Using ThreadPool.QueueUserWorkItem in ASP.NET in a high traffic scenario

I’ve always been under the impression that using the ThreadPool for (let’s say non-critical) short-lived background tasks was considered best practice, even in ASP.NET, but then I came across this article that seems to suggest otherwise – the argument being that you should leave the ThreadPool to deal with ASP.NET related requests.

So here’s how I’ve been doing small asynchronous tasks so far:

ThreadPool.QueueUserWorkItem(s => PostLog(logEvent))

And the article is suggesting instead to create a thread explicitly, similar to:

new Thread(() => PostLog(logEvent)){ IsBackground = true }.Start()

The first method has the advantage of being managed and bounded, but there’s the potential (if the article is correct) that the background tasks are then vying for threads with ASP.NET request-handlers. The second method frees up the ThreadPool, but at the cost of being unbounded and thus potentially using up too many resources.

So my question is, is the advice in the article correct?

If your site was getting so much traffic that your ThreadPool was getting full, then is it better to go out-of-band, or would a full ThreadPool imply that you’re getting to the limit of your resources anyway, in which case you shouldn’t be trying to start your own threads?

Clarification: I’m just asking in the scope of small non-critical asynchronous tasks (eg, remote logging), not expensive work items that would require a separate process (in these cases I agree you’ll need a more robust solution).


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Method 1

Other answers here seem to be leaving out the most important point:

Unless you are trying to parallelize a CPU-intensive operation in order to get it done faster on a low-load site, there is no point in using a worker thread at all.

That goes for both free threads, created by new Thread(...), and worker threads in the ThreadPool that respond to QueueUserWorkItem requests.

Yes, it’s true, you can starve the ThreadPool in an ASP.NET process by queuing too many work items. It will prevent ASP.NET from processing further requests. The information in the article is accurate in that respect; the same thread pool used for QueueUserWorkItem is also used to serve requests.

But if you are actually queuing enough work items to cause this starvation, then you should be starving the thread pool! If you are running literally hundreds of CPU-intensive operations at the same time, what good would it do to have another worker thread to serve an ASP.NET request, when the machine is already overloaded? If you’re running into this situation, you need to redesign completely!

Most of the time I see or hear about multi-threaded code being inappropriately used in ASP.NET, it’s not for queuing CPU-intensive work. It’s for queuing I/O-bound work. And if you want to do I/O work, then you should be using an I/O thread (I/O Completion Port).

Specifically, you should be using the async callbacks supported by whatever library class you’re using. These methods are always very clearly labeled; they start with the words Begin and End. As in Stream.BeginRead, Socket.BeginConnect, WebRequest.BeginGetResponse, and so on.

These methods do use the ThreadPool, but they use IOCPs, which do not interfere with ASP.NET requests. They are a special kind of lightweight thread that can be “woken up” by an interrupt signal from the I/O system. And in an ASP.NET application, you normally have one I/O thread for each worker thread, so every single request can have one async operation queued up. That’s literally hundreds of async operations without any significant performance degradation (assuming the I/O subsystem can keep up). It’s way more than you’ll ever need.

Just keep in mind that async delegates do not work this way – they’ll end up using a worker thread, just like ThreadPool.QueueUserWorkItem. It’s only the built-in async methods of the .NET Framework library classes that are capable of doing this. You can do it yourself, but it’s complicated and a little bit dangerous and probably beyond the scope of this discussion.

The best answer to this question, in my opinion, is don’t use the ThreadPool or a background Thread instance in ASP.NET. It’s not at all like spinning up a thread in a Windows Forms application, where you do it to keep the UI responsive and don’t care about how efficient it is. In ASP.NET, your concern is throughput, and all that context switching on all those worker threads is absolutely going to kill your throughput whether you use the ThreadPool or not.

Please, if you find yourself writing threading code in ASP.NET – consider whether or not it could be rewritten to use pre-existing asynchronous methods, and if it can’t, then please consider whether or not you really, truly need the code to run in a background thread at all. In the majority of cases, you will probably be adding complexity for no net benefit.

