The Core Technologies Blog

Our Software // Windows Services // 24×7 Operation


Q&A: What do “Automatic (Trigger Start)” and “Manual (Trigger Start)” mean for Windows Services?

Q&A - Trigger Start Service
  When I look in Services.msc, some of the Windows Services have a startup type of “Automatic (Trigger Start)” and “Manual (Trigger Start)”. What do those mean?

— Liam

Hi Liam. Those trigger start types are indeed mysterious. And the Services application makes no attempt to explain what they are.

For example, even though the phrase “Trigger Start” appears in the “Startup type” column in the list of services, that designation is absent when you dig into an individual service.

Here we see the User Manager service showing a startup type of “Automatic (Trigger Start)” in the list but simply “Automatic” in the same field in the service’s properties window:

User Manager Service Trigger Start

Baffling, to say the least.

Let’s break down each of the start type names into their two components, to understand what the Services application is trying to communicate.

What do “Automatic” and “Manual” mean?

The first component tells Windows what to do with the service when the computer boots.

Automatic says “start this service when the computer boots”.

Manual means “don’t start the service at boot; it may be started at some other time”.

There are other startup types too but those will be explained in a future article.

What does the “Trigger Start” part mean?

While the first component focuses on what happens at boot, the “Trigger Start” wording indicates if the service can be started or stopped by various operating system events.

For example, some services are configured to start when a USB drive is inserted. Other services may stop when your computer signs out of a domain or leaves the network.

Services that respond to these events are using windows service triggers — a powerful feature designed to conserve your computer’s precious resources. Service triggers were introduced in Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2.

And here is the point of this journey into triggers: A service that has at least one trigger will show up with the “Trigger Start” designation in the Services application.

(Note that the treatment of triggers in the Services application stops there. Despite indicating when a service contains a trigger, triggers cannot be changed in the Services application. You must use the SC command line utility or our free Service Trigger Editor GUI to add or remove triggers from a service.)

Putting it all together…

In summary:

Automatic (Trigger Start) means:

This service will start automatically at boot. It may also start or stop in response to specific operating system events.

Manual (Trigger Start) means:

This service will NOT start automatically at boot. It may start or stop in response to specific operating system events.

Hope this makes sense! Please be sure to get in touch if you have any other questions about the wonderful world of Windows Services.

Posted in Windows Services | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Essential Windows Services: Remote Procedure Call (RPC) / RpcSs

Windows Remote Procedure Call (RPC) Service

What is the RPC Windows Service?

The Remote Procedure Call (RPC) service supports communication between Windows applications.

Specifically, the service implements the RPC protocol — a low-level form of inter-process communication where a client process can make requests of a server process. Microsoft’s foundational COM and DCOM technologies are built on top of RPC.

The service’s name is RpcSs and it runs inside the shared services host process, svchost.exe:

RPC Windows Service

Should I stop the RPC service?

The answer is no — you should definitely not stop the service. It is far too important.

Indeed, if you examine the list of services that depend on the RPC service for smooth operation — by running the SC ENUMDEPEND command — you will notice that there are a whopping 103 services that need RpcSs on Windows Server 2019!

RPC Windows Service Dependencies

If the RPC service stops, those 103 would have to stop as well — surely crippling your computer.

In their guidance on disabling system services on Windows Server 2016, Microsoft “strongly recommends that you have the RPCSS service running”. However that is a huge understatement. The service is absolutely vital for Windows to run.

Why are all the options for the RPC service grayed out?

If you examine the service’s screenshot, you will notice that the Stop and Pause buttons are disabled — indicating that the service cannot be interrupted.

Furthermore, the account running the service cannot be changed on the Log On tab:

RPC Windows Service Log On tab

You can adjust the recovery settings but not much else.

By limiting changes, Microsoft is clearly shouting: Do not update the RPC service!

Questions? Problems?

If you would like to know more about the Windows RPC service, or you have a specific problem, please feel free to get in touch. We will do our best to help you!

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

How to Fix the “OpenGL” Problem when Running Dropbox as a Windows Service

What’s the problem with Dropbox?

