Tracking Event Handler Registrations

When working with large .Net applications, it can be useful to find out where event handlers are being registered, especially in an unfamiliar codebase.

In simple cases, you can do this by right-clicking the event definition and clicking Find All References (Shift+F12).  This will show you every line of code that adds or removes a handler from the event by name.  For field-like (ordinary) events, this will also show you every line of code that raises the event.

However, this isn’t always good enough.  Sometimes, event handlers are not added by name.  The .Net data-binding infrastructure, as well as the CompositeUI Event Broker service, will add and remove event handlers using reflection, so they won’t be found by Find All References.  Similarly, if an event handler is added by an external DLL, Find All References won’t find it.

For these scenarios, you can use a less-obvious trick.  As I described last time, adding or removing an event handler actually executes code inside of an accessor method. Like any other code, we can set a breakpoint to see where the code is executed.

For custom events, this is easy.  Just add a breakpoint in the add and/or remove accessors and run your program.  Whenever a handler is added or removed, the debugger will break into the accessor, and you can look at the callstack to determine where it’s coming from.

However, most events are field-like, and don’t have actual source code in their accessor methods.  To set a breakpoint in a field-like event, you need to use a lesser-known feature: function breakpoints (Unfortunately, this feature is not available in Visual Studio Express).  You can click Debug, New Breakpoint, Break at Function (Ctrl+D, N) to tell the debugger to pause whenever a specific managed function is executed.

To add a breakpoint at an event accessor, type Namespace.ClassName.add_EventName.  To ensure that you entered it correctly, open the Debug, Breakpoints window (Ctrl+D, B) and check that the new breakpoint says break always (currently 0) in the Hit Count column.  If it doesn’t say (currently 0), then either the assembly has not been loaded yet or you made a typo in the location (right-click the breakpoint and click Location).


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