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C# Scheduler

, 23 Jun 2002
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This article demonstrates writing a service in C# and the setup options .NET provides.
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Introduction

The C# Scheduler project is aimed at demonstrating writing a service in C# and what setup options .NET provides, rather than being the main goal itself the final application is more a hanger to place the rest of the topics on. This doesn't mean that the finished project is useless rather that it serves its purpose as a demonstration and if the end result proves useful then that is even better.

The project consists of two parts the first part being the simple dialog application that stores data in the registry and a service that will use a timer to check the current time and if there is a program set up to run at that time run it. The focus of this article will be mainly on the service and what it takes to get everything working.

The Scheduler project consists of three sub projects and a test project that is used to test the registry code that runs in the installer class. The reason for the test project is because you cannot debug an installer project if you generate it through the development environment. You can only debug the code in an installer if you create the class yourself and inherit from installer, and run it as part of an application.

The three main projects are the Schedule project which is the dialog application for setting up applications that run as the scheduler and the SchedulerService which is the main guts of the application and the SchedulerSetup which is the setup project that is generated by the development environment.

The program is designed to run on Windows XP (Home and Professional) and Windows 2000.

The Dialog Application

The ScheduleExample executable pictured above is a simple dialog application that stores the information about what is to be scheduled in the registry. The information is stored in the format of ScheduleName which is an arbitrary name that you assign for this schedule and the file to schedule, which is stored as the full path and executable name of the file to be scheduled. Each scheduled item is then displayed in the listbox.

The Time to Run portion of the dialog is a simple user control that allows someone to enter the hours and minutes of the day that the scheduled task is to run. There is no option given for seconds in the application as this would require the service to be almost constantly checking to see if there was anything to run, instead of doing this the service will only check once per minute if there is anything set to run during that minute.

The Service

The SchedulerService part of the program is a standard C Sharp service program that runs as part of the windows subsystem. A Service typically has no user interface and performs back ground processing. A Service inherits from the ServiceBase class

public class ScheduleService : System.ServiceProcess.ServiceBase	
		

which allows it to override the members the new Service needs. The most popular functions to be overridden will be the

protected virtual void OnStart( string[] args )	
		

and

protected virtual void OnStop()	
		

These are the functions that most services will override in order to carry out their tasks. This is due to the fact that when the Service is started up the OnStart function is called and the OnStop function is called when the service is stopped. The part of the Windows system that does this is called the SCM ( I pronounce it SCUM ) or the Service Control Manager. Other functions that can be overridden are shown in the ServiceBase class help file so I wont repeat them here, but they all respond to different system functions specified by the SCM.

The job of the Service is fairly simple in that all it does is whenever the timer is called at a rate of once a minute it checks the registry to see if there are any programs off the ScheduleExample key that are required to be run. The main piece of code is.

Process process = new Process();
ProcessStartInfo startInfo = new ProcessStartInfo();
string strHours;
string strMins;
DateTime dtNow = DateTime.Now;

foreach( string strName in subKeys )
{
	subKey = key.OpenSubKey( strName );
	if( subKey == null )
		continue;

	process.StartInfo = startInfo;
	/// GetValue returns an object so to string is required
	startInfo.FileName = subKey.GetValue( "FileToRun" ).ToString();
	startInfo.UseShellExecute = true;

	/// get the time that the app is supposed to run and compare it
	/// to the current time.

	strHours = subKey.GetValue( "Hours" ).ToString();
	strMins = subKey.GetValue( "Mins" ).ToString();

	if( dtNow.Hour == Int32.Parse( strHours ) && dtNow.Minute == Int32.Parse( strMins ) )
	{
		/// start the process
		/// Notice that here I am not keeping track of the processes
		/// just letting them run.
		if( process.Start() == false )
		{
EventLog.WriteEntry( "Unable to start the process " + startInfo.FileName );
		}

	}

}		

Most of the above code should be self explanatory. The interesting points are the Process and the EventLog. To deal with EventLog first an Event Log is a system wide logging system that has been around for quite a while now but it tends to get mostly overlooked for a simple reason that most computer users don't even know it exists and therefore if applications are constantly writing data to it the event log will become huge and start taking massive amounts of space, so discretion is usually required when writing to it. Throughout this code I have maintained the rule only to write to the Event Log on an error, although during debugging there was code in there telling me what was going on, this has been removed. A Service already comes with an Event Log member that will by default write to the application section of the Event Log ( Accessible through Control Panel\Administrative Tools\Event Viewer on Windows XP ) But when using a Service Installer you will need to add your own EventLog object which can be found in System.Diagnostics.

