Connecting to the Mac

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last updated: 2017-03

Xamarin.iOS for Visual Studio lets developers create, build, and debug iOS applications on a Windows computer using the Visual Studio IDE. This guide explains the features provided Xamarin.iOS for Visual Studio and how the connection to the Mac build host is made.

Overview

Visual Studio connects to the Mac over SSH, which provides several benefits, including:

  • Visual Studio can launch and control the build agent directly. There is no longer a user-visible application that requires a manual start and stop.

  • The new Connection Manager in Visual Studio will discover, authenticate, and remember the Mac build host.

  • Since all communication is tunneled securely via SSH, only a single port connection to port 22 is required.

  • Visual Studio is notified of changes as soon as they happen. For example, when an iOS device is plugged in the toolbar will update instantly.

  • Multiple instances of Visual Studio can connect simultaneously.

  • The connection will not intrude on development. It will only prompt for a connection to the Mac when performing an operation for which the Mac is required, such as debugging or using the iOS Designer.

The connection to the Mac is made up of multiple processes for the different parts of its functionality – for example, the iOS designer agent, and the build agent – that are controlled by a broker. This broker is controlled and updated by Visual Studio, and will restart any of the independent processes automatically if they were to crash.

The diagram below shows a simple overview of the Xamarin.iOS development workflow:

iOS development workflow

⚠️

Visual Studio actually launches a separate MSBuild process to build the projects. This process creates a new connection to the Mac, meaning there are actually two SSH connections from Windows to Mac when Visual Studio builds. Building from the command-line only creates the one MSBuild process. For the simplicity of this diagram, all the connections are simply represented by one arrow.

Requirements

Xamarin.iOS for Visual Studio accomplishes an amazing feat: it lets developers create, build, and debug iOS applications on a Windows computer using the Visual Studio IDE. It cannot do this alone – iOS applications cannot be created without Apple’s compiler, and they cannot be deployed without Apple’s certificates and code-signing tools. This means that your Xamarin.iOS for Visual Studio installation requires a connection to a networked Mac OS X computer (which is refered to as the host or build host) to perform these tasks for you. Once configured, Xamarin’s tools will make the process as seamless as possible.

System Requirements

The system requirements are:

Windows

  1. Windows 7 or higher.

    • This patch may need to be applied when using Windows 7.
  2. Visual Studio 2015 Professional or higher.

  3. Xamarin for Visual Studio.

⚠️

The Xamarin plug-in cannot be used with Express editions of Visual Studio due to lack of support for extensions.

Macintosh

  1. A Mac running OS X El Capitan (10.11) or higher (although the latest stable version is recommended).

  2. Visual Studio for Mac 5.10 or higher (although the latest stable version is recommended). This should be on the same distribution channel as Xamarin for Visual Studio.

  3. Xamarin.iOS SDK.

  4. Apple’s Xcode(7+) IDE and iOS SDK (although the latest stable version from the App Store is recommended).

⚠️

The Windows computer must be able to reach the Mac via the network.

Compatibility

To ensure that matching Xamarin.iOS versions are installed on your Mac and Windows machines, you must be on the Stable release channel of Visual Studio for Mac.

Connecting to the Mac

Mac Setup

To set up the Mac host, you must enable communication between the Xamarin extension for Visual Studio and your Mac. To do this, allow Remote Login on your Mac by following the steps below:

  1. Open Spotlight (⌘-Space) and search for Remote Login and then select the Sharing result. This will open System Preferences at the Sharing panel:

    Spotlight search for remote login

  2. Tick the Remote Login option in the Service list on the left to allow Xamarin for Visual Studio to connect to the Mac:

    Tick the Remote Login option in the Service list

  3. Make sure that Remote Login is set to allow access for All users, or that your Mac username or group is included in the list of allowed users in the list on the right.

In addition to this, if you have the OS X firewall set to block signed applications by default, you may need to allow mono-sgen to receive incoming connections. An alert dialog will appear to prompt you if this is the case.

Providing there is a current, open session on your Mac, it should now be discoverable by Visual Studio if it's on the same network.

Visual Studio will start and stop the agent on your Mac, so there is nothing else that you, as a user, needs to run.

⚠️

The Windows machine must be using the same version of Xamarin.iOS as the Mac to which it is connected. To ensure this is true:

  • Visual Studio 2015 and earlier: Ensure that you are on the same updates channel as Visual Studio for Mac.

  • Visual Studio 2017, Release Version: Ensure that you are on the Stable channel of Visual Studio for Mac.

