Sunday, November 29, 2009

Automatically compress embedded JavaScript resources with Microsoft Ajax Minifier

Recently Microsoft has announced yet another useful addition to an ASP.NET developer tool belt: Microsoft Ajax Minifier, a tool that enables you to reduce the size of a JavaScript file by removing unnecessary content from it. Clearly this is an extremely useful tool and the ASP.NET development community has gladly embraced it (just google it up to see a lot of positive responses). The tool indeed works very well and there have even been a number of articles comparing it to other well-known JavaScript compression tools that proved its quality. So there are no doubts whether to use the Minifier or not.

The question however is how to use it. Microsoft Ajax Minifier package does include a set of documentation that explains how to use the tool and even discusses a couple of usage scenarios. Unfortunately the way I wanted to use the Minifier is not covered in the documentation and for some reason I haven't found useful information on the Internet too so I've decided to do some research and share my findings with the community.

So how would I like to use the Minifier? Here are the requirements:
  1. I want to automatically compress embedded JavaScript resources in any project of my web application solution.
  2. I want the compressed JavaScripts have the original names so I don't have to change the references in HTML mark-up.
  3. I want the compression to be done only when I switch to the Release mode in Visual Studio. When I am in the Debug mode I want all the JavaScript files to be uncompressed for easier debugging.
  4. I want compressed JavaScript files never overrides the original JavaScript files and I don't want to keep the compressed JavaScripts so whenever I modify my JavaScript code the compressed resources are always up-to-date.

I believe that the requirements above describe one of the most common web application solution configuration so if there is a way to achieve them it would be very useful.

Can I achieve the requirements above with the Microsoft Ajax Minifier? The answer is yes. The solution is kind of obvious: since the Microsoft Ajax Minifier includes an MSBuild task I just need to modify a project file where I have embedded JavaScript resources that I need to be compressed to include the Microsoft Ajax Minifier build task. It does not sound complicated and below is the solution which is simple indeed. Just include the following XML in your project file right before the closing </Project> tag (in most cases):

<!-- Minify all JavaScript files that were embedded as resources -->
<Import Project="$(MSBuildExtensionsPath)\Microsoft\MicrosoftAjax\ajaxmin.tasks" />
<Target Name="MinifyJavaScript" Condition=" '$(ConfigurationName)'=='Release' ">
<Copy SourceFiles="@(EmbeddedResource)" DestinationFolder="$(IntermediateOutputPath)" Condition="'%(Extension)'=='.js'">
<Output TaskParameter="DestinationFiles" ItemName="EmbeddedJavaScriptResource" />
<AjaxMin SourceFiles="@(EmbeddedJavaScriptResource)" SourceExtensionPattern="\.js$" TargetExtension=".js" />
<EmbeddedResource Remove="@(EmbeddedResource)" Condition="'%(Extension)'=='.js'" />
<EmbeddedResource Include="@(EmbeddedJavaScriptResource)" />
<FileWrites Include="@(EmbeddedJavaScriptResource)" />

What this script does is when the solution configuration is 'Release' it finds all the project embedded resource files with the extension '.js' and creates their compressed versions with the same names in the intermediate output folder where they are picked from later by the build process.

A few tips

As you may have noticed the Microsoft Ajax Minifier MSBuild task is referenced from the default folder where it was copied to by the installer. If you want to reference it from a different location, for example if you have a shared development environment and want to have similar setting for everyone, just copy two files ajaxmin.dll and ajaxmintask.dll to another location and include the <UsingTask> tag (below) instead of the <Import> tag in the script above:

<UsingTask TaskName="AjaxMin" AssemblyFile="$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)\..\Build\AjaxMinTask.dll" />

The presented script performs so called 'Normal Crunching' (see the Ajax Minifier documentation) of the JavaScript code which already does a pretty good job that is good enough in most of the cases: compression rate is over 50%. If you would like to turn on the 'Hypercrunching' mode (see the Ajax Minifier documentation) you only need to modify one line of the script to include the 'LocalRenaming' option of the Ajax Minifier:

<AjaxMin SourceFiles="@(EmbeddedJavaScriptResource)" SourceExtensionPattern="\.js$" TargetExtension=".js" LocalRenaming="CrunchAll" />

And the last note is: don't use the default Hypercrunching mode or RemoveUnneededCode option with the ASP.NET AJAX Framework as it does not work properly with it.


  1. Kiran, what file are you asking for?

  2. I'm assuming one also needs to follow this information for changing all of the .js files in a project from Content to Embedded Resource?

    And, add a reference to pages pointing to that new .dll?

  3. Is it true that you should mark every .js file as Embedded Resource to be minified?!
    I follow your steps for making it happen in visual studio 2010 but it doesn't.
    Nothing happen to .js files. Am I missing something?