date check. We schedule a build at this point, as we don't know whether it is safe not to.

Discrepancies between FUTDC logging and build summary

If you enable fast up-to-date check logging (especially at verbose level) you may notice that sometimes a project is identified as up-to-date in those logs, yet the VS build summary says the project was built.

Here's an example of how that might appear:

1>FastUpToDate: Project is up-to-date. (MyProject)
1>FastUpToDate: Up-to-date check completed in 110.5 ms (MyProject)
1>------ Build started: Project: MyProject, Configuration: Debug Any CPU ------
========== Build: 1 succeeded, 0 failed, 0 up-to-date, 0 skipped ==========

This log contradicts itself. It says the project was up-to-date, however it then goes on to report "build started" and finally "1 succeeded".

We would expect this instead:

1>FastUpToDate: Project is up-to-date. (MyProject)
1>FastUpToDate: Up-to-date check completed in 110.5 ms (MyProject)
========== Build: 0 succeeded, 0 failed, 1 up-to-date, 0 skipped ==========

The reason for this is as follows:

  • When building, the Solution Build Manager (SBM) requests the fast up-to-date check (FUTDC) to run. For SDK-style .NET projects, this request is brokered by the Common Project System (CPS).
  • The SBM is a very old component and makes a blocking (non-async) request for this information on the UI thread.
  • The interaction between CPS and the FUTDC is non-blocking (async) and does not require the UI thread.
  • While the FUTDC is running, VS is unresponsive as its UI thread is blocked waiting for the result.
  • To prevent such a UI delay, if the FUTDC takes longer than some amount of time, CPS lies to the SBM, telling it the project is not up-to-date and must be built. The FUTDC operation continues however.
  • Later, when the SBM calls back into CPS for the actual build to occur, the result of the FUTDC is taken into account. If the project actually was up-to-date, then no build occurs. However the SBM doesn't know that, and just sees a very fast build.

Enabling verbose FUTDC logging is a good way to make the FUTDC take longer than the time CPS gives it.

This situation does not impact build correctness. It is a quirk that was intentionally introduced to keep VS responsive. It only applies to projects built via CPS, such as SDK-style .NET projects.

In future we hope to make the SBM async-aware, so that we can unblock the UI thread during these operations and report a correct build summary in all cases.