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Compiling on Windows without Visual Studio


Developers working with the Microsoft platform that have a copy of Visual Studio installed, typically find themselves in a good situation regarding their projects:  they can open a solution, make changes, and compile it with the knowledge that all of the required files and settings are configured correctly.  The difficulty rises when it's time to compile projects and solutions in an environment without Visual Studio installed, such as a build server or continuous delivery system.

Previously Microsoft dealt with this possibility by providing the various tools including the Visual C++ Build Tools for C++ and the Microsoft Build Tools for managed code (Visual Basic and C#).  While it's great that the major languages are supported, having two different tools with similar names increases complexity and confusion.  To remedy this, Microsoft has now released the Visual Studio Build Tools (VSBT). 

VSBT combines the offerings from the previous two tools into a single installer that also allows for the installation of MFC / ATL support, Windows Universal C Runtimes, and various Windows SDKs.  The installer for VSBT is very similar in function to that of VS2017, however the choices here are focused on the various build tools available (what it currently lacks until a future release is support for targeting Windows XP).

For this release, running the VSBT installer from the command line does not have all of the abilities of similar Visual Studio related installers.  For example, the switch “–help” and “/?” are not supported.  Microsoft’s Adam Welch indicates that these will be part of a future release.  For now the best course of action is to refer to the VS2017RC reference on command-line parameters.  Similarly, it is possible to create an off-line installer for VSBT which will result in a download of approximately 2.5 GB.

Another upcoming addition to VSBT will be support for Windows XP targeting, which this installer lacks.  A timeline for the next release of VSBT has not yet been provided.  Those looking to download the installer directly can do so through this link.

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