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I’ve been doing some exploring of MSBuild as a programming language. There are some interesting results regarding mutability/immutability, but that’s for another post.
This post is about functions. In particular, a Target may be invoked using the MSBuild task, so I’m exploring using Targets as functions. MSBuild can pass parameters to a Target by sending it Properties. Property changes are not propogated back to the caller, though, so getting a return value is a bit trickier.
It turns out that MSBuild does return one bit of information from a Target: its Outputs. It’s possible to set the Outputs of a Target to a Property, and have that Target depend on another Target that sets that Property. In this way, it is possible to create a pair of Targets that can “calculate” the outer Target’s Outputs.
By combining these approaches (setting Properties for arguments, and using the Target’s Outputs as a return value), it is possible to treat a Target as a function.
To demonstrate, I wrote this program, which uses MSBuild to recursively calculate the factorial of the $(Input) property. Have fun playing!