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Better task scheduling in Umbraco

ScheduledTasks are an antiquated way of handling scheduling events in .NET. Here's three better solutions you should be considering instead.

Harvey Williams
Posted by Harvey Williams 14 May 2017

This article has also been posted to my personal blog.

Some web applications need to be able to trigger tasks to occur as set times. A good task scheduler should be able to do the following:

  • schedule one off tasks
  • create reoccurring tasks
  • set a time and date for a future task to occur
  • allow access a UI which can be used and understood by anyone
  • allow for error handling

Tasks which you may want a task scheduler to do include:

  • triggering CSV imports to update site content
  • ensuring that repeat payments or orders occur
  • sending emails to users which haven't been active in a while

Umbraco has a built-in way of handling task scheduling. Add the following code in a YourUmbracoSite.Web/config/umbracoSettings.config file and you're away:

<scheduledTasks>
    <!-- add tasks that should be called with an interval (seconds) -->
    <task log="true" alias="My Scheduled Task" interval="3600" url="https://website.com/umbraco/api/tasks/method" />
</scheduledTasks>

You can read more about using this here.

This works by visiting the given URL at a set interval (in seconds). But this method has a lot of drawbacks:

  • you can't set a specific time for a task to occur (such as once per day)
  • the only way to check to see if a task triggered or completed is to look in the Umbraco log which isn't transparent for non-developers
  • it's possible that two instances of the same task could run simultaneously as this method doesn't check for an existing running task
  • the task can be interrupted by a server or website restart and there's no built in error handling
  • tasks have to be publicly accessible by a URL and the built in Umbraco authorisation doesn't work

It's about time we did away with this and used something better!

Okay! What's the solution?

There's a few ways to schedule tasks in .NET. Here are some options:

Quartz

Quartz is an open source .NET scheduler and is a port of a popular Java job scheduler.

I have used Quartz on an internal project and my experience was good. You can either schedule tasks using the built in LINQ methods, or if you understand crontabs then you can build complex schedules with one line strings.

Tasks can either be stored in memory or you can configure Quartz to save tasks to a database. The former option is simpler to setup, but would require you schedule the tasks on site startup if you want to have commonly occurring tasks.

The only downside of Quartz I can think of is there's no UI to view tasks, so it's still not transparent to non-developers what is going on.

There is an Umbraco package called Url Task Scheduler for V7 which uses Quartz for scheduling and provides a UI on an Umbraco dashboard. Though you should note this package is targeted at developers and there haven't been any recent updates to the package. Use at your own risk!

Hangfire

Hangfire is a full-featured solution for task scheduling as it even includes a beautiful UI which you can access via your browser. The UI can tell you when tasks have been called, when they completed and if an error occurred.

Hangfire assumes you have a MS SQL database and setting it up to use the database is super simple. But the best thing is some other Umbracians have written blog posts on integrating Hangfire with Umbraco. Check them out here and here.

Hangfire might be a little overkill if you want to setup a couple of simple reoccurring tasks, but for bigger websites, there is a real benefit from using it.

Windows Task Scheduler

Windows has a task scheduler built straight into it which can be used by programs or users.

The Task Scheduler is a similar solution to using the Umbraco built in scheduler, but with three clear advantages:

  • you can set a time and date for a task to be called
  • the task scheduling isn't affected by site and server restarts
  • you can add error handling in (such as calling the task again if an error occurs)

The steps involve creating a script (such as a PowerShell script) which calls a web URL and waits for a response. A simple example of the code is:

$url="https://website.com/umbraco/api/tasks/method"
(New-Object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString("$url");

The downsides of this approach are:

  • the task sits outside of the application which isn't transparent and can add technical debt to a project
  • the UI can only be accessed by RDPing into the server
  • tasks have to be publicly accessible by a URL

My verdict

It's often that more complicated websites need to be able to run reoccurring tasks. Umbraco Scheduled Tasks can solve this issue, but it's not a silver bullet and can cause more problems than it solves.

My personal favourite solution is Hangfire because of the user friendly UI. But ultimately, what you use depends on how critical tasks that you need carrying out are and the budget of your client.

Have you got a solution you prefer? Or do you think Umbraco should include a better task scheduler in the core? You can contact me on Twitter to let me know what you think!

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