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3 Proven Ways to Send Email from a Windows Service (Without Outlook)

Sending Email from a Windows Service

Not all Outlook functions work from a Windows Service

Calling Outlook from a Windows Service can be problematic. Even though many operations work fine, Microsoft has issued some pointed advice for customers looking to run any Office application in the background in Session 0:

All current versions of Microsoft Office were designed, tested, and configured to run as end-user products on a client workstation. They assume an interactive desktop and user profile. They do not provide the level of reentrancy or security that is necessary to meet the needs of server-side components that are designed to run unattended.

Microsoft does not currently recommend, and does not support, Automation of Microsoft Office applications from any unattended, non-interactive client application or component (including ASP, ASP.NET, DCOM, and NT Services), because Office may exhibit unstable behavior and/or deadlock when Office is run in this environment.

If you are building a solution that runs in a server-side context, you should try to use components that have been made safe for unattended execution. Or, you should try to find alternatives that allow at least part of the code to run client-side. If you use an Office application from a server-side solution, the application will lack many of the necessary capabilities to run successfully.

Very disappointing!

So instead of calling Outlook, which may be unreliable when run in the context of a service, look to one of these alternative solutions instead:

Solution #1: Have your Windows Service call PowerShell to send basic email

If you don’t want to install any third-party utilities, you can leverage Microsoft’s ubiquitous PowerShell utility to deliver your messages. And to help, we’ve created a simple script that, given eight required parameters, will send an email to any address:

<#
   send-email.ps1
   
   Summary: Sends email.

   Usage: 
      send-email.ps1 <FROM-EMAIL> <TO-EMAIL> <SUBJECT> <BODY> <SMTP-SERVER> <USERNAME> <PASSWORD>

      Example:
         send-email.ps1 "admin@coretechnologies.com" "alerts@coretechnologies.com" "Server down" 
           "Server 'FileServer1' is down!" "smtp.gmail.com" 587 "admin@coretechnologies.com" "pwd74YKYRO"

   2020, Core Technologies Consulting, LLC (https://coretechnologies.com)
#>

if ($args.Count -ne 8) {
   Write-Host "Passed" $args.Count "parameters; expected 8."
   Write-Host "Usage:"
   Write-Host "send-email.ps1 <FROM-EMAIL> <TO-EMAIL> <SUBJECT> <BODY> <SMTP-SERVER> <SMTP-PORT> <USERNAME> <PASSWORD>"
   exit 1
}

$fromEmail = $args[0]
$toEmail = $args[1]
$subject = $args[2]
$body = $args[3]
$smtpServer = $args[4]
$smtpPort = $args[5]
$userName = $args[6]
$password = $args[7]

$smtpClient = New-Object Net.Mail.SmtpClient($smtpServer, $smtpPort)
$smtpClient.EnableSsl = $true
$smtpClient.Credentials = New-Object System.Net.NetworkCredential($userName, $password)

$smtpClient.Send($fromEmail, $toEmail, $subject, $body)

You can download the PowerShell script here. Please feel free to adapt it for your needs.

Your email provider will determine the SMTP server and port number you should use. For example, if your provider is Gmail, the SMTP server is “smtp.gmail.com” and the port is 587.

To invoke the script from an application, run the PowerShell executable with the -File option. Specify the full path to the script along with the eight required parameters.

For example, if you’ve saved the script in C:\Utilities and you’re sending via Gmail, your command line will look like this:

powershell.exe -File "C:\Utilities\send-email.ps1" from@coretechnologies.com to@coretechnologies.com "Server Down Alert" "Server 'FileServer1' is down!" smtp.gmail.com 587 from@coretechnologies.com "PWD8581JG$"

Watch out for quotes in the subject and body and escape accordingly!

