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Visual Basic 2010 : Processes and Multithreading

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6/26/2011 4:21:32 PM

Managing Processes


You use the System.Diagnostics.Process class to manage processes on your machine.

This class offers both shared and instance members so that you can launch an external process but also get a reference to one or more processes. The following code shows how to launch an external process via the shared implementation of the Start method:

Process.Start("Notepad.exe")

Any call to the Process.Start method will return a Process object. You can also specify arguments for the process by specifying the second parameter for the method as follows:

Process.Start("Notepad.exe", "C:\aFile.txt")

One of the most important features of the Start method is that you can also supply the username, password, and domain for launching a process:

Process.Start("Notepad.exe", "C:\aFile.txt",
"Alessandro", Password, "\\MYDOMAIN")

Notice that the password is necessarily an instance of the System.Security.SecureString class, so see the MSDN documentation about this. The Process class also has an instance behavior that enables getting a reference to a process instance. This is useful when you want to programmatically control a process. With regard to this, you first need an instance of the ProcessStartInfo class that can store process execution information. The class exposes lots of properties, but the most important are summarized in the following code snippet:

Dim procInfo As New ProcessStartInfo
With procInfo
.FileName = "Notepad.exe"
.Arguments = "aFile.txt"
.WorkingDirectory = "C:\"
.WindowStyle = ProcessWindowStyle.Maximized
.ErrorDialog = True
End With

Particularly, the ErrorDialog property makes the Process instance show up an error dialog if the process cannot be started regularly. When you have done this, you simply create an instance of the Process class and assign its StartInfo property; finally you invoke Start as demonstrated in the following code:

Dim proc As New Process
proc.StartInfo = procInfo
proc.Start()
'Alternative syntax:
'Dim proc As Process = Process.Start(procInfo)

Approaching processes in this fashion is helpful if you need to programmatically control processes. For example, you can wait until a process exits for the specified number of milliseconds as follows:

'Waits for two seconds
proc.WaitForExit(2000)

To close a process you write the following code:

proc.Close()

Finally, you can kill unresponsive processes by invoking the Kill method as follows:

proc.Kill()

The Process class also exposes the EnableRaisingEvents boolean property which allows setting if the runtime should raise the Exited event when the process terminates. Such an event is raised if either the process terminates normally or because of an invocation to the Kill method. Until now you saw how launching processes but the Process class is also useful when you need to get information on running processes as discussed in next subsection.

Querying Existing Processes

You can easily get information on running processes through some methods from the Process class that provide the ability of getting process instances. For example, GetProcesses returns an array of Process objects, each one representing a running process whereas GetProcessById and GetProcessByName return information on the specified process given the identification number or name, whereas GetCurrentProcess returns an instance of the Process class representing the current process. Then the Process class exposes lots of useful properties for retrieving information, each of them self-explanatory such as ProcessName, Id, ExitCode, Handle, or HasExited but also other advanced information properties, such as PageMemorySize or VirtualMemorySize, which respectively return the memory size associated with the process on the page memory or the virtual memory. The Visual Studio’s Object Browser and IntelliSense can help you with the rest of available properties. At the moment focus on how you can get information on running processes. The coolest way for getting process information is using LINQ to Objects. The following query, and subsequent For..Each loop, demonstrates how to retrieve a list of names of running processes:

Dim processesList = (From p In Process.GetProcesses
Select p.ProcessName).AsEnumerable

For Each procName In processesList
Console.WriteLine(procName)
Next

Notice that the query result is converted into IEnumerable(Of String) so that you can eventually bind the list to a user interface control supporting the type.

Introducing Multithreading

A thread is a unit of work. The logic of threading-based programming is performing multiple operations concurrently so that a big operation can be split across multiple threads. The .NET Framework 4.0 offers support for multithreading via the System.Threading namespace. But .NET 4.0 also introduces a new important library.

Creating Threads

You create a new thread for performing an operation with an instance of the System.Threading.Thread class. The constructor of this class requires you to also specify an instance of the System.Threading.ThreadStart delegate that simply points to a method that can actually do the work. Then you simply invoke the Thread.Start instance method. The following code snippet demonstrates how you can create a new thread:

Private Sub simpleThread()
Dim newThread As New Thread(New ThreadStart(AddressOf _
executeSimpleThread))
newThread.Start()
End Sub

Private Sub executeSimpleThread()
Console.WriteLine("Running a separate thread")
End Sub

To actually start the new thread, you invoke the method that encapsulates the thread instance, which in this case is simpleThread.

Creating Threads with Lambda Expressions

The following code snippet demonstrates how you can take advantage of statement lambdas instead of providing an explicit delegate:

Private Sub lambdaThread()
Dim newThread As New Thread(New _
ThreadStart(Sub()
Console.WriteLine("Thread with lambda")
End Sub))
newThread.Start()
End Sub

Now you can simply invoke the lambdaThread method to run a secondary thread, and with one method you reach the same objective of the previous code where two methods were implemented.

Passing Parameters

In many cases you might have the need to pass data to new threads. This can be accomplished by creating an instance of the ParameterizedThreadStart delegate, which requires an argument of type Object that you can use for sharing your data. The following code demonstrates how you create a thread with parameters:

Private Sub threadWithParameters(ByVal parameter As Object)
Dim newThread As New Thread(New _
ParameterizedThreadStart(AddressOf _
executeThreadWithParameters))
newThread.Start(parameter)
End Sub

Notice how the Thread.Start method has an overload that takes the specified parameter as the data. Because such data is of type Object, you need to convert it into the most appropriate format. The following code demonstrates how to implement a method that the delegate refers to and how to convert the data into a hypothetical string:

Private Sub executeThreadWithParameters(ByVal anArgument As Object)
Dim aString = CType(anArgument, String)
Console.WriteLine(aString)
End Sub

Of course you can take advantage of lambda expressions if you do not want to provide an explicit delegate also in this kind of scenario.

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