Blackboard Perspectives and thoughts from Zhenhua Yao

Create Process Dump File

In cloud environment we mostly rely on log traces to understand what is happening inside a program and investigate abnormal behaivors if things do not work as expected. However, sometimes it is needed to get a deep insight of the process internals via debugging. When live debugging is not possible, we have to capture a user-mode process dump and conduct post-mortem analysis. For instance, memory leak or unusual memory usage increase is such a case where objects on heap need to examined closely.

The most common way to create a dump file is to use Windows Task Manager. One can open Task Manager, click “Processes” tab for Windows 7, or “Details” tab for Windows 8/10, then right-click the name of the process and then click “Create Dump File”. Once the dump file is created, it will be saved at %TEMP% directory, which is usually \Users\UserName\AppData\Local\Temp directory on the system drive. The size of the dump file is roughly the number of virtual bytes of the process.

The downside of this method is that the location of the dump file cannot be specified. In addition, one cannot choose whether minidump (only thread and handle information) or full dump (all process memory) to create.

In some cases, this could be a severe issue. In Azure data center, free space on the system drive is extremely limited (often times less than 15 GB). Personally I have seen (via post-mortem analysis) that dump file creation causes disk space exhaustion and makes the OS unusable when responding to a live-site incident, which makes the situation worse by having a second incident.

A better way to create dump file is to use ProcDump or AdPlus (a part of WinDBG). An example of creating a full dump is:

procdump -ma MyProcess c:\temp\myprocess.dmp

ProcDump is written by Mark Russinovich, a Microsoft Technical Fellow. It is very small in size. One can visit technet page to download. If a GUI is perferred, I strongly recommend a Task Manager replacement, Process Explorer by the same author.