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Documentation ACoreLib.Tracer

Tracing a message
Tracing startup of application
Setting up Tracing
Accessing traced messages
Dealing with exceptions
Extending trace processing & GUI integration

Tracing a message

The idea of tracing is to write (debugging) messages to a trace. The trace can then be used to investigate why a certain problem happened, or, more precisely, what the application did just before the problem happened. Tracer differentiates 4 kinds of tracing messages, depending on which tracing method is called:
  • Tracer.TraceLine()
  • Tracer.WarningLine()
  • Tracer.ErrorLine()
  • Tracer.Exception()
It is up to the application what the difference between just a trace, warning or error is. Tracer writes them all in the same way into the trace, marking them accordingly. Additionally, the application can for example configure that all messages get stored in RAM, only warning and errors written to a trace file and errors emailed to a development account.

One message can be composed by calling several times Tracer.Trace() and a message closing Tracer.TraceLine(). If several threads call Tracer.Trace() at the same time, for each thread its own trace message gets created.

Tacer.TraceLineWithFilter() takes additionally to the trace message a text, which later can be used for filtering.

Tracer.Exception() should be used whenever an exception got caught. They are treated by the Tracer like any other messages, although all exception details get shown in the trace and if a debugger is attached, it might execute a Break().

Tracing startup of application

To use full tracing functionality from the very first line of code executed, Tracer is made a static class .

It might be useful to trace the starting of the application like this:

Tracer.TraceLine("Application started");

Configurration configuration; 
Tracer.TraceLine("Read Configuration started");
try {
  configuration = ReadConfiguration();
} catch (Exception ex) {
  Tracer.Exception(ex, "Read Configuration failed, used default configuration");
  configuration  = Configuration .Default;
Tracer.TraceLine("Read Configuration completed");

Tracer.TraceLine("Start Connect DB");
try {
  Tracer.TraceLine("DB connected");
} catch (Exception ex) {
  Tracer.Exception(ex, "Connect DB failed");

  1. Very first line writes to trace. Among other things this is useful to show in the trace when exactly the trace has started.
  2. For every step needed to setup the application, use it's own try statement. If there is an exception, do something else so that the application still can start and display some (error) information

Setting up Tracing

The application can configure some tracing functionality:

Tracer.IsTracing = true;
Tracer.IsWarningTracing = true;
Tracer.IsErrorTracing = true;
Tracer.IsExceptionTracing = true;
Tracer.IsBreakOnWarning = false;
Tracer.IsBreakOnError = true;
Tracer.IsBreakOnException = true;
//setup tracing file
TraceLogFileWriter =new TraceLogFileWriter(
  directoryPath: Environment.CurrentDirectory + @"\LogFiles",
  fileName: "FinanceLog",
  maxFileByteCount: 10*1000*1000,
  maxFileCount: 5,
  logFileWriterTimerInitialDelay: 1000, //msec 
  logFileWriterTimerInterval: 10*1000); //msec

This code does not need to be right at the beginning of the application, since Tracer can work with its default settings without losing any messages. It's possible to read some (tracing) configuration and trace if there goes anything wrong, even Tracer has not been set up already and then setting up Tracer with the read configuration data.

The IsXxxTracing flags control if a normal message, Warning, Error or Exception gets written in the Tracer RAM buffer or immediately discarded.

The IsBreakOnXxx controls if the debugger should break in an attached debugger if a Xxx type of message gets traced. The developer can change the values of these flags using the debugger, allowing him to control easily how often the debugger will break.

The constructor of TraceLogFileWriter automatically registers its instance with Tracer and the already traced messages will be written to the indicated log file. Once the log file size is bigger than maxFileByteCount, a new file gets created. If more than maxFileCount exist, the oldest files get deleted, to prevent tracing using up all disk space. Setting one of these parameters to 0 will prevent that the corresponding max value gets checked.

Accessing traced messages

To get all stored trace messages, just call Tracer.GetTrace(). It returns an array of TraceMessage, sorted by their creation time. During the execution of GetTrace(), no new trace messages get added to guarantee a consistent result.

Use TraceMessage.ToString() for a simple way to display the trace messages.

Dealing with exceptions

Throwing exceptions

It would be good if the debugger would break if the code has detected an illegal condition and throws a new exception. This could be achieved through some VS settings or by setting manually a breakpoint at every throw statement, which is rather cumbersome.

A better solution is not to use throw statements, but to call Tracer.Thow(new Exception()), which will throw the exception instead. If a debugger is attached and IsBreakOnException is true, the debugger breaks and the exception to be thrown is displayed in the debugger output window. This has the big advantage that the variable content of the throwing method is still available, which makes it much easier to investigate what was the problem. When investigating exceptions only once they are thrown, this data is lost.

Catching exceptions

Some exceptions might be expected to occur sometimes. If the program should react to the exception by doing something else, the exception should be caught in a try catch statement. The rest of the exceptions should be caught in a central place which is done differently in different ,NET technologies:

Console Application try catch statement
Windows Form Application Application.ThreadException
WPF Application Application.DispatcherUnhandledException
ASP.NET Global.asax: ApplicationError_
multi threading each thread needs its own try catch statement

Whether an exception is caught locally or globally, it is in both cases a good idea to trace it with Tracer.Exception(exception). This writes the exception with all the exception details to the trace. If a debugger is attached and IsBreakOnException is true, the details get also displayed in the debugger output window.

Extending trace processing & GUI integration

Often an application needs further processing of trace messages, like displaying warnings, errors and exceptions to the user (GUI), collecting all errors and exceptions in a central database or emailing exceptions to developers. This can be easily done by registering to the event Tracer.MessagesTraced.

Applications with a user interface could provide the following functionality:
  • Display and editing of Tracer settings
  • Displaying of errors and exceptions to the user. It should be easy to copy the trace information so that it can be sent to support.
  • Display of presently stored trace

Last edited Oct 18, 2016 at 5:37 PM by PeterHuberSg, version 15