Debugging Cake on macOS with Mono

Debugging Cake on macOS with Mono


3 min read

If you're not already familiar with Cake, I wrote a post awhile back about the deliciousness of Cake for creating your build scripts in C#.

Cake recently released v0.22.0 which marked a huge milestone for the project. This is the first release of Cake to use Roslyn under the hood on Mono for compiling your build scripts. This is sort of bittersweet to me since helping implement mono support for Cake using Mono.CSharp was one of the first contributions I made to the project, but it's definitely time to move on! It's also pretty big for windows users too since the newer version of Roslyn now used brings support for the latest and greates C# features.

Breakpoints, Locals, Variable inspection, oh my!

Cake has been fantastic. Truly a huge time saver for me. But it's always left me wanting just a bit more. Traditionally it's been impossible to properly debug cake scripts on Mono. This means you ended up sprinkling Information ("value={0}", value); throughout your code when you ran into issues you were trying to solve.

Finally, we can leave this all behind us! Since Cake now uses Roslyn on Mono, we can have proper debug symbols emitted for our build scripts, and using Mono's debugger we can actually attach to the running process.

Yes, you heard it right, we now can have breakpoints, locals, variable inspection, and all the nice things in life!

The easiest way to get this up and running is to use Visual Studio Code, however you can of course attach to the process with anything that knows how to speak to the mono debugger.

Shut up and take my money!

Ok already, here's how to make the magic happen in VSCode:


  1. Install the Mono Debugger VSCode extension.
  2. Install the Cake VSCode extension.
  3. Open your directory in VSCode which contains your build.cake script.
  4. Use the Cake: Install a bootstrapper command to install from the View -> Command Palette menu.
  5. Download Cake.exe to your ./tools/ directory - the easiest way to do this is to simply run the bootstrapper once in terminal: sh (Note: this will invoke your build.cake script with the Default target).

Currently there is a Cake: Download Debug Dependencies command available, but it installs CakeCLR which is meant to run on dotnetcore not Mono. Hopefully future versions of the Cake extension will include a command for the Mono Debug Dependencies as well!

Configuring launch.json

If you're not familiar with VSCode, in order to start a project, you need a .vscode/launch.json file configured.

The Cake VSCode extension can help us set one up, but just like before, it's meant for debugging with dotnetcore and won't work for Mono.

Go ahead and create a directory .vscode and within it, a file launch.json with the contents:

    "version": "0.2.0",
    "configurations": [
            "name": "Cake: Debug Script (mono)",
            "type": "mono",
            "request": "launch",
            "program": "${workspaceRoot}/tools/Cake/Cake.exe",
            "args": [
            "cwd": "${workspaceRoot}",
            "console": "internalConsole"

Start your debugger

Finally, we're ready to go. Switch to the debug view (from the View -> Debug menu),

Open your build.cake file, set some breakpoints in VSCode (or you can also set them with a #break preprocessor directive in your build script code).

F5 (or the Debug -> Start Debugging menu) and watch the magic happen!