Solution #2: Use SwithMail to deliver complex messages from your Windows Service

SwithMail is a free, no-nonsense utility that can send very detailed email messages. It supports all the important messaging options, including:

  • HTML formatting
  • Multiple attachment files
  • CC and BCC recipients
  • “ReplyTo” configuration

After downloading the SwithMail zip file and extracting its contents to a suitable location, double-click SwithMail.exe to reveal the comprehensive command line:

SwithMail command line usage

Simply specify the options you need. For example, here is a sample command line that sends the same message as the PowerShell script above:

SwithMail.exe /Silent /FromAddress from@CoreTechnologies.com /ToAddress to@coretechnologies.com /Subject "Server down" /HTML /Body "Server <b>FileServer1</b> is down!" /Server smtp.gmail.com /Port 587 /SSL /Username from@coretechnologies.com /Password "PWD8581JG$"

If you prefer, you can compose an XML file with all the details and pass to SwithMail instead, like this:

SwithMail.exe /XML "C:\Your-SwithMail-Settings.xml"

If you’re having trouble configuring SwithMail, add the /Log parameter and a path to a log file. Check the file for error messages after a failed run.

Solution #3: Update your Windows Service code to send email directly

If you have access to the service’s source code, your best option may be to include code to send email using the SMTP classes built into your programming language.

For example, if you are using C#, we recommend incorporating the System.Net.Mail.MailMessage and System.Net.Mail.SmtpClient classes. They are very easy to use.

Here is some sample C# code (error handling omitted for clarity):

// Compose the message.
MailMessage mailMessage = new MailMessage();
mailMessage.From = new MailAddress("from@coretechnologies.com");
mailMessage.To.Add(new MailAddress("to@coretechnologies.com"));
mailMessage.Subject = "Server down";
mailMessage.Body = "Server <b>FileServer1</b> is down!";
mailMessage.BodyFormat = MailFormat.Html;
// Construct the SMTP object that will send the message.
smtpClient = new SmtpClient("smtp.gmail.com", 587);
smtpClient.EnableSsl = true;
smtpClient.Credentials = new System.Net.NetworkCredential("from@coretechnologies.com", "PWD8581JG$");
// Send the message!
smtpClient.Send(mailMessage);

Get in touch if you need help sending email from your Windows Service

Hopefully one of these three solutions, which don’t involve Outlook, will work from your service. If not — or if you have questions about the methods outlined above — please don’t hesitate to reach out to our support team. We’re here to help!

Posted in Windows Services | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q&A: What changed with my Windows Services?

Q&A: What changed with my Windows Services?
  How can I tell if someone updated the services on our Windows 2019 server? Do you have any tools for that?

— Sheldon P.

Hi Sheldon.

Since Windows Services run with high privileges, it’s very important to keep an eye on them. And because of their inherent power, services are a prized target for bad actors looking to hack your system.

Indeed, 2020’s SolarWinds supply chain exploit — one of the worst attacks in the past decade — featured a rogue Windows Service depositing malware in the background. A periodic review of the list of services could have identified the compromise months earlier.

Anyway, our free Windows Service Auditor is an excellent monitoring tool that can help you in your situation. Follow these instructions to keep a watchful eye on your mission-critical servers.

1. Download & run Windows Service Auditor

Windows Service Auditor is portable application, meaning that you don’t need to install it. Simply download the executable file and place it in a folder where you can easily find it.

Double-click the file to start it. In a few seconds, a window listing all your Windows Services will appear:

Windows Service Auditor

2. Update your computer’s security policy to allow advanced auditing

By default, Windows does not keep track all changes made to Windows Services. That capability must be enabled via advanced security audit policies. Specifically, you need to watch for:

Windows Service Auditor makes it easy to enable that auditing in your local policy. To do so, open the Application menu and ensure that the Enable Local Audit Policy entry is checked:

Enable Local Audit Policy settings

3. Enable auditing for important Windows Services, to track who starts/stops/changes them

Do you care about the activities of a specific Windows Service? Even though we have enabled advanced auditing in step 2, you must enable auditing for each service that you would like to monitor.

