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Improving ASP.NET Performance: The Ultimate Toolset

ASP.NET is a popular framework for building web applications on the Microsoft platform. While ASP.NET offers many powerful features and tools to build robust applications, performance optimization is a critical aspect of developing high-performing web applications. Fortunately, there are various tools available that can help you optimize ASP.NET performance, including profiling and debugging tools, performance testing tools, and code analysis tools. In this article "Improving ASP.NET Performance: The Ultimate Toolset", we will explore some of the most popular tools that can help you identify and fix performance issues in your ASP.NET applications, and improve the overall user experience.


Improving ASP.NET Performance: The Ultimate Toolset

Below are some tools to optimize the ASP.NET performance in 2023 are:


1. .NET code profilers:

.NET code profilers are tools that help you analyze and optimize the performance of your .NET code by measuring various metrics such as CPU usage, memory allocation, execution time, method calls, etc. .NET code profilers can help you identify performance bottlenecks, memory leaks, inefficient algorithms, and other issues that affect your ASP.NET application performance.


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There are various .NET code profilers available for desktop and web applications, such as ANTS Performance Profiler, NProfiler, dotTrace, Visual Studio Profiler, Stackify Retrace, etc. Each profiler has its own features and capabilities, such as line-level profiling, database profiling, web request profiling, performance counters, etc.


Pros:

  • Very deep analysis down to the method and code level.

  • .NET code profilers can be used on your local machine and some support remote profiling and debugging.

  • They can be helpful to track down performance problems.

Cons:

  • Method and code-level profiling can really slow down your app while the profiler is running. Not preferable in production environments.

  • Not designed to run non-stop for monitoring ongoing performance.


2. ASP.NET Performance Profilers and Transaction Traces:

ASP.NET performance profilers and transaction traces are techniques that help you optimize your ASP.NET application performance by providing detailed information about the execution of your .NET code and the transactions that occur in your web application. ASP.NET performance profilers and transaction traces can help you identify performance bottlenecks, memory leaks, inefficient algorithms, slow database queries, web requests, and other issues that affect your ASP.NET application performance.


ASP.NET performance profilers are tools that measure various metrics such as CPU usage, memory allocation, execution time, method calls, etc. for your .NET code.


ASP.NET transaction traces are logs that capture the sequence of events and activities that occur during a web request or a business transaction in your web application. Some examples of tools and services that provide ASP.NET transaction traces are Application Insights, Stackify Retrace, New Relic APM, Dynatrace, etc.


Pros:

  • These tools are great for basic ASP.NET performance troubleshooting during development and QA-type scenarios.

  • Can be useful in production as well with minimal performance overhead.

Cons:

  • They only show details about the current request that you are executing. So you can’t really troubleshoot ASP.NET performance problems your users are seeing unless you reproduce the same exact steps.

  • They aren’t used for monitoring the ongoing performance of your entire application as an APM solution does.


3. Application Performance Management (APM) tools:

Application Performance Management (APM) tools are a category of software tools that help developers and operations teams monitor and manage the performance of their applications in real time. These tools can help you identify and diagnose performance issues as they occur, and provide alerts, dashboards, root cause analysis, and recommendations to help you optimize your application's performance.


Some common metrics that APM tools can monitor include

  1. Response time

  2. Throughput

  3. Error rate

  4. Availability

  5. User satisfaction

Let's say you have an ASP.NET application running on a web server. You can use an APM tool to monitor the application's response time, throughput, error rate, and availability. The APM tool would continuously collect performance data from the application and server, and provide a real-time view of how the application is performing. If the tool detects an issue, such as slow response times or high error rates, it can send alerts to the appropriate team members, who can then investigate and resolve the issue.


Here are some examples of APM tools are:

  1. New Relic APM

  2. AppDynamics

  3. Stackify Retrace

  4. Dynatrace, Scout

  5. TraceView

  6. ManageEngine Applications Manager

  7. Application Insights

Pros:

  • Monitor the ongoing performance of your production applications.

