I write a lot of Windows services...a lot of them. While the service template project in Visual Studio is certainly functional, my experience is that it tends to be unnecessarily complicated for most purposes. This is understandable as the template is designed to be everything to everyone. However, most of the time I don't want a fully featured service spread across half a dozen files. This complication promotes missing necessary changes and affects maintainability.

So what is a developer to do? Write a simplified template that does only what is needed! And that is exactly what I did. Barring an installer, a basic service project would contain only two files:

I usually separate the service logic from application-specific processing logic using a worker class that the service class calls into, but that's a bit out of scope for this article. Program.cs sets up logging, and custom application settings, and runs the service normally. Service.cs hooks into the Windows SCM interface and typically does as little as possible directly. But enough jabbering, let's look at the bare bones template that I start with:

/// <summary>
/// Service controller for the process.
/// </summary>
public class Service : ServiceBase
{
    /// <summary>
    /// Creates and initializes a new service.
    /// </summary>
    public Service()
    {
        CanShutdown = true;
        CanStop = true;
        CanHandlePowerEvent = false;
        CanHandleSessionChangeEvent = false;
        CanPauseAndContinue = false;
    }

    #region Public Interface
    /// <summary>
    /// Starts the service.
    /// </summary>
    public void StartService(string[] args) { OnStart(args); }

    /// <summary>
    /// Stops the service.
    /// </summary>
    public void StopService() { OnStop(); }

    /// <summary>
    /// Shuts down the service.
    /// </summary>
    public void ShutdownService() { OnShutdown(); }
    #endregion

    #region Service Control Interface
    protected override void OnStart(string[] args) { SwitchOn(); }
    protected override void OnStop() { SwitchOff(); }
    protected override void OnShutdown() { SwitchOff(); }
    #endregion

    #region Miscellaneous Helpers
    /// <summary>
    /// Initializes and starts the service worker.
    /// </summary>
    private void SwitchOn()
    {
        try
        {
            // Run the service worker
        }
        catch (Exception ex)
        {
            ExitCode = 1;
            // Log errors here
            throw;
        }
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Stops and cleans up the service worker.
    /// </summary>
    private void SwitchOff()
    {
        // Stop and dispose the service worker
    }
    #endregion
}

This is all you need for a basic functional service, and it highlights just how over-engineered the Visual Studio service template is. We do three things:

That's it for Service.cs! Program.cs is equally simple, and could be even more simple without some of my preferred options. Obviously we need a Main function, and somewhere therein call ServiceBase.Run with an instance of the service class. I like to include logging here, but we'll ignore that for the purposes of this article. The key option I've found to be invaluable is supporting running the service executable as a console application to separate it completely from the Windows SCM. I call this 'Debug Mode', and it's the primary reason why the public methods are provided in the service class. Let's look at the bare bones Program.cs:

public class Program
{
    /// <summary>
    /// The main entry point for the application.
    /// </summary>
    public static void Main(string[] args)
    {
        if (Environment.UserInteractive)
        {
            StartConsole(args);
        }
        else
        {
            StartService(args);
        }
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Runs the process as an installed service.
    /// </summary>
    private static void StartService(string[] args)
    {
        ServiceBase.Run(new ServiceBase[] { new Service() });
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Runs the process in a console window.
    /// </summary>
    private static void StartConsole(string[] args)
    {
        try
        {
            Console.Title = Assembly.GetExecutingAssembly().GetName().Name + " [Debug Mode]";

            // Run the service worker

            Console.Read();

            // Stop and dispose the service worker
        }
        catch (Exception ex)
        {
            // Log the error
            Console.Read();
        }
    }
}

There's nothing to it. If the application is run interactively, we call StartConsole to run it as a console application. Otherwise, ServiceBase.Run is executed on a new instance of the service class. This design requires the assembly to be built as a console application. This doesn't affect anything when run as a service, it only supports debug mode.

Note that this is where having a separate worker class is beneficial as you can completely isolate the service logic from the SCM boilerplate. It's very useful for development testing and production troubleshooting.


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