Sunday, November 27, 2011

Behavior of DirectoryInfo.Delete and Directory.Exists: Directories reappear!?

Please note that the following may be a corner case or an isolated case. If not then something is not quite right with running NUnit based test suites from within Visual Studio 2010 using ReSharper 6. Unfortunately I don’t have proof either way but I still wanted to share my observation just in case you have encountered a similar issue.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote some test code that cleaned up folders after tests were executed. The code looked as follows:

public static void CleanUpFolders(
                    List<DirectoryInfo> directoryInfos) {
   foreach (var directoryInfo in directoryInfos) {
      foreach (var file in directoryInfo.GetFiles("*", 
                            SearchOption.AllDirectories)) {
         file.IsReadOnly = false;

   foreach (var directoryInfo in directoryInfos) {


For each directoryInfo in the collection the code iterates through all files and sets the read-only attribute to false for each of them. Then the directory is deleted with all its contents.

Then I executed the test suite from within Visual Studio 2010 using ReSharper 6. It turned out that in some cases the assertion in the above code would fail. Despite the directories having been deleted the call to Directory.Exists would return true! So for some reasons the directory was deleted but then it wasn’t. When I reran the tests sometimes this assertion would fail and sometimes it wouldn’t. There were days where it was fine and there were days when the assertion would fail in 90% of the cases.

In addition to this the assertions would only fail on two particular directories but not on any other. I couldn’t identify the commonality between the directories on which the assertion would fail and the directories that were successfully deleted.

Initially I thought that maybe a different process or a different thread would have a handle to the directory. In that case my test would just ask the operation system (Windows 7, 64 bit) to mark the directory as deleted and as soon as the last handle was closed it would be removed. However, the tests would generate names and then create directories with that name. No other thread or process knew about the names. I didn’t have any thread in my system under test that would scan the parent directory thus ‘learning’ about the generated directory names.

To diagnose this issue I tried various things including restarting of Visual Studio and rebooting the workstation. I also tried some of Sysinternals’ tools.

The biggest surprise was an observation that I made when running the tests under the debugger. I set a breakpoint just after the loop that deleted all the directories. At that point Windows Explorer would report those directories as gone. Also when continuing the execution the assertions would not fail. However, once the entire suites was complete, two directories would reappear in Windows Explorer! So despite Directory.Exists stating the Directory to be non-existent it reappeared! This is repeatable.

To take elements out of the equation I got the latest revision of csUnit’s source code and upgraded it to VS2010 and .NET 4.0 (these changes are available at Sourceforge). Then I executed the same test suite without any modification using csUnit. In this case the directories were properly deleted and did not reappear.

Where does that leave me? I don’t know. All I can say is this: My test suite creates a number of directories with generated names. When I execute this suite from within VS2010 and using ReSharper 6, two folders reappear despite DirectoryInfo.Delete() being executed successfully and Directory.Exists() confirming that. However when I execute the same test suite from csUnitRunner, the code behaves as expected and the folders remain deleted. Despite searching for a long time I have not been able to find the reason for this difference in behavior.

The only reasonable conclusion at this stage seem to be that as developers we always need to be suspicious about the tools we use. While they may work in almost all the cases, sometimes they may be the cause for something that doesn’t work.


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