As we wrote about last week, Dropbox version 81.4.195 often fails to run as a background Windows Service. The telltale sign that Dropbox is in trouble is this wordy alert, which appears in Session 0:

Dropbox OpenGL Error

Dropbox stops dead in its tracks — without synchronizing a single file!

So how do I fix it?

Follow these steps to fix the problem:

  1. Start a Windows command prompt as an Administrator (an elevated command prompt)

  2. Run this command:

    SETX QT_OPENGL software

    SETX QT_OPENGL software
  3. Close the command prompt.

Afterwards, restart Dropbox as a service. The OpenGL prompt should be gone — a relic of an unpleasant past.

Huge thanks go to Dropbox forum user Wilson7777, who alerted the community of this remedy. His original solution is here.

Why does the fix work?

The explanation is a bit technical, but here goes…

Dropbox uses Qt — a popular cross-platform development framework.

In turn, Qt requires OpenGL — a cross-platform API for rendering 2D and 3D vector graphics.

So when you run Dropbox, both Qt and OpenGL will be started.

But for some unknown reason, when Dropbox is started as a Windows Service in Session 0, Qt and OpenGL fail to initialize. That failure causes Dropbox to throw up the “Failed to create OpenGL context for format QSurfaceFormat” error, which suggests that there is a problem with the computer’s graphics card/hardware.

Fortunately there is a way to instruct Qt: “Instead of using the computer’s graphics hardware for OpenGL, use software libraries”. Setting the QT_OPENGL environment variable to “software” is the way to do that.

And with the change to use software instead of hardware, Qt, OpenGL and Dropbox all start properly.

Note that when you ran the SETX command in step 2, it added the QT_OPENGL value to your environment. You can see it listed in your environment variables (available from the Control Panel):

QT_OPENGL environment variable

Will this fix work for future versions of Dropbox?

We certainly hope so! But like you, we’re not sure what magic the next automatic update of Dropbox will bring…

Posted in Dropbox | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Dropbox Version 81.4.195 (September 18, 2019) Not Working With AlwaysUp For Some Customers

Dropbox is experiencing issues

The most recent release of Dropbox — Stable Build 81.4.195, posted the morning of September 18 — may not work properly as a Windows Service with AlwaysUp.

We are actively investigating. So far, the problem appears to be related to Session 0 — the background desktop hosting Windows Services.

When Dropbox starts in Session 0, some customers report that this error prompt stops the action:

Dropbox OpenGL Error

If OK is pressed, Dropbox simply exits — without synchronizing any files.

Is there a workaround?

Yes. Please see the update from 9/25 (below) for a potential workaround. To date, it has worked for several customers.

Dropbox says to make sure that your display drivers are up to date. This has resolved the problem for some customers. Please let Dropbox know if it doesn’t work for you.

Beyond that, there are a couple other workarounds but neither is a long term solution.

If you start Dropbox in the current session (by selecting Start “Dropbox” in this session from the Application menu), Dropbox will start and your files will be synchronized. However, once you log off, Dropbox will return to Session 0 and it will cease to function again.

Another option is to run Dropbox outside of AlwaysUp, normally on your desktop. Of course, you will have to remain logged in, which is less than ideal.

Please check in the “Updates” section below for additional workarounds as they are developed.

When will this be fixed?

We’re not sure when Dropbox will fix the problem.

They seem to create new desktop client builds regularly so we have our fingers crossed that they deliver a resolution very soon.

Please let Dropbox know that you are affected

We encourage you to “nudge” the Dropbox team into action by:

The more we speak up, the better the chance of a quick fix.

We need your help!

First, can you let us know if you are experiencing trouble with the latest Dropbox? Please be sure to answer the following questions:

  • What version of Windows are you running?

  • Do you see the “OpenGL” error message when you switch to Session 0? That operation is available from the Tools menu in AlwaysUp.

  • Is your computer a virtual machine? If so, what is the host? (VirtualBox, Hyper-V, VMWare, etc.)

Second, can we access your system remotely to troubleshoot? We have been unable to reproduce the problem on our systems, and that has been an obstacle to us developing a solution/workaround.

Your help will be appreciated!

