Published: September 29 2021

.NET + MSBuild - C# Project File (.csproj) in a Nutshell

Tutorial built with .NET 5.0

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The .NET CLI uses the Microsoft Build Engine (MSBuild) to build .NET projects. A .NET project file is an XML document containing MSBuild code that executes when you run the command dotnet build, and has a file extension based on the programming language used in the project (e.g. .csproj for C#, .fsproj for F#, .vbproj for VB etc).

A .NET project file specifies the components in the project and how it is built using MSBuild XML code made up of four basic parts - properties, items, targets and tasks. For full documentation on MSBuild see

SDK style projects

When .NET Core was released, a new type of MSBuild project called an SDK style project was also released to simplify project files and make them much smaller. Traditionally ASP.NET projects had large and complex MSBuild project files that were managed automatically by the Visual Studio IDE, but Visual Studio isn't required for .NET Core or .NET 5.0+ projects so the new format was created to make it easier to understand and edit the files by hand.

SDK style project files are simplified because the MSBuild complexity is encapsulated in an SDK which contains a set of MSBuild properties, items, targets and tasks for building the project, all you need to do is reference the SDK for your project type.

For more info on SDK style projects see

A minimal .NET project file

Below is an example of a minimal SDK style .NET C# project file (.csproj), it's from a tutorial I posted recently on how to create a minimal .NET API by hand from scratch, for more info see .NET 5.0 - Bare Bones API Tutorial.

The <Project> element is the root element of an MSBuild project file, the Sdk attribute tells MSBuild that this is an SDK style project and specifies that it's a .NET Web App with the value Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Web.

The <TargetFramework> element creates an MSBuild property named TargetFramework with the value net5.0 to configure the build for the .NET 5.0 framework. Properties in MSBuild are key/value pairs like variables in other programming languages, they are declared by adding child elements to a <PropertyGroup> element. For more info on MSBuild properties see

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Web">


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