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I have code written in .NET that only fails when installed as a Windows service. The failure doesn't allow the service to even start. I can't figure out how I can step into the OnStart method.

How to: Debug Windows Service Applications gives a tantalizing clue:

Attaching to the service's process allows you to debug most but not all of the service's code; for example, because the service has already been started, you cannot debug the code in the service's OnStart method this way, or the code in the Main method that is used to load the service. One way to work around this is to create a temporary second service in your service application that exists only to aid in debugging. You can install both services, and then start this "dummy" service to load the service process. Once the temporary service has started the process, you can then use the Debug menu in Visual Studio to attach to the service process.

However, I'm not clear how it is exactly that you are supposed to create the dummy service to load the service process.

Best Answer:

Once you have a service that is installed using installutil.exe, you can alter the Start Parameters to jump into the debugger if the service is started:

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When you manually start the service with the parameter -debugWithVisualStudio (or simply -d), it will automatically detect the correct project, and fire up the interactive debugger in Visual Studio:

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To support this functionality, change the service's OnStart() function:

/// <summary>
///     Executed when the service is started.
/// </summary>
/// <param name="args">Command line arguments.</param>
protected override void OnStart(string[] args)
        //How to debug when running a Windows Service:
        // 1. Right click on the service name in Windows Service Manager.
        // 2. Select "Properties".
        // 3. In "Start Parameters", enter "-d" (or "-debugWithVisualStudio").
        // 4. Now, when you start the service, it will fire up Visual Studio 2012 and break on the line below.
        // 5. Make sure you have UAC (User Access Control) turned off, and have Administrator privileges.
        if (((ICollection<string>)args).Contains("-d")
            || ((ICollection<string>)args).Contains("-debugWithVisualStudio"))
            Debugger.Launch(); // Launches VS2012 debugger.
    catch (Exception ex)
        // Log exception here.

(optional) If you want to narrow down to the exact line of code where the service is throwing an error, switch on exceptions from the Visual Studio menu DEBUG .. Exceptions. When you continue debugging, it will break on the exact line that is throwing the exception.

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