Hosting in a Windows Service

Windows services are the most useful of the self-hosting environments for WCF services. In fact, for services deployed in a production server system, the Windows service is the only practical self-hosting choice for a few reasons:

  • Windows services can be configured to start when the system starts without requiring a user to log in to the machine.

  • The Service Control Manager can be used to manage service startup, restarts, and other run behaviors—no custom user interface required.

  • The service can be configured to restart when it encounters a failure, increasing overall availability.

Windows services are a self-hosting environment for WCF services, thus you write the same code as with console and Windows hosts to initialize the ServiceHost. The main difference for Windows services is in the location where initialization and cleanup take place. In this section I’ll walk you through creating and deploying a Windows service and using it to host a WCF service.

I’ll provide you with a brief review of Windows services, followed by an explanation for how this relates to WCF. Then you will complete a lab that walks you through creating and testing a Windows service host. After that, I’ll discuss some scenarios for applying Windows services.

What Are Windows Services?

Windows services are applications whose lifetime is controlled through the Service Control Manager (SCM). The SCM is automatically started when a Windows machine boots, allowing local or remote control over the machine’s Windows services. You can access the SCM through the Control Panel under Administrative Tools → Services. Through the SCM you can: start, stop, pause, and continue services, and edit configuration settings for a service.

Controlling service startup

Windows services are normally installed as part of an automated deployment script, rather than directly through the SCM interface. Configuration settings for the service can also be scripted, but are also editable through property dialogs provided by the SCM. Figure 4-7 shows general properties for a Windows service. Aside from descriptive information, such as the service name, display name, and description, you can also control the service startup type and explicitly start, stop, pause, or resume the service from here.

General Windows Service configuration options

Figure 4-7. General Windows Service configuration options

Startup type is an important setting since this determines whether the service is enabled or not, and whether the service should be automatically started when the machine boots. The options are:


The service is disabled.


The service must be manually started using the SCM.


The service should start when the machine is booted.

Automatic (delayed start)

The service should start after other nondelayed (higher-priority) services have started.

Runtime identities

You can control the identity under which the service runs from the Log On tab of the service properties dialog (see Figure 4-8). This account identity is important because it governs the Windows resources that the service will have access to at runtime, along with the credentials that will be passed if the service calls out to another process.

Identity configuration for a Windows service

Figure 4-8. Identity configuration for a Windows service

Options for identity are as follows:

Local Service

This is a special identity that presents anonymous credentials for outgoing calls.

Local System

This represents a risky, very high-privileged account.

Network Service

This represents a safer, lower-privileged account, which also means that the service will have reduced access to Windows resources.

Specific User

This represents a particular user and requires a password be provided, preferably one that won’t expire.

Services can have a user interface only if they run as the local system account.


Another feature of Windows services is their recovery options. For example, in the event of failure, the service can be configured to restart. As Figure 4-9 illustrates, you can set the recovery action for the first and second failures, and all subsequent failures. In addition, you can control the delay before restarting the service and reset the failure count after some duration.

Recovery configuration for a Windows service

Figure 4-9. Recovery configuration for a Windows service

Options for recovery are as follows:

  • Take no action.

  • Run a program.

  • Restart the service.

  • Restart the computer.

Creating and Installing Windows Services

You can use the Windows Service template provided with Visual Studio to generate a Windows application that contains a Windows service—a type that extends ServiceBase from the System.ServiceProcess namespace. In fact, you can create more than one Windows service type in a single executable process. To implement a Windows service, your job is to set properties and override the appropriate methods on ServiceBase and optionally provide an installer to streamline the installation process.

Extending ServiceBase

You will typically override the OnStart( ) and OnStop( ) methods in a Windows service to provide functionality appropriate for service startup and shutdown. When a service is started, through the SCM or when the machine boots if configured to do so, the OnStart( ) override is called, giving you a chance to initialize. Likewise, when the service is stopped, through the SCM or when the machine is shut down, the OnStop( ) override is called so that you can respond and clean up any allocated resources.

Optionally, services can also support pause and continue behavior, suspend behavior when the machine is operating on low battery power, and respond specifically to machine shutdown. Your service must explicitly subscribe to these lifecycle events by enabling the appropriate property, as shown in bold in Example 4-16. By enabling CanHandlePowerEvent, CanPauseAndContinue, and CanShutdown properties, your respective overrides for OnPowerEvent( ), OnPause( ), OnContinue( ), and OnShutdown( ) will be invoked at the appropriate times.

