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Windows Services


Why do we need a Windows Service?

Look and Feel

A Windows Service Skeleton

Filling up the skeleton

Running the Service

Advanced Analyses

Controlling a Service Programmatically


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Why do we need a Windows Service?

Whenever we want to run certain code without logging into the machine or without making a GUI for that code, we should create a Windows Service.

Look and Feel

The best method to start working on Windows Service is to check out the existing Windows Services. Let’s open up the Services snap-in. Depending on your Windows OS, this can be done in one of the following ways:

1.       Start à Control Panel à Administrative Tools à Services.

2.       Start à Control Panel à Administrative Tools à Computer Management à Services and Applications on the left pane à Services.

3.       Start à Control Panel à Performance and Management à Services

4.       Start à Run à Services.msc

Here you will see all the services registered on your machine, with the details described in the following table.

Details of a Service






Name of the service



Description of the service





The service is not currently running.

The service is currently running.

The service is currently paused.

Startup Type




The service will not start when the machine starts.

The service will start when the machine starts.

The service cannot be started.

Log On As

Local System

Network Service





Local Service




<Any other account>

The most powerful account. It can work on any Operating System file of the machine. Will behave with a network in the same manner as the Network Service account.

An account with reduced privileges, equivalent to an authenticated local user account. Also, when the service tries to access resources over a network, it will provide the authentication details of the machine. So, the network will allow the access to its resources as it allows to that machine.

Same as Network Service account. But when the service tries to access resources over a network, it will provide no authentication details. So, the network will allow access to only those resources which are public.

The service will run with all the privileges of this account. The account can be a network account.

Right click on any service. You will see that you have the options Start, Stop, Pause, Resume, Restart. Some of these options will be disabled. For example, if the service status is Started, then the Start option will be disabled and if it is blank, then the Stop, Pause, Resume, Restart options will be disabled. Most of the services will have Pause and Resume options disabled. All these options are self-explanatory.

Configuring a service

Double click on any service. This will open up its properties with the following tabs: General, Log On, Recovery, Dependencies. The properties discussed till now can be set using the General or the Log On tabs. You should discover what can be done under the Recovery tab or what is seen under the Dependencies tab. The Remote Procedure Call (RPC) service is a very good starting point to discover these options.

A Windows Service Skeleton

Let’s create a Windows Service and follow whatever comes our way, very carefully.

1.       Create a new Windows Service Project. Let’s call it WinServ.

2.       As soon as you finish the last step, you will see that a service called Service1 has already been added to the Project. Service1 will be open in the Design View. If you click on the main pane, the Properties window (opened by pressing F4, if not already open) will show a few properties. Let’s concentrate on some Boolean properties:

Properties of Service class




If set to true, the normal operations on the service – started, stopped, paused - are reported to the EventLog of the System.


If set to true, the service can respond to change in the power mode – for example change from AC to battery or vice-versa, etc..


If set to true, the service can respond to logging on or off by a user.


If set to true, the service can be paused and then resumed.


If set to true, the service can respond to the shutting down of the machine.


If set to true, the service can be stopped.

3.       Now, click on the link in the design view to go to the code view. You will see the following auto generated code:

public partial class Service1 : System.ServiceProcess.ServiceBase {

    public Service1() {




    protected override void OnStart(string[] args) { }


    protected override void OnStop() { }



1.       The class Service1 inherits from the class System.ServiceProcess.ServiceBase.

2.       Whatever code is written in the OnStart method will be executed every time the service is started.

3.       If the CanStop property of the service is set to true, the code in the OnStop method will execute, whenever the service is stopped.
Similarly, you can override the methods OnPause and OnContinue, which will work only when the CanPauseAndContinue property of the service is set to true. Similarly, you can override the methods OnSessionChange, OnShutDown and OnPowerEvent, which work only when the service properties CanHandleSessionChangeEvent, CanShutdown and CanHandlePowerEvent, respectively, are set to true.

Filling up the skeleton

Let us make Service1 write the current time every minute, to a file.

Here is an approximate code that we will be tempted to write in the OnStart method:

StrmWtr = new StreamWriter("C:\\Temp\\MinuteStamp.txt");

while(true) {




Although the program will compile correctly, this will cause the service to try to start forever. Ultimately the operating system will stop trying and give the message: Error 1053: The service did not respond to the start or control request in a timely fashion.

Let us learn a concept here. When a service start is attempted, the OS creates a process for this service and runs the code written in the OnStart method. The service is considered started only when the code in the OnStart method finishes. In the above code, this never happens, so the error was generated.

Then how does a service work?

The technique is to initialize the variables in the OnStart method and then start a separate thread which actually does the work. Since most of the services do their tasks repeatedly, after some interval, instead of using a simple Thread object and creating a loop and using the Thread.Sleep method in it, we should use a Timer. If the code is to be run just one, then the technique of creating a thread is good.

