[C#] Tricked by WebRequest

The Datadog .NET tracer uses the HTTP protocol to communicate with the agent (usually installed on the same machine) and send traces every second. We originally used HttpClient to handle the communication. However, we ran into some dependencies errors on .NET Framework (it’s a bit complicated and outside of the scope of the article, but it has something to do with us instrumenting the System.Net.HttpClient assembly while at the same time having a dependency on it), and so we decided to switch to HttpWebRequest. By doing so, we ran into a gotcha that some of you may already be aware of, but really blew my mind.

The setup

For various reasons, such as testability, we use an abstraction layer to send the HTTP request. We manipulate a IApiRequestFactory that returns instances of IApiRequest, which encapsulate the HTTP call. The code of our default IApiRequestFactory, using HttpWebRequest, was as straightforward as it gets:

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, thank you for asking. We shipped this code confidently, and eventually got a bug report for a customer. The tracer was logging the following exception:

Where does that Services.CompositionHttpWebRequest comes from? It turns out it’s possible to globally override the type of WebRequest used for any URL prefix! In this case, the customer was, for instrumentation purposes, doing something like:

Which caused subsequent calls to WebRequest.Create to return the custom type of WebRequest when used with HTTP. And therefore our code would crash when innocently trying to cast it to HttpWebRequest.

How to fix that? Well that’s when it struck me. I’ve always wondered about WebRequest.CreateHttp. I thought it was just a helper to avoid casting manually the WebRequest to HttpWebRequest, but it still seemed a bit odd to me. It turns out that it’s also a way to guarantee that you’ll get an HttpWebRequest even if somebody overrides the default factory.

Knowing that, the fix was a one-liner:

What about testing?

Writing a unit test was bit more challenging. I wanted my test to register a custom WebRequest factory, then call the ApiWebRequestFactory to make sure no exception was thrown. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any supported way to unregister the factory. That’s a problem, because it would mean that the unit test could impact the next tests after executing. Interestingly, the source code for the UnregisterPrefix does exist but is commented out!

I didn’t think the BCL would troll me that hard

In the end, I decided to use reflection to manually unregister my custom factory at the end of the test. I did so by accessing the WebRequest.PrefixList static property to save the list of factories beforehand, then use the same property to restore the old value at the end of the test:

It’s funny how after all this years I can still get tricked by one of the most commonly used types of the .NET Framework.

Software developer passionate about .NET, performance, and debugging

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