Dogs Chasing Squirrels

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Streaming a response in .NET Core WebApi


We, as web developers, should try to avoid loading files into memory before returning them via our APIs. Servers are a shared resource and so we’d like to use as little memory as we can. We do this by writing large responses out as a stream.

In the ASP.NET MVC days, I would use PushStreamContent to stream data out in a Web API. That doesn’t seem to exist in .NET core and, even if it did, we don’t need it anyway. There’s an easy way to get direct access to the output stream and that’s just with the controller’s this.Response.Body, which is a Stream.

In this sample, I just grab a file out of my downloads folder and stream it back out:

[Route( "streaming" )]
public async Task GetStreaming() {
    const string filePath = @"C:\Users\mike\Downloads\dotnet-sdk-3.1.201-win-x64.exe";
    this.Response.StatusCode = 200;
    this.Response.Headers.Add( HeaderNames.ContentDisposition, $"attachment; filename=\"{Path.GetFileName( filePath )}\"" );
    this.Response.Headers.Add( HeaderNames.ContentType, "application/octet-stream"  );
    var inputStream = new FileStream( filePath, FileMode.Open, FileAccess.Read );
    var outputStream = this.Response.Body;
    const int bufferSize = 1 << 10;
    var buffer = new byte[bufferSize];
    while ( true ) {
        var bytesRead = await inputStream.ReadAsync( buffer, 0, bufferSize );
        if ( bytesRead == 0 ) break;
        await outputStream.WriteAsync( buffer, 0, bytesRead );
    await outputStream.FlushAsync();

This does the same thing in F#:

member __.GetStreaming() = async {
    let filePath = @"C:\Users\mike\Downloads\dotnet-sdk-3.1.201-win-x64.exe"
    __.Response.StatusCode <- 200
    __.Response.Headers.Add( HeaderNames.ContentDisposition, StringValues( sprintf "attachment; filename=\"%s\"" ( System.IO.Path.GetFileName( filePath ) ) ) )
    __.Response.Headers.Add( HeaderNames.ContentType, StringValues( "application/octet-stream" ) )
    let inputStream = new FileStream( filePath, FileMode.Open, FileAccess.Read )
    let outputStream = __.Response.Body
    let bufferSize = 1 <<< 10
    let buffer = Array.zeroCreate<byte> bufferSize
    let mutable loop = true
    while loop do
        let! bytesRead = inputStream.ReadAsync( buffer, 0, bufferSize ) |> Async.AwaitTask
        match bytesRead with
        | 0 -> loop <- false
        | _ -> do! outputStream.WriteAsync( buffer, 0, bytesRead ) |> Async.AwaitTask
    do! outputStream.FlushAsync() |> Async.AwaitTask
    return EmptyResult()

A couple of important notes:
1. By default, you have to write to the stream using the Async methods. If you try to write with non-Async methods, you’ll get the error “Synchronous operations are disallowed. Call WriteAsync or set AllowSynchronousIO to true instead.” and, as the error says, you’ll have to enable the AllowSynchronousIO setting.
2. On C# you can have your streaming controller method return nothing at all. If you try the same on F#, you’ll get the error, midway through the response, “StatusCode cannot be set because the response has already started”. The solution to this is to have the method return an EmptyResult().

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