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How to build a healthy multithreaded program - Issues regarding Multithreading and COM and a Multi threaded tool to Find Broken links in a Web Page

, 5 Oct 2004
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How to build a healthy multithreaded program - Issues regarding Multithreading and COM and a Multi threaded tool to Find Broken links in a Web Page



What does this application do? This application takes a URL and crawls it to a specified depth and finds broken links in a web page. This means if the depth is 2 the tool will open all the links of the parent page and in a child link analyze its entire child links too. Can be very helpful for web authoring to find incorrect, moved, broken links. One fact I want to admit is that the short algorithm section CHTTPThread :: OpenNewLinkandGetData() which determines if a link is broken is very raw. It finds lots of broken links all though they are not, the reason the parent directory association not correct. I sure can use help from some of you HTML gurus to exact it and don't have time to do it. Application is really intended to bring out several aspects of threading and COM and how to create a multi threaded COM client project effectively.

The architecture goes as follows. We have two work queues.

  1. CThreadSafePtrArray arrLinksDataG, which is an array of links, we have to analyze.
  2. CThreadSafePtrArray arrHTMLDataG which is an array of HTML data for a page whose links have to be analyzed.

There are two thread arrays

  1. CThreadSafePtrArray HTTPThreadsG is an array of threads, which will do HTTP transactions to get the HTML for web pages. The links are obtained from arrLinksDataG and the resultant HTML if any would be added to arrHTMLDataG. If a link is determined to be broken, it is added to the display as well as an XML BlackSabbath.xml file. Any Thread can be signaled to be killed using a member variable kill event, hKillEventM. Otherwise the thread kills itself at maximum idle time which starts when there is no work indicated by empty arrLinksDataG.
  2. CThreadSafePtrArray HTMLParserThreadsG is an array of threads which will do HTML analysis for HTML from arrHTMLDataG and iterate through the links, adds them to arrLinksDataG. Any Thread can be signaled to be killed using a member variable kill event hKillEventM. Otherwise the thread kills itself at maximum idle time which starts when there is no work indicated by empty arrHTMLDataG.

There is a worker thread, which will act as thread manager. The main application thread at the start of the job creates this thread. The function is utils.cpp showBusy() The URL to be analyzed will be written in to link data array before calling showBusy(). Thread creation works on the logic that if the workload is more than twice the number of particular threads available and if we haven't reached the maximum allowable limit on thread, then create a new thread. Thread manager function is utils.cpp checkBusy (). Thread creation is managed by thread manager calling utils.cpp checkLoadAndCreateThreadIfNeeded() and this function will create the first HTTP thread. Workload is measured by the item count in the work queue. Newly created threads are added to the respective thread array. Thread manager is killed in following way.

  1. When the user requests an abort operation from GUI and main thread initiates termination of all threads.
  2. By self-idle counting when there is no work left in the links or HTML data array and there are no worker threads.

Creating thread safe MFC classes

Here is an example of creating a thread safe MFC derived class. MFC classes are not thread safe. It can be easily achieved by deriving a general class out of it and exposing the methods you are planning on using. N.B Use protected or private access specifiers unless you plan to expose all methods exposed by the base class. Else it would create problems with an unsuspicious client using not thread safe functions from the base class.

class CThreadSafePtrArray : protected CPtrArray
  void Add(LPVOID newElementA);
  LPVOID GetAt(int iIndexA);
  int GetSize();
  void Lock(){EnterCriticalSection(&myLockM);}
  void UnLock(){LeaveCriticalSection(&myLockM);}
  LPVOID RemoveHead();
  LPVOID RemoveAt(int iIndex);
  // Initialize our synch object
  // Delete our synch object
LPVOID CThreadSafePtrArray::RemoveHead()
  // Acquire the synch object
  // Reuse our function
  LPVOID pRet = CThreadSafePtrArray::RemoveAt(0);
  // Release the synch object
LPVOID CThreadSafePtrArray::RemoveAt(int iIndex)
  // Acquire the synch object
  // Call the base class implementation
  // If we have enough elements and valid index
  if( (iIndex < CPtrArray::GetSize()) &&
    (iIndex >= 0))
    pRet = CPtrArray::GetAt(iIndex);
  // Release the synch object

