Parallel Tasks – new Visual Studio 2010 debugger window

Fri, May 15, 2009, 02:55 AM under ParallelComputing
This post was UPDATED for the VS2010 Beta 2 release

Assumed knowledge aka Background Reading
.NET 4 introduces a new class that lives in mscorlib that I have blogged about before: System.Threading.Tasks.Task, which as you'll recall is also what Parallel.For depends on. Collectively, all those new classes is what we refer to as Task Parallel Library and the team that owns it has blogged what is new for TPL in Beta1. Another .NET 4 feature I blogged about before also depends on Tasks for its implementation: Parallel LINQ. The same team owns that and there is a blog post of what is new for PLINQ in Beta1.

If you are a C++ developer, then you'll be happy to know that the task concept also exists in C++ version 10 that ships with VS2010. In addition to the dedicated native concurrency blog I just linked to, there is a ch9 video on the topic.

Parallel Tasks debugger toolwindow
To support the new task-based programming model introduced with Visual Studio 2010 for both managed and native developers, we are introducing a new debugger window: Parallel Tasks. You can open it after you hit a breakpoint, via the same location where all debugger windows live.


Sorting, Reordering, Hiding/Showing columns
Columns are re-orderable (by dragging them left/right) and sortable (by clicking on them) as indicated by the little triangle, which also shows the sort direction. You can also hide or show columns by right clicking on any column and then (un)checking the column menuitem of interest


Grouping on a column
Via the context menu shown above you can group on your column of choice. What is cool about grouping is that it allows you to flag an entire group with one click (more on flagging later), it allows you to collapse the group (preserved between debugging steps) and it shows a count of the items in the group (even when it is collapsed).


Description of the 9 Columns
- Flag Column: Each item can be in a flagged or non-flagged state (the default). You can toggle the state of a row by clicking on the corresponding cell. You would do this to make it easier to keep an eye on an item of interest between debugging steps (e.g. breakpoints, F11) or to flag multiple items and then sort on the column to bring them all to the top. Flagging is not persisted between debugging sessions. Another use of flagging is to filter the task call stacks shown in the new Parallel Stacks window, but that is a topic of another blog post.

- Icon Column: This column is blank by default except for one Task which will have a yellow arrow in this cell. The yellow arrow indicates which one is the current task. The current task is one which is executing on the current thread and you can switch current task just like switching current thread. The task which is current when you first break under the debugger is known as the "breaking task" and is indicated by a white hollow arrow icon (only visible after you switch task, of course). Another icon that can be displayed in this column is the "pause" icon to indicate a frozen thread (more on freezing further down).

- Id: Each Task has a unique Id which can be retrieved programmatically by calling the Id property (for C++ tasks, this will be the memory address). This is useful so you can map the task you are seeing in the window with diagnostic output you may send to some stream; it is also useful for cross-referencing tasks between the Parallel Tasks and the Parallel Stacks windows (which I'll describe in another post).

- Status: The 4 potential values here are Running, Scheduled, Waiting and Waiting-Deadlocked. "Running" are the tasks that are executing code at the moment your app breaks in the debugger (they are at top of stack of a running thread); "Scheduled" are the ones that are sitting in some queue but have not been executed by a thread yet; "Waiting" are the ones that have run, but are now blocked on something, e.g. a Monitor, a critical section; "Waiting-Deadlocked" are the ones that are "Waiting" and additionally we have detected a wait chain with other tasks in the list. For the 2 Waiting states, hovering over the cell displays a tooltip which may have more information, like in the following screenshot.


- Location: The Location column displays the method that the task is currently in (i.e. the top most user frame of the task's call stack). Hovering over the cell displays in a stacktip the entire call stack for the task (not the entire call stack for the thread!) and from the stacktip you can even switch the current stack frame by double clicking on your chosen one. Naturally, Scheduled tasks do not have a value in this column.


- Task: The entry point method that was passed to the task when it was constructed. If there was a state argument explicitly passed to the task, the value of that is also shown.

- Thread Assignment: The ID and name of the thread that the task is executing on. Remember, a task can only execute on a single thread, but a thread can be executing multiple tasks. Naturally, Scheduled tasks do not have a value in this column.

- Parent: The Id of the task that is the parent of this task (if there is one showing in the list). This is not applicable for native scenarios where the concept of parent and child tasks is not a first class citizen in the programming model.

- AppDomain: This column shows the AppDomain ID of the AppDomain in which the task belongs to (assuming you created more than one AppDomain). This is not applicable for native scenarios.

- Task Group: The address of the task_group that scheduled the task. This is not applicable for managed scenarios.

Parent Child View
When the value of any cell in the Parent column is not blank, we know we have parent child relationship(s) in our view. In that case, we can visualize this relationship slightly better by switching to "Parent Child View" via the column context menu (shown in image further above). This switches the first column to contain a treeview that allows collapsing the child nodes/tasks.


