I’ve had chance to play around with ASP.NET Core 2.0 preview 2 a little in the last few weeks. One of the things I was keen to try out and to understand a little better was the new IHostedService interface provided by Microsoft.Extensions.Hosting. David Fowler and Damian Edwards demonstrated an early example of how to implement this interface using the preview 1 of ASP.NET Core 2.0 at NDC Oslo. At the time of that demo the methods were synchronous but since then they have been made asynchronous.
Full disclosure: After taking a first pass at creating something using this interface I ran the code past David Fowler and he kindly reviewed it. As I suspected, I was not using it correctly! Since then David was kind enough to answer a few questions and even provided a sample of a base class that simplifies creation of hosted services. After my failure to understand the expected implementation of the interface and a general realisation that I needed to learn more about using Task cancellations with async/await, I almost decided to ditch my plan to write this blog post. However, I realised that this is still probably a good sample to share since others may run into the same mistakes I did. After speaking with David I believe this is appropriate use of the interface.
One of the challenges when starting out was trying to use something in preview that had no samples or documentation yet. While I hope no one will use this prior to RTM of 2.0 when I expect full documentation will be made available, I’m sure people may benefit from taking a look at it sooner. David did say that they have intentions to provide a formal base class, much like the code that he provided for me which will make creating these background hosted services easier. However, that won’t make it into the 2.0 release. The code I include in this sample might act as a good starting point until then, although it’s not fully tested.
Remember; there are no docs for this interface currently, so I’m taking a best guess at how it can be used and how it’s working based on what I’ve explored and been able to learn from David. This feature is preview and may also change before release (although very unlikely as 2.0 is nearly baked now). If you’re reading this in the future (and unless you’re a time traveller, you must be) please keep in mind this may be outdated.
The first question to answer is what can we use this interface for? The basic idea is that it allows us to register background tasks, that run while our web host is running. These are co-ordinated with the lifetime of the application. We register a Task when the application starts and have the opportunity to do some graceful clean-up when the application is shutting down. While we could spin off work on a background thread previously, it would be killed when the main application process shutdown.
To create these background tasks we implement the new IHostedService interface.
The interface looks like this:
The idea is we register one or more implementations of this interface with the DI container, all of which will then be started and stopped along with the application by the HostedServiceExecutor. As users of this interface we are responsible for properly handling the cancellation and shutdown of our services when StopAsync is triggered by the host.
Creating a Hosted Service
One of the first possible use cases for these background tasks that I came up with was a scenario where we might want to update some content or data in our application from an external source, refreshing it periodically. Rather than doing that update in the main request thread, we can offload it to a background task.
In this simple example I provide an API endpoint which returns a random string value provided from an external service and updated every 5 seconds.
The first part of the code is a provider class which will hold the string value and which includes an update method that when called, will get a new string from the external service.
I then use this provider from my controller to return the string.
The main work for the setup of our service lives in an abstract base class called HostedService. This is the base class that David Fowler kindly put together. The code looks like this:
The comments in the class describe the flow. When using this base class we simply need to implement the ExecuteAsync method.
When the StartAsync method is called by the HostedServiceExecutor a CancellationTokenSource is created and linked to the token which was passed into the StartAsync method. This CancellationTokenSource is stored in a private field.
ExecuteAsync, an abstract method is then called, passing in the token from our CancellationTokenSource and the returned Task itself is stored. The StartAsync then must return as complete to the caller. A check is made in case our ExecuteAsync method is already completed. If not we return a Task.CompletedTask.
At this point we have a background task running whatever code we placed inside our implementation of ExecuteAsync. Our WebHost will go about its business of serving requests.
The other method defined by IHostedService is StopAsync. This method is called when the WebHost is shutting down. This is the key differentiator from running work on a traditional background thread. Since we have a proper hook into the shutdown of the host we can handle the proper shutdown of our workload on the background thread.
In the base class, first a check is made to ensure that StartAsync was previously called and that we actually have an executing task. Then we signal cancellation on our CancellationTokenSource. We await the completion of one of two things. The preferred option is that our Task which should be adhering to the cancellation token we passed to it, completes. The fall back is the Task.Delay(-1, cancellationToken) task completes. This takes in the cancellation token passed by the HostedServiceExecutor, which in turn is provided by the StopAsync method of the WebHost. By default this will by a token set with a 5 second timeout, although this timeout value can be configured when building our WebHost using the UseShutdownTimeout extension on the IWebHostBuilder. This means that our service is expected to cancel within 5 seconds otherwise it will be more abruptly killed.
To use this base class I then created a class inheriting from it called DataRefreshService. It is within this class that I implement the ExecuteAsync abstract method from HostedService. The ExcecuteAsync method accepts a cancellation token and looks like this:
I call the UpdateString method on the RandomStringProvider and then wait for 5 seconds before repeating. This all happens inside a while loop which continues indefinitely, until cancelation has been requested for the cancellation token. We pass the cancellation token down into the other async methods as well, so that they too can cancel their tasks all the way down the chain.
The final part of this is wiring up the dependency injection. Within the configure services method of Startup I must register the hosted service. I also register my RandomStringProvider class too, since that is passed into things via DI.
The IHostedService interface provides a nice way to properly start background work in a web application. It’s a feature we should not overuse, as I doubt it’s intended for spinning up large numbers of tasks, but for some scenarios it offers a nice solution. Its main benefit is the chance to perform proper cancellation and shutdown of our background tasks when the host itself is shutting down.
A special thanks to the amazing David Fowler for a quick code review (and correction) of my DataRefreshService. It was very kind of him to spare me some of his time to help me better understand this new feature. I hope I’ve explained everything correctly so that others can benefit from what he shared with me.