Updates

September 18 @ 5:38 PM Pacific: Eric Sakariasen from Connetic has come up with a clever workaround:

  I found a way to work around this issue, at least in my environment,

We have Dropbox running with separate creds (a service account) I go to the cached installer for 81.4.195, in my case its:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Dropbox\Update\Download\{CC46080E-4C33-4981-859A-BBA2F780F31E}\81.4.195

I deny all access to the executable via NTFS permissions for that account. Then install the older 80.4.127 over the top of the current install (it kills the running version automagically). This seems to break the ability for the updater to do its magic so it will skip this version.

We can only hope the next version is up and running with a fix, if not, rinse and repeat.

This has worked for at least 3 of our customers running Dropbox.

September 18 @ 9:20 PM Pacific: So far we have thoroughly tested Dropbox version version 81.4.195 running in Session 0 on the following operating systems:

  • Windows Server 2019
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Windows 10 (Build 1903)

None have exhibited the problem.

Here is the basic test we perform using two computers linked to the same Dropbox account:

  1. Copy a new file into machine’s A’s Dropbox folder
  2. Check that the file shows up on dropbox.com
  3. Check that the file shows up in machine B’s Dropbox folder

We will continue to test other versions of Windows over the next few days.

September 19 @ 6:15 AM Pacific: The Dropbox support team suggests that the problem may be with old display drivers.

Perform the steps outlined in this post to make sure that your PC is up-to-date.

September 19 @ 10 PM Pacific: Dropbox posted Beta Build 82.3.133 earlier today.

We’re not sure if it fixes the problems running in Session 0 (Dropbox doesn’t post a changelog) but it may be worth a shot. Please try it let us know if it works for you or not.

September 25 @ 10:30 PM Pacific: Dropbox forum user Wilson7777 has proposed a workaround:

  For those scratching their heads trying to resolve this OpenGL issue running the latest version of Dropbox + AlwaysUp I have successfully resolved this issue by following these steps:

1. In the Windows start menu enter the search term “environment variables” and select “Edit the system environment variables”

2. In the dialog that comes up click “Environment Variables” then click “New” in the system variables section.

3. In the dialog that comes up enter variable name = ‘QT_OPENGL’ (without the quotes) and variable value = ‘software’ (without the quotes)

Click “OK” then “OK” then “OK” to close the system properties dialogue.

Restart Dropbox within AlwaysUp and you should find the OpenGL issues are resolved if you view through session 0 and Dropbox will be synchronising your files fine.

Please try it and let us know if it works for you!

September 26 @ 7:30 AM Pacific: Customer Seth Ruppert from IMT has reported that the 9/25 fix has resolved the issue on his installations.

And other reports of success are trickling in, so setting the QT_OPENGL system environment variable to software seems to be working!

September 27 @ 12:30 AM Pacific: The fix from 9/25 is working well so we have documented our recommended workaround in this post. Enjoy!

Posted in AlwaysUp | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Q&A: How do I Fix “The service did not start due to a logon failure”?

Q&A - Logon failed
  I setup AlwaysUp to run JRiver Media Center as a Windows Service but it’s simply not working. I reboot the server every week and every time AlwaysUp says it can’t log on. These errors come up, over and over:

AlwaysUp logon failure errors

Help!

— Anonymous

Hi — sorry to hear that the service isn’t starting for you!

From the logs you sent, the key error appears to be this one:

The service did not start due to a logon failure

Windows is saying that it cannot authenticate your account (the one you specified on the Logon tab in AlwaysUp) so it cannot start the service.

The failure is probably due to one of three problems. Answer the following questions to find a solution.

Has your Windows password expired/changed?

If you recently set a new password on your Windows account, the service may be stuck using the old one.

To update the service’s password:

  1. Edit your JRiver service in AlwaysUp

  2. Switch to the Logon tab

  3. Enter your new password:

    Enter your new password
  4. Save your settings.

Reboot your PC and see if JRiver starts automatically. If not, read on to keep troubleshooting.

Have you specified a domain account on the AlwaysUp Logon tab?

If your service is running in a domain account, it’s possible that the service is starting too soon — before the primary domain controller is ready to accept requests.

Indeed, this can easily happen when your computer is the slow-starting domain controller!

