This is a very long post articulating the .NET SerialPort bug and the proposed fix for Microsoft to implement in its post .NET 4.0 framework. An interim fix that doesn't involve Microsoft is also available.
The built-in serial port support in .NET has been a major let down (which has remained largely unchanged since its introduction in v2.0 to the latest v4.0). Posts on MSDN have suggested that a lot of people (both C# and VB users alike) are in fact facing some form of difficulties using System.IO.Ports.SerialPort:
IOException when reading serial port using .NET 2.0 SerialPort.Read
SerialPort.Close throws IOException
IOException when SerialPort.Open()
WinCE 5.0 - IOException when serialPort.Open()
WARNING! SerialPort in .NET 3.5
... and many more, but take the last one with a grain of salt.
Yet Microsoft could't seem to be able to reproduce the bug, or worse, brushed it aside thinking it's a problem with users' code. That is likely due to the noise (i.e. incorrect answers accepted as correct answers) introduced by the forum's serial port expert pretenders (a lot of them Microsoft support staffs) - so far none of the posts were answered correctly, yet were all marked as correctly answered! Yay to the quality of MSDN forum - a forum where n00bs answer questions by other n00bs. The truth is, there's only one similarity in all of the posts - they all encountered IOException.
The Problem - IOException
To understand why IOException occurs in SerialPort (or rather, SerialStream to be exact), one would only need to look as far as the WinAPI Comm functions. SerialStream calls several comm APIs to get the real job done and when the API functions fail and return an error, SerialStream simply throws an IOException with the message returned by FormatMessage with the error code from GetLastError.
So why does the WinAPI function fail? From the posts, they all have a common error message:
"The I/O operation has been aborted because of either a thread exit or an application request." (error code 995)
While a thread exit will also cause an overlapped (asynchronous) function to implicitly abort, in this case it's aborted because the serial port is in a mode where any errors encountered by the UART chip would trigger the abort flag causing all current and subsequent serial port related calls to abort. Errors include parity error, buffer overrun, etc.
Some developers have even encountered IOException as soon as they call SerialPort.Open(), especially in slow devices such as handhelds running .NET CE. Some encounter it when the garbage collector disposes the serial port. Some encounter it when they call SerialPort.Read().
They're all due to a mistake in .NET's SerialStream implementation - neglecting to set the fAbortOnError flag in the DCB structure when initializing the serial port.
This negligence on Microsoft's part means every time you run your application you could potentially encounter a different behavior (this flag is persistent across app runs and the default is determined by BIOS and/or UART hardware vendor). Some claim that it only happens in one machine and not others. This also explains why it has remained such a pesky problem for both developers and Microsoft since the first incarnation of the SerialPort class.
When fAbortOnError flag is set to true, this is indeed the expected behavior - but is this the desired behavior Microsoft intended for its users? No. System.IO.Ports.SerialStream was never meant to work with fAbortOnError set to true, because the ClearCommError WinAPI function that goes hand-in-hand was nowhere to be found among its methods. Clearly, whoever wrote SerialStream made a mistake (and needs to be shot).
It took me an entire day to root cause this problem. Luckily the solution is much simpler.
Here's what Microsoft needs to do to fix the problems (in reference to the .NET 4.0 source):
1) In InitializeDCB, SetDcbFlag for bit 14 to zero - this sets fAbortOnError to false. Also, retry GetCommState and SetCommState if it fails with error 995 (call ClearCommError() before retrying).
2) In SerialStream's c'tor, move InitializeDCB to the line before GetCommProperties. This fixes the problem for the folks who've been getting IOException when calling SerialPort.Open(). The reason SerialPort.Open() only failed on slow devices because between the port's CreateFile and the time GetCommProperties() is called, a comm port physical error might have already occurred.
The reason some people have claimed that their app simply crashes out when their application terminates is due to DiscardInBuffer() in SerialStream.Dispose() throwing IOException because PurgeComm failed with error 995, likely because of buffer overrun as their serial devices would've been sending and filling up the input buffer before user closes the app. And mind you, Dispose() at that point would've been called by the garbage collector thread - hence a try-catch would've been ineffective, unless of course, you've manually disposed the object prior to closing the app - causing the app to hard crash with unhandled exception.
How do you fix it in the interim? Simple. Before you call SerialPort.Open(), simply open the serial port by calling CreateFile and SetCommState's fAbortOnError to false. Now you can safely open the serial port without worrying that it might throw an IOException. I've whipped up a sample workaround in C# that you could use as a reference.