Recently, I've been playing with the new diagnostic improvements in .Net Core 3. Traditionally, I've always used the great AppMetrics package to capture the metrics from our applications and send scrape them with a Prometheus & Grafana setup. Whilst reading about the improvements, I wondered whether or not it would be possible to push metrics to Prometheus.

Ultimately, I decided that pushing to Prometheus wasn't ideal for my use case. However, I have successfully used the approach described in the rest of the article to push the metrics to another platform, using a new .Net API - EventCounters.

EventCounters are the .NET Core replacement for Windows performance counters, which are now cross platform. EventCounters are based on the EventPipe that was originally introduced in .Net Core 2.2, but .Net Core 3.0+ adds a lot of additional functionality that we can use going forward to create cross platform monitoring tools for our applications including:

  • dotnet-dump takes memory snapshot and allow analysis based on most SOS commands;
  • dotnet-trace collects events emitted by the Core CLR and generate trace file to be analyzed with PerfView;
  • dotnet-counters collects the metrics corresponding to some performance counters that used to be exposed by the .NET Framework.

Please note that this article is correct at the time of writing based on the sources available. I do describe some of the internal workings of the API, which may change overtime.

Application Flow

In order to use the new EventCounters API, you first need to create an inherited class that derives from EventSource because every type of counter needs to be registered against an EventSource. Let's start off with the simplist possible EventSource that records metrics dynamically:

[EventSource(Name = "MyApplication")]
public class MyApplicationEventSource : EventSource
{
    public static MyApplicationEventSource Instance = new MyApplicationEventSource();
    private readonly ConcurrentDictionary<string, EventCounter> _dynamicCounters = new ConcurrentDictionary<string, EventCounter>();

    private MyApplicationEventSource() {}

    public void RecordMetric(string name, float value)
    {
        if (string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(name)) return;

        var counter = _dynamicCounters.GetOrAdd(name, key => new EventCounter(key, this));
        counter.WriteMetric(value);
    }
}

In order to initialize a new EventCounter instance, we need to give a name and the EventSource that it should be associated with. Whilst this is okay for simple EventCounters, we often need to do more with our applications, such as tracking the start/stopping of certain events, or tracking activities using PerfView. To do this, we can leverage more of the EventSource's infrastructure.

Using EventCounters And EventSource Events

Let's breakdown the following example, which I've taken from my OpenMessage project:

[EventSource(Name = "OpenMessage")]
internal class OpenMessageEventSource : EventSource
{
    internal static readonly OpenMessageEventSource Instance = new OpenMessageEventSource();

    private long _inflightMessages = 0;
    private long _processedCount = 0;
    private IncrementingPollingCounter _inflightMessagesCounter;
    private EventCounter _messageDurationCounter;
    private IncrementingPollingCounter _processedCountCounter;

    private OpenMessageEventSource() { }

    [NonEvent]
    public ValueStopwatch? ProcessMessageStart()
    {
        if (!IsEnabled()) return null;

        MessageStart();

        return ValueStopwatch.StartNew();
    }

    [Event(1, Level = EventLevel.Informational, Message = "Consumed Message")]
    private void MessageStart()
    {
        Interlocked.Increment(ref _inflightMessages);
        Interlocked.Increment(ref _processedCount);
    }

    [NonEvent]
    public void ProcessMessageStop(ValueStopwatch stopwatch)
    {
        if (!IsEnabled()) return;

        MessageStop(stopwatch.IsActive ? stopwatch.GetElapsedTime().TotalMilliseconds : 0.0);
    }

    [Event(2, Level = EventLevel.Informational, Message = "Message Completed")]
    private void MessageStop(double duration)
    {
        Interlocked.Decrement(ref _inflightMessages);
        _messageDurationCounter.WriteMetric(duration);
    }

    protected override void OnEventCommand(EventCommandEventArgs command)
    {
        if (command.Command == EventCommand.Enable)
        {
            _inflightMessagesCounter ??= new IncrementingPollingCounter("inflight-messages", this, () => _inflightMessages)
            {
                DisplayName = "Inflight Messages",
                DisplayUnits = "Messages"
            };
            _messageDurationCounter ??= new EventCounter("message-duration", this)
            {
                DisplayName = "Average Message Duration",
                DisplayUnits = "ms"
            };
            _processedCountCounter ??= new IncrementingPollingCounter("processed-count", this, () => _processedCount)
            {
                DisplayName = "Messages Processed",
                DisplayRateTimeScale = TimeSpan.FromSeconds(1)
            };
        }
    }