Example 4-16. Responding to pause, continue, shutdown, and power events

public partial class TraceWindowsService : ServiceBase
  public TraceWindowsService( )
    InitializeComponent( );
    this.ServiceName = "TraceWindowsService";this.CanHandlePowerEvent = true;
    this.CanPauseAndContinue = true;
    this.CanShutdown = true;

  protected override bool OnPowerEvent(PowerBroadcastStatus powerStatus)

  protected override void OnPause( )

  protected override void OnContinue( )

  protected override void OnShutdown( )

  // other code


The following code sample illustrates a Windows service that traces each of these events: <YourLearningWCFPath>\Samples\Hosting\TraceWindowsService.

Event log access

The AutoLog property of ServiceBase is enabled by default. That means all start, stop, pause, and continue events will be recorded in the application event log. ServiceBase also provides a direct reference to the event log through its EventLog property. Using this reference, you can write application-specific details directly to the event log, as shown here:

this.EventLog.WriteEntry("This is an information log entry.",

this.EventLog.WriteEntry("This is an error log entry.", EventLogEntryType.Error);

this.EventLog.WriteEntry("This is a warning log entry.",

The EventLogEntryType enumeration has the following options:


To trace non-critical information useful to administrators


To indicate a problem that does not necessarily prevent the service from functioning yet


To log exceptions or internal errors


To audit successful attempts to access a resource


To audit failed attempts to access a resource

Registering the Windows service

When you generate a new Windows service application using the Windows Service template, the following code is added to the Main( ) entry point of the application:

ServiceBase[] ServicesToRun;
ServicesToRun = new ServiceBase[] { new MessagingServiceHost( ) };

ServiceBase.Run( ) asks the SCM to add one or more Windows services to the database of installed services located in the Windows registry. You can add additional service types to this list if you have more than one Windows service in the application.

When the service is registered, the location of the executable process containing the service is recorded. Thus, the application configuration file—where service model configuration is placed for the executable—should be located in the same directory as the service, like you would expect with any self-hosting environment.

Providing an installer

The Installer Tool (installutil.exe) is a command-line utility used to execute the installer components in a specified assembly. This tool is commonly used to install database scripts and Windows services, but can be used to run any installer component that implements the RunInstallerAttribute and inherits the Installer base type.

In the lab, you will create an installer component, similar to the implementation shown in Example 4-17, with the exception of the user account settings. When the installer tool is run with the Windows service assembly, the installer type (MessagingServiceHostInstaller) is constructed which initializes the settings for MessagingServiceHost with the SCM. These settings can be altered during installation with a proper setup program or directly through the SCM interface discussed earlier.

Example 4-17. Providing a specific user account for a Windows service

public class MessagingServiceHostInstaller : Installer
  public MessagingServiceHostInstaller( )
    ServiceProcessInstaller processInstaller = new ServiceProcessInstaller( );
    ServiceInstaller serviceInstaller = new ServiceInstaller( );processInstaller.Account = ServiceAccount.User;
    processInstaller.Username = "WindowsServiceUser";
    processInstaller.Password = "p@ssw0rd";

    serviceInstaller.DisplayName = "MessagingServiceHost_EventLog";
    serviceInstaller.Description = "WCF service host for the
    serviceInstaller.ServiceName = "MessagingServiceHost_EventLog";
    serviceInstaller.StartType = ServiceStartMode.Automatic;


Lab: Creating a Windows Service Host

In this lab, you will create and install a new Windows service and use it to host an existing WCF service. During the lab you’ll use the Windows Service project template to create the host, create an installer class to help with installation settings, and install and run the Windows service. Once the service is running, you’ll complete the client application to consume the service.

Creating a new Windows Service

The first step is to create the service from the Windows Service project template.

  1. First, open the startup solution for this lab at <YourLearningWCFPath>\Labs\Chapter4\WindowsServiceHost\WindowsServiceHost.sln. So far, this solution contains a completed service and a shell client application.

  2. Let’s start by adding a new Windows Service project to the solution. From the Add New Project dialog, select the Windows Service template from the list of Windows templates (see Figure 4-10). Name the project MessagingServiceHost.

