Can I use threads to carry out long-running jobs on IIS?

In an ASP.Net application, the user clicks a button on the webpage and this then instantiates an object on the server through the event handler and calls a method on the object.
The method goes off to an external system to do stuff and this could take a while. So, what I would like to do is run that method call in another thread so I can return control to the user with “Your request has been submitted”.
I am reasonably happy to do this as fire-and-forget, though it would be even nicer if the user could keep polling the object for status.

What I don’t know is if IIS allows my thread to keep running, even if the user session expires.
Imagine, the user fires the event and we instantiate the object on the server and fire the method in a new thread. The user is happy with the “Your request has been submitted” message and closes his browser. Eventually, this users session will time out on IIS, but the thread may still be running, doing work. Will IIS allow the thread to keep running or will it kill it and dispose of the object once the user session expires?

EDIT: From the answers and comments, I understand that the best way to do this is to move the long-running processing outside of IIS. Apart from everything else, this deals with the appdomain recycling problem. In practice, I need to get version 1 off the ground in limited time and has to work inside an existing framework, so would like to avoid the service layer, hence the desire to just fire off the thread inside IIS. In practice, “long running” here will only be a few minutes and the concurrency on the website will be low so it should be okay. But, next version definitely will need splitting into a separate service layer.


Thank you for visiting the Q&A section on Magenaut. Please note that all the answers may not help you solve the issue immediately. So please treat them as advisements. If you found the post helpful (or not), leave a comment & I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Method 1

You can accomplish what you want, but it is typically a bad idea. Several ASP.NET blog and CMS engines take this approach, because they want to be installable on a shared hosting system and not take a dependency on a windows service that needs to be installed. Typically they kick off a long running thread in Global.asax when the app starts, and have that thread process queued up tasks.

In addition to reducing resources available to IIS/ASP.NET to process requests, you also have issues with the thread being killed when the AppDomain is recycled, and then you have to deal with persistence of the task while it is in-flight, as well as starting the work back up when the AppDomain comes back up.

Keep in mind that in many cases the AppDomain is recycled automatically at a default interval, as well as if you update the web.config, etc.

If you can handle the persistence and transactional aspects of your thread being killed at any time, then you can get around the AppDomain recycling by having some external process that makes a request on your site at some interval – so that if the site is recycled you are guaranteed to have it start back up again automatically within X minutes.

Again, this is typically a bad idea.

EDIT: Here are some examples of this technique in action:

Community Server: Using Windows Services vs. Background Thread to Run Code at Scheduled Intervals
Creating a Background Thread When Website First Starts

EDIT (from the far distant future) – These days I would use Hangfire.

Method 2

I disagree with the accepted answer.

Using a background thread (or a task, started with Task.Factory.StartNew) is fine in ASP.NET. As with all hosting environments, you may want to understand and cooperate with the facilities governing shutdown.

In ASP.NET, you can register work needing to stop gracefully on shutdown using the HostingEnvironment.RegisterObject method. See this article and the comments for a discussion.

(As Gerard points out in his comment, there’s now also HostingEnvironment.QueueBackgroundWorkItem that calls down to RegisterObject to register a scheduler for the background item to work on. Overall the new method is nicer since it’s task-based.)

As for the general theme that you often hear of it being a bad idea, consider the alternative of deploying a windows service (or another kind of extra-process application):

  • No more trivial deployment with web deploy
  • Not deployable purely on Azure Websites
  • Depending on the nature of the background task, the processes will likely have to communicate. That means either some form of IPC or the service will have to access a common database.

Note also that some advanced scenarios might even need the background thread to be running in the same address space as the requests. I see the fact that ASP.NET can do this as a great advantage that has become possible through .NET.

Method 3

You wouldn’t want to use a thread from the IIS thread pool for this task because it would leave that thread unable to process future requests. You could look into Asynchronous Pages in ASP.NET 2.0, but that really wouldn’t be the right answer, either. Instead, what it sounds like you would benefit from is looking into Microsoft Message Queuing. Essentially, you would add the task details to the queue and another background process (possibly a Windows Service) would be in charge of carrying out that task. But the bottom line is that the background process is completely isolated from IIS.

