A quickie, but something to be very wary of. I’ve been using Unity3d of late (I recommend it – it’s a very opinionated and sometimes quirky bit of software, but it generally works well) and I was recently tasked to parallelise some CPU intensive work.
I decided, quite reasonably, to use the built-in ThreadPool rather than doing my own explicit management of threads, mainly because the work we’re parallelising is sporadic in nature, and it’s easier to use the ThreadPool as a quick first implementation. So far, so good. Everything was going swimmingly, and it appeared to work as advertised. In fact, the main implementation took less than a day.
Most .NET developers who are familiar with doing threading with the ThreadPool will know that, post .NET 1.1, if an unhandled exception occurs on a ThreadPool thread, the default behaviour of the CLR runtime is to kill the application. This makes total sense, as you can no longer guarantee a program’s consistency once an unhandled exception occurs.
To cut a long story short, I spent about three days debugging a very subtle bug with a 1 in 20 reproduction rate (oh threading, how I love thee). Some methods were running and never returning a result, yet no exceptions were reported.
Eventually I reached a point where I’d covered nearly everything in my code and was staring at a Select Is Broken situation (in that Unity3d had to be doing something weird).
Unity3d silently eats ThreadPool exceptions! I proved this by immediately throwing an exception in my worker method and looking at the Unity3d editor for any warnings of exceptions – none was reported (at the very least, they should be sending these exceptions to the editor).
I then wrapped my worker code in a try catch and, when I finally got the 1 in 20 case to occur, sure enough, there was an exception that was killing my application’s consistency. So yes, I did have a threading bug in my application code, but Unity3d’s cheerful gobbling of exceptions meant the issue was hidden from me.
I’ve bugged the issue, so hopefully it’ll get fixed in future.
Note: To the people who say “you should be handling those exceptions in the first place”, I would say, “not during development”. When developing, I generally want my programs to die horribly when something goes wrong, and that is the expected behaviour for the .NET ThreadPool. Unhandled exceptions make it clear that there’s a problem and it means the problem must be fixed.