  • Visual Studio 2017, Preview Version: Ensure that you are on the Alpha channel of Visual Studio for Mac. Visual Studio will not check that the Xamarin.iOS SDK and Xcode exist and have compatible versions. That will be checked by the build agent, resulting in build errors; and by the iOS Designer agent, resulting in designer errors.

Windows Setup

Make sure to install Xamarin tools on your Windows machine.

Connecting

There are two ways to connect to the Mac build host:

On the iOS toolbar:

The iOS toolbar

Or by browsing to Tools > Options in Visual Studio, selecting Xamarin > iOS Settings and clicking the Find Xamarin Mac Agent button:

Finding Xamarin Mac Agent

Navigating either way will lead to the Mac Agent dialog, illustrated below:

The Mac Agent dialog

This will display a list of all the machines that have either been previously connected and are stored as known machines, or machines that are available for Remote Login.

Select a Mac by double-clicking on it to connect to it. The first time that you connect to a Mac, you will be prompted to enter your Mac user credentials to allow the remote connection:

Enter the Mac user credentials

The agent will use these credentials to create a new SSH connection to the Mac. If it succeeds, an SSH key will be created, and will be registered in the authorized_keys file on that Mac. On subsequent connections the agent will use the username and key file to connect to the most recently connected known build host.

ℹ️

Note: You must use the username and not the full name when entering your credentials. You can find this out by using the whoami command in Terminal. For example, from the screenshot below, the account name will be amyb and not Amy Burns:

Finding the user name in the Terminal app

When a connection has been successfully made, it will display in the Host Selection dialog with a connected icon next to it, as illustrated below:

The Host Selection dialog with a connected icon next to it

There can only be one connected Mac at any one time.

Each machine in the list, whether connected or otherwise, will display a context menu on right-click, allowing you to Connect, Disconnect, or Forget the Mac as needed:

The Connect, Disconnect, or Forget this Mac context menus

If you choose to Forget this Mac, you will need to re-enter your credentials to connect to it again.

Manually adding a Mac

In certain circumstances, you may wish to manually add a Mac if you cannot see its mDNS name listed in the Host Selection dialog. To do this, follow the steps below:

  1. Locate your Mac’s IP address by either browsing to the System Preferences > Sharing > Remote Login on your Mac:

    The Mac's IP address in System Preferences

    Or, if you prefer to use the command line you can find out your IP address by entering ipconfig getifaddr en0 into Terminal (Note that depending on the type of connection the variable might be en1, en2 etc.):

    The IP address in the Terminal app

  2. Return to Visual Studio and in the Host Selection dialog, select Add Mac...:

    The Host Selection dialog

  3. Enter the IP address of you Mac into the Add Mac dialog and click Add:

    Enter the IP address of the Mac into the Add Mac dialog

  4. Finally, enter the username (not full name) of your Mac admin account and the corresponding password:

    Enter the username and password

Once you click Login, Visual Studio will log into the Mac machine using SSH and will add this Mac as a known machine.

Command Line Support

The new agent also supports building a Xamarin.iOS configuration from the command line. To use it, you will need to pass the following required parameters to MSBuild:

  • ServerAddress – The IP address of the Mac server.

  • ServerUser – The Username (not Full Name) to be used to log in to the Mac Server.

  • ServerPassword – The Password used to log in to the Mac host (optional).

The ServerPassword parameter is not required.

Instead, the first time a password has been passed, either by using Visual Studio or the Command Line, for that particular Windows, Mac, and user configuration a key pair will be generated and stored on the Windows machine for future use. It will be located in %localappdata%\Xamarin\MonoTouch\id_rsa. If you do not pass the ServerPassword parameter, the id_rsa keyfile will be used for authenticating.

An example command to connect to Mac 10.211.55.2 using xamUser account with password mypassword is shown below:

C:\samples\App1>msbuild App1.sln /p:ServerAddress=10.211.55.2 /p:ServerUser=xamUser /p:Platform=iPhoneSimulator /p:ServerPassword=mypassword

Mac Build Host

The remove Mac Build Host App screen

The Xamarin Build Host from older versions of Xamarin.iOS is no longer required. Visual Studio now automatically deploys the agent over Remote Login and runs it in the background, so there will no longer be a stand alone application required on your Mac and Windows Machine.

Summary

This article explored connection between Visual Studio and the iOS build and designer tools on the Mac, allowing you to build Xamarin.iOS apps using Visual Studio.

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