MVC, Task.Run, and HttpContext.Current

net, Web Development comments edit

For reasons I won’t get into, we recently ended up with a scenario in MVC where we needed to use RenderAction to get some data into a view. Some of the data was exposed via async calls to services.

The challenge is that RenderAction doesn’t support asynchronous controller actions. To accomplish the task, we ended up with a synchronous controller action that used Task.Run to get data from certain async calls. And, yeah, I know that’s not really the greatest thing in the world but there wasn’t a great way around that.

That landed us with a new challenge: HttpContext.Current was null in the Task.Run action but not in the partial view the controller action returned.

Normally that wouldn’t bother me, a service call not having a web request context, but due to a certain chain of logic (again, which I won’t get into) we had a call to DependencyResolver.Current in the asynchronous action. We’re using Autofac, which creates a lifetime scope per web request, but without any request context – explosions.

In the end, we had two solutions.

The first solution manually set the call context in the asynchronous task.

var context = System.Web.HttpContext.Current;
return Task.Run(() =>
    CallContext.HostContext = context;
    return this.AsyncCallThatReturnsTask();

That worked in some simple cases, but for some reason it didn’t stick in certain chained async/await calls down the stack.

The second solution was to rewrite certain things to be synchronous and only make async calls on things that don’t need HttpContext. That’s sort of a cop-out, but we couldn’t really find a way around it without getting… really, really deep. This is where we actually ended up.

I have a feeling there is something more that could be done by cloning bits of the current SynchronizationContext and/or ExecutionContext, setting up a custom TaskFactory, and firing up the async calls through that, but given the problem we’re solving is sort of a one-off and the high risk of deadlock or something crazy breaking under load…  it wasn’t worth diving that deep.

It would be nice if MVC would support asynchronous RenderAction calls, though.