    // ... code omitted for brevity
}

The example above is designed to track the number of messages processed by our system, and how long on average they took to process. The event source is also designed to be lazily initialized, so we only track information when the EventSource is enabled. Let's take a look at how we've accomplished this by looking at OnEventCommand:

protected override void OnEventCommand(EventCommandEventArgs command)
{
    if (command.Command == EventCommand.Enable)
    {
        _inflightMessagesCounter ??= new IncrementingPollingCounter("inflight-messages", this, () => _inflightMessages)
        {
            DisplayName = "Inflight Messages",
            DisplayUnits = "Messages"
        };
        _messageDurationCounter ??= new EventCounter("message-duration", this)
        {
            DisplayName = "Average Message Duration",
            DisplayUnits = "ms"
        };
        _processedCountCounter ??= new IncrementingPollingCounter("processed-count", this, () => _processedCount)
        {
            DisplayName = "Messages Processed",
            DisplayRateTimeScale = TimeSpan.FromSeconds(1)
        };
    }
}

This is where we register the event counters that we are interested in tracking. EventSource's can receive commands from external sources, so that they can enable the EventCounter API etc. We can receive this message from applications multiple times, so it's important to to make sure that we defensively programme. In the sample above, I use the new null-assignment expression to ensure that only when the field is null, do we perform the expression on the right hand side - which in our case is creating the counters.

There are four available types of counters available for us to use, which I will cover later on:

  • EventCounter
  • IncrementingEventCounter
  • PollingCounter
  • IncrementingPollingCounter

Next, we need to look how we can actually record the metrics. In order to do this, I've combined it with using EventSource Event's so that I can also get the information that I want inside of other tools like PerfView should I want to:

[NonEvent]
public ValueStopwatch? ProcessMessageStart()
{
    if (!IsEnabled()) return null;

    MessageStart();

    return ValueStopwatch.StartNew();
}

[Event(1, Level = EventLevel.Informational, Message = "Consumed Message")]
private void MessageStart()
{
    Interlocked.Increment(ref _inflightMessages);
    Interlocked.Increment(ref _processedCount);
}

[NonEvent]
public void ProcessMessageStop(ValueStopwatch stopwatch)
{
    if (!IsEnabled()) return;

    MessageStop(stopwatch.IsActive ? stopwatch.GetElapsedTime().TotalMilliseconds : 0.0);
}

[Event(2, Level = EventLevel.Informational, Message = "Message Completed")]
private void MessageStop(double duration)
{
    Interlocked.Decrement(ref _inflightMessages);
    _messageDurationCounter.WriteMetric(duration);
}

We have two operations that we are really interested in Start & Stop. In the example above, each of the operations is split out into a [NonEvent] and a corresponding [Event]. The [Event] is what the EventSource system uses to write the events to the underlying stream so that it can be picked up by tools such as PerfView. The entry point is always the [NonEvent] so that we can check to see if anyone is listening to the EventSource before we do anything, this helps ensure that it does not emit the Event unnecessarily. This is the same pattern that is used throughout the .Net Code base from what I can tell.

For the [Event]'s, you will notice that the Start/Stop is EventId 1/2 respectively and the also end with Start/Stop. This allows some magic to happen such as automatically figuring out the duration inside of PerfView. For more information on some of the magic that occurs, I strongly recommend reading Vance Morrison's Excellent Blog Post instead of me duplicating the knowledge here.

Once you have your EventSource configured, and you know which metrics you wish to track, then all that's left is to start recording your metrics (eg: OpenMessageEventSource.ProcessMessageStart()) and the runtime will take care of the rest.