The fix is to delay the start of the JRiver service, to allow the domain controller enough time to launch and initialize. To do so:

  1. Edit your JRiver service in AlwaysUp

  2. Set the Start the application field to Automatically, but shortly after the computer boots:

    Set JRiver service to start delayed
  3. Save your settings.

Reboot and see if that does the trick!

Is your Active Directory Group Policy overwriting the Local Policy setting for the “Log on as a service” right?

This last scenario applies if your system uses Active Directory and you have specified a domain account on the AlwaysUp Logon tab.

Your Windows account may be losing the right to run as a service when an incomplete group policy overwrites the local policy. Basically, your account is “out of sync” with the Active Directory server.

The solution is to modify the domain group policy, as outlined in this blog post.

Still experiencing “logon failure” errors?

If you are still seeing the error, something strange is definitely going on with your setup.

Please get in touch to schedule a remote session, where we can troubleshoot your misbehaving service. We’ll do our best to have you up and running soon!

Posted in AlwaysUp | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Run a Python Script Every Hour, On the Hour

How to Run a Python Script Every Hour

Python is fast becoming the world’s most popular coding language. It’s no surprise that more and more administrators are turning to the simple, efficient, and ubiquitous platform for a variety of day-to-day tasks.

One question that frequently comes up on Internet forums deals with scheduling:

  How do I schedule my Python script to run every hour on my Windows computer?

The Windows Task Scheduler seems like it should do the job, but unfortunately it falls short because it has no ability to restart an application at a fixed time. You would have to set up 24 tasks, one for each hour of the day. That’s too much busy work.

You could also create a batch file that runs the script in an infinite loop and launch the batch file with Task Scheduler. That would be easier, but the lack of a fixed schedule means that you wouldn’t know the time when the script would be run. And with zero monitoring and error reporting, you would be left in the dark if the script somehow stopped running — for example, if someone accidentally terminated it. Not a very robust approach.

Instead, we recommend using AlwaysUp. Simply setup your Python script to run as a background Windows Service, then configure AlwaysUp to launch your script each hour on the hour. Here’s how to do that.

1. Install your Python script as a Windows Service with AlwaysUp

First, follow our step-by-step tutorial showing how to run any Python script as a Windows Service with AlwaysUp.

Python running as a Windows Service

Your Python script will be configured to run once per day but don’t worry — we’ll adjust that in the next section.

2. Restart your Python script every hour, on the hour

Instead of running only once per day, let’s run your script hourly. To make that change:

  1. Edit your Python script in AlwaysUp.

  2. Switch to the Restart tab.

  3. Check the Not immediately and the On the next hour options:

    Restart Python hourly
  4. Click the Save button to record your changes.

3. Minimize logging as your script stops and restarts in the background

By default, AlwaysUp will record detailed information (in the Windows Event Logs) whenever the application it is monitoring starts and stops. This is fine for programs designed to operate 24/7, but that logging can be overwhelming for a script that starts and stops frequently.

To reduce the writing to the Event Logs:

  1. Edit your Python script in AlwaysUp.

  2. Switch to the Restart tab.

  3. Check the Minimize event logging as the application stops & starts option:

    Minimize Python Service Logging
  4. Click the Save button to record your changes.

And that’s it. From now on, your Python script will run predictably — every hour, on the hour.

Please be sure to get in touch if you have any questions about running your script as a service (or anything else).

Posted in AlwaysUp | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Support for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 Ending in January 2020

Windows Server 2008 R2 End of Life

After more than a decade in the trenches, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 will no longer be supported. Microsoft will stop issuing updates for those operating systems on Tuesday January 14, 2020.

I’m still running Windows 7/Server 2008: What does this mean for me?

After the deadline, your computer will no longer receive Windows updates/patches. This is probably fine for new features and capabilities (who needs those anyway?), but it is potentially lethal for safety and security.

This is because any serious security flaw discovered after January 2020 will not be fixed. Attackers will have all the time they need to break into your computer.

We recommend upgrading ASAP — especially if you are working in a commercial environment. Why put you and your company at risk for a ransomware or other cyber-attack?

Will your software (AlwaysUp, Service Protector, etc.) continue to work on Windows 7/2008?

Yes. For now, all our current software will continue to work with the soon-to-be-retired versions of Windows. We will not be disabling those operating systems in any versions of our Windows Services software that you can download today.

