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Threading paradigms available under the .NET CLR, using C#

, 23 Dec 2004
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This article discusses the various threading paradigms available under the .NET CLR, using C#.


The intent of this paper is to evaluate the threading paradigms available within the .NET environment. The initial thought was to evaluate performance of different design patterns across a number of languages. My initial foray into codifying multiple language solutions proved problematic. The added variables also detracted from the primary objective of evaluating the various design patterns. Each of the design patterns tested are based on functionality within the .NET CLR. Three patterns reviewed are:

  • The Thread class and its ThreadStart delegate.
  • Use of the CLR Thread Pool (QueueUserWorkItem method).
  • Asynchronous threading using BeginInvoke and asynchronous callbacks.

In the following section, I will describe the object design used within the tests. The object design used was chosen based upon its flexibility, ease of use, and understanding. The design used has not been optimized for speed or efficiency. The numerical results should be taken in concert with each other as opposed to an individual absolute indicator.

The design consists of a Manager object, which is responsible for creating a series of Worker objects and allocating them their task assignments. The task assignments are in actuality instance data provided to each worker object upon its instantiation.

The Worker object encapsulates a secondary thread, which does all the heavy lifting requested by the Manager object.

Depending upon the threading design pattern being implemented, the Manager object plays some to no part in the actual thread creation. In two of the three implementations tested, the secondary thread creation is completely encapsulated and obscured from the Manager’s view. I’ll discuss this further as we delve into each of the solutions.

Earlier, I mentioned my initial intention to codify each threading solution within a different language. I started down this road by coding a solution in C++ .NET and in C#. The C++ .NET solution proved itself significantly more difficult and confusing, with the added pointer indirection required in the creation of a properly garbage collected class. Initial results were very surprising.

C# Solution.

C++.NET Solution.

The C# implementation was the clear winner in terms of timing. A closer look at the C++ .NET solution hints at a severe memory leak issue, which would have a direct impact on the overall performance measure. The C++.NET solution was abandoned at this juncture in order to focus on the threading patterns. The remainder of this document is based upon solutions built using C#. If anyone has done similar tests using managed C++, I would be very interested in the results.

The Thread class and its ThreadStart delegate

In our first example (ManagedThreadCS project), the secondary thread creation is completely obscured from the Manager object. The Manager creates a series of Worker objects and then waits for their completion. The Manager also takes on the task of controlling and monitoring the number of threads it can create. This information is passed to the Manager via a parameterized constructor.

// apportion data among worker threads
foreach(ArrayList x in _vecSubDivObligor)  // x denotes task assignment
  CGSRMgrThread t = new CGSRMgrThread(x);  // worker object

// wait for all threads to complete
foreach (CGSRMgrThread t in _vecThread)

The actual secondary thread creation occurs in the constructor of the Worker object. The Worker object contains an event object (ManualResetEvent), which is signaled by the secondary thread upon its completion.

public CGSRMgrThread(ArrayList vec)
   _vec = vec;

   _vecGSR = new ArrayList();
   _mre = new ManualResetEvent(false);// event used to signal thread completion

   _t = new Thread(new ThreadStart(ThreadFunc));

It is the ManualResetEvent object that is queried by the Manager in order to determine if the Worker object has completed its assigned task.

Use of the CLR Thread Pool (QueueUserWorkItem method)

The manager object in the ManagedThreadCS-Pool project takes on the responsibility of queuing thread pool requests within this implementation. The Manager object no longer needs to concern itself with the number of thread requests. This responsibility now will fall upon the CLR resident thread pool.

The Manager still instantiates the Worker objects and assigns them their individual tasks. In addition, the Manager then requests a thread from the pool associated with this process. The requested thread is instructed to execute within the instance of the Worker object just created by the Manager.

 // apportion data among worker threads
 foreach(int x in _vecObligor)
   CGSRMgrThread t = new CGSRMgrThread(x);
   ThreadPool.QueueUserWorkItem(new WaitCallback(t.ThreadFunc));
// wait for all threads to complete
foreach (CGSRMgrThread t in _vecThread)

Note: The thread pool is static in that only one pool can be assigned to a particular process. The pool assignment is done at the first invocation of a thread pool method.

Asynchronous threading using BeginInvoke and Asynchronous callbacks

In the last of our examples (ManagedThreadPool-Async project), we see the asynchronous threading example taking on a few characteristics of the prior two samples. From the perspective of encapsulation, this sample is similar to the first in that the Manager knows nothing about the actual secondary thread creation.

In terms of the underlying implementation, this example relies on the use of the CLR thread pool.

// apportion data among worker threads
foreach(int x in _vecObligor)
  // get obligor set for each thread
  CGSRMgrThread t = new CGSRMgrThread(x);

public CGSRMgrThread(int vec)
 _vec = vec;

 _vecGSR = new ArrayList();
 _mre = new ManualResetEvent(false);

 ThreadDelegate td = new ThreadDelegate(this.ThreadFunc);
 _ar = td.BeginInvoke(new AsyncCallback(this.ThreadFuncCallback), null);

In addition to specifying a function to be executed by the secondary thread, we also must specify a function that is called after the secondary thread completes. In our example, the purpose for specifying an AsyncCallback function is to ensure a call to EndInvoke. It is extremely important that each BeginInvoke has an associated EndInvoke. Failure to call EndInvoke prohibits the CLR from cleaning up, which may result in memory leaks and unwanted code behavior.

Note: The AsyncCallback function can be executed on a thread separate from the primary thread and secondary thread, discussed already.