You can see that extra is only couple of lines, one in the beginning and one in the end. EnterCriticalSection(&myLockM), LeaveCriticalSection(&myLockM). EnterCriticalSection acquires lock on our array for unique access and all other threads trying to access will have to wait till the current thread does LeaveCriticalSection. This approach has its advantage than using traditional CPtrArray and a synchronization object to secure it.

  • Reuse
  • Provides a method to automatically lock consistently whenever the underlying data is used and reduces the amount of code required for the same.
  • Provides functionality to Explicit Lock/UnLock when a block of thread safe operations has to be done under one lock.

What will be a situation to use Explicit Lock/UnLock? Say I call GetSize() and start operating on a array by getting elements one by one. This is not going to be kosher. Let's see some code. Say while I am in the loop from Thread1, Thread2 gets control and removes from the array and Thread1 is operating on the last element in the array. This will result in an access violation. But the following piece of code using Lock/UnLock will stay strong.

CThreadSafePtrArray HTTPThreadsG;
// Acquire lock to HTTP thread array
// Loop through all the threads we created and delete the said thread
int iNoOfThreads = HTTPThreadsG.GetSize();
for(int iCurThread = 0; iCurThread < iNoOfThreads; iCurThread++)
  // Get at the current index
  CHTTPThread* pCurThread = (CHTTPThread*) HTTPThreadsG.GetAt(iCurThread);
// Release Lock

Trying to acquire Lock from same thread twice

What might bother you here is that some member functions in turn call other member functions. All of them Lock and unlock. How would this work. To avoid dead locks all the synchronization objects except CEvent would allow a lock if a thread already has a lock. CEvent would however stay put in it's said state though because it's prime use is as a signaling object. Hence the above piece of code will be fine although it looks like RemoveHead() will acquire the lock twice .

Lock a resource only as long as you need

One important principle in multi threading is to lock a resource for the minimum number of instructions you can. I can demonstrate a situation using CThreadSafePtrArray implicit lock usage. Look at following code.

CThreadSafePtrArray HTTPThreadsG;
CThreadSafePtrArray HTMLParserThreadsG;
CThreadSafePtrArray arrLinksDataG;
CThreadSafePtrArray arrHTMLDataG;
if( (0 < HTTPThreadsG.GetSize())
   (0 < HTMLParserThreadsG.GetSize()
   (0 < arrLinksDataG.GetSize())
   (0 < arrHTMLDataG.GetSize()))

Each variable is locked and released after determining the array size. No two resources are locked at the same time. If we where to use MFC data types we will usually lock all of them at once. The code follows


This will result in holding up all the resources at once till the end of the above conditional if. Now if you closely see the said variables, all the threads except main thread operates on above variables and Thread manager needs to do the above if condition to determine the work load. This will take a major performance hit. Say if the thread switching happens while thread manager is on this if condition, no other thread will be able to do its job and will have to switch back finally to thread manager and finish up. This was an effort to convince you to create thread safe data type classes always.

Declaring thread Local Variables for C style worker threads

If we wanted to create a variable shared by several functions used by a worker thread but has to have a unique value per thread, we should use _declspec(thread) static. This is needed only for normal C style implementation of worker threads. Use of C++ style CWinThread derived classes achieve this by having member variables and member functions accessing these variables and of course there is an object per thread. I will show an example from my application files utils.cpp and utils.h. There is no real need to use this as I have only one thread manager thread, the purpose is to illustrate use.