Method 2

Per Thomas Marquadt of the ASP.NET team at Microsoft, it is safe to use the ASP.NET ThreadPool (QueueUserWorkItem).

From the article:

Q) If my ASP.NET Application uses CLR ThreadPool threads, won’t I starve ASP.NET, which also uses the CLR ThreadPool to execute requests?

A) To summarize, don’t worry about
starving ASP.NET of threads, and if
you think there’s a problem here let
me know and we’ll take care of it.

Q) Should I create my own threads
(new Thread)? Won’t this be better
for ASP.NET, since it uses the CLR

A) Please don’t. Or to put it a
different way, no!!! If you’re really
smart—much smarter than me—then you
can create your own threads;
otherwise, don’t even think about it.
Here are some reasons why you should
not frequently create new threads:

  1. It is very expensive, compared to
    QueueUserWorkItem…By the way, if you can write a better ThreadPool than the CLR’s, I encourage you to apply for a job at Microsoft, because we’re definitely looking for people like you!.

Method 3

Websites shouldn’t go around spawning threads.

You typically move this functionality out into a Windows Service that you then communicate with (I use MSMQ to talk to them).

— Edit

I described an implementation here: Queue-Based Background Processing in ASP.NET MVC Web Application

— Edit

To expand why this is even better than just threads:

Using MSMQ, you can communicate to another server. You can write to a queue across machines, so if you determine, for some reason, that your background task is using up the resources of the main server too much, you can just shift it quite trivially.

It also allows you to batch-process whatever task you were trying to do (send emails/whatever).

Method 4

I definitely think that general practice for quick, low-priority asynchronous work in ASP.NET would be to use the .NET thread pool, particularly for high-traffic scenarios as you want your resources to be bounded.

Also, the implementation of threading is hidden – if you start spawning your own threads, you have to manage them properly as well. Not saying you couldn’t do it, but why reinvent that wheel?

If performance becomes an issue, and you can establish that the thread pool is the limiting factor (and not database connections, outgoing network connections, memory, page timeouts etc) then you tweak the thread pool configuration to allow more worker threads, higher queued requests, etc.

If you don’t have a performance problem then choosing to spawn new threads to reduce contention with the ASP.NET request queue is classic premature optimization.

Ideally you wouldn’t need to use a separate thread to do a logging operation though – just enable the original thread to complete the operation as quickly as possible, which is where MSMQ and a separate consumer thread / process come in to the picture. I agree that this is heavier and more work to implement, but you really need the durability here – the volatility of a shared, in-memory queue will quickly wear out its welcome.

Method 5

You should use QueueUserWorkItem, and avoid creating new threads like you would avoid the plague. For a visual that explains why you won’t starve ASP.NET, since it uses the same ThreadPool, imagine a very skilled juggler using two hands to keep a half dozen bowling pins, swords, or whatever in flight. For a visual of why creating your own threads is bad, imagine what happens in Seattle at rush hour when heavily used entrance ramps to the highway allow vehicles to enter traffic immediately instead of using a light and limiting the number of entrances to one every few seconds. Finally, for a detailed explanation, please see this link:


Method 6

That article is not correct. ASP.NET has it’s own pool of threads, managed worker threads, for serving ASP.NET requests. This pool is usually a few hundred threads and is separate from the ThreadPool pool, which is some smaller multiple of processors.

Using ThreadPool in ASP.NET will not interfere with ASP.NET worker threads. Using ThreadPool is fine.

It would also be acceptable to setup a single thread which is just for logging messages and using producer/consumer pattern to pass logs messages to that thread. In that case, since the thread is long-lived, you should create a single new thread to run the logging.

Using a new thread for every message is definitely overkill.

Another alternative, if you’re only talking about logging, is to use a library like log4net. It handles logging in a separate thread and takes care of all the context issues that could come up in that scenario.