Test Results

Each of our samples was tested from within a console application. The console application instantiated a Manager object providing it the data to operate upon, and recorded the average time of execution.

for (int x=0; x < MAXCNT; x++)
 int start = Environment.TickCount;
 CGSRMgr mgr = new CGSRMgr();
 int end = Environment.TickCount;

 int gsrCount = mgr.GetTotalGSRCount();
 Console.WriteLine ("Total number of GSR records processed = {0}",gsrCount);
 Console.WriteLine ("Total elapse time = {0} ms", end - start);
int endLoop = Environment.TickCount;
Console.WriteLine ("Total average time = 0}ms", (endLoop - startLoop)/MAXCNT);

The size of the data set provided to the Manager object had a direct impact on the number of threads that could be created. In our first example (Thread Start), the code constrained the maximum number of threads to a count of 3. The second and third examples were free to create any number of threads permissible under the CLR Thread Pool (defaults to a max. of 25).

The first data set provided could conceivably require 15 threads if not constrained by the code.

15 calls (33300 underlying objects created by the secondary thread).

<TR bgColor=#fbedbb>
ProgramT(avg) 100 trialsT(avg) 1000 trials~Thread Cnt

The second data set provided could conceivably require 250 threads if not constrained by the code. Since the thread pool only allows for a maximum of 25 threads, this data set proved useful in reviewing pool management under heavy loading conditions. Stressing the pool manager was achieved by lengthening the duration of the worker thread. A Sleep timer in the worker thread was utilized to simulate additional processing time.

250 calls (627500 underlying objects created by the secondary thread)

<TR bgColor=#fbedbb>
ProgramT(avg) 1 trialT(avg) 10 trials~Thread Cnt

The performance across each implementation varied from run to run. The difference in performance ranged from 3% to 6%. From a pure timing perspective, there isn’t a clear winner.

CPU utilization can be effected by many other factors. The tests were executed from within a typical Windows NT and a Windows XP environment. In each of these environments, an attempt was made to minimize the number of tasks vying for processor time.

With that said, a superior implementation starts to emerge when you look at the results from a slightly different perspective.

Empirical Analysis of thread CPU usage reveals that operations under the thread pool are more efficient. Processor utilization never reaches 100% while under thread pool control.

The “Thread Start” implementation quickly grabs as much processor time as it can based upon its default normal priority. Processor utilization approaches 100% and remains fairly constant.

The graph of the thread pool’s processor utilization reveals a completely different picture. The CLR thread pool ramps up in a more controlled manner, keeping peek utilization well under 100% while still completing in a similar time frame.

The CLR Thread Pool enables the system to optimize throughput with respect to all other running processes. The benefit of the thread pool seems self-evident.

Note: Not all tasks are candidates for thread pool management. Microsoft documentation is rather explicit with regards to when and when not to use the Thread Pool. Consult the docs to see which approach best works for your problem domain.

One Last Pass

The last project (ManagedThreadCS-Pool2) takes what this writer feels is the most versatile of the threading solutions tested and adds event handling. The event handling mechanism allows for the design of a more robust solution, which allows us to continue processing while the secondary threads perform their assigned tasks.

I use this example to simply point out that the various threading solutions are not mutually exclusive. A balanced blend of the different threading solutions can make for some very capable designs.


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


About the Author

Gary J. Kuehn
United States United States
No Biography provided

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Comments and Discussions

QuestionThousands of threads Pin
Ricardo Mendes27-Sep-05 11:04
memberRicardo Mendes27-Sep-05 11:04 
AnswerRe: Thousands of threads Pin
Gary J. Kuehn8-Oct-05 4:31
memberGary J. Kuehn8-Oct-05 4:31 
GeneralRe: Thousands of threads Pin
ndinges27-May-08 4:14
memberndinges27-May-08 4:14 
GeneralVS 2003 Problem in project ManagedThreadCS-Async Pin
Jeffrey Scott Flesher17-Dec-04 18:28
memberJeffrey Scott Flesher17-Dec-04 18:28 
GeneralRe: VS 2003 Problem in project ManagedThreadCS-Async Pin
Gjk22-Dec-04 3:31
memberGjk22-Dec-04 3:31 
I downloaded sample 2 (ManagedThreadCS-ASync) and I am somewhat perplexed. I must have made some cut and paste errors when I was submitting the project. Within the constructor of the CGSRMgrThread class you should find the instantiation of a new ThreadDelegate and an AsyncCallback respectively.

ThreadDelegate td = new ThreadDelegate(this.ThreadFunc);
   _ar = td.BeginInvoke(new AsyncCallback(this.ThreadFuncCallback), null);

I have re-submitted the project file. Sorry for the confusion.


Gary J. Kuehn

It is better to fail at attempting something great than to do nothing and succeed at it.
GeneralRe: VS 2003 Problem in project ManagedThreadCS-Async Pin
Jeffrey Scott Flesher25-Dec-04 16:42
memberJeffrey Scott Flesher25-Dec-04 16:42 
GeneralMultiprocessor results Pin
George V. Reilly7-Sep-04 15:00
memberGeorge V. Reilly7-Sep-04 15:00 
GeneralRe: Multiprocessor results Pin
Ryan Beesley18-Sep-04 16:39
memberRyan Beesley18-Sep-04 16:39 
GeneralRe: Multiprocessor results Pin
George V. Reilly18-Sep-04 17:02
memberGeorge V. Reilly18-Sep-04 17:02 
GeneralIt's more complicated Pin
Marc Clifton7-Sep-04 2:55
protectorMarc Clifton7-Sep-04 2:55 
GeneralRe: It's more complicated Pin
Gjk9-Sep-04 2:48
memberGjk9-Sep-04 2:48 
GeneralGoodStart... Pin
Paul Selormey6-Sep-04 23:39
memberPaul Selormey6-Sep-04 23:39 
GeneralRe: GoodStart... Pin
Gjk8-Sep-04 2:08
memberGjk8-Sep-04 2:08 

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