Over the last few months we’ve been seeing quite a few Visual Studio crashes when working with the orchestration designer.

The scenarios vary slightly between machines – some would crash on build, others simply when opening an orchestration in the designer; some would crash very frequently, some only sporadically; some would crash even when opening the solution immediately after a reboot, others would work fine for a while and then crash; the bottom line was that we were having lots of crashes, and we were losing on developer productivity and gaining tons of frustration.

Because the problems did not happen in a very consistent manner, and because there were different manifestations we simply had no clue what might be the cause; we’ve talked to a few people and searched the web; we’ve followed almost every tip we’ve received (make sure no documents are open when you build, collapse all shapes in an orchestration before saving it, etc.); some seem to have helped a little bit, but the crashes kept happening.

Sometimes Visual Studio would show an error on the screen – something like –

But in other times, it simply crashed without a warning.

Eventually we’ve contacted Microsoft support, and analysing dumps we’ve created they have found the following error –

Exception type: System.InvalidOperationException
Message: BufferedGraphicsContext cannot be disposed of because a buffer operation is currently in progress.
StackTrace (generated):
System_Drawing_ni!System.Drawing.BufferedGraphicsContext.AllocBufferInTempManager(System.Drawing.Graphics, IntPtr, System.Drawing.Rectangle)
System_Drawing_ni!System.Drawing.BufferedGraphicsContext.Allocate(IntPtr, System.Drawing.Rectangle)
System_Windows_Forms_ni!System.Windows.Forms.Control.WmPaint(System.Windows.Forms.Message ByRef)
System_Windows_Forms_ni!System.Windows.Forms.Control.WndProc(System.Windows.Forms.Message ByRef)
System_Windows_Forms_ni!System.Windows.Forms.Control+ControlNativeWindow.OnMessage(System.Windows.Forms.Message ByRef)
System_Windows_Forms_ni!System.Windows.Forms.Control+ControlNativeWindow.WndProc(System.Windows.Forms.Message ByRef)
System_Windows_Forms_ni!System.Windows.Forms.NativeWindow.DebuggableCallback(IntPtr, Int32, IntPtr, IntPtr)

From this it was clear that the issue is related to GDI+ when VS redraws the orchestration and MS have confirmed they have seen this issue elsewhere (outside the BizTalk realm), but we were told that this problem was “aggravated by the fact that BizTalk creates very large device-independent bitmaps and uses the same colour depth than the desktop.”

Unfortunately, according to Microsoft, there are many contributing factors to this issue, and it is virtually impossible to isolate the cause(s) in our case, but two recommendations were made –

  • Use a video card with more memory
  • Lower colour depth setting from 32 bit to 16 bit in the display settings in windows
  • Split large orchestrations to smaller ones

That last recommendation would have been our last resort – not only it would require a significant re-factor-re-test effort as our solution is quite big, it would seriously decrease our already too long deployment time.

We were quite happy to follow the first recommendation, but obviously trying the second one was pretty effortless we went with that first and what do you know – it worked!

Machines which have changed the colour depth setting to 16 bit stopped having those frequent crashes;

It must be said we’re still experiencing some crashes, so there are other issues as well, but these are more specific, and are another story altogether, one to be told once the end is known!