To enable auditing of a service in Windows Service Auditor, highlight the service and check the Selected Service > Enable Auditing menu entry:

Enable service auditing

With auditing in place for a service, the Windows Event logs will record an event whenever someone attempts to start, stop or modify the service. And to save you from hours of digging through the Event Viewer, Windows Service Auditor will collect those records in the lower Events panel:

Examining the Windows Update service

4. Capture a baseline snapshot of all services running on your machine

This short video shows how to capture a snapshot of all the services running on your computer:

To summarize:

  1. Start Windows Service Auditor;

  2. Select All Services > Export (XML);

  3. Choose a file name where the services should be saved.

The file will contain an XML record for each service installed on your computer:

Windows Service Auditor: All services XML export

5. Compare future snapshots to the baseline, to identify changes

Whenever you want to check if any services have changed, you should:

  1. Create a new snapshot XML file, as described in the previous section;

  2. Using your favorite text comparison tool, compare the new snapshot to the baseline you established in the previous section.

The text comparison tool will highlight all changes that have taken place in between the snapshots.

We recommend using WinMerge — a free, mature text differencing tool for Windows.

For example, we established a baseline snapshot on December 29. On December 31, we wanted to see what changed with services so we took another snapshot. Afterwards, comparing the two snapshots with WinMerge identified 8 differences, including one showing that the TrustedInstaller service was stopped:

Compare service snapshots with WinMerge

Best of luck managing your system!

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Box Drive Version 2.18 Fails to Run in Session 0 (as a Windows Service)

Box Drive Version 2.18 Fails to Run in Session 0

Do you run Box Drive as a Windows Service, to ensure that file synchronization starts as soon as your server boots? If so, please be aware that Box Drive version 2.18 may not start properly in the background!

Version 2.18 was released in October 2020. We took it for a test drive with AlwaysUp and here is what we discovered.

Box Drive starts but quickly exits

AlwaysUp started Box.exe several times. Each time, the process would run for a second and then shut down. After 5 attempts (as configured on the Restart tab), AlwaysUp gave up.

The activity report shows the back and forth:

Box Drive windows service activity

Unfortunately the Box.exe process exited with a generic return code, with no indication of what happened. Puzzled, we decided to investigate the logs.

The log files report a strange problem

Box Drive spools its logs to a location in the AppData folder. You can find the files here:

C:\Users\<YOUR-USER-NAME>\AppData\Local\Box\Box\logs

A file named “Box-2.18.117.log” records the program’s activities when it starts. We noticed these telltale lines inside:

[36;49m2020-12-27 18:45:23.667 7596 INFO MainThread windows_sync_app_dele Calling start_application: [‘C:\\Program Files\\Box\\Box\\Box.exe’]
[36;49m2020-12-27 18:45:23.667 7596 INFO MainThread windows_sync_app_dele Current memory usage: 90279936 bytes
[36;49m2020-12-27 18:45:23.667 7596 INFO MainThread windows_sync_app_dele A Box Drive installation is in progress. Box Drive cannot continue to run

So for some bizarre reason, Box Drive thinks that an installation is in progress!

Thinking that it may be causing a conflict, we stopped and disabled the Box Update Service (which is responsible for automatic updates):

Box Update Service (BoxUpdateSvc)

However, that didn’t make a difference. The “installation is in progress” error continued to thwart us.

So clearly Box Drive is having trouble running with AlwaysUp. But was the problem caused by AlwaysUp? We decided to investigate with an independent, third-party utility.

The problem isn’t limited to AlwaysUp — PsExec fails too

Microsoft’s free PsExec utility can start any executable in Session 0 — the only session available when your machine boots. PsExec is useful when troubleshooting applications that have trouble running at boot.

We ran this command line to launch Box as a specific user in Session 0:

PsExec -i 0 -h -u "<USER-NAME>" -p "<PASSWORD>" -w "C:\Program Files\Box\Box" "C:\Program Files\Box\Box\Box.exe"

But the run ended with the same result in the logs as before.

So the issue is not unique to AlwaysUp. For some strange reason, Box Drive version 2.18 simply refuses to run in the background, on the isolated Session 0.

Box Drive starts properly in the current, interactive session

As it does when started normally on your desktop, Box Drive runs fine as a Windows Service outside of Session 0.

If you select Start “Box Drive” in this session from the Application menu in AlwaysUp, Drive (and its familiar tray icon) will appear on your screen:

Start Box.exe in your session

Of course, that will not be possible unless you log in, which defeats the purpose of launching file synchronization automatically at boot! Fortunately, AlwaysUp can help you get around that.

