IntelliTrace for Azure without Visual Studio

Grant Holliday’s blog

Senior Service Engineer, Microsoft Visual Studio Team Foundation Service

IntelliTrace for Azure without Visual Studio

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IntelliTrace is a very useful tool for diagnosing applications on the Windows Azure platform. It is especially invaluable for diagnosing problems that occur during the startup of your roles. You might have seen these sorts of problems when you do a deployment and it gets stuck in the "Starting role" state and continuously reboots.

Publishing via Visual Studio

If you are building and deploying your application using Visual Studio, then it's fairly straightforward to enable IntelliTrace. When you right-click your Cloud Service project and choose Publish…, you're presented with a dialog where you can enable IntelliTrace.


Under the covers, Visual Studio will build the service, create the package, include the IntelliTrace runtime and change the startup task to start IntelliTrace instead of the Azure runtime. Once the intermediate package is created, the tools then go ahead and upload the package and deploy it to Azure.

For the official documentation see Debugging a Deployed Hosted Service with IntelliTrace and Visual Studio on MSDN.

Retrieving IntelliTrace Logs via Visual Studio

Once your role is deployed and IntelliTrace is running, it's fairly straightforward to retrieve and view the logs in Visual Studio. In the Server Explorer toolbar, open the Azure deployment, right-click a role instance and choose View IntelliTrace Logs for that instance.

Under the covers again, Visual Studio communicates with your role, restarts the IntelliTrace log file, downloads it to your machine and opens it. It's actually a little more complicated than that, which I'll cover later on.

Enabling IntelliTrace without Visual Studio

There are many cases where you may not want to build and deploy directly from Visual Studio. For example:

  • You have a build server that builds your Cloud Service project into a package.
  • You have an operations team that does deployments to Azure and developers don't have direct access to the Azure portal or API.

Visual Studio supports creating a Cloud Service package without deploying it on the Publish dialog. However, when you select that option, it disables the option to enable IntelliTrace.


With a small amount of digging in the C:\Program Files (x86)\MSBuild\Microsoft\Cloud Service\1.0\Visual Studio 10.0\Microsoft.CloudService.targets file, it's easy enough to work out how to create an IntelliTrace enabled package without Visual Studio. At the top of the file, these properties are defined with default values:

<!-- IntelliTrace related properties that should be overriden externally to enable IntelliTrace. -->


  <EnableIntelliTrace Condition="'$(EnableIntelliTrace)' == ''">false</EnableIntelliTrace>

  <IntelliTraceConnectionString Condition="'$(IntelliTraceConnectionString)' == ''">UseDevelopmentStorage=true</IntelliTraceConnectionString>


To enable the IntelliTrace collector in a role, all you need to do is set the EnableIntelliTrace property in MSBuild. For example, here's how to run the build from a command-line:

msbuild WindowsAzureProject1.ccproj /p:EnableIntelliTrace=true;

Once the build completes, you are left with a Cloud Service Package file (*.cspkg) and a Cloud Service Configuration file (*.cscfg). These include the IntelliTrace runtime files, a remote-control agent (which is described in the next section) and a startup task.


These package and configuration files can then be handed off to somebody to deploy via the Windows Azure Portal. The Windows Azure Service Management API can also be used from PowerShell or custom code to deploy. If an operations team is managing your Azure deployments, then this is exactly what you want.

How does Visual Studio retrieve logs? It uses IntelliTraceAgentHost.exe

If you look at the intermediate un-packaged (e.g. \bin\Debug\WindowsAzureProject1.csx\roles\WorkerRole1\plugins\IntelliTrace), you'll see that along with the IntelliTrace runtime, there is an additional application: IntelliTraceAgentHost.exe.


If you look at the RoleModel.xml file (e.g. \bin\Debug\WindowsAzureProject1.csx\roles\WorkerRole1\RoleModel.xml), you'll see that it's started as a foreground task along with the IntelliTrace startup task that starts the runtime.