  • Quickly identify slow web requests, database queries, web services, and much more.

  • Can typically be used on any app without code or configuration changes.

  • Can be useful in QA-type environments to identify performance problems before they make it to prod.

Cons:

  • Can be very expensive.

  • Most do not support newer async/await coding patterns.

  • Some vendor products do not work with Azure Web Apps or other cloud-type hosting scenarios.

  • Many tools can provide an overwhelming amount of information and be difficult to use.


4. Windows Performance Counters:

Windows Performance Counters can help you optimize ASP.NET application performance by providing various metrics such as processor, memory, and disk usage, requests per second, exceptions thrown, request execution time, etc. You can use tools like Performance Monitor, typeperf.exe, logman.exe, and relog.exe to collect or view the performance data from your system.


Improving ASP.NET Performance: The Ultimate Toolset 2

You can also add your own custom performance counters or use the ones provided by the ASP.NET Applications performance object. However, note that Windows Performance Counters are not supported by ASP.NET Core applications running on the Core CLR (netcoreapp) because they are not cross-platform. If you want to use them with ASP.NET Core applications on Windows, you need to switch your application to target the full .NET Framework.


Pros:

  • Pre-installed on every Windows Server.

  • Most server & app monitoring tools are designed to collect them for reporting.

Cons:

  • Can be hard to match up constantly changing process IDs and names to your app.

  • Not available on Azure Web Apps.

  • For apps on multiple servers, you need to collect them from each server to compare or aggregate which can be difficult.


5. ASP.NET Web Optimization Framework:

The ASP.NET Web Optimization Framework helps you to optimize your web application performance by reducing the number of requests to the server and the size of requested resources. It does this by combining or bundling multiple files (such as CSS and JavaScript) into a single file, and by minifying or removing unnecessary whitespace and comments from the files.


Bundling reduces the number of HTTP requests by combining multiple files into one. Minification reduces the size of the files by removing whitespace and comments. By using this framework, you can significantly improve the load time of your web pages, which can improve user experience and search engine rankings.


For example, if you have an ASP.NET application that uses several CSS and JavaScript files to render your web pages, you can use the Web Optimization Framework to bundle these files together into a single file for each file type. Also, you can use the framework to minify these files, reducing their size and improving load times. By bundling and minifying your files, you would reduce the number of HTTP requests the browser makes, which would speed up the page load time.


6. Real User Monitoring:

Real User Monitoring (RUM) tools can help you measure the performance of your web pages from the perspective of your end users. These tools capture metrics such as page load time, first contentful paint, largest contentful paint, time to interact, and more. They can also help you identify user segments, devices, browsers, and locations that affect performance.


For example, you have an ASP.NET application that is used by users in different locations and on different devices. You use a RUM tool to measure the performance of your web pages from the perspective of your end users. The tool would capture metrics such as page load time and other performance indicators. Then you can use this information to identify performance issues that are affecting your users, such as slow load times or errors on specific pages.


Below are some tools and services that can help you to implement RUM:

  1. Google Analytics

  2. New Relic Browser

  3. Dynatrace

  4. SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor

  5. Stackify Retrace


7. Custom Metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

Custom Metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are a way to measure and optimize your ASP.NET application performance by defining and tracking specific goals and outcomes that are relevant to your business or users. Custom metrics or KPIs can help you monitor the health, availability, performance, and user satisfaction of your web application.

Improving ASP.NET Performance: The Ultimate Toolset 3

KPIs can be anything that you want to measure and track, such as the number of users, revenue, conversion rate, response time, error rate, etc. You can use various tools and services to create and collect custom metrics or KPIs for your ASP.NET application, such as

  1. Windows Performance Counters

  2. stated

  3. New Relic Insights

  4. Stackify Retrace

  5. Dynatrace

  6. SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor, etc.

Pros:

  • Reporting custom metrics to a 3rd party solution can be simpler than reporting them to a Windows performance counter and then figuring out how to report the performance counter somewhere. (Eliminates a step!)