Configure automatic logon with AlwaysUp to start Box Drive at boot

Since Box needs a “normal” session to run at boot, you can:

  1. Setup Windows autologon, to automatically sign in to Windows when your machine boots;

  2. Have AlwaysUp launch Box Drive in that user’s session.

Setup Autologon for Box Drive

Please consult this FAQ entry for the details.

Box support declined to investigate the problem

A few weeks ago, our developers reported the problem to Box Support. The detailed message documented all our key findings, including the log messages/files and the two methods of easily reproducing the failure.

The response from the Box Customer Success team was blunt, though not entirely unexpected:

Response from the Box customer success team

Even so, it’s a bit short sighted of them to dismiss a problem that is impacting their paying customers!

Box Drive version 2.19 is “coming soon”

Apparently version 2.19 of Box Drive will be available very soon, probably in early 2021. Hopefully it will fix this “phantom installation” problem when running as a Windows Service.

Fingers crossed!

Posted in Box Drive | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Which Programs Start Automatically? Autoruns Will Help You Find (And Eliminate) Them

Windows starts many programs automatically

News flash: Most of the applications running on your computer were not started by you. Windows launched them automatically — either at boot or when you logged in.

And while most of those programs exist for a good reason — to help you access the Internet, print a document or play a game — some may be unnecessary. Those freeloaders run all the time, hogging precious resources and slowing down your computer.

Indeed, this is a huge problem on new Windows laptops and desktops. A myriad of “free”, manufacturer-supplied applications constantly trying to up-sell you antivirus, office, or cloud storage that you don’t want or need will cripple your once-speedy device. Welcome to a very frustrating experience!

Luckily there is a free and easy way for you to regain control of your computer. Simply follow these steps:

1. Download and Install Autoruns

Autoruns is a free utility from Sysinternals (a subsidiary of Microsoft). The program has a simple mandate — to reveal every single application Windows started without your explicit action.

Autoruns is packaged in a 2.5 MB zip file. Download it from here.

Installation is straightforward. Simply extract the contents of the zip file to a new folder. We recommend placing it in C:\Apps\Autoruns.

2. Start Autoruns

Launch the Autoruns executable (autoruns.exe). You will have to accept the obligatory license agreement on the first run:

Autoruns license agreement

The main window will come up. You may notice colorful lines streaming into the interface as Autoruns interrogates your system:

Autoruns main window

You will see a whopping 17 tabs — each one representing a location from where applications are launched!

As its name implies, the Everything tab consolidates all tabs.

3. Look for programs you don’t need

Most of the locations will be obscure and unfamiliar. For example, only the most technical folks need to pay attention to “Boot Execute” (low-level tasks that Windows runs to prepare itself) and “LSA Providers” (libraries supporting encryption).

Three tabs may be most useful:

  1. Logon: Programs Windows started after you sign in to your computer. They are usually running visibly on your desktop, either in full-fledged window or squirreled away behind an icon in the task tray area.

  2. Scheduled tasks: Applications and scripts launched at a specific time (or occasion). These are typically short-running maintenance tasks — there to keep one of your main applications in tip-top shape.

    Windows Task Scheduler manages these applications.

  3. Services: Long-running administrative applications started at boot (or in response to operating system events).

    The Services Control Panel application (services.msc) manages services.

Let’s focus on the Logon tab.

Scroll the list to see what applications are started automatically when you sign in. Highlight an entry in the list and the bottom pane will show key details.

For example, here we see that version 2.13 of Box is configured to start automatically with the “-m” flag:

Box Sync starts at logon

Autoruns will help you research unrecognized programs too.

Simply right-click an entry and select Search online to open a browser search page targeting the underlying executable:

Easily research the program online

Or select Properties to dig into the details of the program on your hard drive:

Easily show file properties

And if you are truly adventurous, select Jump to Folder to launch the Registry Editor and go straight to the application’s registry key.

3. Disable or delete unwanted auto-start entries

Once you have identified an application that Windows should not start automatically, you have a couple of options:

  1. Un-check the box on the left to disable the application startup. The entry will remain there, making it easy to re-enable the item at a later date.

