The importance of passing the WT_EXECUTELONGFUNCTION flag to QueueUserWorkItem

Raymond Chen


One of the flags to

the QueueUserWorkItem function

The documentation for that flag reads

The callback function can perform a long wait.
This flag helps the system to decide if it should create a new thread.

As noted in the documentation, the

thread pool

uses this flag to decide whether
it should create a new thread or wait for an existing work item to finish.
If all the current thread pool threads are busy running work items and there
is another work item to dispatch,
it will tend to wait for one of the existing work items to complete
if they are “short”,
because the expectation is that some work item will finish quickly
and its thread will become available to run a new work item.
On the other hand, if the work items are marked
then the thread pool
knows that waiting for the running work item to complete is
not going to be very productive, so it is more likely to create
a new thread.

If you fail to mark a long work item with the
then the thread pool ends up waiting for that work item to
complete, when it really should be kicking off a new thread.
Eventually, the thread pool gets impatient and figures out that
you lied to it, and it creates a new thread anyway.
But it often takes a while before the thread pool realizes
that it’s been waiting in vain.

Let’s illustrate this with a simple console program.

#include <windows.h>
#include <stdio.h>

DWORD g_dwLastTick;

void CALLBACK Tick(void *, BOOLEAN)
DWORD dwTick = GetTickCount();
printf(“%5d\n”, dwTick – g_dwLastTick);

return 0;

int __cdecl
main(int argc, char* argv[])
g_dwLastTick = GetTickCount();
switch (argc) {
case 2: QueueUserWorkItem(Clog, NULL, 0); break;
case 3: QueueUserWorkItem(Clog, NULL, WT_EXECUTELONGFUNCTION); break;
HANDLE hTimer;
CreateTimerQueueTimer(&hTimer, NULL, Tick, NULL, 250, 250, 0);
return 0;

This program creates a periodic thread pool work item that fires
every 250ms, and which merely prints how much time has elapsed since
the timer was started.
As a baseline, run the program with no parameters, and observe that
the callbacks occur at roughly 250ms intervals, as expected.


Next, run the program with a single command line parameter.
This causes the “case 2” to be taken, where the “Clog” work item
is queued. The “Clog” does what its names does: It clogs up the
work item queue by taking a long time (four seconds) to complete.
Notice that the first callback doesn’t occur for a whole


That’s because we queued the “Clog” work item without the
In other words, we told the thread pool,
“Oh, don’t worry about this guy, he’ll be finished soon.”
The thread pool wanted to run the Tick event,
and since the Clog work item was marked as “fast”,
the thread pool decided to wait for it and recycle its thread
rather than create a new one.
After about a second,
the thread pool got impatient and spun up a new thread to
service the now-long-overdue Tick events.

Notice that as soon as the first Tick event was processed,
three more were fired in rapid succession.
That’s because the thread pool realized that it had fallen
four events behind (thanks to the clog) and had to fire
the next three immediately just to clear its backlog.
The fifth and subsequent events fire roughly on time
because the thread pool has figured out that the Clog really
is a clog and should be treated as a long-running event.

Finally, run the program with two command line parameters.
This causes the “case 3” to be taken, where we queue up the Clog
but also pass the WT_EXECUTELONGFUNCTION flag.


Notice that with this hint, the thread pool no longer gets
fooled by the Clog and knows to spin up a new thread to handle
the Tick events.

Moral of the story:
If you’re going to go wading into the thread pool,
make sure you play friendly with other kids and let the
thread pool know ahead of time whether
you’re going to take a long time.
This allows the thread pool to keep the number of worker
threads low (thus reaping the benefits of thread pooling)
while still creating enough threads to keep the events flowing

Exercise: What are the consequences to the thread pool if
you create a thread pool timer whose callback takes longer
to complete than its timer period?

Raymond Chen
Raymond Chen

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