Reducing apps startup time with Pre-JITing and NGEN on a Surface RT

By jay at November 24, 2012 21:13 Tags: , , , , ,

TL;DR: The JIT can take over a third of the startup time of a managed Metro App, and using Native Image Generation (NGEN) can greatly improve the startup time of these apps. There is also a way to check for these native images to act accordingly.


A while back, I’ve had the chance to work with the guys that are behind the Pre-JIT feature of the CLR 4.5 for Metro Apps. Back then, I was only able to work on x86/x64 architectures, as ARM/Windows RT devices were not available.

Now that the Surface RT devices are available, we’re facing quite a few challenges in terms of code execution performance, and I’m going to discuss a few tips and tricks about the Managed Code JIT on Windows RT.


Profiling a slow starting app on a Surface RT

Running apps on the Surface can be troubling. Having an app that is useable after 16 to 18 seconds is definitely not acceptable, let alone the fact that the Splash Screen can disappear after 6 to 8 seconds.

Profiling such an app that starts slowly is very interesting, when looking a the Visual Studio profiler, where during these 17 seconds, about a third is spent in a “clr.dll” module in exclusive time (time spent only in this module and not its descendants). This is a very big number.

This time is actually spent in the JIT, where big methods tend to take more time to be JITed, sometimes on the UI thread, making the app sluggish.


Improving the Startup Time of Xaml Metro Style Apps with Multicore JIT

By jay at June 11, 2012 05:15 Tags: , , ,

Ce billet est disponible en francais.

TL;DR: Microsoft introduced the Multicore JIT, which allows the recording of JITted methods during the startup of the app. This recording can be packaged in a Metro Style app for faster startup on Multicore CPUs by performing background compilation. Improvements range between 20% to 50%.


Since the beginning of the year, I’ve had the chance to work with some very interesting people at Microsoft, and one of the feature that came out from them was about the use of a new .NET 4.5 feature called Multicore JIT in Metro Style apps.


No Threads for you ! (in metro style apps)

By jay at March 17, 2012 13:06 Tags: , , , , , , ,

Cet article est disponible en francais.

As would say this guy, since you’ve most probably been using threads the wrong way (as Microsoft seems to think), you won’t be able to use the Thread class anymore in Metro Style applications. The class is simply not available anymore, and neither are Timer or ThreadPool.

That may come a shock to you, but this actually makes a lot of sense. But don’t worry, the concept of parallel execution is still there, but it takes the form of Tasks.


Why using Threads is not good for you

Threads are very powerful but there are a lot of terrible gotchas that come with it :

  • Unhandled exceptions in threads handlers, either raised from a Timer, a Thread or ThreadPool thread, lead to the termination of the process
  • Using Abort is quite bad for the process, and should be avoided
  • People tend to use Thread.Sleep to arbitrarily wait for some constant time that will most probably be incorrect, and that will waste CPU resources to manage a thread that does not do anything while it waits,
  • People tend to come up with complex designs to chain operations on threads, which most of the time fail miserably.

There are some more, but these a main scenarios where using Threads fall short.


Windows 8 Event Viewer’s Immersive-Shell and Metro Style apps

By jay at March 16, 2012 20:41 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

TL;DR: This article talks about an app startup error that can happen with Metro Style apps in Windows 8, how the presence of an app.config file can prevent the app from starting and how the Windows event log viewer’s new Immersive-Shell section can help.


The Windows 8 Metro style Xaml/C# application development is an interesting experience.

Since .NET is merely on top of a WinRT and its native structure, you’re left in a bit of a darkness sometimes, when it comes to debugging problems that come from WinRT.

Silverlight and Windows Phone also have their fair share of blind issues of this kind, either by having the application that exits with no apparent reason (when it is in fact a StackOverflow) or because you’ve set two namespaces names with the same content.

You’ve basically left at guessing, particularly on Windows Phone and Silverlight for the desktop, and if you’re lucky enough you’re having a error code that specific enough so that you can narrow your solution to a dozen google can find for you. If you’re not, well you’ve got a E_ERROR. Fail, as they say.

Windows 8 is actually a bit better at that, because of the Event Viewer. There’s a lot of details that appear there, and it’s very informative.


Xaml integration with WinRT and the IXamlMetadataProvider interface

By jay at March 07, 2012 21:04 Tags: , , , , ,

TL;DR: This article talks about the internals of the WinRT/Xaml implementation in Windows 8 and how it deals with databinding, its use of the IXamlMetadataProvider interface, tips & tricks around it, and how to extend the resolver to create dynamic databinding scenarios.