    Selecting the Windows Service project template

    Figure 4-10. Selecting the Windows Service project template

  3. The newly generated project files include a service file, Service1.cs. From Solution Explorer, rename this file to MessagingServiceHost.cs; this will also rename the underlying Windows service class. Open the file in the code window to verify that the class and constructor were renamed to MessagingServiceHost, as shown in Example 4-18.

    Example 4-18. The renamed Windows Service type

    public partial classMessagingServiceHost : ServiceBase
      public MessagingServiceHost( )
        InitializeComponent( );
      // other code
  4. MessagingServiceHost inherits ServiceBase. Recall that this is the base type for all Windows service components, supplying some basic properties including a ServiceName property that identifies the service in the SCM. In the constructor of the Windows service, set the ServiceName to MessagingServiceHost, as shown here:

    public MessagingServiceHost( )
      InitializeComponent( );this.ServiceName = "MessagingServiceHost";

Handling start and stop events

In this part of the lab, you’ll introduce code related to hosting the WCF service in a Windows service application.

  1. You’ll need a configuration file to provide service model settings. Add a new application configuration file to the project (app.config) and create a <system.serviceModel> section inside the <configuration> section. Configure the service to be accessed over TCP protocol, and provide a metadata exchange endpoint over TCP as well. The completed configuration is shown in Example 4-19.

    Example 4-19. Host configuration settings for MessagingService

        <service name="Messaging.MessagingService"
    behaviorConfiguration="serviceBehavior" >
          <endpoint address="MessagingService" contract="Messaging.IMessagingService"
    binding="netTcpBinding" />
          <endpoint address="mex" contract="IMetadataExchange" binding="mexTcpBinding" />
              <add baseAddress="net.tcp://localhost:9100"/>
          <behavior name="serviceBehavior" >
            <serviceMetadata />
  2. Now add the code to initialize the MessagingService when the Windows service is started. Go to the MessagingServiceHost project and add an assembly reference to System.ServiceModel and a project reference to the Messaging project that holds the WCF service.

    Open MessagingServiceHost.cs and add a using statement for System.ServiceModel, as shown here:

    using System.ServiceModel;
  3. Inside the MessagingServiceHost type, create a ServiceHost member named m_serviceHost. In addition, add code to the OnStart( ) method override to construct the ServiceHost instance, as shown here:

    ServiceHost m_serviceHost;
    protected override void OnStart(string[] args)
      m_serviceHost = new ServiceHost(typeof(Messaging.MessagingService));
      m_serviceHost.Open( );


    ServiceBase provides a number of virtual methods where you can interact with Windows service events such as start, stop, pause, continue, and shutdown. Typically, you’ll at least handle start and stop events.

  4. When the Windows service is stopped, you should clean up the ServiceHost instance and free the TCP port. Do this by adding code to the OnStop( ) method override, as shown here:

    protected override void OnStop( )
      if (m_serviceHost != null)
        m_serviceHost.Close( );
      m_serviceHost = null;

    At this point the implementation of your Windows service host is complete. Now, you will create an installer for it.

Creating a Windows service installer

Windows services typically provide an installer component to support the installation process, so in this part of the lab, I’ll walk you through creating one for this Windows service. This is not necessary to hosting services in the Windows service—it is merely a convenience for installation that you may find useful.

  1. Go to the WindowsServiceHost project and add a reference to the System.Configuration.Install assembly so that the installer component will have access to it. Then add a new class to the project, naming the file MessagingServiceHostInstaller.cs.

  2. Edit the MessagingServiceHostInstaller class so that it inherits the Installer type from the System.Configuration.Install namespace, and make the type public. Also add a using statement for the namespace. Apply the RunInstallerAttribute to the MessagingServiceHostInstaller class and add a using statement for the System.ComponentModel namespace. The changes are shown here in bold:

    using System.Configuration.Install;
    using System.ComponentModel;namespace MessagingServiceHost
     public class MessagingServiceHostInstaller: Installer
  3. Now it’s time to write the code that will execute when the installer runs. You’ll use the ServiceProcessInstaller and the ServiceInstaller, both from the System.ServiceProcess namespace, to initialize settings for the Windows service during installation.

    The constructor of the installer component, MessagingServiceHostInstaller, will be executed when the Windows service is installed. In this constructor, create an instance of the ServiceProcessInstaller to set the Windows account under which the Windows service will run. Add this installer to the Installers collection. Create an instance of the ServiceInstaller as well. Initialize the descriptive properties for the Windows service and set its startup type to automatic.