Other EventSource Examples

For some inspiration of how to configure your EventSource's, here are a few examples from Microsoft:

  • HostingEventSource: Used to track the current number of requests including: failed/total/requests per second.
  • KestrelEventSource: Used to track details of connections to the Kestrel WebServer - including when connections and requests Start/Stop.
  • ConcurrencyLimiterEventSource: Used to track the number of queued requests and the duration in the queue.

Types of DiagnosticCounters

The DiagnosticCounter class is the abstract base class that all of the event counters types inherit from. Currently, there are four implementations registered in the source: EventCounter, IncrementingEventCounter, PollingCounter and IncrementingPollingCounter. Although abstract, we can't really inherit from DiagnosticCounter as the internal components that we need, which are described below, are protected from external use. The four implementations that I mentioned, appear to cover pretty much every use case that I can think of anyway.

EventCounter

This type of event counter is typically used for tracking latency of requests to external parties due to the aggregated stats that this type provides. An EventCounter instance tracks the following about the metrics that it's recorded:

Name Type Notes
Name string
DisplayName string
Mean double The average of all values recorded
StandardDeviation double
Count int How many metric entries were recorded in this iteration
Min double
Max double
IntervalSec float
CounterType string Always “Mean”
Metadata string Any associated metadata for this specific counter
DisplayUnits string
Series string Format is: $"IntervalSec={IntervalSec}”

In order to write data, you need to call <counter>.WriteMetric(value).

IncrementingEventCounter

An IncrementingEventCounter is typically used to track ever increasing numbers such as the total number of requests. Unlike it's namesake, EventCounter, this class does not provide any statistics about the data. In other words, it is a pure counter, so only the following information is tracked:

Name Type Notes
Name string
DisplayName string
DisplayRateTimeScale string The unit of measure that the metric should be shown in, eg: per-second
Increment double The value of the this is: currentValue - previousValue
IntervalSec float
Metadata string
Series string Format is: $"IntervalSec={IntervalSec}”
CounterType string Always “Sum”
DisplayUnits string

In order to write data, you need to call <counter>.Increment(value). The Increment that you receive is always currentValue - previousValue.

PollingCounter

A PollingCounter is very much like a standard EventCounter, but instead of the metric being written to it, a function is invoked which retrieves the value from your source of choice. An PollingCounter instance tracks the following about the metrics that it's recorded:

Name Type Notes
Name string
DisplayName string
Mean double The average of all values recorded
StandardDeviation double
Count int How many metric entries were recorded in this iteration
Min double
Max double
IntervalSec float
CounterType string Always “Mean”
Metadata string Any associated metadata for this specific counter
DisplayUnits string
Series string Format is: $"IntervalSec={IntervalSec}”

IncrementingPollingCounter

A IncrementingPollingCounter is very much like a standard IncrementingEventCounter, but instead of the metric being written to it, a function is invoked which retrieves the value from your source of choice. An IncrementingPollingCounter instance tracks the following about the metrics that it's recorded:

Name Type Notes
Name string
DisplayName string
DisplayRateTimeScale string The unit of measure that the metric should be shown in, eg: per-second
Increment double The value of the this is: currentValue - previousValue
IntervalSec float
Metadata string
Series string Format is: $"IntervalSec={IntervalSec}”
CounterType string Always “Sum”
DisplayUnits string

Under the hood

Now that we've taken a look at how we construct the EvenSource so that we can create our application level metrics, we should also take a look at what happens under the hood so we can begin to complete the circle. Once you start creating any of the listed DiagnosticCounters in your application - the counter calls a method which ensures that the counter gets added to a CounterGroup associated with the specified EventSource. When a DiagnosticCounter is disposed, then it is removed from the CounterGroup and no longer tracked.

