Troubleshooting your toughest Windows server crashes

Troubleshooting your toughest Windows server crashes.

Amazing article from TechRepublic..

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Crash, boom, bang! Your Windows server just experienced a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) and your helpdesk is being flooded with calls. The server is rebooting, but this is the fourth crash you’ve encountered this week and users are becoming unruly. To top it off, you now face spending hours on the phone, being passed around the world, with each vendor pointing to the other as the culprit.

It’s time to take matters into your own hands. With a basic knowledge of crash dump analysis, and a few simple commands, you can determine which driver is involved. Then, by intelligently searching the Internet you can potentially locate a hotfix or workaround to resolve the crashes.

This three-part series will cover the tools and steps you’ll need to tackle some of the toughest Windows server outages.

To begin with, the diagram in Figure 1 provides an overview of what happens when a crash occurs. As you can see, when the server crashes it writes the contents of physical memory (RAM) to the pagefile on the system partition. On reboot, the pagefile is written to the memory.dmp file, which also resides on the system partition. Finally, after the server reboots, you can then use the Windows kernel debugger (WinDbg) with Microsoft’s symbol server to analyze the crash.

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

Three main areas need to be addressed to facilitate your crash dump analysis. First, the server must be configured to generate a crash when an unexpected condition or exception occurs. Next, you need to download the Windows debugger from Microsoft and set up the symbol server path. Finally, use the debugger to analyze the crash with a few simple commands. Now, let’s take a closer look at each area.

Configuring the dump

To configure your server to generate a crash, use the Control Panel | System applet | Advanced tab | Startup | Recovery settings shown in Figure 2. You can choose from three types of memory dump files: small, kernel or complete. By default, Windows will produce a small, “mini-dump” file when the server crashes. This may sometimes contain enough debugging information, but typically a kernel memory dump file is required. In rare circumstances, it may be necessary to configure a complete memory dump to capture the required debugging information. Please seeMicrosoft KB article 254649 for additional information on configuring memory dump files.

Figure 2

Installing the Windows debugger

The next step is to install the Windows kernel debugger tool, which can be downloaded for free from Microsoft. There are three versions of the debugger (x86, x64 and IA64), depending on the architecture of the server where you plan to analyze the crash. Once WinDbg is installed, you must establish the symbol path to translate memory locations into meaningful references to functions or variables used by Windows. The typical symbol path used isSRV*c:\symbols* See Microsoft KB 311503 for details on establishing your debugger’s symbol path.

Analyzing the crash

Now that you have configured the server to generate a memory dump and installed the debugger with the correct symbol path, you are ready to analyze a crash. There are two ways to start up the debugger: from the program group “Debugging Tools for Windows” or from the DOS prompt with the WinDbg command. From within the debugger, use the File pull-down menu to “Open crash dump…” and point the debugger to your dump file.

When the dump file loads, you will notice the debugger’s screen is divided into two regions: the output pane that occupies the majority of the window and the command prompt at the bottom. The first command to use is:

!analyze –v

This command will perform a preliminary analysis of the dump and provide you with a best guess as to which driver caused the crash. The first thing the command shows you is the bug check type (also known as a stop code) and the arguments. The bug check type is very important and should be included with your query when you search the Internet for possible causes and fixes. As we see in the following example, WinDbg displays the bug check type as an LM_SERVER_INTERNAL_ERROR (stop code 54). In this case, if you searched the Microsoft websitefor LM_SERVER_INTERNAL_ERROR, you would find the known issue and hotfix documented inMicrosoft KB 912947. Even the first argument matches the KB article.

3: kd> !analyze -v ***************************************************** *                Bugcheck Analysis                  * *****************************************************

Arg1: 00361595
Arg2: e8aab501
Arg3: 00000000
Arg4: 00000000

The !analyze –v command goes on to list which driver caused the crash. In our example, WinDbg accurately calls out the srv.sys driver that caused the crash:

Probably caused by: srv.sys (srv!SrvVerifyDeviceStackSize+78 )

Several other useful commands provide more information about the crash, including:

  • !thread – lists the currently executing thread
  • kv – displays the stack trace indicating which drivers and functions were called
  • lm t n – displays the list of installed drivers and their dates

Finally, you should be aware that the Windows debugger’s online help is excellent. In particular, you can look up the stop code for the crash and use the online help to recommend how to troubleshoot the issue. To find the list of stop codes, go to the Help pull-down menu and select Contents | Debugging Techniques | Bug Checks (Blue Screens) | Bug Check Code Reference. Then scan down the list to locate your stop code.

Many people think debugging a crash is better left for those with Ph.D.’s, but with a basic understanding and a few simple commands, anyone can get a leg up on identifying what is contributing to or causing a server crash. It is likely that someone else out there has already experienced the same crash, so a thorough Internet search will probably lead to potential workarounds or patches for the issue.

Join Bruce in part two of his series where he discusses how to identify which print driver is causing your spooler to crash or hang.

– Which driver crashed my server?
– Troubleshooting print spooler crashes
– Finding Windows memory leaks

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

With the vast variety of printers and drivers on the market today, it’s a daunting task to determine which one caused your print spooler to crash or hang. Hundreds of users can be affected by a single rogue print driver that seldom leaves any clues as to the cause. This article will tackle how you can determine which print driver caused your spooler to crash.