    Example 4-20 shows the complete implementation for this constructor with the appropriate settings, in addition to the required using statement.

    Example 4-20. Constructor code for MessagingServiceHostInstaller

    using System.ServiceProcess;
    // added to the MessagingServiceHostInstaller class
    public MessagingServiceHostInstaller( )
      ServiceProcessInstaller processInstaller = new ServiceProcessInstaller( );
      ServiceInstaller serviceInstaller = new ServiceInstaller( );
      processInstaller.Account = ServiceAccount.NetworkService;
      serviceInstaller.DisplayName = "MessagingServiceHost";
      serviceInstaller.Description = "WCF service host for the
      serviceInstaller.ServiceName = "MessagingServiceHost";
      serviceInstaller.StartType = ServiceStartMode.Automatic;
  4. Compile MessagingServiceHost in preparation for installation.

  5. Now that the Windows service host is complete, you can install and run the service. Open the Visual Studio command prompt and type the following instruction to install MessagingServiceHost:

  6. To verify that the Windows service was properly installed, and to start the service, open the Service Control Manager. From the Control Panel, navigate to Administrative Tools and open the Computer Management console (see Figure 4-11). Select “Services and Applications” → Services, scroll down the list of services, and find the MessagingServiceHost entry. Right-click the entry and select Start. In the Status column, you should see the service is started.

    Viewing Windows services installed on the local machine

    Figure 4-11. Viewing Windows services installed on the local machine


If an exception occurs during process of initializing the ServiceHost, such as a configuration error, the Windows service will not start. To find out the cause of the problem, use the Event Viewer to review the application logs.

Generating the client proxy

Now that the Windows service is running, which means the ServiceHost has been initialized, you can generate a proxy for the client application.

  1. The Add Service Reference dialog supports only HTTP endpoints for metadata exchange, which is what you have used from Chapter 1 until now for proxy generation. Metadata exchange endpoints can also be exposed over TCP and named pipes using MexTcpBinding and MexNamedPipeBinding. Since the Windows service is exposing a TCP endpoint only for metadata exchange, use the Visual Studio command prompt to generate the client proxy. Type this command into the command prompt:

    svcutil.exe /d:<YourLearningWCFPath>\Labs\Chapter4\WindowsServiceHost\Client /
    config:app.config /o:serviceproxy.cs net.tcp://localhost:9100/

    Return to Visual Studio and add the newly generated app.config and serviceproxy.cs files to the Client project. You must also add a reference to the System.ServiceModel assembly.

  2. Add code to the client to invoke MessagingService. Open Form1.cs in design view and double-click the button to generate a Click event handler. Add the following bold code to the event handler:

    private void button1_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
    {MessagingServiceClient proxy = new MessagingServiceClient( );
      MessageBox.Show(proxy.SendMessage(string.Format("Hello from {0}", this.Text)));
  3. Run the client application to test the service. Click the Call Service button to verify that no exceptions occur.

Considerations for WCF Services

When hosting WCF services in a Windows service application, at a minimum, you will initialize the ServiceHost in the OnStart( ) override and close the ServiceHost in the OnStop( ) override, as illustrated in the lab.


Failure to properly close the ServiceHost instance can result in problematic delays freeing ports used by the service.

Example 4-21 shows the same MessagingServiceHost as you completed in the lab with the following added functionality:

  • A handler is provided for the Faulted event of the ServiceHost to add an error entry to the event log for administrators.

  • An information entry is written to the event log entry to inform administrators of the base addresses and ports that the ServiceHost is listening on once opened.

  • Another information entry is written when the ServiceHost is closed.

Example 4-21. MessagingServiceHost with additional functionality

public partial class MessagingServiceHost : ServiceBase
  ServiceHost m_serviceHost;
  public MessagingServiceHost( )
    InitializeComponent( );
    this.ServiceName = "MessagingServiceHost";

  protected override void OnStart(string[] args)
    m_serviceHost = new ServiceHost(typeof(Messaging.MessagingService));
    m_serviceHost.Open( );
    m_serviceHost.Faulted += new EventHandler(m_serviceHost_Faulted);

    string baseAddresses = "";

    foreach (Uri address in m_serviceHost.BaseAddresses)
      baseAddresses += " " + address.AbsoluteUri;
    string s = String.Format("{0} listening at {1}", this.ServiceName,
    this.EventLog.WriteEntry(s, EventLogEntryType.Information);

  void m_serviceHost_Faulted(object sender, EventArgs e)
    string s = String.Format("{0} has faulted, notify administrators of this
problem", this.ServiceName);
    this.EventLog.WriteEntry(s, EventLogEntryType.Error);

  protected override void OnStop( )
    if (m_serviceHost != null)
      m_serviceHost.Close( );
      string s = String.Format("{0} stopped", this.ServiceName);
      this.EventLog.WriteEntry(s, EventLogEntryType.Information);

    m_serviceHost = null;