Cons:

  • Not taking the time to actually create some?!?


8. Web Server (IIS) Access Logs:

Web Server (IIS) Access Logs are files that record information about the HTTP requests and responses that occur on your web server. Web Server (IIS) Access Logs can help you optimize your ASP.NET application performance by providing insights into metrics such as request volume, response time, error rate, user agent, client IP address, etc.

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You can use various tools and services to analyze and visualize your Web Server (IIS) Access Logs, such as

  1. Log Parser

  2. Log Parser Studio

  3. ELK Stack

  4. Splunk

  5. Stackify Retrace, etc.

You can also customize or disable Web Server (IIS) Access Logs to reduce the logging overhead and bandwidth usage.


Pros:

  • Quickly viewing an IIS log file is easy to do.

  • Visual Log Parser provides a quick way to do some basic querying against logs.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t give you any details as to why the request took as long as it did. The time taken as reported by IIS includes client network time which is longer than just time spent in your code.

  • Many apps now use advanced URL routing which makes the URLs very unique and hard to report on (URL rewriting, REST, WCF, etc).


9. ASP.NET Failed Request Tracing:

ASP.NET Failed Request Tracing is a feature of IIS that enables you to capture detailed information about failed requests and responses that occur on your web server. ASP.NET Failed Request Tracing can help you optimize your ASP.NET performance by providing insights into the root causes of errors, performance bottlenecks, and configuration issues.


You can use ASP.NET Failed Request Tracing to create tracing rules that specify the conditions and events that you want to capture for your web application. You can also use various tools and services to analyze and visualize your ASP.NET Failed Request Tracing logs.


Pros:

  • Can be turned on for production servers at any time and turned back off when you are done.

  • Good for identifying if a problem is happening, how often and perhaps some details as to why. Helpful for finding problems with HTTP modules.

Cons:

  • The output is giant XML files full of lots and lots of information that can be hard to decipher.

  • Requires file system access to production servers to view.

  • Doesn’t identify performance problems down to the method or code level as profiling does.


Here's an example of how you can use the tools (Custom Metrics tools, Web Server Access Logs and ASP.NET Failed Request).


Let's say you have an ASP.NET application that is experiencing slow page load times. You could use a combination of custom metrics/KPIs, web server access logs, and Failed Request Tracing to diagnose and address the issue.


First, you can define and track KPIs such as average page load time, error rate, and user satisfaction. You could set thresholds and alerts for these KPIs, so you can quickly identify when performance issues arise. Then use web server access logs to analyze the requests and responses that are being handled by your web server. Also look for patterns in the data, such as slow requests or high error rates.


Finally, you can use Failed Request Tracing to diagnose the root cause of the issues. This could involve analyzing the modules that are involved in processing requests, looking for slow or inefficient code, and identifying any database or network bottlenecks.


10. Exception Tracking

When an exception occurs in a code, the thread handling the code is halted temporarily while a stack trace is collected to provide information about the cause of the exception. Even seemingly harmless exceptions can lead to significant performance issues when they occur frequently under heavy server loads. It is crucial to aggregate and monitor all exceptions that occur in your application to identify critical problems, track new errors, and monitor the error rates over time. Therefore, the use of error or bug-tracking tools is essential for any development team to ensure that exceptions are identified and resolved promptly, leading to better performance and reliability of the application.


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Pros:

  • Easy to set up if you are using a logging framework like log4net or NLog. If you are not using a common logging framework, you can use Elmah.


Conclusion

By using these tools, developers can identify and fix the issues that are affecting the performance and reliability of your ASP.NET application. and also improve the performance of their ASP.NET applications and enhance the user experience and reduce the total cost of ownership.

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