The process of troubleshooting a print spooler crash is very similar to troubleshooting a system crash, as discussed in part one of this series. A print spooler, however, may not generate a crash dump on its own, so a tool called ADPlus is used to capture the memory dump. ADPlus is a VB script that can be downloaded for free from Microsoft as part of the Debugging Tools for Windows. Once you install the debugging tools, you will find ADPlus.vbs in the following folder:

Program Files\Debugging Tools for Windows

ADPlus can be used in two modes depending on whether your print spooler is hanging or crashing. In hang mode, ADPlus forces a process dump on an application, or in this case, a print spooler. The dump contains all of the threads associated with the process in addition to the various DLLs and print drivers involved. A few simple debugger commands allow you to determine which printer is being accessed by the spooler and its corresponding driver.

In crash mode, ADPlus will monitor a process and capture its memory dump when it experiences an unhandled condition. The main difference between the two modes is that crash mode must be established prior to the process terminating, whereas hang mode is used at the moment the process locks up. In either mode, only the process you are debugging is affected; the rest of the processes and the operating system continue without downtime.

Once a process dump is captured, you can then use the Windows Debugger (Windbg) to analyze the failure. As discussed in part one, the debugger can also be downloaded for free from Microsoft as part of the Debugging Tools for Windows.

In the following sections, we’ll take a closer look at the steps required to capture a spooler dump, determine which print driver is the culprit and ultimately repair the problem.

Crash mode

As mentioned above, ADPlus crash mode captures a process memory dump when your print spooler is intermittently terminating. Crash mode must be established prior to the problem that is causing the print spooler failure. The very first time you use ADPlus you must establish cscript as the default script interpreter. To accomplish this, open a command prompt and change your default to the Debugging Tools for Windows folder. Then execute the ADPlus.vbs script without any options:

C:\Program Files\Debugging Tools for Windows > ADPlus.vbs

You only need to perform this step once; you are then ready to use ADPlus to capture a spooler crash. Here we see the ADPlus syntax used to set up crash mode detection on the print spooler process:

Adplus –crash –pn spoolsv.exe

This command will attach the console debugger (cdb.exe) to the print spooler process and minimize the window. Once an unexpected condition is encountered, the debugger will produce a process memory dump and terminate the process. By default, the dump is written to a subfolder in the Debugging Tools for Windows folder. You can then use the Windows Kernel Debugger to analyze the resulting dump file.

Hang mode

In hang mode, use ADPlus to force a process memory dump when a print spooler either stops responding or becomes 100% compute-bound. This is evident when users complain that their jobs aren’t printing even though the spooler process still exists. After forcing the process memory dump, ADPlus hang mode will resume the process instead of terminating it like in crash mode. Here we see the ADPlus syntax used to force a process crash with hang mode:

Adplus –hang –pn spoolsv.exe

Analyzing the dump

Once the process dump file has been obtained, use the Windbg tool to analyze the print spooler failure. After installing Windbg, the first step to using the tool is to establish the debugger’s symbol path to point to the Microsoft Symbol Server. Next, open the crash dump file with Windbg using the File pull-down menu, Open Crash Dump…, and then issue the command:

!analyze –v

This command will perform a preliminary analysis of the dump and provide a best guess as to what caused the failure. The kv command will display the stack trace showing you which drivers or DLLs are involved. A stack trace is read from the bottom up so the top of the stack is the most recently executed function. In the following example, we see a stack trace illustrating a spooler failure caused by the ABCdriver:

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

Another useful command is !peb, which allows you to see all of the drivers and DLLs associated with the print spooler process. The command displays the process environment block as we see in the following example. Much of the output has been omitted […] as it goes on for several pages:

Figure 2 (click to enlarge)

Finally, to determine the printer and job that is being accessed at the time of the failure, use the!teb command. That will display the thread environment block that provides the stack base and limit. You can then display the stack contents with the dc command to reveal the printer that is causing the problem. You will have to scroll through several pages of output, but you will eventually recognize the printer, job and port number in ASCII text to the right:

Figure 3 (click to enlarge)

In this case, the printer name is PRINTER1, the job number is 203, and the port number is 04. The stack contents also contain the associated driver name if you look closely. Once you know the printer and the driver, you can contact the appropriate vendor to determine if an updated driver is available that resolves your issue.

As you can see, troubleshooting a print spooler failure is straightforward once you become familiar with the tools. Starting with ADPlus to capture the dump, then using Windbg to analyze it, and finally leveraging the Web to intelligently search for similar crash footprints will lead you to your solution. Taking matters into your own hands will save you time, money and keep your users happy.

Join Bruce in part three of this series, where he will go over simple techniques for determining memory leaks.

– Which driver crashed my server?
– Troubleshooting print spooler crashes
– Finding Windows memory leaks

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

As we continue our series on tackling the toughest Windows server outages, the time has come to explore the different tools and techniques used to track down Windows memory leaks.