Xaml has been around for a while, and it’s been a big part of Silverlight and WPF. Both frameworks are mostly managed, and use a CLR feature known as Reflection, or type introspection.

This is a very handy feature used by Silverlight/WPF to enable late binding to data types, where strings can be used to find their actual classes counter-parts, either for value converters, UserControls, Data-Binding, etc...


The burden of .NET reflection

It comes with a cost, though. Reflection is a very expensive process, and up until very recently in Silverlight, there was no way to avoid the use of Reflection. The recent addition of the ICustomTypeProvider interface allows for late binding without the use of reflection, which is a big step what I think is the right direction. Having this kind of interface allows for custom types that define pre-computed lists of fields and properties, without having the runtime to load every metadata available for an object, and perform expensive type safety checks.

This burden of the reflection is particularly visible on Windows Phone, where it is suggested to limit the use of DataBinding, which is performed on the UI thread. The Silverlight runtime needs to walk the types metadata to find observable properties so that it can properly perfrom one or two-way bindings, and this is very expensive.

There are ways to work around this without having ICustomTypeProvider, mainly by generating code that does everything the Xaml parser and DataBinding engines do, but it’s mainly experimental, yet it gives great results.


WinRT, native code and the lack of Reflection

In Windows 8, WinRT is pure native code, and now integrates what used to be the WPF/Xaml engine. This new engine can be seen at the cross roads of Silverlight, WPF and Silverlight for Windows Phone. This new iteration takes a bit of every framework, with some tweaks.

These tweaks are mainly related to the fact that WinRT is a native COM based API, that can be used indifferently from C# or C++.

For instance, xml namespaces have changed form and cannot reference assemblies anymore. Declarations that used to look like this :


Now look like this :


Where the using only defines the namespace to be used to find the types specified in the inner xaml.

Additionally, WinRT does not know anything about .NET and the CLR, meaning it cannot do reflection. This means that the Xaml implentation in WinRT, to be compatible with the way we all know Xaml, needs to be able to do some kind of reflection.


Meet the IXamlMetadataProvider interface

To be able to do some kind reflection, the new Metro Style Applications profile generates code based on the types that are used in the Xaml files of the project. It takes the form of a hidden file, named XamlTypeInfo.g.cs.

That file can be found in the “obj” folder under any Metro Style project that contains a Xaml file. To find it, just click on the “Show all files” button at the top of the Solution Explorer file. You may need to compile the project for it to be generated.

In the entry assembly, the file contains a partial class that extends the App class to make it implement the IXamlMetadataProvider interface. WinRT uses this interface to query for the details of types it found while parsing Xaml files.

This type acts as map for every type used in all Xaml files a project, so that WinRT can get a definition it can understand, in the form of IXamlType and IXamlMember instances. This takes the form of a big switch/case construct, that contains string representation of fully qualified types. See this example :

private IXamlType CreateXamlType(string typeName) 
  XamlSystemBaseType xamlType = null; 
  XamlUserType userType;

  switch (typeName) 
    case "Windows.UI.Xaml.Controls.UserControl": 
      xamlType = new XamlSystemBaseType(typeName, typeof(Windows.UI.Xaml.Controls.UserControl)); 

    case "Application1.Common.RichTextColumns": 
      userType = new XamlUserType(this, typeName, typeof(Application1.Common.RichTextColumns), GetXamlTypeByName("Windows.UI.Xaml.Controls.Panel")); 
      userType.Activator = Activate_3_RichTextColumns; 
      userType.AddMemberName("RichTextContent", "Application1.Common.RichTextColumns.RichTextContent"); 
      userType.AddMemberName("ColumnTemplate", "Application1.Common.RichTextColumns.ColumnTemplate"); 
      xamlType = userType; 

  return xamlType; 

It also creates hardcoded methods that can explicitly get or set the value of every properties a DependencyObject, like this :

case "Application1.Common.RichTextColumns.RichTextContent": 
    userType = (XamlUserType)GetXamlTypeByName("Application1.Common.RichTextColumns"); 
    xamlMember = new XamlMember(this, "RichTextContent", "Windows.UI.Xaml.Controls.RichTextBlock"); 
    xamlMember.Getter = get_1_RichTextColumns_RichTextContent; 
    xamlMember.Setter = set_1_RichTextColumns_RichTextContent; 

Note that if you want to step into this code without the debugger ignoring you, you need to disable the “Just my code” feature in the debugger options.

