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Posted 18 Apr 2005
Licenced CPOL

Debugging Windows Services under Visual Studio .NET

, 14 Aug 2006
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How to 'fudge' Windows Services code so that it can be debugged under Visual Studio .NET.


Normally, debugging a Windows service under Visual Studio .NET is painful. Windows services won't actually run directly within Visual Studio .NET, so the usual technique is to install and start the Windows service and then attach a debugger to it. An alternative approach is to pull the guts out of the service, stick it in a separate library, and then build some other app (e.g., a console app) to sit in front of it. This approach uses neither of those techniques.

When building a C# Windows Service project in Visual Studio, it will leave you with a class containing quite a few methods including a Main(), such as this:

// The main entry point for the process
static void Main()
    System.ServiceProcess.ServiceBase[] ServicesToRun;

    // More than one user Service may run within the same process. To add
    // another service to this process, change the following line to
    // create a second service object. For example,
    // ServicesToRun = new 
    //      System.ServiceProcess.ServiceBase[] {new Service1(), 
    //      new MySecondUserService()};

    ServicesToRun = new System.ServiceProcess.ServiceBase[] { new Service1() };

Obviously, it's the Main() above that ends up executing the service, and it's the Main() that this approach manipulates so that the Windows Service can be debugged directly within Visual Studio .NET.

Using the example above (and removing some of the comments), here's how:

// The main entry point for the process
static void Main()
#if (!DEBUG)
    System.ServiceProcess.ServiceBase[] ServicesToRun;
    ServicesToRun = new System.ServiceProcess.ServiceBase[] { new Service1() };
    // Debug code: this allows the process to run as a non-service.
    // It will kick off the service start point, but never kill it.
    // Shut down the debugger to exit
    Service1 service = new Service1();
    service.<Your Service's Primary Method Here>();
    // Put a breakpoint on the following line to always catch
    // your service when it has finished its work

It's crude, but effective (CBE - also known as Commander of the British Empire ;)). Run the service in debug mode to debug it, compile and install it as a release build, and it's a full and proper Windows service.

You may still wish to pull the guts out of your service into a separate library for unit testing. But this approach allows you to work with almost all of your service code as an actual service.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

Lee Humphries
Founder md8n
Timor-Leste Timor-Leste
If it ain't broke - that can be arranged.

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Comments and Discussions

GeneralSolution to that Pin
Leo Davidson15-Aug-06 2:18
memberLeo Davidson15-Aug-06 2:18 
GeneralThanks - And Some Extra Stuff Pin
jriesen27-Jun-06 20:31
memberjriesen27-Jun-06 20:31 
GeneralRe: Thanks - And Some Extra Stuff Pin
Lee Humphries28-Jun-06 12:26
professionalLee Humphries28-Jun-06 12:26 
GeneralBest article !!! Pin
Phan Dung7-May-06 22:59
memberPhan Dung7-May-06 22:59 
GeneralWorks great Pin
pchelp25-Apr-06 10:34
memberpchelp25-Apr-06 10:34 
GeneralThanks Pin
Victtim5-Apr-06 10:22
memberVicttim5-Apr-06 10:22 
QuestionHow about Pin
nfoyt30-Mar-06 13:18
membernfoyt30-Mar-06 13:18 
AnswerRe: How about Pin
Lee Humphries30-Mar-06 13:33
professionalLee Humphries30-Mar-06 13:33 
GeneralAwesome!!! Pin
ajdiaz3-Mar-06 6:41
memberajdiaz3-Mar-06 6:41 
Generalthanks - found this useful Pin
Jay Hamlin18-Nov-05 7:37
memberJay Hamlin18-Nov-05 7:37 
GeneralCaveat ! Pin
tobia_p15-Sep-05 5:56
membertobia_p15-Sep-05 5:56 
GeneralRe: Caveat ! Pin
Lee Humphries15-Sep-05 15:21
professionalLee Humphries15-Sep-05 15:21 
QuestionWhat is the gain? Pin
tgueth19-Apr-05 5:07
professionaltgueth19-Apr-05 5:07 
AnswerRe: What is the gain? Pin
Lee Humphries19-Apr-05 15:13
professionalLee Humphries19-Apr-05 15:13 

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