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Swimming Upstream Is Hazardous

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Salmon swim upstream, and look at what happens …



Every developer is familiar with the “work around”. These are the extra bits of extra code we write to overcome limitations in an API, platform, or framework.

But, sometimes those limitations are a feature. The designer of a framework might be guiding you in a specific direction. Take the Silverlight networking APIs as an example. The APIs provide only asynchronous communication options, yet I’ve seen a few people try to block on network operations with code like the following:

AutoResetEvent _event = new AutoResetEvent(false);
WebClient client = new WebClient();
client.DownloadStringCompleted +=
(s, ev) => { _message.Text = ev.Result; _event.Set(); };
client.DownloadStringAsync(new Uri("foo.xml", UriKind.Relative));

This code results in a deadlock, since the WebClient tries to raise the completed event on the main thread, but the main thread is blocked inside WaitOne and waiting for the completed event to fire. This deadlock is not only fatal to the Silverlight application, but can bring down the web browser, too. Even if this code didn't create a deadlock, do you really want your application to block over a slow network connection?

When you find yourself writing “work around” code, it’s worthwhile to review the situation. Are you really working around a limitation? Or are you working against the intended use of a framework? Working against the framework is rarely a good idea – there can be a lot of hungry bears waiting to catch you in the future.