Also, in case you wonder, the Code Generator scans for all referenced assemblies for implementations of the IXamlMetadataProvider interface, and will generate code that will query these providers to find Xaml type definitions.


Code Generation is good for you

Now, this code generation approach is very interesting for some reasons.

The first and foremost is performance, because the runtime does not need to use reflection to determine what can be computed at runtime. This is a enormous performance gain, and this will be beneficial for the perceived performance as the runtime will not waste precious CPU cycles to compute data that can be determined at compile time.

More generally, in my projects, I've been using this approach of generating as much code as possible, to avoid using reflection and waste time and battery on something that can be only done once and for all.

The second reason is extensibility, as this IXamlMetadataProvider can be extended to add user-provided types that are not based on DependencyObject. This is an other good impact on performance.


Adding custom IXamlMetadataProvider

It is possible to extend the lookup behavior for standard types that are not dependency objects. This opens the same range of scenarios that ICustomTypeProvider provides.

All that is needed is to implement the IXamlMetadataProvider interface somewhere in an assembly, and the code generator used for XamlTypeInfo.g.cs will pick those up and add them in the Xaml type resolution chain. Note that for some unknown reason, it does not work in the main assembly but only for referenced assemblies.

Every time the databinding engine will need to get the value behind a databinding expression, it will call the IXamlMetadataProvider.GetXamlType method to get the definition of that type, then get the databound property value.

A very good feature, if you ask me.


The case of hidden DependencyObject

By hidden dependency properties, I’m talking about DependencyObject types that are not directly referenced in Xaml files. This can be pretty useful for complex controls that generate convention based databinding, such as the SemanticZoom control, that provides a implicit “Key” property to perform the Zoomed out view.

Since this XamlTypeInfo.g.cs code is generated from all known Xaml files, this means that these hidden DependencyObject types that do not have code generated for them. This forces the CLR to intercept these failed requests and fallback on actual .NET reflection based property searching for databinding, which is not good for performance.

This fallback behavior was not implemented in the Developer Preview, and the binding would just fail with a NullReferenceException without any specific reason given to the developer.


The case of Xaml files located in another assembly

If your architecting a bit your solution, you’re probably using MVVM or a similar pattern, and you’re probably putting your views in another assembly.

If you do that, this means that there will not be any xaml file in your main assembly (aside from the App.xaml file), leading to an empty XamlTypeInfo.g.cs file. This will make any type resolution requested by WinRT fail, and your application will mostly likely not run.

In this case, all you need to do is create a dummy Xaml file that will force the generation of the XamlTypeInfo.g.cs, and basically make your layer separation work.


Until next time, happy WinRT'ing !

Switching a Windows 8 Consumer Preview from a VHD to Hyper-V

By jay at March 04, 2012 13:39 Tags: , ,

Now that Windows 8 Consumer Preview (CP) is out the doors, I'll start publishing a series of articles about Windows 8 development in various areas, but primarily focused on development.

I'll start today with some tips and tricks that allow to run Windows 8 natively from a VHD, but also run that same VHD from Hyper-V, within Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

The common scenario is simple, you want to try out stuff that worked in the Developer Preview (DP) inside Win8 CP, or run a two instances of the Win8 CP for testing purposes. Chances are you installed the DP on a VHD, from the excellent blog post from Scott Hanselman.

A few things about Hyper-V

Hyper-V’s been here for a while on the Server side, but chances are you never looked at it. Hyper-V will most likely completely replace Virtual PC, as it now supports 64 Bits virtual machines and the very useful dynamic memory feature. Dynamic memory basically add or removes physical memory assigned to the virtual machines depending on the actual demand. This allows to have higher virtual machine density on servers, but on client machines this is also pretty useful because you may not have 32GB of ram, and still want to use it for your primary OS.

This is why this tutorial suggests to have a machine starting with 512MB of RAM, so that it can grow to the appropriate amount, and not arbitrarily reserve 2 or 4GB of ram, just in case.


Running the VHD from Hyper-V

So now that Hyper-V is now included natively in Windows 8, and even though the final SKU in which it will be included is unknown, we can use it from the CP.