Sample Code

using System;

using System.IO;


public partial class Service1 : System.ServiceProcess.ServiceBase


    StreamWriter StrmWtr;

    System.Timers.Timer tmr;


    public Service1() {




    protected override void OnStart(string[] args) {

        this.StrmWtr = new StreamWriter("C:\\Temp\\MinuteStamp.txt");

        this.tmr = new System.Timers.Timer(60000);

        this.tmr.Elapsed += this.tmr_Elapsed;




    protected override void OnStop() {





    protected void tmr_Elapsed(object sender, EventArgs e) {




That’s it; we just created a Windows Service!

Create another service – to experiment with various properties

Let’s create another service in the same project by taking the following steps:

1.       Click on the Menu Item Project à Add New Item… Ctrl+Shift+A.

2.       In the dialog box that opens, click on the item Windows Service in the right hand pane. On the bottom of the dialog box, give the name of the file as Serv2.cs. This will create a service called Serv2, just like Service1.
You will see that the class that is created is also called Serv2 and this class name is shown in the (Name) property in the Design View.

3.       For its functionality, make it write to another file every 10 seconds.

4.       Set its ServiceName property as Serv2_OS. This will not be seen anywhere but it will be used by the OS, for example, at the time of installation or uninstallation of the service or if we have to start the service programmatically or from the command prompt.

5.       Make its CanPauseAndContinue property true. That way, we will be able to Pause and Resume the service in the Services snap-in.

6.       Make its CanHandleSessionChangeEvent property true.

7.       Besides changing the timer interval to 10000, here is the additional code that we should write to make these actions meaningful:

protected override void OnPause() {






protected override void OnContinue() {


   this.StrmWtr = new StreamWriter(

        File.Open("C:\\Temp\\TenSecStamp.txt", FileMode.OpenOrCreate)





protected override void OnSessionChange(

    SessionChangeDescription changeDescription

) {


    int iSessID = changeDescription.SessionId;

    switch(changeDescription.Reason) {

       case SessionChangeReason.SessionLogoff:

         this.StrmWtr.WriteLine("Logging off from Session "+iSessID);


       case SessionChangeReason.SessionLogon:

         this.StrmWtr.WriteLine("Logging onto Session " + iSessID);




8.       Open the Program.cs file.

9.       Add Serv2 to the ServicesToRun array in the Main() method. Here is how it will look like:

ServiceBase[] ServicesToRun =

    new ServiceBase[] { new Service1(), new Serv2() };




If you forget the last step, you will get the error: Could not start the service on local computer. Error 1083: the executable program that this service is configured to run in does not implement the service, on trying to run the service.

Running the Service

A Windows Service Project cannot be debugged like we debug a Windows Forms Project or a Web Application Project. The only way to check our code is to build the solution and install the service to the OS and then run it from the Services snap-in. This involves 5 steps.

Step 1: Create installers

Open Service1 in the Design View. Right click on the main pane and click Add Installer. That is all that is to it.

Note, that a file ProjectInstaller.cs will be created and it will open up in the Design View and show 2 components: serviceInstaller1 and serviceProcessInstaller1.

Add another installer by right clicking on the Design View of Serv2. Now, you will see only 1 additional component on the ProjectInstaller.cs Design View. This is serviceInstaller2.

That means the Visual Studio creates:

1.       One serviceInstaller for each service in the project.

2.       One serviceProcessInstaller for the entire project.

Step 2: Set installer properties

For both the serviceInstallers, set the DisplayName and Description properties. Set the StartType property if you want. These properties will appear for the services, in the Services snap-in, as we observed in the Look and Feel section.

Step 3: Build


Step 4: Install

1.       Open the Visual Studio Command Prompt. You will find this under the Start à Programs à Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 à Visual Studio Tools.

2.       In the Command Window, navigate to the bin à Debug folder of the Windows Services Project.

3.       Enter the text installutil WinServ.exe  and then press Enter.

4.       In the Set Service Login window that opens up, enter the credentials of the user as whom all the services will run. Make sure that you also enter the domain in the username textbox. For example, MyMachN\VineetS.

This is how this process will appear in the command window (some portions are truncated).

C:\Documents and Settings\VineetS\My Documents\Visual Studio 2008\Projects\WinServ\WinServ\bin\Debug>installutil WinServ.exe


Microsoft (R) .NET Framework Installation utility Version 2.0.50727.3053

Copyright (c) Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.


Running a transacted installation.


Beginning the Install phase of the installation.

See the contents of the log file for the C:\...\WinServ\WinServ\bin\Debug\WinServ.exe assembly's progress.

The file is located at C:\...\WinServ\WinServ\bin\Debug\WinServ.InstallLog.

Installing assembly 'C:\...\WinServ\WinServ\bin\Debug\WinServ.exe'.

Affected parameters are:

   logtoconsole =

   assemblypath = C:\...\WinServ\WinServ\bin\Debug\WinServ.exe

   logfile = C:\...\WinServ\WinServ\bin\Debug\WinServ.InstallLog


Installing service Service1...

Service Service1 has been successfully installed.

Creating EventLog source Service1 in log Application...

Installing service Serv2_OS...

Service Serv2_OS has been successfully installed.

Creating EventLog source Serv2_OS in log Application...


The Install phase completed successfully, and the Commit phase is beginning.