_declspec(thread) static UINT lIdleCount = 0;
BOOL checkIdleMax()
  BOOL bIdleMax = false;
  if(MAXIDLECOUNT <= lIdleCount)
    bIdleMax = true;
  return bIdleMax;
void incrementIdle()
void clearIdle()
  lIdleCount = 0;

Application Configuration file for Multi threaded project

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>

The above said file is BlackSabbathConfig.xml. It has configuration settings for debug and release builds. Now the task is to write a reader class that is thread safe to access the configuration values. The implementation regarding thread safety is same as before using synchronization objects. The class name is CAppConfigReader and it is a singleton class, which has to be created and released once per application. The first call of GetInstance should be with the name of the configuration file.

// Get the application config file .. 
// Use registry or enviroment variable 
// in your applications
CAppConfigReader* pConfig = 
if(NULL != pConfig)
  // Get the logging level
  csLogFileName = pConfig->GetValue(

Every subsequent call should not provide the file name, as it will result in reopening and loading the file or changing the file. The reason is because the implementation is singleton as there will be only one and only one application configuration file. If more configuration file reads needed, please change implementation from singleton to normal creation.

// Get the application config file
CAppConfigReader* pConfig = CAppConfigReader::GetInstance();
if(NULL != pConfig)
    // Get the logging level
       csLogLevel = pConfig->GetValue(
    logLevelM = (eLoggingLevel)atoi(csLogLevel);

When you say /AppLogging/LogFileName to pConfig->GetValue, the function internally prefix Debug or Release as the build and makes it //Debug/AppLogging/LogFileName or //Release/AppLogging/LogFileName.

Log file for Multi threaded projects

One of the main debugging/trouble shooting tools for multi threading projects is a log file of function entry/exit and diagnostic purpose data logging ad error logging. Logs have to be thread safe for this purpose as multiple threads can access the log file simultaneously. I have couple of macros to make the usage easy. I will illustrate the usage of these macros with examples. They create a text file in the path mentioned in application configuration file BlackSabbathConfig.xml.

When the application starts the logging objects has to be created as below


and when the application exits the logging objects has to be deleted as follows.


The macros are declared in LoggingAPI.h and the usage is as follows.


Usage: FUNCENTRY("CHTTPThread::InitInstance"); Use this at the start of the fn.


Usage: FUNCEND; Use this at the end of the fn.


Usage: FUNCRETURN(FALSE); Use this at the end of the fn.


Usage: INFOLOG(("Thread ID: %d \n",pThread->m_nThreadID));

INFOLOG(("Thread Creation Succeeded \n"));

Note: The usage is like CString::Format() with arguments put in a ( ). The message is prefixed with Data:


Usage: Same as INFOLOG, Just a different name for clarity.


Usage: Same as INFOLOG. However the message is prefixed with Warning:


Usage: Same as INFOLOG. However the message is prefixed with Error:


Usage: Same as INFOLOG. However the message is prefixed with Fatal Error:

Setting Error logging level

Using the configuration file you can set the level of error logging. The key is in configuration file as follows


The values mean the following

  • Function Level = 0
  • Info Level = 1
  • Warning Level = 2
  • Error Level = 3
  • Fatal Level = 4

CurrentLoggingLevel = 1 in configuration means all the log messages above 1 and 1 will be logged. That means Function Level logging will be ignored.

Sample Log Entry

14:09:13.219 Thread(1540) Entering CMRUCombo::AddToMRUList File(c:\myprojects\blacksabbath\mrucombo.cpp) Line(56)

14:09:13.219 Thread(1540) Exiting CMRUCombo::AddToMRUList File(c:\myprojects\blacksabbath\mrucombo.cpp) Line(80)

The above means a normal function execution.

14:24:21.305 Thread(1516) Abnormally exiting CBlackSabbathApp:InitInstance File(c:\myprojects\blacksabbath\blacksabbath.cpp)

This is not pleasant. Can be because of two reasons.

  1. You forgot to terminate the function with FUNCEND or FUNCRETURN.
  2. There was an unhandled exception and the control was lost from the function. This demonstrates one more advantage of logging, detecting exceptions.