If you’re like me, you may have installed the CP directly on a SSD to make it pretty darn fast. Now, here’s how you install Hyper-V :

    1. Open the start menu, type “Feature” and open “Turn Windows Features on and off
    2. Select “Hyper-V” and OK. Reboot. (If the Hyper-V infrastructure is off, then either your CPU does not support hardware virtualization, or it is disabled in your bios)
    3. Launch the “Hyper-V Manager
    4. In the right hand side panel, select “Virtual Switch Manager
    5. Click on “Create a Virtual Switch
    6. Set a relevant network or network adapter name
    7. Select your network card, could be either a wireless or wired network card, then OK.
    8. In the right hand side panel, select “New” and “Virtual Machine
    9. Give it 512MB of RAM and check the “Dynamic Memory” box, then next
    10. Select the virtual network switch you previously created
    11. Select “Use an existing Virtual Hard Disk” and select the Windows 8 DP VHD or VHDX file
    12. Click next twice.
    13. Now in the list of machines in the Hyper-V Manager, right click on your machine and start.


Chances are that your machine will not boot and ask you to replace the disk with a bootable one.


Here’s how to fix that :

    1. Double click on the virtual machine line to open a Display Console
    2. In the Media menu, select “Insert Disk” and select the Windows 8 CP iso file
    3. Reboot the virtual machine using the reset button in the toolbar
    4. Once on the Windows 8 install welcome screen, type Shift+F10, this will show a command line window
    5. Run Diskpart
    6. Type “list volume
    7. Type “select volume 1
    8. Type “list partition” and find the “System Boot” partition or the primary partition
    9. Type “select partition 1” (replace the 1 with the partition listed at the previous step)
    10. Type “active
    11. Then type “exit
    12. Back at the command line, you should be on the X: drive
    13. Type the following “bcdboot c:\windows /s c:” (you may need to replace the second “c:” with the drive that is the System Boot, when installing on a physical machine)
    14. Once done, close the installer window to exit the installation and reboot
    15. You’re done !


Note that this section can be used to register pre-installed Windows 7 or 8 VHD to an existing Windows 7 or 8 physical machine. But in this case, you may need to find the actual hidden boot partition that the Windows Installation creates automatically. You’ll find that partition with the “list partition” command.

Happy Windows 8 CP’ing !

WinRT and the syntactic sugar around .NET event handlers

By jay at October 17, 2011 19:48 Tags: , , , , ,

If you've watched the great number of videos available from the Build conference, you've probably noticed that the layer between .NET and WinRT is very thin.

So thin that in permeates through to C# 5.0, even though it's not immediately visible to the naked eye.


Also, that Windows 8 developer preview is pretty stable... I'm writing this blog post using it, and it's pretty good :) (lovin' the inline spell checker, everywhere !!)


What about WinRT ?

The Windows Runtime has been explained here, there and by Miguel de Icasa (and there too by Julien Dollon), but to summarize in other words, WinRT is (at least for now) the new way to communicate with the Windows Core, with an improved developer experience. It's the new preferred (and only, as far as I know) way to develop Metro style applications, in many languages like C#/F#/VB, C++, JavaScript and more...

The API is oriented toward developing tablet applications, with the power and connectivity limitation that kind of platform has, plus the addition of what makes Windows Phone so interesting. That means Live Tiles, background agents, background transfers, XAML, background audio, social APIs, camera, sensors, location, and new features like sharing and search contracts, ...

My favorite part of all this is the new addition of a rule that make a LOT of sense : If an API call nominally takes more than 50ms to execute, then it's an asynchronous api call. But not using the ugly Begin/End pattern, rather through the nice async/await pattern, WinRT style (I'll elaborate on that in a later post). I've even started to apply that rule to my existing development with the Reactive Extensions (And that's yet an other later post).

Microsoft has taken the approach of cleaning up the .NET framework with the ".NET Core" profile. For instance, the new TypeInfo class now separates the introspection part from the type safety part that were historically merged in the System.Type type. This segregation limits the loading of type metadata only when necessary, and not when just doing a simple typeof(). Now, the System.Type type is fairly simple, and to get back all the known methods like GetMethods() or GetProperties() there's an extension method called Type.GetTypeInfo() in System.Reflection that gives back all the reflection side.

There are a lot of other differences, I'll discuss in a later post. (yeah, that's a lot to talk about !)

