Sharing secrets among Team Build and/or Release Management definitions


When creating a team build 2015 (often called build or a release management definition, you can store secrets in variable (for example for passing a password or a token to a task).

Secret variables cannot be seen when viewing/editing a build definition (hence the name secret), only changed.

Secret variables have some disadvantages

  • Their scope is limited to the build/release definition, if you want to use the same secret among several definitions you have to replicate them among the definitions
  • You can’t apply security to variables, if a user has permission to edit a build definition he can change the secret.

In order to overcome these two disadvantages I have created a build/release task that can be used to have a single instance of a secret (per team project) and that can be used to pass secrets to tasks.

The task is called Set Variables with Credential and it’s part of a bigger package called Variable Tasks Pack which contains other tasks that deals with variables, it contains the following tasks

  • Set Variable Set a variable value and optionally apply a transformation to it.
  • Set Variables with Credential Sets the username/password from an existing service endpoint
  • Set Variable from JSON Extracts a value from JSON using JSONPath
  • Set Variable from XML Extracts a value from XML using XPath
  • Update Build Number Allows you to change a build number
  • Increment Version Increments a semver version number

But the topic of this post is how to share secrets among multiple definitions.

When you install the Variable Tasks Pack in your VSTS account from the marketplace, the extension will also configure a new Service Endpoint type, called Credential



This will allow you to store on your team project a username and a password (don’t worry password it’s just a name you can use it to store any secret, for example I used it to store a Personal Access token to publish extensions on the Visual Studio Marketplace). The connection name it’s just a label you can use to give it a meaningful name.

Using a Service endpoint gives you the possibility to define permissions (per credential) by adding users/groups to the Endpoint Readers



This will allow you to define which users have permission to use a given credential in a build/release definition. This means people with permissions to edit build/release definitions are not able to change secrets and only use the ones they are allowed to (you can also add users to Endpoint administrator to define who can edit the credential endpoint).

After you have defined your credential(s) you can use then on your build/release definitions, the provided task has three parameters.

  • The name of the connection
  • The name of the variable where the username will be stored (optional)
  • The name of the variable where the password will be stored (optional).

This will set the value of a regular variable, that can be used in other tasks like if it was a defined variable.

For example, if you set in the “Password variable name” the value MyVar


You can use it on subsequent task, like any other variable (Eg: $(MyVar) )


With this task not only you can control who can change/use a given secret, it is also possible to have a central place where the secret is stored and if you update it all definitions that use it will pick up the change immediately and you don’t have to update all tasks manually as if you used a secret variable.

Visual Studio Online hubot scripts replies formatting

I have previously blogged about using Hubot with Visual Studio Online on:

Using Hubot with Visual Studio Online

Using Hubot with Visual Studio Online Team Rooms

Running Hubot for Visual Studio Online on an Azure Web Site

Hubot scripts are independent of the chat room type that is managing and can be executed regardless where they are running.

However sometimes they are more or less tailored to work better with some adapters.

This is the case with Visual Studio Online hubot scripts, which works better with Visual Studio Online team rooms. For example work items numbers are preceded with a # symbol (since team rooms automatically convert them into a link to a work item (but it also sends an hyperlink in plaintext for other adapters)).

Version 0.3.1 adds a small feature, which allows you to configure the format of the messages sent to the chat room, in case the chat room you are using supports a more rich format.

It supports three formats

  • Plaintext (default) – Send the messages and links in plaintext
  • HTML – The links are properly formatted which has a better experience for users
  • Markdown – The links are properly formatted which has a better experience for users

In order to define the format, set the variable HUBOT_VSONLINE_REPLY_FORMAT with (case sensitive) the value plaintext or html or markdown

Visual Studio Online hubot scripts updated to support API V1.0

I have previously blogged about using Hubot with Visual Studio Online on:

Using Hubot with Visual Studio Online

Using Hubot with Visual Studio Online Team Rooms

Running Hubot for Visual Studio Online on an Azure Web Site

A few weeks ago Visual Studio Online REST API has reached V1.0 milestone, this means it has left preview mode and that the preview API is now deprecated. It still available and works as is, but it will be eventually removed from the product.

This mean that Visual Studio Online hubot scripts should be updated to use version 1.0 of the API.

My pull request to make the scripts use V1.0 of the API has been accepted (version 0.3.0)

You just need to update the scripts (manually or using nom) and it’s dependencies (which should be automatic if you use npm.

If you are using OAuth you will also need to recreate the application (since we now have a more granular set of permissions and the script now ask for a reduced set or permissions).

Note: since you can’t change existing permissions you will need to delete the application on Visual Studio Online and create a new one

These are the required authorized scopes.


After that reconfigure the application id and the secret on the configuration and you are all set.

Users will need to re authorized hubot, but don’t hurrym if re authorization is needed, the scripts will automatically detect this and ask the user to authorize again, you don’t need to reconfigure anything else.

If you are using Hubot with Visual Studio Team Rooms, Hubot adapter for Visual Studio Online has also been updated to use V1.0 so you should also updated.

Running Hubot for Visual Studio Online on an Azure Web Site


This is the third and last post on this series.

On the first post Using Hubot with Visual Studio Online I showed you, how you could install Hubot on a un*x box (I used an Azure virtual machine) and run commands against a Visual Studio Online account from a campfire chat room, by installing Hubot Scripts for Visual Studio Online

On the second post Using Hubot with Visual Studio Online Team Rooms I showed, how you could connect the same install to a Visual Studio Online Team Room instead of campfire, by using Hubot Adapter for Visual Studio Online

On this post I will explain, what you need to run hubot that is connected to one (or more) Visual Studio Online team room(s) in order to respond to commands; but running on an Azure web site instead of an un*x box.

Since Visual Studio Online uses notification events it is very suited for running on a Azure Web Site with optimized resources.

Running Hubot on an azure web site, has several advantages over running it on a nodejs process in virtual Machine:

  • It is cheaper. You can run Hubot on an free Azure web site. It’s hard to beat free. Smile
  • You don’t need to buy an SSL certificate (it’s not mandatory, but it is recommended that you use secure communications between visual studio online and your Hubot instance) since azure web sites support SSL out of the box
  • Unlike a VM it doesn’t require any administration

Nodejs running in an azure web site is not executed as standalone nodejs process, it is hosted on IIS. This means that IIS manages hubot process lifetime so it can kill/unload it (no worries, it will wake up as soon as it receives an event) as it sees fit. This means that if you are using the “join room feature” Hubot may not be visible on the room, EVEN though he will respond to commands if properly configured.

Before continuing, let introduce n Hubot concept I’ve not mentioned in previous posts. The brain.

Hubot brain, is an abstraction which represents a persistent storage mechanism that Hubot (and it’s scripts) can use to store data and state. The default out of the box mechanism used by Hubot is Redis.

Azure doesn’t has a redis service (it supports redis cache, but we need a persistent mechanism), so we need something to replace it (we could use a VM but that would beat the purpose of using an Azure web site Smile)

We will use Hubot azure scripts which provides an implementation of an Hubot brain, which uses Azure Storage Blob to store it’s data.

Installing hubot azure scripts, is quite simple. You just need to install it using npm install hubot-azure-scripts. Configure the brain in hubot-scripts.json  and then set a few environment variables, so the scripts can connect to your azure blob account.

I will not describe the steps to install and configure an hubot instance connected to Visual Studio Online team rooms, since the procedure is thoroughly described in the installation docs.