Note: However the logging is according to your discretion as to what you redeem important and what you don't. Type of functions to avoid from logging are UpdateCommandUI, PreTranslateMsg, OnPaint, OnDraw, OnTimer, CArray::GetAt derived handlers. The reason is that they are frequently called functions and will explode your log file and make it less readable.

COM interfaces and Threading models

Initializing COM for threads

COM has to be initialized per thread, otherwise all COM calls will return RPC_E_THREAD_NOT_INIT. Initialization can be done only once and if reinitialized with different threading model CoInitialize() or CoInitializeEx() will return RPC_E_CHANGED_MODE. Also a notable point is that the initialization works like a normal COM interface, it reference counts. So you will have to CoUnitialize() as many times as you initialized. If you don't, it won't be a major problem as they are references to underlying COM library dll's.

Initialization from a DLL

COM creation in a dll has to assume one thing - The client of the DLL will initialize COM and that dll has to run on that threading model. Otherwise initialization errors as explained in the previous section will arise - Duplicate Initialization or Reinitialization with different threading model.

CoUnitialize() and application Lockup

Reason is CoUnitialize() internally creates a modal message loop and waits indefinitely till all the COM messages are cleared. This can create problems when COM components in DLLS are unloaded without checking if it is ready to be unloaded. It generally happens when a dynamically loaded DLL hosts a COM interface. DLL will run from an application and uses applications message queue for synchronization purposes, if the model is Apartment threading. Please be advised not to access COM interfaces in dynamically loaded DLL's. I don't have a better solution. But if you don't care anyways, remove CoUnitialize().

Marshalling across threads

COM interfaces are thread affinitive. What does this statement mean? COM interfaces belong to the thread that created and lives and dies with them. What if other threads needed to access this interface. The parent has to marshall this interface to the other thread. What will happen if we just used this interface from a thread safe global variable? Everything will be fine, but when we access a method or property of this interface, COM will throw a RPC_E_WRONG_THREAD error. One of the standard functions available for marshalling purpose is CoMarshalThreadInterfaceInStream() and CoGetinterfaceAndReleaseStream(). These are old functions; we have an easy way to do this. IGlobalInterfaceTable referred to as GIT. This interface internally implements marshalling between threads. Here is the usage from CBrokenLinksFile, which is an XML file writer. Multiple threads use CBrokenLinksFile to write broken links to disk in XML format.

Declaring and Creating GIT

The following code is run by thread manager thread.

#include "atlbase.h"
CComGITPtr<MSXML2::IXMLDOMDocument2> CBrokenLinksFile::xmlDocGITM;
HRESULT hrDoc = CreateInstance(pXMLDoc,CLSID_DOMDocument2);
// If we have a pointer add to the global interface table
// The covering function will be called from thread manager thread
 xmlDocGITM = pXMLDoc.GetInterfacePtr();

Accessing interface from GIT

The following code is run by CHTTPThread

HRESULT hrGITAccess = xmlDocGITM.CopyTo(&pXMLDoc);
 // use the interface pointer

Revoking interface from GIT

The following code is run by thread manager thread.

// Revoke the interface we stored

Note: Only the thread that Created/Registered the interface can revoke it. This implies that the thread that created has to stay alive till revoked. Yes that's true. When the thread who created it dies, the interface also becomes invalid.

Which thread executes my COM interface and Dead Locks?

This is a very interesting aspect, which you usually overlook. In this question often lies the answer why sometimes your application dead locks. The answer is that it depends on your threading model. Lets discuss the threading models - Apartment and Free threading.

How to determine the threading model of a component

You will have to look under HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT/CLSID WITH either the Class ID or the name of component .dll or .exe. Here is an Example of what WebBrowser2 components registration says in Regedit, the binary for the component is shdocvw.dll.