Method 4

I would suggest to use HangFire for such requirements. Its a nice fire and forget engine runs in background, supports different architecture, reliable because it is backed by persistence storage.

Method 5

There is a good thread and sample code here:

I’ve even toyed with the idea of calling a keep alive page on my website from the thread to help keep the app pool alive. Keep in mind if you are using this method that you need really good recovery handling, because the application could recycle at any time. As many have mentioned this is not the right approach if you have access to other service options, but for shared hosting this may be one of your only options.

To help keep the app pool alive, you could make a request to your own site while the thread is processing. This may help keep the app pool alive if your process runs a long time.

string tempStr = GetUrlPageSource("");

    public static string GetUrlPageSource(string url)
        string returnString = "";

            Uri uri = new Uri(url);
            if (uri.Scheme == Uri.UriSchemeHttp)
                HttpWebRequest req = (HttpWebRequest)WebRequest.Create(uri);
                CookieContainer cookieJar = new CookieContainer();

                req.CookieContainer = cookieJar;

                //set the request timeout to 60 seconds
                req.Timeout = 60000;
                req.UserAgent = "MyAgent";

                //we do not want to request a persistent connection
                req.KeepAlive = false;

                HttpWebResponse resp = (HttpWebResponse)req.GetResponse();
                Stream stream = resp.GetResponseStream();
                StreamReader sr = new StreamReader(stream);

                returnString = sr.ReadToEnd();

            returnString = "";

        return returnString;

Method 6

We started down this path, and it actually worked ok when our app was on one server. When we wanted to scale out to multiple machines (or use multiple w3wp in a web garen) we had to re-evaluate and look at how to manage a work queue, error handling, retries and the tricky problem of correctly locking to ensure only one server picks up the next item.

… we realized we are not in the business of writing background processing engines so we looked for existing solutions and we landed up using the awesome OSS project hangfire

Sergey Odinokov has created a real gem which is really easy to get started with, and allows you to swap out the backend of how work is persisted and queued. Hangfire uses background threads, but persists the jobs, handles retries and gives you visibility into the work queue. So hangfire jobs are robust and survive all the vagaries of appdomains being recycled etc.

Its basic setup uses sql server as the storage but you can swap out for Redis or MSMQ when its time to scale up. It also has an excellent UI for visualizing all the jobs and their status plus allowing you to re-queue jobs.

My point is that while its entirely possible to do what you want in an background thread, there is a lot of work to make it scalable and robust. Its fine for simple workloads but when things get more complex I much prefer to use a purpose built library rather than go through this effort.

For some more perspective on options available check out Scott Hanselman’s blog which covers off a few options for handling background jobs in (He gave hangfire a glowing review)

Also as referenced by John its worth reading up Phil Haack’s blog on why the approach is problematic, and how to gracefully stop work on the thread when appdomain is unloaded.

Method 7

Can you create a windows service to do that task? Then use .NET remoting from the Web Server to call the Windows Service to do the action? If that is the case that is what I would do.

This would eliminate the need to relay on IIS, and limit some of its processing power.

If not then I would force the user to sit there while the process is done. That way you ensure it is completed and not killed by IIS.

Method 8

There does seem to be one supported way of hosting long-running work in IIS. Workflow Services seem designed for this, especially in conjunction with Windows Server AppFabric. The design allows for application pool recycling by supporting automatic persistence and resumption of the long-running work.

Method 9

You may run tasks in the background and they will complete even after the request ends. Don’t let an uncaught exception be thrown. Normally you want to always throw your exceptions. If an exception is thrown in a new thread then it will crash the IIS worker process – w3wp.exe, because you are no longer in the request’s context. That’s also then going to kill any other background tasks you have running in addition to in-process memory backed sessions if you are using them. This would be hard to diagnose, which is why the practice is discouraged.

Method 10

Just create a surrogate process to run the async tasks; it doesn’t have to be a windows service (although that is the more optimal approach in most cases. MSMQ is way over kill.

All methods was sourced from or, is licensed under cc by-sa 2.5, cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0

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