Re: Threading in new C++ standard

Szabolcs Ferenczi <>
Sat, 3 May 2008 02:41:59 -0700 (PDT)
On May 2, 10:05 pm, "Boehm, Hans" <> wrote:

On May 2, 7:02 am, Szabolcs Ferenczi <>

Thread 1:
x = 42;
x_init = true;

Thread 2:
while (!x_init);
// <--- x_init may become false right here
// delay(1 day); <--- e.g. x=33
assert(x == 42);

I assumed a convention here that I should have been clearer about. In
particular, no other threads execute code relevant to this, and this
is the entire code executed in these two threads. That's admittedly a
simplification, but a convenient one that's generally used in
presenting such examples. A more realistic setting whould involve
multiple threads that behave like thread 2, but only a single thread
that sets x_init, and it is set only once and never reset. Very
similar cases occur with double-checked locking, or when passing
"ownership" to an object between threads through some sort of queue.
In the latter case, the queue is implemented using something like
critical regions, but the object is accessed outside of the critical
region, because it's only accessed by one thread at a time.

Thank you for the clarification.

I really did not think that you could mean strictly two processes and
with those strict conditions as well, i.e. latch-behaviour for the
variables. I thought that four decades have passed since it was shown
and commonly agreed that if you have variables with atomic read or
write you cannot derive a general synchronisation between N processes
for critical sections.

E.W. Dijkstra, Cooperating sequential processes

I just could not think that ca. 40 years later the C++0x committee is
busy working on re-inventing the wheel and they are still at pre-65

You mention the so-called double-checked locking as one of the
justification issues for this. The double-checked locking is
considered to be an anti-pattern by a lot of people. Nevertheless,
double-checked locking can be applied only for some latch-like
behaviour. It is mainly used in the implementation of the multi-
threaded version of the singleton pattern but the singleton pattern
itself is an anti-pattern. Even the inventor of the singleton pattern
claims he would never introduce it again as a pattern. Singleton is
considered harmful.

To build a language concept around something questionable and very
limited construction, it does not seem to be a very good idea to me at

Now back to your example:

Thread 1:
x = 42;
x_init = true;

=46rom the programming (language) point of view, what did you express
here? You have expressed that you have two independent actions which
you intend to carry out strictly one at a time and one after the
other. You might had in mind that you mean `x_init' as a flag to
signal the event of assigning a value to `x' but the intention does
not appear in the notation in any way but in the sequencing. (The
sequencing, however, can be `optimised' by your compiler.)

Just for curiosity, in the OCCAM language where there is no semicolon
nor default ordering of actions you should have expressed this as

  x := 42
  x_init := TRUE

  meaning that you want these two actions to happen strictly one after
the other. On the other hand, if you would not care about the
execution order, you put it differently such as:

  x := 42
  x_init := TRUE

The OCCAM compiler seeing this knows that the two actions can be
carried out either simultaneously or one after another in any order
just because you as the programmer expressed that the order of
execution is don't care. (I have shown the code to illustrate the
combining of the actions only, please note that there is no shared
memory communication in OCCAM.)

Now, you can question whether it is correct for the C/C++ compiler to
override your intention and carry out the two operations in the
reversed order but practically the compilers take the freedom and
assume a single sequential automaton where the two operations can be
swapped. If you consider them together as a unit, the post condition
is really satisfied irrespective of the order of execution. However,
you do not make a program for a single sequential automation any more
so the optimisation become wrong.

Nevertheless, if you move from the one sequential automaton to the
many cooperating sequential automata, you better make your intention
clear and say that you really want to regard the two operations as a
unit. The conventional language means for this is the (Conditional)
Critical Region:

Thread 1:
with (x, x_init) {
  x = 42;
  x_init = true;

Thread 2:
with (x, x_init) when (x_init) {
  assert(x == 42);

Your problem is solved for N processes at the language level provided
your compiler does the basic job (what must be done in case of a
decent concurrent programming language), namely it must do the
checking that the shared variables are accessed inside Critical
Regions only.

You have now informed the compiler. You expressed exactly what you
want at the language level (as far as your original intention is
concerned). Whether the compiler inserts locks for you or it
implements your intention in any other way, it is another question
(see optimisation). Compiler writers can start working on
optimisations where the optimisations are targeted toward many
cooperating sequential automata this time and not toward a single one
any more. By advanced MT-optimisation, you may get back your original
code in effect. The difference being that you have exactly expressed
your intention at the language level. From that point on, it is the
business of the compiler and the machine to execute your program

"There are two views of programming. In the old view it is regarded as
the purpose of our programs to instruct our machines; in the new one
it will be the purpose of our machines to execute our
programs." (1975)

Besides, no matter how low level you go with the programming language
notation, hackers will never be satisfied with it and they will
continue to insert assembly lines, fences, walls, half a bits, etc.
They simply do not know that the task of the programmer is not to
instruct the machine.

Best Regards,

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