However, at some point we will drop support for 7/2008. For example, AlwaysUp version 13 (expected in 2021) may no longer run on 7/2008. Of course, you will be able to stick with version 12 (or earlier) for as long as you like.

Will you provide support if I’m running Windows 7/2008?

Yes — up to a point. We’ll happily investigate problems on those systems, but realize that our hands will be tied if the flaw is due to a problem in the underlying (now obsolete) operating system.

Additional information/resources

As usual, please get in touch if you have any questions or need help working with our software after the deadline has passed.

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

Q&A: How Do I See the Output/Traceback From my Python Windows Service?

Q&A - Python Output
  We’re using AlwaysUp to run a Python program as a service. Do you have any recommendations about logging?

Ideally I would see the output of the python program as if it were run in command line, to see the traceback if there is an error. For example:

    Traceback (most recent call last):
    File "", line 1, in 
    NameError: name 'r' is not defined

— Liam

Hi Liam. I see your problem. It’s important to know when Python runs into a problem, but errors can be difficult to spot when the service’s console — alive and well in the isolated Session 0 — isn’t visible on your desktop.

You have a couple of options:

1. Capture the output of your Python program in a text file

AlwaysUp can capture Python’s command line output to a file of your choosing. That option is available on the Extras tab:

Capture Output from the Extras tab

Check the Capture output to this log file box and enter the full path to a (new) text file.

If your script generates lots of text, you may want to prevent the file from growing too large. Check the Automatically trim box and specify the maximum size in megabytes. When the file grows to the maximum size, the oldest 10% will be discarded to make room for new entries. Be sure to tune the max size so that you don’t lose useful data.

With those settings in place, your Python service will write all console/traceback output to the file. Both the standard output and standard error streams will be captured.

Open the file to see what’s going on with your script. Or even better, use the free WinTail to “track” the file. New lines will appear in real-time — just if you were looking at the Python console.

To confirm our advice, we ran a Python script with a deliberate error (borrowed from this page) and captured the output. Here is the result (with WinTail monitoring the output file):

Python script: Traceback output

It works!

2. Run your Python script in the current session, where you will see the console

If you don’t want to configure logging — or you just want to see the console temporarily while debugging a problem — you can instruct AlwaysUp to run the Python console on your desktop.

Simply select Application > Restart in this session and AlwaysUp will temporarily stop Python and “re-parent” it onto your screen:

Restart Python program in this session

Your program will run visibly while you are logged in. When you logout, AlwaysUp will automatically return your application to the background (i.e. Session 0).

One final bit of advice…

We recommend that you do your best to thoroughly debug your Python script before running it as a set-it-and-forget-it Windows Service. Dynamic languages like Python need extra attention in that area.

The fewer surprises in production the better, right?

Posted in AlwaysUp | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q&A: How do I Rename my Application/Service in AlwaysUp?

Q & A - Rename AlwaysUp Application/Service
  I’m a long-time user of AlwaysUp. Can I rename a service?

— Bonnie

Hi Bonnie.

Unfortunately you can’t rename an application in AlwaysUp. This is because the underlying Windows Services API (which AlwaysUp employs to work its magic) simply does not support that operation. You can change many properties of a service — such as the login account, the startup type and the path to the executable — but not its name.

But all is not lost! You can use AlwaysUp’s “Add Copy” feature to implement a poor-man’s rename…

How to use “Add Copy” to rename your application/service

The basic idea is to duplicate your existing application, give it a different name and remove the original.

To do so:

  1. Highlight the entry you wish to rename in AlwaysUp. (We’ll work with Plex Media Server in this guide.)

  2. From the menu, select Application > Add Copy:

    AlwaysUp: Add Copy

    The familiar Add Application window will appear — containing a clone of the entry you highlighted.

  3. In the Name field, remove the default value (“Copy of…”) and enter the name you desire.

    We simply added a “NEW” prefix but your change will be more meaningful:

    AlwaysUp: Change Application Name
  4. Are you running your application in a specific user account? If so, switch to the Logon tab and enter the password for that Windows account:

    AlwaysUp: Set the Login Password

    You must do this because the “Add Copy” feature does not propagate any passwords — an important security precaution.

