Archive for March, 2006

I usualy try to stay away from posts that have only links to other blog posts but, Tess has a great post about various issues causing .NET memory leaks.
I’ve talked about these issues before here and here and here.

It’s nice to see that others from Microsoft are sharing their knowledge and expertise on the subject of debugging with the rest of the world (specifically, when it comes to production debugging, hard .NET debugging problems and WinDbg 🙂 ).


I’ve discovered something that might be a bug in some way.

In one of our web applications, one of the developers wrote a user control (ASCX). The ASCX file contained a DIV with the “runat=server” attribute named (just of the sake of the sample) “X”. The ASCX.cs file contained another property called “x” (mind the case change!).

Since the compiler is case sensitive, there was no problem with this and the whole thing compiled and run, specifically it run from Visual Studio while debugging, the problem started when we precompiled the application.

In our build process, we precompile the web applications using the ASP.NET Compiler (through MSBuild, of course 😉 ) and since there was no compilation problem, everything went fine and the build succeeded.

We put the new build in a dev machine and started working with it. When we reached a page that used that control we got the “Ambiguous match found” exception. After searching for it in the newsgroups I found that it is a reflection related problem, so I fired up my faithful WinDbg and dived in.

I attached to the ASP.NET worker process and it broke in when the exception was thrown. I looked at the call stack (using !clrstack) and saw a call to “System.RuntimeType.GetField”, a reflection function used to get a field of an object.

OS Thread Id: 0xf38 (14)
019eecb0 77e55dea [HelperMethodFrame: 019eecb0]
019eed54 79617ef1 System.RuntimeType.GetField(System.String, System.Reflection.BindingFlags

I run “dds 019eed54” (this address is the address of the stack frame) to see what’s on the stack and get the addresses/values of the two parameters in the function.

019eed54 0263588c
019eed58 00000001

The first two lines (shown above) contains the addresses/values (depending on the type and number of parameters passed to the function, in our case we have only two) of the function. The second column contains the addresses/values. In our case, since the first parameter is a string, the value 0263588c is actually the address of a string, so I used !dumpobject to see its value and saw that it was “x”.

The second parameter is an enumeration, so the value represents the integer value of that enum flag. I looked in Reflector and saw that the value 1 belongs to BindingFlags.IgnoreCase.

At that point I still didn’t figure out the problem, so I went back to reflector and took a look at the precompiled assembly that this code was compiled into and then saw that I had two protected fields, one named “X” and one named “x”.

Bingo! that’s the problem, staring me back from the screen.

To sum things up, while this code is correct compiler-wise (two parameters with the same characters but different casing are two different parameters), the implementation that tries to access some of it uses a case insensitive reflection search, which causes the bug.

Until I get more information from Microsoft, I suggest making sure in any ASP.NET application that is precompiled to avoid having the same names with different casing to variables in the ASPX/ASCX page and its code behind.

Did you know that you can use SOS from within Visual Studio 2005, not just from WinDbg?
It has been previously discussed in a couple of places but most people don’t know it is possible to do that.

“Why should I use the SOS extension from within Visual Studio?”, you are probably asking.
The answer is quite simple.

Visual Studio is a rich debugger that shows us most of the information we want to know but it doesn’t show us a few important things like the actual size of an object and all of its references and who is referencing our object. While these things are not straight forward in Visual Studio, they are very easy to accomplish in SOS. For example, you can run the following command in SOS:

  • !objsize – to find out the actual size of the object and all of its referenced objects
  • !gcroot – to find who is referencing our object
  • !dumpheap – to see what’s all the stuff that we have on the heap. By using the -gen [generation number] parameter with !dumpheap, we can see all the objects that are currently in that generation
  • !SyncBlk – find out which managed locks are locked at the moment (I’ve talked about it before)

So, how do we actually do that?

Well, the first thing you need to do is enable “unmanaged debugging” by going to the “Project Properties” -> “Debugging” -> “Enable Unmanaged Debugging”.

After doing that, you can stop somewhere in your program, open the “Immediate” window (Debug -> Windows -> Immediate) and type:

.load sos

This will load the SOS extension. From there on you have most of the commands of the SOS extension at your disposal.
You might need to set the symbols path by calling .sympath, just like you would do in WinDbg.

An added bonus to this whole thing is that it also works on Visual Studio 2003, so you get to use it even with .NET Framework 1.1.

There is a new broadcast episode on MSDN TV titled “Introduction to the CLR Managed Debugger“.
It features Jan Stranik, the guy who wrote MDbg and he shows examples, as well as talk about the API and have a few insights as two the problems and solutions he encountered while writing MDbg.

I talked about MDbg briefly here and even used it to create an small tool to capture and log all exceptions being thrown in the process (even swallowed one) which I titled ExceptionDbg.
Its available in both binary and source code and is a nice tool to see all of the exceptions being thrown and caught. It’s also a good reference to implement your own cutomized debuggers and applications based on MDbg.

If you want some more information about MDbg go here, to Mike Stall’s blog.

A friend of mine, Eyal Post, whom I worked with in a previous company opened up a blog about two weeks ago (an DIDN’T let me know about it). I found out about it by looking at some stats of my blog and seeing that he linked to one of my posts about STA COM objects in .NET.

Eyal added some more important information and a solution to handling STA COM objects in ASP.NET Web Services and you can read all about it (and get the code) here.


Oh, and Eyal, when you do something like that drop me a line in the Email 🙂

Yun Jin has this piece about the different special threads in the CLR on his blog.
It coverts the different special threads in both the .NET Runtime as well as the open source Rotor shared source implementation.

It’s a bit of an old post, but I just found it. It has a nice summary of all the different special threads that the CLR creates in various stages and situation.

Some of the threads being mentioned there include:

  • The Finalizer thread. We discussed this a while back in the post about the blocked finalizer thread issues.
  • The Debugger helper thread
  • Concurrent GC thread – Used in a non server GC scenario and enables to collect garbage without freezing up the application.
  • Server GC threads – The specialized GC threads used in the server GC (one per logical, not physical, CPU)

Interesting stuff.