A Process is any application running on the computer. The process class can be used to get information about programs that are running on a computer and manipulate them on the fly as it were. They can also as in the code above be used to start new processes on the computer. This is done in pretty much the same way as a process can be started on NT 4 using C++. A StartInfo object, in this case an object of the type ProcessStartInfo is created and filled out with data relating to the program to be started and in this case it is made equal to the Process' own ProcessStartInfo member. You can also just create the ProcessStartInfo object and fill it out and then call the static function Process.Start( ProcessStartInfo startInfo ).

Using Timers In A Service

In .NET there are three different types of timers that can be used. The standard Timer that is used with the forms that is the standard timer that was available in earlier versions of windows. The System.Threading.Timer which is a new kind of timer that instead of just calling a predefined function as with the old timer, calls a funtion that is started on a new thread and the System.Timer which is used here and is different from the others in that it is specifically designed for use in server type applications that don't always have a user interface.

timer = new System.Timers.Timer();
timer.Interval = 60000;
timer.Elapsed += new ElapsedEventHandler( ServiceTimer_Tick  );	

Here you can see the set up code for the timer that instantiates the timer and sets the Interval to be fired every 60 seconds. The Elapsed event handler is set up in exactly the same way that a remoting function call is set up and the function has to be defined in the same way.

private void ServiceTimer_Tick(object sender, System.Timers.ElapsedEventArgs e)		

which is how you'd expect a remote function to be defined with the ElapsedEventArgs object inheriting the from the EventArgs class.

Accessing The Registry

Registry Access has been covered just about everywhere that .Net programming is mentioned so I wont go over it in great detail here. The major registry keys are predefined in .NET and are used as static object off the registry objects,

Registry.CurrentUser 

and

Registry.LocalMachine		

These are well documented in MSDN under the Registry class. In order to open a key you have two overrides of the OpenSubKey function, One that takes the name of the key only and one that takes the name of the key to open and a boolean value which if false means that the key is read only and if true means that write access to the key is required.

I will just point out one little thing I discovered and that was that originally the registry access in the code was all using the CurrentUser key. Everything was working fine as the Installers were doing their job and the dialog application was doing its job, it was the Service that was behaving strangely. What I discovered was that when running in a service a line of code that reads,

RegistryKey reg = Registry.CurrentUser.OpenSubKey( "Software", 
                                false ).OpenSubKey( "ScheduleExample", false );

which was cut and pasted from the dialog application wasn't working the way I expected. it was blatently failing to open the correct registry key so I used the CreateSubKey call that if it doesn't find a key will create it. Then I searched through the registry for the ScheduleExample key. I found that when running from a Service the above line of code wasn't opening the registry key under the HKEY_CURRENT_USER key but was using the HKEY_USER key and creating the ScheduleExample key there. I just thought I'd mention this as a note to the unwary.

The Service Installers

To add custom installers to a Service double click the.cs file that contains the Service and then click on the "Add Installer" option that will appear on the panel above the "Misc" panel. This will add ProjectInstaller.cs file to the project that contains two Items, A ServiceProcessInstaller and a ServiceInstaller.

The ServiceProcessInstaller contains the system options in that it controls how the service will be run, in the current case the service will run on the LocalSystem account and the ServiceInstaller controls the Service itself, this sets the ServiceName and the StartType of the service which will usually be automatic unless you want to start it from another program, in which case you set it to manual. I can;t off hand think of a reason why you would want to install your shiny new service as disabled but I'm sure someone will. The main. The most important thing here is that the ServiceName set within the service must exactly match the ServiceName given to the ServiceInstaller. All the options that are required to set up the Installers can be done through the options in the user interface.

Installation options

There are two ways to install this project which cannot just be copied and run because it requires a service to be setup on the computer it is to run from. The first is through the use of the InstallUtil.exe application that comes with the .NET framework, the second makes use of the development environments ability to create installation projects and add them to the the code.