Task Context Menu
The ContextMenu described above is the one displayed when right clicking on a column; there is one that is displayed when right clicking on a (task) listviewitem.
- Copy: Copies the cells in view (tab delimited) to the clipboard.
- Select All: Or via Ctrl+A to select all tasks, in order to perform one of the other operations in bulk, e.g. copying.
- Hexadecimal Display: Global debugger setting that switches all debugger windows to hexadecimal display (or Decimal if unchecked).
- Switch To Task: Sets the selected task to be the current task (as discussed above) and hence get the yellow arrow icon. This action is also performed when double clicking on a Task listviewitem.
- Freeze Assigned Thread: The concept of freezing a thread existed before this Visual Studio release via the Threads window. The thread that is frozen does not continue execution when the debugger continues to the next step, until the user Thaws it (via the same menu). From the Parallel Tasks window, freezing affects the underlying thread and all tasks on it. I.e. this is still a thread concept rather than a task concept.
- Freeze All Threads But This: Freezes all threads in view, except the selected one.
- Flag: Same behaviour as clicking on the flag column, described further above.


Call to Action
When you get the Visual Studio 2010, let me know what you think about this new debugger window as you write your own task-based algorithms: do you like it or do you love it? ;-) More seriously, I am genuinely interested in your bug reports (so the talented developers on my team can fix them for future releases), what feature do you particularly like (so we make sure not to lose/break it) and what you'd like to see that is not there (so we can include it for the next release).
Friday, May 15, 2009 1:58:00 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Looks GREAT! But where can I get VS2010 beta 1?
Friday, May 15, 2009 3:19:00 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Since this windows will support both TPL and PPL tasks, I am curious as to whether there is a API to hook into this window? Something like OutputDebugString(), so that I will be able to show tasks from my library in that window?
I guess this will also be useful to libraries like TBB, Cilk++, etc.
Monday, May 18, 2009 1:20:45 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Arnaud: You can get VS2010 from MSDN subscriber downloads today.

Dmitriy: Even though our underlying architecture caters for a pluggable model (which is how we support the two existing providers, native and managed), we are not exposing any interfaces for this purpose in VS2010. Having said that, if you build on top of the native concurrency runtime, then the tasks/chores will show up in our window.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 2:21:28 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Dear flying one,

Is there a way to see the time since kick-off and the time in CPU for each? Does the OS even have a way to do this per thread??

Judging by the mouse cursor, these appear actual size, or is this WPF scaling? Else I'm gonna need to get a bigger screen...

Luke
Monday, May 25, 2009 10:50:05 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Who needs CPUs when I have a big mighty CUDA GPU in hand?

If Intel CPU is a peanut, CUDA TESLA is a coconut :-)
Sarnath Kannan
Monday, May 25, 2009 11:04:57 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Luke, for timing operations, you may want to check out our new parallel performance analyzer (in Team System SKUs of Visual Studio). I don’t know if you'll need higher resolution on your monitor or different font size for VS or different DPI for the OS, but when you install the bits you'll find out.

Sarnath, thanks for your enthusiasm for GPUs instead of CPU... What has that got to do with the debugger window I am describing here?
Friday, May 29, 2009 1:40:55 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Hi there Mr.Moth,

I haven't had the chance to create a new VM here to try VS 2010 but still I have a couple of questions that might have crossed the mind of other service developers: does it receives real-time status changes? Is it shown only in debug mode or can I try to do that in release apps? Can I perform a remote debug and still get the parallel-processing information in my VS IDE?

Thank you very much

Daniel P. Jorge
Anonymous
Friday, May 29, 2009 1:45:46 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Anonymous Daniel P. Jorge: The debugger windows are only available when you are debugging (e.g. hit a breakpoint). This is applicable to local or remote debugging, including attach scenarios of course.
Thursday, June 04, 2009 8:31:09 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Just for completeness, The Moth hinted a parallel performance analyser is in the making, so here's the relevent link...

http://blogs.msdn.com/hshafi/archive/2009/06/02/vs2010-how-to-use-the-parallel-performance-analysis-tools.aspx
Tuesday, June 09, 2009 3:13:50 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
I debug parallel/multithreaded code already with VS08 (some MPI, some Windows Threads). I'm using a plugin for VS08 -- DDTLite (www.allinea.com) -- it's a parallel debugger and lets me debug more than one process or thread. I like the way they're showing data and all the process stacks in a tree, plus I can step multiple processes at the same time.
Dave
Sunday, June 28, 2009 6:55:40 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Hi Moth,

First of all, let me just say that I was blown away with your PDC presentation. It was awesome and even a sleepy head like me remained glued to the lcd. Thumbs up :)

Coming to the point, can I have my hands on the source that you used to give the parallel stacks/tasks debugger demo (the one with simple method calls going from one to other), just to drill the beta bits myself!

Regards
Anonymous
Monday, June 29, 2009 2:34:08 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Monday, June 29, 2009 9:22:44 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
Excellent, Many Thanks! :)
Anonymous
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 8:59:11 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
It would be nice if the debugger would let you step through all of the statements of a thread when the breakpoint is hit, rather than jumping to another thread and then allowing the program to simply continue. This is a VERY frustrating aspect of VS 2008.
Anonymous
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 11:12:02 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Anonymous, I don't immediately see the connection between your comment and the debugger window discussed here. Anyway, if you know that the other threads are not impacting the flow of the thread you are debugging, you can freeze all of them and then continue stepping just the one. Look at the 5th menu item in the screenshot above.
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