Method 7

I’d say the article is wrong. If you’re running a large .NET shop you can safely use the pool across multiple apps and multiple websites (using seperate app pools), simply based on one statement in the ThreadPool documentation:

There is one thread pool per process.
The thread pool has a default size of
250 worker threads per available
processor, and 1000 I/O completion
threads. The number of threads in the
thread pool can be changed by using
the SetMaxThreads method. Each thread
uses the default stack size and runs
at the default priority.

Method 8

I was asked a similar question at work last week and I’ll give you the same answer. Why are you multi threading web applications per request? A web server is a fantastic system optimized heavily to provide many requests in a timely fashion (i.e. multi threading). Think of what happens when you request almost any page on the web.

  1. A request is made for some page
  2. Html is served back
  3. The Html tells the client to make further requets (js, css, images, etc..)
  4. Further information is served back

You give the example of remote logging, but that should be a concern of your logger. An asynchronous process should be in place to receive messages in a timely fashion. Sam even points out that your logger (log4net) should already support this.

Sam is also correct in that using the Thread Pool on the CLR will not cause issues with the thread pool in IIS. The thing to be concerned with here though, is that you are not spawning threads from a process, you are spawning new threads off of IIS threadpool threads. There is a difference and the distinction is important.

Threads vs Process

Both threads and processes are methods
of parallelizing an application.
However, processes are independent
execution units that contain their own
state information, use their own
address spaces, and only interact with
each other via interprocess
communication mechanisms (generally
managed by the operating system).
Applications are typically divided
into processes during the design
phase, and a master process explicitly
spawns sub-processes when it makes
sense to logically separate
significant application functionality.
Processes, in other words, are an
architectural construct.

By contrast, a thread is a coding
construct that doesn’t affect the
architecture of an application. A
single process might contains multiple
threads; all threads within a process
share the same state and same memory
space, and can communicate with each
other directly, because they share the
same variables.


Method 9

You can use Parallel.For or Parallel.ForEach and define the limit of possible threads you want to allocate to run smoothly and prevent pool starvation.

However, being run in background you will need to use pure TPL style below in ASP.Net web application.

var ts = new CancellationTokenSource();
CancellationToken ct = ts.Token;

ParallelOptions po = new ParallelOptions();
            po.CancellationToken = ts.Token;
            po.MaxDegreeOfParallelism = 6; //limit here

                  Parallel.ForEach(collectionList, po, (collectionItem) =>
                     //Code Here PostLog(logEvent);

Method 10

I do not agree with the referenced article( It is easy to create a new thread but dangerous. The optimal number of active threads to run on a single core is actually surprisingly low – less than 10. It is way too easy to cause the machine to waste time switching threads if threads are created for minor tasks. Threads are a resource that REQUIRE management. The WorkItem abstraction is there to handle this.

There is a trade off here between reducing the number of threads available for requests and creating too many threads to allow any of them to process efficiently. This is a very dynamic situation but I think one that should be actively managed (in this case by the thread pool) rather than leaving it to the processer to stay ahead of the creation of threads.

Finally the article makes some pretty sweeping statements about the dangers of using the ThreadPool but it really needs something concrete to back them up.

Method 11

Whether or not IIS uses the same ThreadPool to handle incoming requests seems hard to get a definitive answer to, and also seems to have changed over versions. So it would seem like a good idea not to use ThreadPool threads excessively, so that IIS has a lot of them available. On the other hand, spawning your own thread for every little task seems like a bad idea. Presumably, you have some sort of locking in your logging, so only one thread could progress at a time, and the rest would just take turns getting scheduled and unscheduled (not to mention the overhead of spawning a new thread). Essentially, you run into the exact problems the ThreadPool was designed to avoid.

It seems that a reasonable compromise would be for your app to allocate a single logging thread that you could pass messages to. You would want to be careful that sending messages is as fast as possible so that you don’t slow down your app.

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