<RoleModel xmlns:xsi="" xmlns:xsd="" name="WorkerRole1" version="1.3.11122.0038" xmlns="">


    <Task commandLine="IntelliTraceStartupTask.exe" executionContext="elevated" relativePath="plugins\IntelliTrace">


        <Variable name="IntelliTraceConnectionString" value="%@IntelliTraceConnectionString%" />



    <Task commandLine="IntelliTraceAgentHost.exe" executionContext="elevated" taskType="foreground" relativePath="plugins\IntelliTrace">

      <Environment />



This agent is running all the time and is the mechanism by which Visual Studio interacts with the IntelliTrace runtime that is running on a role. It listens on an Azure Queue and responds when somebody in Visual Studio selects View IntelliTrace Logs. The queue name is based upon a hash of the deployment id, role name and instance id of the deployed application.

Once the agent receives a command on the Queue (from somebody choosing View IntelliTrace Logs from Visual Studio), it pushes status messages onto a client response queue. The message looks something like this:

<IntelliTraceAgentRequest Id="7e7d6413d22644b38e3986da24e0c84b" TargetProcessId="0" ResponseQueueName="itraceresp9e221eabf27044d4baccf1a8b7ccf765" />

The stages of the request are:

  1. Pending
  2. CreatingSnapshot
  3. Uploading
  4. Completed

Because the IntelliTrace runtime is running and writing to the log file, the file is in use and cannot be just copied off disk. It turns out that within IntelliTrace.exe there is a hidden option called copy. When run with this option, IntelliTrace will stop logging to the current file and create a new one. This allows the old file to be read without restarting IntelliTrace and the application that is being traced.

Once the snapshot file has been created, the agent then uploads it to blob storage in the intellitrace container.

When the upload is complete, the agent then pushes a message on the queue which informs Visual Studio where to retrieve the file from. The message looks something like this:

<IntelliTraceAgentResponse RequestId="7e7d6413d22644b38e3986da24e0c84b " Status="Completed" PercentComplete="100">



    <Log BlobName="320af8081d0143e694c5d885ab544ea7" ProcessName="WaIISHost" IsActive="true" />

    <Log BlobName="b60c6aaeb2c445a7ab7b4fb7a99ea877" ProcessName="w3wp" IsActive="true" />


  <Warnings />


Retrieving IntelliTrace Log Files without Visual Studio

Although the View IntelliTrace Logs option in the Server Explorer toolbox works great, it requires you to have the API management certificate and storage account keys for your service. In the scenario where you have a separate operations team that deploys and runs your service, it's unlikely that developers will have access to these keys. It's also unlikely that an operations person will feel comfortable opening Visual Studio and using it to retrieve the logs.

Fortunately, we can use the same API that Visual Studio uses and build our own application that triggers a snapshot and downloads the IntelliTrace file from blob storage.

  1. Download the source from the attachment at the end of this post.
  2. Unzip the source and open it in Visual Studio.
  3. For each project, add references to the following files
    • C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Azure Tools\1.3\Visual Studio 10.0\Microsoft.Cct.IntelliTrace.Client.dll
    • C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Azure Tools\1.3\Visual Studio 10.0\Microsoft.Cct.IntelliTrace.Common.dll
    • C:\Program Files\Windows Azure SDK\v1.3\ref\Microsoft.WindowsAzure.StorageClient.dll
  4. For each project, modify app.config and configure the StorageAccountConnectionString.


This console application determines the correct queue name and pushes a message on the queue to initiate an IntelliTrace log snapshot. Once the snapshot is uploaded to blob storage, it will return a GUID that represents the object in the blob container.

Usage: IntelliTraceControl.exe <deployment id> <role name> <instance id>

Example: IntelliTraceControl.exe 300f08dca40d468bbb57488359aa3991 WebRole1 0


Using the GUID returned from the previous app, this app will connect to blob storage and download the *.iTrace file to your TEMP directory.

Usage: IntelliTraceDownload.exe <guid>

Example: IntelliTraceDownload 84404febbde847348341c98b96e91a2b

Once you have retrieved the file, you can open it in Visual Studio for diagnosing problems.

  • Great information as always! Thanks again Grant

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