Mark S. Rasmussen
Mar 10

When performing queries against a SQL Server database, there are a couple of methods readily available. However, an option is missing.

The primary timeout value is that of SqlConnection.ConnectionTimeout. This specifies how long time the SQL Server service has to respond to a connection attempt. You cannot set this value directly, you’ll have to set it as part of the connection string:

Data Source=server;Initial Catalog=databaseUser Id=username;Password=password;Connect Timeout=30

Note that the value is expressed in seconds, not milliseconds. The default value is 30 seconds. Secondly, we can use the SqlCommand.CommandTimeout value. This sets the timeout value of a specific query running on SQL Server. The problem with these two is that we’re missing a point in the pipeline, which goes:

TCP Connection to SQL Server -> SqlConnection.Open -> SqlCommand.Execute

The last two are covered, but if for some reason the SQL Server is dead, taken off the network, totally overloaded, we may get a timeout on the TCP level - and this could take a while. We currently have no way of controlling this timeout besides a server wide network level setting. Often, it’s not desirable to have your application potentially spending several minutes before receiving a TCP timeout - or sometimes simply wait indefinitely. We need some way to control this.

What I present below is an example of a SqlConnection extension method called QuickOpen (in lack of a better name, it isn’t quicker, it simply fails quicker). It’ll take a timeout parameter in milliseconds, after which it’ll throw a simple Exception. You can modify this to a more proper exception, this is just to show the point. Overall, using this method will introduce a slight delay (a couple of ms), so use it only when necessary, or when a couple of ms per SqlConnection.Open doesn’t matter.

public static class SqlExtensions
	public static void QuickOpen(this SqlConnection conn, int timeout)
		// We'll use a Stopwatch here for simplicity. A comparison to a stored DateTime.Now value could also be used
		Stopwatch sw = new Stopwatch();
		bool connectSuccess = false;

		// Try to open the connection, if anything goes wrong, make sure we set connectSuccess = false
		Thread t = new Thread(delegate()
				connectSuccess = true;
			catch { }

		// Make sure it's marked as a background thread so it'll get cleaned up automatically
		t.IsBackground = true;

		// Keep trying to join the thread until we either succeed or the timeout value has been exceeded
		while (timeout > sw.ElapsedMilliseconds)
			if (t.Join(1))

		// If we didn't connect successfully, throw an exception
		if (!connectSuccess)
			throw new Exception("Timed out while trying to connect.");
Mark S. Rasmussen
I'm the CTO at iPaper where I cuddle with databases, mold code and maintain the overall technical & team responsibility. I'm an avid speaker at user groups & conferences. I love life, motorcycles, photography and all things technical. Say hi on Twitter, write me an email or look me up on LinkedIn.