In theory, the service shouldn’t stop unless something goes wrong, or an administrator explicitly stops it through the SCM. Fortunately, in the former case, the service can also be configured in the SCM to restart on failure as discussed earlier—a necessary feature for an unattended server machine.

Though the hosting code is much the same as in other self-host environments I’ve discussed, there are some special considerations for hosting WCF services in a Windows service:

  • For a Windows service, OnStart( ) must execute within 30 seconds by default, or it will fail to start the service. If the startup code will take longer to execute, you can implement a timer to delegate longer-running initialization after startup is complete. Initializing your ServiceHost instances should fall within the 30-second timeframe.

  • OnStart( ) will record exceptions in the event log. In the event a service will not start, you should look to the event log for information indicating the cause. Figure 4-12 shows the properties of an event log entry when a port conflict caused a problem opening the ServiceHost during the OnStart( ) method.

  • Uncaught exceptions after OnStart( ) may not be recorded unless you explicitly catch the exception and record it. For example, if you delegate ServiceHost initialization using a timer, be sure to catch exceptions thrown by the Open( ) function and log them for administrators to see.

  • As with any hosting environment, the identity under which the Windows service runs will govern the Windows resources it has access to at runtime. You might not want to run your WCF services under the NETWORKSERVICE account, which means your deployment scripts will have to customize the account under which the service is configured to avoid hardcoding account information into the Windows service installer.

    Event log results after opening the ServiceHost during OnStart( ) fails

    Figure 4-12. Event log results after opening the ServiceHost during OnStart( ) fails

Windows Service Hosting Scenarios

You can use Windows services to host WCF services on client and server machines. It is more common to host on server machines, simply because the extra deployment effort of installing a Windows service at the client may be undesirable. For server deployments, Windows services provide the most reliable way to host services over non-HTTP protocols when IIS 7.0 and the WAS are unavailable. Specifically, since Windows Server 2003 machines do not support WAS, the Windows service is the best choice for hosting services over named pipes, TCP, or MSMQ protocols. In particular, this would apply to scenarios such as intranet applications, or distributed services behind the firewall. Here are some scenarios that might warrant employing Windows services:

  • In a classic client-server deployment in which clients are part of a Windows domain and communicate with services on remote servers using TCP.

  • ASP.NET web applications typically do not store business functionality in page code. Business tier assemblies provide functionality that is consumed by each page according to functionality. In a service-oriented system, the page consumes business services, not business assemblies, which would mean calling across process and possibly machine boundaries for distribution or security reasons (more on security boundaries in Chapter 7). Figure 4-13 illustrates this scenario.

    An ASP.NET application leveraging WCF services for business functionality

    Figure 4-13. An ASP.NET application leveraging WCF services for business functionality

  • WCF services exposed over HTTP protocol are usually hosted in the ASP.NET worker process through IIS on Windows Server 2003 machines. The ASP.NET worker process usually doesn’t have rights to talk to protected Windows resources such as databases, thus another tier of services may be necessary to create a trusted subsystem model. Figure 4-14 illustrates this scenario.

    External WCF services leveraging internal WCF services to create a trusted subsystem model

    Figure 4-14. External WCF services leveraging internal WCF services to create a trusted subsystem model

  • In general, any Windows 2003 server exposing WCF services over non-HTTP protocols will find Windows services the only viable option to ensure automatic startup and restarts on failure.

    Server machines for these deployments are typically unattended, and Windows services would be configured to start on machine boot and restart on the first two failures (after the third failure you might notify administrators). In addition, Windows services will run with an identity that is granted access to the server resources it uses. For communication to services on the same machine, named pipes protocol would be used, while TCP protocol is used for cross-machine calls. MSMQ may also be employed for one-way reliable messaging.

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