  5. And if you are using the email notification feature and have configured an email account with a password, you must re-enter that password as well.

    Switch to the Email tab, click the Configure button and type in your password:

    AlwaysUp: Set the Email Password
  6. We’re done making changes so click the Save button to record your new application. Here you can see our old and new entries, side-by-side:

    AlwaysUp: Copy Created
  7. And finally, delete the original application from AlwaysUp. You no longer need it since you have a new version with the correct name.

    Highlight the original, choose Application > Remove and confirm the prompt to complete the process:

    AlwaysUp: Remove the Original Application

That’s it! Apologies for the multiple steps, but that is the best we can do until Microsoft explicitly supports renaming a Windows Service.

As usual, please get in touch if you have any questions about the process.

Posted in AlwaysUp | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Q&A: Why Doesn’t AlwaysUp Catch my Endless Loop?

Q & A - Detect Infinite Loops
  Following your AlwaysUp documentation, I am using the “Monitor the application and stop it whenever it hangs” option. When I set its value to 1 minute, this feature does not work as I expect.

I wrote a simple application that goes into an endless loop after one minute of execution time. But the application is not restarted by AlwaysUp. Why not?

— Beatrix

Hi Beatrix. Not all infinite loops can be detected by AlwaysUp. Let me explain…

AlwaysUp catches non-responsive GUI applications

AlwaysUp’s hang detection feature is designed to identify a specific situation — where a Windows GUI application is not responding to the operating system.

We have all encountered this type of hang before. It happens when Firefox suddenly locks up, or when Excel goes gray and the cursor turns into a spinning wheel. The application is frozen and all input is ignored.

If you are lucky, the disruption only lasts a few seconds; if not, you may have to forcibly terminate the application from the Task Manager. Very annoying!

Beyond the gray window and spinning cursor, there are a couple of telltale signs when an application is hung/non-responsive:

  1. You will see “Not responding” in the application’s title bar.

    Outlook Not Responding
  2. The application’s process will be marked as “Not responding” in the Task Manager:

    Task Manager Process Not Responding

Furthermore, Windows may throw up a warning outlining your very limited options:

Excel Process Not Responding

The good news is that AlwaysUp has you covered in all of those situations!

How AlwaysUp checks if your application is hung

When you enable hang-checking, the AlwaysUp Windows Service component executes the following procedure every few seconds:

  1. Scans the desktop to identify all top-level windows belonging to the application being monitored.

  2. Sends each of those top-level windows a WM_NULL (no-op) message.

  3. Waits a few seconds for each of the windows to acknowledge the message.

  4. Declares the application a hang if no windows respond.

An application that remains hung over the user-supplied duration (1 minute, in your case) will be terminated and restarted.

Not all endless loops result in a frozen/non-responsive application

There are a couple of consequences stemming from the way that AlwaysUp checks for a hang.

First, an application without a top-level window can never be classified as a hang.

For example, this simple, non-GUI C# program that loops forever will escape detection:

using System;
namespace InfiniteLoop {
   class Program {
      static void Main(string[] args) {
         while (true) {
            Thread.Sleep(1000);
         }
      }
   }
}

Second, if an application creates multiple windows, all windows must be non-responsive for AlwaysUp to declare a hang. If even a single window processes the WM_NULL message, the application will be classified as responsive.

My guess is that your endless loop test fits into one of the scenarios above. Unfortunately AlwaysUp’s hang detection feature will not be able to help there. Sorry about that!

But all is not lost…

Use the Sanity Check feature to detect endless loops and other failures

There can be many indications that a program is stuck. For example, an application might:

  • stop responding to requests over the network;

  • stop writing entries to a status file;

  • report an “I have failed” message to a log file;

  • or leave files collecting dust in a specific “inbox” folder

In situations like these — where the failure is detectable by a script or simple utility — you should look to AlwaysUp’s powerful Sanity Check feature. It allows you to extend failure detection to encompass anything you like, including the issues listed above.

The Sanity Check page digs into the technical details, which we will not repeat here. Please review the documentation and get in touch if you need help to use that flexible functionality.

Posted in AlwaysUp | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Q&A: Why Doesn’t AlwaysUp Catch my Endless Loop?