Why does my thread handle suddenly go bad? All I did was wait on it!

Raymond Chen

A customer reported that they had a very strange bug, where waiting on a thread handle causes it to become invalid. Here’s a code fragment:

DWORD waitResult = WaitForSingleObject(hThread, INFINITE);
assert(waitResult == WAIT_OBJECT_0); // assertion passes



That final call to Close­Handle results in a STATUS_INVALID_HANDLE exception when run in the debugger. How did the handle become invalid? We sucessfully waited on it just a few lines earlier.

There wasn’t enough information to go on, so we had to make some guesses. Perhaps hThread was already closed, and it got recycled to refer to some unrelated kernel object, and it’s that unrelated object that you’re waiting on when you call Wait­For­Single­Object. And then when you do some cleanup, that causes the unrelated handle to be closed, which means that the numeric value of hThread now refers to an invalid handle.

The customer did some investigation and discovered that they were obtaining the thread handle from the _begin­thread function. The handle returned by the _begin­thread function is explicitly documented as being closed by the _end­thread function.

_end­thread automatically closes the thread handle, whereas _end­thread­ex does not. Therefore, when you use _begin­thread and _end­thread, do not explicitly close the thread handle by calling the Win32 Close­Handle API. This behavior differs from the Win32 Exit­Thread API.

Basically, the deal is that the _begin­thread function returns a handle to the created thread, but does not give you ownership of the handle. Ownership of that handle remains with the thread itself, and the thread automatically closes the handle when it exits. (Not mentioned in the MSDN documentation for _begin­thread is that the runtime automatically calls _end­thread if the thread function returns normally. This detail is mentioned in the documentation for _end­thread, which is probably a better place for it anyway.)

Basically, the handle returned by the _begin­thread function is useless. You don’t know how long it’s valid, and it might even be invalid by the time you even receive it!

Switching to _end­thread­ex fixed the problem.


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