Default - REG_EXPAND_SZ - %SystemRoot%\System32\shdocvw.dll

ThreadingModel - Apartment

COM Object creation failure and Incorrect threading model

Look carefully the above registry entry. It means WebBrowser2 control can be created from an Apartment Initialized thread only. I had to find it the hard way and the above described is the way I found it's threading model. The problem I faced was that my InitDialog() fn will fail in CDialog::CreateDialogControls() fn. A common scene when a programmer forgets to call one of OleInitialize(), CoInitialize(), CoInitializeEx( COINIT_APARTMENTTHREADED ). But my point is CoInitializeEx (COINIT_MULTITHREADED) will not work to fix this issue. It would have worked if component registry said ThreadingModel - Free or Both. Both means the object is safe for creation under all threading models. However it is not possible to change the above said registry values manually and get it working. This will result in unpredictable results although temporarily InitDialog() might succeed. I will explain.

What happens if threading model is changed manually in registry?

When an interface is created in Apartment threading, COM fn call CoInitialize() or any equivalent creates a message loop and uses it to synchronize the COM calls to any COM object created in that thread. The call will be executed in the order it is queued. Why is message queue used to queue on components parent thread? This will assure that only one call will execute at a given time and there is no need of making the COM object thread safe. Apartment COM threading model is provided to accomplish thread safe COM components by just marking the ThreadingModel - Apartment in registry. Apartment threading fails to exploit the advantages of multi threading because calls will have to switch to the COM interfaces parent thread and this will potentially be an overhead for every thread using those interfaces. So for complex COM objects usually free threading is supported. This necessarily means the underlying COM object implementation is thread safe. The COM Interface method call will be executed in the calling thread. In a multi threaded project there will be contention for the said COM object resources. But not to worry as object is thread safe. So if you changed in registry the threading model and made an Apartment threaded component Free threaded and used it in a multi threaded project, what will happen ? If there is thread contention for any shared resources in the COM object, the results will be unpredictable, as the component is not designed thread safe.

Dead Lock

In apartment threading the thread that created the COM object will be executing the calls to the particular interface. Say Thread1 created Component1 and is Apartment threaded. Thread1 calls a function, which has to wait for Thread2 to finish. For Thread2 to finish it needs Component1 method/property call. This will result in a deadlock, as the call can execute only on Thread1. Both threads will be waiting on each other. What are possible solutions?

  1. Initialize Thread1 CoInitializeEx(COINIT_MULTITHREADED). This can be done only if the component allows this threading model. Else step 2
  2. Create the interface on another thread without potential dead lock condition.

Too see a situation like this you can change the threading model of main thread in file BlackSabbathDlg.cpp to apartment threading. Click the Crawl button. Once it starts writing links click Stop Crawling button. The application will deadlock. This is because main thread tries to kill all threads by calling ClearBusy(). The XMLDoc object is created by main thread. Main Thread will wait on the handle of CHTTPThread in CHTTPThread :: KillThread() as a part of clearBusy() call. Meanwhile CHTTPThread will try to access the XMLDoc object to write the brokenlink. This function has to run on main thread and it is a dead lock, threads waiting for each other at the same time.

How to Detect Dead Locks and Application Locks/Infinite loops

Microsoft distributes for free WinDbg which is a debugging tool with extensive capabilities. Here is a tutorial on this tool. (Microsoft Knowledge Base Article - 311503). It can be downloaded from the following location Either you can use the Microsoft symbol server or the above article gives explanation to add symbol path or you can download the symbol files and install it on your hard drive. Here is how to get the NT symbol files on your hard disk - Microsoft Knowledge Base Article - 148659. Start WinDbg and select File Menu and choose Symbol File Path .... Set the symbol file path including your application PDB or DBG file directory. System32 directory by usually contains symbols for many dll's like mfc42d.dll, msvcrtd.dll etc. Select the Reload check box and this will reload from new symbol files. Q121366: INFO: PDB and DBG Files - What They Are and How They Work describes about symbol files. Also please find interesting articles at Microsoft Debugging Tools Knowledge Base Articles.