Installing The Application Through The InstallUtil.exe

To install the service there is an install.bat file in the debug directory when the project is upzipped. This uses the InstallUtil.exe program which is distributed as a part of the .NET Framework. To use this I set my windows path to include the .NET framework directory but if you prefer you can copy the files to the required folder or alternatively use a full path in the install.bat. I presume that installers that use the framework will work out where the .NET Framework is but this will do the job for now. It should be noted that you have to include the .exe on the end of the file name. InstallUtil doesn't automatically do this so if you don't specify it you will get error messages saying that a file was not found.

Once the file paths are sorted out the installutil will start to do its job. This on my Windows XP Home Computer caused a dialog box to pop up requesting the login parameters for the service to run under. This dialog only appears if the service is chosen to run in the user account. Theoretically this requires that the user enter the login information for the current account although I found that both on Windows XP home and Windows 2000 Professional that the dialog reported an error when the correct information for the account was entered.

Running a transacted installation.

Beginning the Install phase of the installation.
See the contents of the log file for the 
     c:\freepr~1\schedu~1\schedu~1\bin\debug\schedulerservice.exe assembly's progress.
The file is located at Service.log.
Installing assembly 'c:\freepr~1\schedu~1\schedu~1\bin\debug\schedulerservice.exe'.
Affected parameters are:
   assemblypath = c:\freepr~1\schedu~1\schedu~1\bin\debug\schedulerservice.exe
   logfile = Service.log
Installing service SchedulerService...
Creating EventLog source SchedulerService in log Application...

The Install phase completed successfully, and the Commit phase is beginning.
See the contents of the log file for the 
       c:\freepr~1\schedu~1\schedu~1\bin\debug\schedulerservice.exe assembly's progress.
The file is located at Service.log.
Committing assembly 'c:\freepr~1\schedu~1\schedu~1\bin\debug\schedulerservice.exe'.
Affected parameters are:
   assemblypath = c:\freepr~1\schedu~1\schedu~1\bin\debug\schedulerservice.exe
   logfile = Service.log

The Commit phase completed successfully.

The transacted install has completed.		
		

The above is the print out to the log file when the project was installed on my computer.

Installing The Application Through The Setup Project.

To create a setup project for your application click on File\New\Project and choose "Setup and Deployment Projects" and select a Setup project and click on the radio button to add it to the current solution. Once you have done this the project will be created along with a Detected Dependencies folder.

If you select the Setup project in the solution explorer pane then you will notice that there are a number of options for editors that appear across the top. These are the "File System Editor" which is used to setup the files that are to be included in the project. The Registry Editor that Allows you to create keys and setup the registry for any program that you want to setup. It should be noted here that I add registry entries through the installer, the reason for this is quite simple. I didn't know it did that when I wrote the installer and the registry access code within the projects needs to remain anyway so I decided to leave it as it was.

Next there is the "File Types Editor" this allows you to setup custom file types that you want to be associated with your application. Then there is the "User Interface Editor" that allows you to add and remove dialogs to the setup process in a way that has only previously been available through products like InstallShield and its ilk. The next one is the "Custom Actions Edtior", this is the one that will be used soon to start the Installers that are part of the SchedulerService assembly. The final one is the launch conditions editor that allows you to check for certain conditions within the registry or that the machine the code is to be setup on has the .NET installed.

To add the required files to the setup project click on the "File System Editor" button and select the Application folder. Right click on the application folder and select Add\Project Output. This will give you a dialog with a list of files that can be added to the installation. Interstingly enough one of these options is to include the source code for the project which it strikes me would be a good way to distribute demo projects such as this one. For a normal application and for now we are interested in the "Primary Output" option that will include the primary output of our projects and will also include the dependencies that are detected for running the project.

The problem I encountered then was that although the files were being installed the project didnt install because the Installers in the SchedulerService were not automatically run by the setup program. The answer to ts,his one is simple. Tell it to install it. The way this is done is through the "Custom Actions Editor" Selecting this gives you a screen with four folders that are the overridden functions that are used for a custom installation with an Installer, these being, install, rollback, commit and uninstall. Select the actions that you have overriden in the install class you have created and right click and select "Add Custom Action", this gives you a dialog that allows you to select any option from the "File System Editor". Select the "Application Folder" and this will give you a list of the applications that are setup to be installed. By selecting the application that contains the custom Installers you tell the setup program that when it runs the install you want to execute the installers in the application.