The CounterGroup is responsible for maintaining a thread that polls the DiagnosticCounters on the specified interval and updates their values. The thread isn't created until such time as an application calls EnableEvents(eventSource, EventLevel.LogAlways, EventKeywords.All, new Dictionary<string, string>{{"EventCounterIntervalSec", "1"}}); on an EventSource. Lastly, when the value of each DiagnosticCounter is updated, an event is raised against the EventSource that was passed to the counter which means that we can listen to this in the same way that we listen to other events on EventSource's - eg: PerfView/EventListener.

The whole EventSource system is very lightweight and designed for scalability in systems that generate millions of events - so we should not be too concerned about the performance of this. Naturally, the more that you listen to, the more impact this will have. I think it's safe to say, the code that we write in the listeners will likely be the slowest part of this system.

Listening for event counters

Lastly, in order to complete our circle, we need to be able to listen to the counters that we've created in our applications. There are two common approaches that we can use: the CLI tool dotnet-counters or from within our applications using an EventListener.

Consuming EventCounters using dotnet-counters

As part of the diagnostic improvements in .Net Core 3, the .Net team introduced a new diagnostics tool called dotnet-counters. This is a stand-alone tool that can be installed using the following command:

dotnet tool install dotnet-counters --global

Or updated to the latest version if you already have it installed:

dotnet tool update dotnet-counters --global

After the tool has been installed, you can see the processes that are eligible for attaching to, using:

dotnet-counters ps
    10416 dotnet     C:\Program Files\dotnet\dotnet.exe
    20660 dotnet     C:\Program Files\dotnet\dotnet.exe
    21172 dotnet     C:\Program Files\dotnet\dotnet.exe

Once you know the process that you want to attach to, you can start monitoring with the following command:

dotnet-counters monitor -p 21172

If you are interested in specific EventSources, then you can supply a space separated list of EventSources like:

dotnet-counters monitor -p 21172 System.Runtime MyEventSource

By default, when you ask to monitor an EventSource, it will capture and display all the counters for you. If no EventSources are specified then a default list is used, including: System.Runtime. If you only wish to track a few counters from each EventSource, then you specify them in square brackets directly after the EventSource name:

dotnet-counters monitor -p 21172 System.Runtime[cpu-usage] MyEventSource[test]

All of the monitor commands will output something similar to the following:

Press p to pause, r to resume, q to quit.
    Status: Running

[System.Runtime]
    CPU Usage (%)                                      0
[MyEventSource]
    test                                             335

Lastly, should you wish to control the rate that the counters are refreshed, supply the --refresh-interval parameter:

dotnet-counters monitor -p 21172 --refresh-interval 5 System.Runtime[cpu-usage] MyEventSource[test]

Consuming EventCounters within our applications

In order to enable tracing from within a .Net application you need three core parts:

  1. Class inheriting from EventListener
  2. Detecting of EventSource's
  3. Processing of Events

Creating our EventListener

For our new EventListener, I will create a simple background service as follows:

internal sealed class MetricsCollectionService : EventListener, IHostedService
{
    public Task StartAsync(CancellationToken cancellationToken)
    {
        return Task.CompletedTask;
    }

    public Task StopAsync(CancellationToken cancellationToken) => Task.CompletedTask;
}

This will live for the lifetime of the application and host the task that will detect lazily initiated EventSources, such as the OpenMessage one I showed earlier in this article.

Detecting EventSources

In order to detect the lazily initiated EventSources, we need to periodically call the method EventSource.GetSources() which lists all of the currently available sources. we can do this from a simple task that lives against the service:

internal sealed class MetricsCollectionService : EventListener, IHostedService
{
    private List<string> RegisteredEventSources = new List<string>(); 
    private Task _newDataSourceTask;

    public Task StartAsync(CancellationToken cancellationToken)
    {
        _newDataSourceTask = Task.Run(async () =>
        {
            while (true)
            {
                GetNewSources();
                await Task.Delay(1000);
            }
        });

        return Task.CompletedTask;
    }

    public Task StopAsync(CancellationToken cancellationToken) => Task.CompletedTask;

    protected override void OnEventSourceCreated(EventSource eventSource)
    {
        if (!RegisteredEventSources.Contains(eventSource.Name))
        {
            RegisteredEventSources.Add(eventSource.Name);
            EnableEvents(eventSource, EventLevel.LogAlways, EventKeywords.All, new Dictionary<string, string>
            {
                {"EventCounterIntervalSec", "1"}
            });
        }
    }
    
    private void GetNewSources()
    {
        foreach (var eventSource in EventSource.GetSources())
            OnEventSourceCreated(eventSource);
    }
}

We've got a list of the EventSources that we have already asked to be enabled so that we don't continually ask them to enable themselves. This helps guard against any slightly mis-constructed EventSources, though not strictly necessary.