See the contents of the log file for the




The Commit phase completed successfully.


The transacted install has completed.



The OS used the ServiceName Serv2_OS in the installation log.

Step 5: Start the services

Start the services as we discussed in the Look and Feel section. Verify if the values that you set for the DisplayName and Description properties appear in the Services snap-in. Also, verify if you can Pause and then Resume the Serv2 service (the name in the snap-in will be the one that you gave in the DisplayName property of the serviceInstaller2).

Advanced Analyses

Startup Type

The Startup Type discussed in the Look and Feel section can be set up for each service by clicking on its serviceInstaller in the Design View of the ProjectInstaller.cs and setting the property StartType.

Log On As

The Log On As attribute of all the services is set up at the time of installation, as we did earlier. If you want to enter it at the time of writing the code itself, you can do so by opening up the ProjectInstaller.cs in the Code View and updating the constructor to:


this.serviceProcessInstaller1.Account =


this.serviceProcessInstaller1.Username = "MyMachN\\VineetS";

this.serviceProcessInstaller1.Password = "MyPwd";



Usually, an enterprise policy is that the password of a user should be changed regularly. If you are supposed to run a service as a particular user, make sure that your account manager sets this account with the Password never expires option. Otherwise, you will have to update the Log On As attribute of all your services, every time the password changes.

If you want to set the Log On As attribute to other options that were tabulated earlier, set the this.serviceProcessInstaller1.Account property to the LocalService, LocalSystem or NetworkService value of the System.ServiceProcess.ServiceAccount enum. In these cases, setting the Username and the Password properties will have no effect on the service.


We cannot set the Account, Username or Password properties differently for services in the same project.


Open the Event Viewer under the Administrative Tools or under the Administrative Tools à Computer Management. Click on the System node. You should see the log entries every time some operation is done on a service. If you don’t want to see these entries, you can set the AutoLog property of the service to false.


We can know the details of change of a session while the service is running since we have set the CanHandleSessionChangeEvent property true and implemented the OnSessionChange method in the service Serv2. This is done using the System.ServiceProcess.SessionChangeDescription parameter. It has 2 important properties: SessionId (int: self-explanatory) and Reason. Reason can be any one of the System.ServiceProcess.SessionChangeReason enums: ConsoleConnect, ConsoleDisconnect, RemoteConnect, RemoteDisconnect, SessionLogon, SessionLogoff, SessionLock, SessionUnlock, SessionRemoteControl, all of which are self-explanatory.


If you have the CanShutDown property of the service set to true, then you can override the method void OnShutdown() which will run when the machine shuts down. You can do the cleaning up work in this method.


If you have the CanHandlePowerEvent property of the service set to true, then you can override the method bool OnPowerEvent(PowerBroadcastStatus powerStatus) to handle the change in power status. You can do this by using the PowerBroadcastStatus parameter. Some of its values are intuitive like  BatteryLow, PowerStatusChange (from battery to AC or vice-versa), Suspend. Some other are: OemEvent, QuerySuspend (system has requested all applications to assent to suspend), QuerySuspendFailed, ResumeAutomatic (system has woken up to do something, for example, a scheduled task), ResumeCritical (system has woken up after battery went to a critical state), ResumeSuspend (system has woken up).

Controlling a Service Programmatically

You can review and control a Windows Service programmatically using an instance of the ServiceController class, say ServCtrl. All that you have to do is to specify the service. You can then access all its properties that we have seen earlier, using the ServCtrl.

Sample code

ServiceController ServCtrl = new ServiceController("Serv2_OS");

if (ServCtrl.CanPauseAndContinue) {





Like all Windows Service related classes, the ServiceController is in the System.ServiceProcess namespace and resides in the DLL of the same name. Remember to add a reference to this DLL in your project.



Note that we have used the calue of the ServiceName property of the Serv2 service that we created earlier, in order to get a handle to it.


By setting the MachineName property of the ServiceController instance, we can control a service which resides on a remote machine.

Basic Properties and Methods

In the sample code, we used the CanPauseAndContinue property and Pause method to accomplish our goal. Similarly, we can use the Start and Stop methods and also get the values of all the properties that we discussed earlier, for the service which the ServiceController controls.


With the ServicesDependedOn property of the ServCtrl, we get an array of service controllers to all its dependency services.


The ServiceController class inherits the Component class and thus its Site property. This property has nothing to do with the machine on which the underlying service resides.

Controlling a Service from the Command Prompt

You can run the Net Start Serv2, Net Stop Serv2, Net Pause Serv2 or Net Continue Serv2 commands from the command prompt to start, stop, pause or continue the services, respectively. For example, the Serv2_OS which was paused by the last sample code could be continued. This will be the entire output:

C:\>net continue serv2_os

The Serv2_Display service continue is pending.

The Serv2_Display service was continued successfully.

Uninstalling a Service

The steps are the same as described in the Step 4: Install subsection of the section Running the Service section. This time, just enter the text installutil /u WinServ.exe  after browsing to the appropriate folder in the command prompt.


The Services and Service Accounts Security Planning Guide, Microsoft Corporation.

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