One more problem to be aware of, is that with the Add\Project Output is that if you run and installer in an application that is setup as a Project Output the file will be setup to run from the directory that the project file is added to the setup from. This meant that in testing I found that although the setup was working the service itself was actually being run from the debug development folder and not from the installation folder. The way around this problem is to place the executable file in the application folder and not the Project Output.

Running The Service

The SchedulerService program is configured to start up automatically although this doesn't mean that it will start immeadiately once installed, so a little manual help is required here. When the installation has finished the go to Control Panel\Administrative Tools\Services and double click on "Services". This will open the services dialog box, locate the SchedulerService and double click on it. This will bring up the service properties dialog from here click on the Log on Tab and check the "allow service to interact with desktop". This will give the service permission to start programs that have a graphical user interface. The reason that this is required to be a manual operation is that there is a ServiceType Enumeration within the System.ServiceProcess namespace but this is only used by the ServiceController class and its access is limited to a get which means that although you can use the ServiceController to check that a service can access the desktop, it is currently not possible to directly set the service to using the ServiceType enumeration as there is no mention of it in any of the other service classes. I can only presume that I have missed something somewhere or that the functionality in this area will be extended in later versions of the .NET framework.

Once the "allow service to interact with desktop" checkbox has been checked, select the general tab and click on the start button. Finally click the Apply button and the service will be started normally every time the computer is rebooted, then you will only need to run the dialog part of the application to maintain the scheduler.

License

This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

A list of licenses authors might use can be found here

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About the Author

Anthony Roach
Web Developer
United Kingdom United Kingdom
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Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionSamay .NET Scheduler PinmemberSamay .NET Scheduler22-Sep-12 12:25 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberDo Quang30-Sep-10 21:20 
GeneralMy vote of 1 Pinmemberyhilbert2-Nov-09 6:53 
GeneralMy vote of 1 PinmemberParesh Gheewala1-Dec-08 21:20 
GeneralRe: My vote of 1 PinmemberJon_Boy30-Dec-08 15:13 
GeneralRegistry Pinmemberdfelker14-Mar-08 10:40 
GeneralService install path Pinmemberzephid19-Oct-06 5:05 
GeneralRight-Click open-with Application Name Pinmemberasguru2-Aug-06 22:10 
GeneralI know how to do the service interactive programatically PinmembercorsairX23-Nov-05 22:53 
GeneralCan't compile you project - Unknown class TimeSet PinmemberTiTi____6-Apr-04 6:41 
GeneralRe: Can't compile you project - Unknown class TimeSet PinmemberTiTi____6-Apr-04 6:49 
QuestionHow to install using InstallUtil.exe with user account Pinmembermav.northwind17-Feb-04 2:11 
AnswerRe: How to install using InstallUtil.exe with user account PinsussAnonymous17-Mar-04 22:51 
Questionhow to include MDAC in our .Net Setup Pinmemberpayal sheth13-Feb-04 21:30 
GeneralWindows Service cant start anymore Pinmemberman3318-Sep-03 23:51 
GeneralC++ with more complex schedule capability PinsussMike Ellertson5-Aug-03 14:45 
GeneralFamiliar Code PinsussAnonymous13-Apr-03 17:52 
GeneralRe: Familiar Code PinmemberAnthony Roach13-Apr-03 23:21 
QuestionProcess starting with no GUI even with 'interact with desktop' checked??? PinmemberRCCrash19-Mar-03 13:38 
AnswerRe: Process starting with no GUI even with 'interact with desktop' checked??? PinmemberRCCrash19-Mar-03 13:47 
AnswerRe: Process starting with no GUI even with 'interact with desktop' checked??? PinmemberSiegfried Bauer28-Feb-10 14:20 
Questionhow to add service description Pinmemberrado19-Feb-03 23:27 
AnswerRe: how to add service description PinmemberAnthony Roach20-Feb-03 3:15 
GeneralRe: how to add service description Pinmemberrado20-Feb-03 21:52 
Generalfound a solution! :) Pinmemberrado20-Feb-03 22:33 

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