For the .NET developer, WinRT takes the form of *.winmd files that follow the .NET standard metadata format (kind of like TLB files on steroids, if you know what I mean...). These files can be directly referenced from .NET code like any other assembly, it's then very easy to call the underlying Windows platform. No more P/Invoke.

Just before you start freaking out, WinRT does not replace the standard .NET 4.5 full platform you already know, remember that. That's just a new profile, much like Windows Phone or Xbox 360 are profiles, but targeted at Metro style applications. (It's not applications anymore, it's apps :) just so you know...)


But how thin is the layer, really ?

To accommodate all these languages, compromises had to be made and underneath, WinRT is native code. Native code means no garbage collection, limited value types, a pretty different exception handling (SEH), and so on.

The CLR and C# compiler teams have made a great job at trying to hide all this but there are still some corner cases where you can see those differences appear.

For instance, you'll find that there are two EventHandler types : the existing System.EventHandler, and the new Windows.UI.Xaml.EventHandler. What's the difference ? See for yourself :

namespace System
    public delegate void EventHandler(object sender, EventArgs e);

And the other one :

namespace Windows.UI.Xaml
    // Summary:
    //     Represents a basic event handler method.
    [Guid(3817893849, 19739, 19144, 164, 60, 195, 185, 8, 116, 39, 152)]
    public delegate void EventHandler(object sender, object e);

The difference is subtle, but it's there : the second parameter is an object. This is kind of troubling, and having to juggle between the two is going to be a bit messy. That's going to be the forced return of conditional compilation and the myriads of #if and #endif...

But the difference does not stop here though. Let's look at how the WinRT handler can be used :

public class MyCommand : Windows.UI.Xaml.Input.ICommand
    public event Windows.UI.Xaml.EventHandler CanExecuteChanged;

    public bool CanExecute(object parameter) { }

    public void Execute(object parameter) { }

Translates to this, after the compiler does its magic :

using System.Runtime.InteropServices.WindowsRuntime;
public class MyCommand : Windows.UI.Xaml.Input.ICommand
    public event Windows.UI.Xaml.EventHandler CanExecuteChanged
            return this.CanExecuteChanged.AddEventHandler(value);

    public bool CanExecute(object parameter) { }

    public void Execute(object parameter) { }

    public MyCommand()
        this.CanExecuteChanged = 
           new EventRegistrationTokenTable();

The delegates are not stored in a multicast delegate instance like they used to be, but are now stored in an EventRegistrationTokenTable type instance, and provides a return value for the add handler ! Also, the remove handler "value" is a EventRegistrationToken instance.

That construct is so new that even the intellisense engine is mistaken by this new syntax if you try to write it by yourself, but it compiles correctly.

The return value is of type EventRegistrationToken, and I'm guessing that it must be something WinRT must keep track of to call marshaled managed delegates.

The calling part is also very interesting, if you try to register to that event :

// Before
MyCommand t = new MyCommand();
t.CanExecuteChanged += (s, e) => { };
// After
MyCommand t = new MyCommand();
   new Func(t.add_CanExecuteChanged)
 , new Action(t.remove_CanExecuteChanged)
 , delegate(object s, object e) { }

Quite different, isn't it ?

But this syntactic sugar seems only to be related to the fact that the WinRT EventHandler delegate type is exposed as a implemented interface member, like in ICommand. It does not appear if it is used somewhere else.


Cool. Why should care ?

Actually, you may not care at all, unless you write ICommand implementations.

If you write a command, and particularly ICommand wrappers or proxies, you may want to write your own add/remove handlers and to be able to do so, you'll need to return that EventRegistrationToken too, and map that token to your delegate.

Here's what I came up with :

public class MyCommand : Windows.UI.Xaml.Input.ICommand
    EventRegistrationTokenTable _table = new EventRegistrationTokenTable();
    Dictionary _reverseTable = new Dictionary();
    public event EventHandler CanExecuteChanged
            var token = _table.AddEventHandler(value);
            _reverseTable[token] = value;

            // do something with value

            return token;

            // Unregister value 


All this because the EventRegistrationTokenTable does not expose a bi-directional mapping between event handlers and their tokens.

But remember, WinRT and Dev11 are in Developer Preview state. That's not even beta. This will probably change !

About me

My name is Jerome Laban, I am a Software Architect, C# MVP and .NET enthustiast from Montréal, QC. You will find my blog on this site, where I'm adding my thoughts on current events, or the things I'm working on, such as the Remote Control for Windows Phone.