Exploring Large Object Heap with WinDBG

This is the second part of http://vimvq1987.com/2016/11/debug-net-memory-dump-windbg-crash-course-part-1/, – which is far from complete. In this post, we will explore the Large Object Heap (LOH) of a .NET application with WinDBG

Why LOH? It’s a special heap contains the memory objects which are more than 85000 bytes in size – which, previously, never compacted (that was changed with .NET 4.5 when you have an option to compact LOH, but beware of the consequences).

If you know about the generation garbage collection in CLR, you already know that when an object is no longer used, its memory will be claimed back for later use. GC do more than that, by trying to compact the “free” memory – so it’ll move (via copy and delete) the survived objects next to each other, therefore you’ll be a big, continuous free memory. This helps improving performance in upcoming allocations, but only until a point. If the objects are too big, then the costs of moving the objects around might outweigh the benefits. Microsoft did a bunch of performance test and they decided that 85000 bytes is the break point, where the costs are bigger than the performance gain. Then we have LOH, where the memory is almost never compacted.

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Debug .NET memory dump with WinDBG – crash course. Part 1

If you ask me what had I been doing the last two weeks – then the answer is I was pulling my hairs.  A customer had a problem with their site as the memory hiked up after catalog imports and stayed there “forever” – and in the end it slowed the site down. I jumped in and almost regretted that decision – had to spent days  messing around with WinDBG and memory dumps. In the end – I found the problem and it was fixed. A lot of hairs were loss in progress, but I learned something about WinDBG – and that’s what I’m sharing today.

WinDBG is probably the most famous tool for debugging stuffs on Windows. Out of the box, it only works with native applications, aka assembly and such – but lucky for us, there are plenty of extensions to allow it to work with .NET application. The “standard” SOS and more advanced extension SOSEX. SOS is included in WinDBG, while you can download SOSEX from here (for 64 bit) or here (for 32 bit) . Download the zip file and extract the dll somewhere.

WinDBG comes with the Windows SDK, not the standard .NET framework, so you’ll probably need to install it separately from here

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