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Posted 22 Apr 2011


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ActivityTracerScope - Easy activity tracing with SvcTraceViewer.exe and System.Diagnostics

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4.44/5 (14 votes)
12 Nov 2013CPOL3 min read
An easy way to obtain effective activity tracing, leveraging the built-in System.Diagnostics and the standard tool SvcTraceViewer.exe (not just for WCF).


In this article, I present and explain an effective way to trace "activities". I also show how to visualize the standard System.Diagnostics logs in a friendly way using the standard SvcTraceViewer tool provided by MS.


Some weeks ago, while studying for my WCF certification (70-531), I realized that the tool used to read WCF message logs and activity tracing could be used for ordinary logs too. That tool (SvcTraceViewer.exe, part of the .NET SDK) has some very helpful visualization features: it highlights the traces based on their type (Information, Warning, Error, ...). But also, it can show the "activities" in a very fancy way, much better than ordinary .txt log files opened with "baretail".

So I dived into System.Diagnostics and I discovered some interesting tools that could be used to group pieces of code into logical "activities", in order to make it easier to maintain them.

I ended up with three ideas:

  1. Find a way to make the "activity scopes" you can create using Trace.Start and Trace.Stop more visible in the code.
  2. Make traces SvcTraceViewer-friendly in order to leverage that powerful tool.
  3. Trace any unhandled exceptions contained into an activity scope without using try-catch everywhere (Part II).


Often I've found code completely cluttered with logs, producing messy text files I had to read using baretail. Other times, there were no logs at all. This article is about quick and clean logs, leveraging the standard System.Diagnostics library and SvcTraceViewer.exe. Also, I propose a way to make the "activity" scope inside your logs more visible using the ActivityTracerScope class. The benefits are immediately clear when trying to run the provided sample and then opening the resulting log file.


The easiest way to build a scoped infrastructure in .NET is using the "using" keyword :)

In order to do that, your class has to implement the IDisposable interface and the Dispose method. So our class will be leveraging the System.Diagnostics activity correlations and the IDisposable interface:

namespace MyNameSpace
    using System;
    using System.Diagnostics;
    public class ActivityTracerScope : IDisposable
        private readonly Guid oldActivityId;
        private readonly Guid newActivityId;
        private readonly TraceSource ts;
        private readonly string activityName;
        public ActivityTracerScope(TraceSource ts, string activityName)
            this.ts = ts;
            this.oldActivityId = Trace.CorrelationManager.ActivityId;
            this.activityName = activityName;

            this.newActivityId = Guid.NewGuid();
            if (this.oldActivityId != Guid.Empty)
                ts.TraceTransfer(0, "Transferring to new activity...", newActivityId);
            Trace.CorrelationManager.ActivityId = newActivityId;
            ts.TraceEvent(TraceEventType.Start, 0, activityName);
        public void Dispose()
            if (this.oldActivityId != Guid.Empty)
                ts.TraceTransfer(0, "Transferring back to old activity...", oldActivityId);
            ts.TraceEvent(TraceEventType.Stop, 0, activityName);
            Trace.CorrelationManager.ActivityId = oldActivityId;

Then, using our class in code, we'll be able to keep track of the activities and see them clearly in our code...

namespace MyNameSpace
    class Program
        static void Main(string[] args)
            var ts = new TraceSource("SampleUsageTraceSource");
            using (new ActivityTracerScope(ts, "Sample Main Activity"))
                ts.TraceEvent(TraceEventType.Information, 0, "my information event");
                using (new ActivityTracerScope(ts, "Sample Subactivity 1"))
                    ts.TraceEvent(TraceEventType.Information, 0, 
                                  "another information event 1");
                using (new ActivityTracerScope(ts, "Sample Subactivity 2"))
                    ts.TraceEvent(TraceEventType.Information, 0, 
                                  "another information event 2"); 
                    ts.TraceEvent(TraceEventType.Information, 0, 
                                  "another information event 3"); 
                    using (new ActivityTracerScope(ts, "Nested Activity"))
                        ts.TraceEvent(TraceEventType.Information, 0, 
                                      "another information event 4");
                using (new ActivityTracerScope(ts, "Sample Subactivity 3"))
                    ts.TraceEvent(TraceEventType.Warning, 0, 
                                  "WARNING! WARNING, WILL ROBINSON!"); 
                    using (new ActivityTracerScope(ts, "More Nested Activity"))
                        ts.TraceEvent(TraceEventType.Warning, 0, "Nested information");
                using (new ActivityTracerScope(ts, "Sample Subactivity 3"))
                    ts.TraceEvent(TraceEventType.Information, 0, 
                                  "another information event 5");

...and, providing a trace source, and an appropriate configuration in app.config (watch out for permissions in your logging folder)...

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
      <source name="SampleUsageTraceSource" switchValue="Information, ActivityTracing">
          <add type="System.Diagnostics.DefaultTraceListener" name="DefaultServer" />
          <add name="xmlServer" />
      <add initializeData="C:\logs\SampleUsage.TraceActivityManagerUsage.svclog"
           name="xmlServer" traceOutputOptions="Callstack" />
    <trace autoflush="true" />

...we'll be able to make use of SvcTraceViewer.exe. It is located in C:\Program Files\Microsoft SDKs\Windows\[Framework Version]\Bin. If you can't find it, probably you have to download the .NET Framework SDK.

So now, after running that Main method, we can open our c:\logs\SampleUsage.TraceActivityManagerUsage.svclog. There we can see our activities, with all the associated data.

Image 1

Try playing with it a bit. The most interesting part in my opinion is the graph visualization. If you click on it, you'll see a tree representing your logged activities:

Image 2


With some simple code plumbing, it's very easy to unleash the power of standard common tools provided by the SDK. Sometimes you just need to put things together instead of coupling your code with third party libraries.


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


About the Author

Bruno Tagliapietra
Software Developer
New Zealand New Zealand
Software Developer

Comments and Discussions

QuestionCreating log file on daily basis Pin
M_Menon7-Jul-14 22:28
MemberM_Menon7-Jul-14 22:28 
AnswerRe: Creating log file on daily basis Pin
Bruno Tagliapietra7-Jul-14 22:42
MemberBruno Tagliapietra7-Jul-14 22:42 
GeneralRe: Creating log file on daily basis Pin
M_Menon8-Jul-14 1:30
MemberM_Menon8-Jul-14 1:30 
QuestionStop searching, download right away Pin
AniMatrix31-Jan-14 2:10
MemberAniMatrix31-Jan-14 2:10 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
rjardine998-Jan-13 10:08
Memberrjardine998-Jan-13 10:08 
QuestionGreat help Pin
mklinker10-Aug-12 10:22
Membermklinker10-Aug-12 10:22 
QuestionWhat about Part II ? (nm) Pin
nwiman1-Sep-11 22:22
Membernwiman1-Sep-11 22:22 
GeneralDid you test this? Pin
Dewey22-Apr-11 8:36
MemberDewey22-Apr-11 8:36 
GeneralRe: Did you test this? Pin
Bruno Tagliapietra22-Apr-11 9:35
MemberBruno Tagliapietra22-Apr-11 9:35 

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