C# – ASP.NET Web API 2 Async action methods with Task.Run performance

asp.net, asp.net-web-api, async-await, c++, task-parallel-library

I'm trying to benchmark (using Apache bench) a couple of ASP.NET Web API 2.0 endpoints. One of which is synchronous and one async.

        [Route("user/{userId}/feeds")]        [HttpGet]        public IEnumerable<NewsFeedItem> GetNewsFeedItemsForUser(string userId)        {            return _newsFeedService.GetNewsFeedItemsForUser(userId);        }        [Route("user/{userId}/feeds/async")]        [HttpGet]        public async Task<IEnumerable<NewsFeedItem>> GetNewsFeedItemsForUserAsync(string userId)        {            return await Task.Run(() => _newsFeedService.GetNewsFeedItemsForUser(userId));        }

After watching Steve Sanderson's presentation I issued the following command ab -n 100 -c 10 http://localhost.... to each endpoint.

I was surprised as the benchmarks for each endpoint seemed to be approximately the same.

Going off what Steve explained I was expecting that the async endpoint would be more performant because it would release thread pool threads back to the thread pool immediately, thus making them available for other requests and improving throughput. But the numbers seem exactly the same.

What am I misunderstanding here?

Best Solution

Using await Task.Run to create "async" WebApi is a bad idea - you will still use a thread, and even from the same thread pool used for requests.

It will lead to some unpleasant moments described in good details here:

  • Extra (unnecessary) thread switching to the Task.Run thread pool thread. Similarly, when that thread finishes the request, it has to enter the request context (which is not an actual thread switch but does have overhead).
  • Extra (unnecessary) garbage is created. Asynchronous programming is a tradeoff: you get increased responsiveness at the expense of higher memory usage. In this case, you end up creating more garbage for the asynchronous operations that is totally unnecessary.
  • The ASP.NET thread pool heuristics are thrown off by Task.Run “unexpectedly” borrowing a thread pool thread. I don’t have a lot of experience here, but my gut instinct tells me that the heuristics should recover well if the unexpected task is really short and would not handle it as elegantly if the unexpected task lasts more than two seconds.
  • ASP.NET is not able to terminate the request early, i.e., if the client disconnects or the request times out. In the synchronous case, ASP.NET knew the request thread and could abort it. In the asynchronous case, ASP.NET is not aware that the secondary thread pool thread is “for” that request. It is possible to fix this by using cancellation tokens, but that’s outside the scope of this blog post.

Basically, you do not allow any asynchrony to the ASP.NET - you just hide the CPU-bound synchronous code behind the async facade. Async on its own is ideal for I/O bound code, because it allows to utilize CPU (threads) at their top efficiency (no blocking for I/O), but when you have Compute-bound code, you will still have to utilize CPU to the same extent.

And taking into account the additional overhead from Task and context switching you will get even worser results than with simple sync controller methods.

HOW TO MAKE IT TRULY ASYNC:

GetNewsFeedItemsForUser method shall be turned into async.

    [Route("user/{userId}/feeds/async")]    [HttpGet]    public async Task<IEnumerable<NewsFeedItem>> GetNewsFeedItemsForUserAsync(string userId)    {        return await _newsFeedService.GetNewsFeedItemsForUser(userId);    }

To do it:

  • If it is some library method then look for its async variant (if there are none - bad luck, you'll have to search for some competing analogue).
  • If it is your custom method using file system or database then leverage their async facilities to create async API for the method.