To enable generation of debugging info/Symbols (.pdb file) in a release/debugging build of Visual C++ 6.0 development environment, follow these steps: On the Project menu, click Settings. Click Win32 Release configuration. On the C/C++ tab, click General, and then set the following: Set Optimizations to Maximize Speed or to Minimize Size. Set Debug Info to Program Database. On the Link tab, click General, and then set the following: Make sure that you click to select Generate debug info. Make sure that you clear the Link incrementally check box. Edit the Project options directly, and then add /opt:ref,icf. To use Microsoft Format debugging information, select the Microsoft Format or Both option button under Link/Debug Debug Info. If the Generate Debug Info check box is not selected, this choice is unavailable. On the command line, if /.DEBUG is specified, the default type is /DEBUGTYPE:CV; if /DEBUG is not specified, /DEBUGTYPE is ignored.

Now when your application hangs you have to run an application called UserDump.exe. This will create a dump file to capture the state of the application. UserDump.exe is a stand alone executable that can operate on standard windows installation. Please see the following article to see how to obtain a dump file How to Use Userdump.exe to Capture the State of the Information Store. Let's assume your dump file is named C:\BlackSabbath.dmp. Now start WinDbg from your programs. From file menu select "Open Crash Dump", Navigate to the above file and open it. From View, select Processes and threads and Call Stack. This will tell you where your program is at and if you double click on the call stack lines the corresponding code file will open. This will happen only if you have set up the symbols correctly. For deadlock detection, select menu item View Command and the command window will come up. From the command line, type !deadlock and it will report dead locks if any. If not checking call stack for each thread is your best bet, application might be in an infinite loop.

Some useful commands to type on the command line is

  • .reload - Reloads the symbols
  • !locks - Reports all the locked synch objects
  • !deadlock - detects the dead lock
  • .time - time details for the process
  • .sysmpath - sets the symbol file path
  • !process - Process information
  • .thread <thread ID> - thread information. Go through help to find more.


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.

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About the Author

Cheeran Santhosh
Software Developer (Senior)
United States United States
I am a software programmer with 17 years of experience working on Microsoft technologies using various tools. Using spare time I play Ping Pong and enjoy music and movies.I come from Trichur, a town in kerala, India. I love code forums and feel obligated to contribute every once in a while.
I think Internet and the information share it provides is mind boggling. Do we ever believe, tomorrow always brings to reality,above and beyond what dreams can glimpse.

Comments and Discussions

QuestionHow to fix problems with User interface thread [modified] PinmemberCheeran Santhosh24-Feb-08 19:21 
GeneralProblems during ending thread PinmemberNahomi22-Oct-07 7:35 
GeneralRe: Problems during ending thread [modified] PinmemberCheeran Santhosh24-Feb-08 19:11 
GeneralComplier Error in using CoInitializeEx PinmemberM.Ranjini2-Mar-05 1:42 
GeneralRe: Complier Error in using CoInitializeEx PinmemberCheeran Santhosh2-Mar-05 4:49 
GeneralRe: Complier Error in using CoInitializeEx PinmemberM.Ranjini13-Mar-05 19:19 
GeneralRe: Complier Error in using CoInitializeEx PinmemberCheeran Santhosh4-Mar-08 11:28 
QuestionHow to get MSXML 4.0 PinmemberCheeran Santhosh8-Feb-05 4:51 
Generalmsxml dll &amp; DOMDocument PinmemberDean M Koska8-Feb-05 3:13 
GeneralRe: msxml dll &amp; DOMDocument PinmemberCheeran Santhosh8-Feb-05 4:50 
GeneralLogFile.cpp bug PinmemberDean M Koska7-Feb-05 11:00 
GeneralRead the legend PinsussAnonymous30-Dec-04 19:59 
Generalthis is what i was looking for good example of using threads Pinmembergfdv11-Dec-04 10:55 
GeneralYou can tell I am looking for a cheer PinsussAnonymous30-Dec-04 19:54 

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