  2. Delete the entry. This will remove the application from the startup list. Only delete if you are confident and you will never want to re-enable the automatic launch in the future.

Note that deleting the Autoruns entry only removes the launch at startup. It does not uninstall the underlying application, which you can still run manually.

For example, that entry for Box is not needed because we already run Box Sync at boot with AlwaysUp. Let’s get rid of it:

Autoruns: Delete Box Sync

Similarly, we can deactivate Java’s periodic update by unchecking the box beside “SunJavaUpdateSched”:

Autoruns: Disable Java update check

We may want to reactivate that entry at some time.

Enjoy!

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AlwaysUp 12.5: Dropbox fixes, Email improvements, AutoStartDelay and More

What's new in AlwaysUp 12.5

We’re closing out the tumultuous 2020 with version 12.5 of AlwaysUp — our “run anything as a Windows Service” utility used by tens of thousands of savvy computer administrators across the globe.

This release delivers a few major enhancements:

File synchronization fixes for Dropbox 105+ running as a service

Dropbox on Windows

Dropbox threw us a curve-ball in September. With the advent of version 105, Dropbox suddenly stopped synchronizing files to the cloud when it was running as a service in Session 0.

This issue affected many of our customers, and as the Dropbox automatic updates started rolling out, the emails and complaints started coming in!

After a few days of frantic experimentation, our developers arrived at an effective and simple solution. Apparently setting the QT_OPENGL system variable to software restores all functionality. Dropbox copies files again.

We decided to incorporate the fix into AlwaysUp, to save new Dropbox customers from having to manually set QT_OPENGL. AlwaysUp Version 12.5 and later will automatically set the QT_OPENGL environment variable so that you don’t have to.

One word of caution: If it turns out that setting the QT_OPENGL variable causes problems in a future version of Dropbox, you can neutralize the fix through another environment variable. Set the ALWAYSUP_NO_DROPBOX_OPENGL_FIX system variable to any value and AlwaysUp will not alter the QT_OPENGL value.

Emails include recent service/application activity

Customers who have configured email alerts will notice that messages now contain the service’s last five events from the Windows Event Logs. The idea is to provide helpful context when something unusual happens, to avoid you having to log on and interrogate the event logs yourself.

Here is an email showing the new Recent Activity section:

Emails include recent service/application activity

Specify when Windows launches “Automatic (Delayed Start)” services

By default, services with startup type set to Automatic (Delayed Start) start 120 seconds after the last automatic service is launched.

That two minute gap is fine for most, but what if your server is blazing fast? In that case, one minute may be better.

Or worse, suppose your legacy server is painfully slow to boot? A five minute delay may be more appropriate there.

Fortunately you can adjust the delay in the registry. And now you can do the same in AlwaysUp too!

Simply select Set Auto Start Delay from the Tools menu to bring up the new feature. Set an appropriate delay value and click OK to save:

Set Auto Start Delay in AlwaysUp

As noted in the window, the setting applies to all services set to Automatic (Delayed Start). It’s not just for services created by AlwaysUp.

Full compatibility with Windows 10 20H2

Microsoft published Windows 10, version 20H2 in October 2020.

Looking at the release notes, 20H2 doesn’t include significant changes to the Windows Services infrastructure. The update focused mostly on end-user improvements for the Edge browser, task tray notifications and the like.

Nevertheless, our team tested AlwaysUp 12.5 extensively on the new version of Windows 10. We’re pleased to report that no problems were detected and AlwaysUp remains fully compatible with all versions of Windows 10.

AlwaysUp is compatible with Windows 10 20H2

As usual, please review the release notes for the full list of features, fixes and improvements included in AlwaysUp 12.5.

Upgrading to AlwaysUp 12.5

If you purchased AlwaysUp version 11 (after June 2018), you can upgrade to version 12.5 for free. Simply download and install “over the top” to preserve your existing applications and all settings. Your registration code will continue to work as well.

If you bought AlwaysUp version 10 or earlier (before June 2018), you will need to upgrade to use version 12.5. Please purchase upgrades here — at a 50% discount.

See the full upgrade policy for additional details.

Enjoy!

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