How To Stop a Thread in .NET (and Why Thread.Abort is Evil)

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Ian Griffiths (one of my favorite tech bloggers) wrote this fine piece on why Thread.Abort is a representation of all that is evil and threatens the American (and British) way of life.

The problem with Thread.Abort is that it can interrupt the progress of the target thread at any point. It does so by raising an ’asynchronous’ exception, an exception that could emerge at more or less any point in your program. (This has nothing to do with the .NET async pattern by the way - that’s about doing work without hogging the thread that started the work.)

If you’re interested in how Thread.Abort raises an exception in another thread, read Chris Sells’ (another favorite blogger) investigative report here.

I’ve taken this to heart in the design of my Socket server class (which I will release to the public some day) and in any situation where I have a service running that spawns asynchronous operations. Ian’s appoach to cancelling an asynchronous operation is the similar to mine:

The approach I always recommend is dead simple. Have a volatile bool field that is visible both to your worker thread and your UI thread. If the user clicks cancel, set this flag. Meanwhile, on your worker thread, test the flag from time to time. If you see it get set, stop what you’re doing.

One difference is that I chose not to use a volatile bool field. My reasoning was that if my asynchronous operation only reads the value (and never writes it) and just happened to be reading it while my main thread was changing it to false (in response to a user cancellation effort), I’m not so concerned that asynchronous operation might read true even though it’s being set to false. Why not? Well it’ll stay false by the time I check it again and the chance of that small synchronization flaw is very minute and has a low cost even if it does occur.

The question is, am I missing something more important by not using a volatile field in this instance?