Thread Theft

If you’re here because you followed a link in an exception and you just want your code to work, the short version is: try adding the following early on in your application startup:

ConnectionMultiplexer.SetFeatureFlag("preventthreadtheft", true);

and see if that fixes things. If you want more context as to what this is about - keep reading!

What is thread theft?

Behind the scenes, for each connection to redis, StackExchange.Redis keeps a queue of the commands that we’ve sent to redis that are awaiting a reply. As each reply comes in we look at the next pending command (order is preserved, which keeps things simple), and we trigger the “here’s your result” API for that reply. For async/await code, this then leads to your “continuation” becoming reactivated, which is how your code comes back to life when an await-ed task gets completed. That’s the simple version, but reality is a bit more nuanced.

By default, when you trigger TrySetResult (etc) on a Task, the continuations are invoked synchronously, i.e. the thread that is setting the result now goes on immediately to run whatever it is that your continuation wanted. In our case, that would be very bad as that would mean that the dedicated reader loop (that is meant to be processing results from redis) is now running your application logic instead; this is thread theft, and would exhibit as lots of timeouts with rs: CompletePendingMessage in the information (rs is the reader state; you shouldn’t often observe it in the CompletePendingMessage* step, because it is meant to be very fast; if you are seeing it often it probably means that the reader is being hijacked when trying to set results).

To avoid this, we use the TaskCreationOptions.RunContinuationsAsynchronously flag. What this does depends a little on whether you have a SynchronizationContext. If you don’t (common for console applications, services, etc), then the TPL uses the standard thread-pool mechanisms to schedule the continuation. If you do have a SynchronizationContext (common in UI applications and web-servers), then its Post method is used instead; the Post method is meant to be an asynchronous dispatch API. But… not all implementations are equal. Some SynchronizationContext implementations treat Post as a synchronous invoke. This is true in particular of LegacyAspNetSynchronizationContext, which is what you get if you configure ASP.NET with:

<add key="aspnet:UseTaskFriendlySynchronizationContext" value="false" />

or if you do not have a <httpRuntime targetFramework="..." /> of at least 4.5 (which causes the above to default true) like this:

<httpRuntime targetFramework="4.5" />


In these scenarios, we would once again end up with the reader being stolen and used for processing your application logic. This can doom any further awaits to timeouts, either temporarily (until the application logic chooses to release the thread), or permanently (essentially deadlocking yourself).

To avoid this, the library includes an additional layer of mistrust; specifically, if the preventthreadtheft feature flag is enabled, we will pre-emptively queue the completions on the thread-pool. This is a little less efficient in the default case, but if and only if you have a misbehaving SynchronizationContext, this is both appropriate and necessary, and does not represent additional overhead.

The library will attempt to detect LegacyAspNetSynchronizationContext in particular, but this is not always reliable. The flag is also available for manual use with other similar scenarios.