As you may know, memory leaks are caused by poorly written applications or drivers that allocate memory and then subsequently fail to de-allocate all of it. After time, this can lead to the depletion of system memory pools (paged or non-paged) causing the server to eventually hang.

Long before a Windows server hangs though, there are typically other symptoms of a memory leak. The main things to watch out for are entries in the system event log from the server service (SRV component). In particular, be on the lookout for:

Event ID 2019: The server was unable to allocate from the system nonpaged pool because the pool was empty


Event ID 2020: The server was unable to allocate from the system paged pool because the pool was empty

These two events are indicative of a Windows memory leak and need to be investigated immediately. Other signs of a memory leak include excessive pagefile utilization and diminishing available memory.


The first tool typically used to diagnose memory leaks is Perfmon, a graphical tool built into Windows. By collecting performance metrics on the appropriate counters, you can determine whether the memory leak is being caused by a user process (application) or a kernel mode driver. The performance metrics can be collected in the background with the counters being written to a log file. The log file can subsequently be read by Perfmon or the Performance Analysis of Logs (PAL) from CodePlex. Microsoft KB article 811237 explains how to setup Perfmon to log performance counters. There is also a free tool called PerfWiz from Microsoft which provides a wizard to help setup Perfmon logging.

If you suspect a user mode application is leaking memory, you can use Perfmon to collect the Process object counters, Pool Paged Bytes and Pool Nonpaged Bytes for all instances. This will display whether any processes continue to allocate paged or non-paged pool, without subsequently de-allocating it. If you suspect a kernel mode driver is leaking memory, use Perfmon to collect the Memory object counters, Pool Nonpaged Bytes and Pool Paged Bytes.

In the following example, Perfmon is being used to monitor performance counters for the memory object, namely paged and non-paged pool. By right-clicking each counter, you can adjust the scale to have both counters appear on the same graph. As you can see in Figure 1, the Pool Paged Bytes counter (red line) continues to grow without decreasing, meaning it is leaking memory. Looking at the minimum value for the paged pool counter, it appears it has gone from a value of 118 MB to a maximum value of over 350 MB.

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

So at this point in our example, we know we have a paged pool leak. We can then use Perfmon to examine the Process object for Pool Paged Bytes. If no processes show a corresponding increase in paged pool usage, we can conclude that a driver or kernel mode code is leaking memory.


To further isolate the memory leak, we need to determine which driver is allocating the memory. When drivers allocate memory, they insert a four-character tag into the memory pool data structure to identify which driver allocated it. By examining the various pool allocations, you can determine which drivers are responsible for allocating how much pool. To associate which tags correspond to certain drivers, see Microsoft KB article 298102. You could also install theDebugging Tools for Windows and check the following file:

\Program Files\Debugging Tools for Windows\Triage\Pooltag.txt

The Memory Pool Monitor utility (Poolmon) is a free tool from Microsoft that will watch pool allocations and display the results illustrating the corresponding drivers. In the following example, Poolmon is being used to track the leaking pool tag “Leak” at the top of the list. Poolmon shows the number of allocations, number of frees, the difference, and the number of bytes allocated. Poolmon will also show the name of the driver if it is setup properly.

Here we can see the tag “Leak” belongs to the Notmyfault.sys driver and has over 83 MB of paged pool allocated.

Figure 2 (click to enlarge)


If all else fails and your server locks up completely due to a memory leak, you can always force a crash dump and subsequently analyze it as discussed in my previous article on why Windows servers hang. The key things to look for when analyzing the crash with the Windows Kernel Debugger (Windbg) utility are the memory pool usage and which data structures are consuming the pool.

The first command to use in the debugger is !vm 1, as seen in the following example. This command will display the current virtual memory usage, in particular the non-paged and paged pool regions. The debugger will flag any excessive pool usage and any pool allocation failures as shown in Figure 3. The trick is to compare the usage with the maximum as highlighted in yellow below. If the usage is at or near the maximum, then the server hung because it ran out of pool.

Figure 3 (click to enlarge)

Finally, you can use the debugger to display the paged or non-paged pool data structures with the !poolused command. Various options on the command allow you to specify either paged or non-paged pool and sort the output. In the following example, the !poolused 5 command is used to display the paged pool data structures, sorted in descending order by usage. In Figure 4, you can see the pool structure with the tag “Leak” is consuming the most paged pool (over 115 MB) and is associated with the notmyfault.sys driver.

Figure 4 (click to enlarge)

As you can see, using tools such as Perfmon, PerfWiz, PAL, Poolmon and Windbg, you can monitor the memory leak, determine whether it is paged or non-paged memory, and discover what driver or application is responsible. After that, contacting the software vendor is usually the best option to see if they have an updated driver or image available that resolves the memory leak.

– Which driver crashed my server?
– Troubleshooting print spooler crashes
– Finding Windows memory leaks

Bruce Mackenzie-Low, MCSE/MCSA, is a systems software engineer with HP providing third-level worldwide support on Microsoft Windows-based products including Clusters and Crash Dump Analysis. With more than 20 years of computing experience at Digital, Compaq and HP, Bruce is a well known resource for resolving highly complex problems involving clusters, SANs, networking and internals.


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