fixing MSB3644 build errors and the point of .NET targeting packs

Build errors on build servers suck. If it builds locally, why the hell doesn’t it build on the build server? Well there’s plenty of reasons for that, but as a .NET developer is usually means that something you have on your machine that came with your Visual Studio install isn’t installed on the build server.
But you probably don’t want to install the full-blown VS on the build server, so the question now is: what bit do I need to install?

Recently I ran into the following build error on 1 specific build server (yep, not on another one, fun, fun, fun).

C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio\2017\BuildTools\MSBuild\15.0\bin\Microsoft.Common.CurrentVersion.targets(1111, 5): error MSB3644: The reference assemblies for framework ".NETFramework,Version=v4.5.2" were not found. To resolve this, install the SDK or Targeting Pack for this framework version or retarget your application to a version of the framework for which you have the SDK or Targeting Pack installed. Note that assemblies will be resolved from the Global Assembly Cache (GAC) and will be used in place of reference assemblies. Therefore your assembly may not be correctly targeted for the framework you intend.

It clearly has something to do with a project which targets .NET framework v4.5.2.
The answer in fact is right there. You need to install a “targeting pack”.
But WTF is that thing and why do I need it?

Apparently having the .NET framework itself installed on your machine isn’t enough to be able to build a project if that project targets a specific version of the .NET framework. It makes sense as the .NET framework installation is actually the runtime, used to run .NET applications, not build them.
If you want to build apps against a specific version of the .NET framework, you need that targeting pack as well on your build machine. This is either your development box, which has VS on it, and thus the required targeting packs which come with the VS installation. Or this can be your build server, where you have to install the targeting packs as well.

You can check what targeting packs you already have on a machine by checking the sub-folders in “C:\Program Files (x86)\Reference Assemblies\Microsoft\Framework\.NETFramework
For each supported framework version, there’s a v<version number> folder there. In my case there was no v4.5.2 folder on that one machine.

So where do you find those targeting packs for the various .NET framework versions? Microsoft luckily compiled a nice list where you can find all the download links and instructions.
For the versions listed as “included in VS 2017”, you can see them all listed in the VS 2017 installer if you go to the “Individual components” tab.

Look at all those .NET targeting packs.

So a shortcut to install all the packs at once, is to grab the VS2017 installer and use that one. But you might want to disable all the IDE specific stuff you won’t need on the build server though.

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