Processing Events

The last bit for us to do is to override the OnEventWritten:

protected override void OnEventWritten(EventWrittenEventArgs eventData)
{
    if (eventData.EventName != "EventCounters" 
            || eventData.Payload.Count <= 0 
            || !(eventData.Payload[0] is IDictionary<string, object> data) 
            || !data.TryGetValue("CounterType", out var counterType) 
            || !data.TryGetValue("Name", out var name))
        return;
    
    var metricType = counterType.ToString();
    float metricValue = 0;

    if ("Sum".Equals(metricType) && data.TryGetValue("Increment", out var increment))
    {
        metricValue = Convert.ToSingle(increment);
    }
    else if ("Mean".Equals(metricType) && data.TryGetValue("Mean", out var mean))
    {
        metricValue = Convert.ToSingle(mean);
    }
    
    // do something with your metric here...
}

This method gets called for each EventSource that you have asked to receive the data from. It will be up to you to decide your own filtering policy. For each EventWrittenEventArgs that you receive, you need to double check that you have received an EventCounter before proceeding. Next, you need to check the payload that you received is indeed a IDictionary<string, object>, so that you can process the contents in a quick and efficient manner. Although in the implementations, there is a strongly typed class for the payload for each of the built in counters, it is internal so we are unable to consume it here. The last piece of the puzzle is for you to process the metric however you wish, ie: sending to DataDog.

Putting all of the above code together, we get something like the following:

internal sealed class MetricsCollectionService : EventListener, IHostedService
{
    private List<string> RegisteredEventSources = new List<string>(); 
    private Task _newDataSourceTask;

    public Task StartAsync(CancellationToken cancellationToken)
    {
        _newDataSourceTask = Task.Run(async () =>
        {
            while (true)
            {
                GetNewSources();
                await Task.Delay(1000);
            }
        });

        return Task.CompletedTask;
    }

    public Task StopAsync(CancellationToken cancellationToken) => Task.CompletedTask;

    protected override void OnEventSourceCreated(EventSource eventSource)
    {
        if (!RegisteredEventSources.Contains(eventSource.Name))
        {
            RegisteredEventSources.Add(eventSource.Name);
            EnableEvents(eventSource, EventLevel.LogAlways, EventKeywords.All, new Dictionary<string, string>
            {
                {"EventCounterIntervalSec", "1"}
            });
        }
    }

    protected override void OnEventWritten(EventWrittenEventArgs eventData)
    {
        if (eventData.EventName != "EventCounters" 
                || eventData.Payload.Count <= 0 
                || !(eventData.Payload[0] is IDictionary<string, object> data) 
                || !data.TryGetValue("CounterType", out var counterType) 
                || !data.TryGetValue("Name", out var name))
            return;
        
        var metricType = counterType.ToString();
        float metricValue = 0;

        if ("Sum".Equals(metricType) && data.TryGetValue("Increment", out var increment))
        {
            metricValue = Convert.ToSingle(increment);
        }
        else if ("Mean".Equals(metricType) && data.TryGetValue("Mean", out var mean))
        {
            metricValue = Convert.ToSingle(mean);
        }
        
        // do something with your metric here...
    }

    private void GetNewSources()
    {
        foreach (var eventSource in EventSource.GetSources())
            OnEventSourceCreated(eventSource);
    }
}

Hopefully at this point, you have enough information on how to use the built in counters and creating your own metrics. Let me know on Twitter if you have any thoughts or comments on the contents of this post.

Thanks for reading, happy counting! :)