Re: WaitForSingleObject() will not deadlock

"Doug Harrison [MVP]" <>
Wed, 04 Jul 2007 23:44:02 -0500
On Wed, 04 Jul 2007 23:33:41 -0400, Joseph M. Newcomer
<> wrote:

"Programming with POSIX Threads", page 89
1. Whatever memory values a thread can see when it creates a new thread can
also be seen by the new thread once it starts. Any data written to memory
after the new thread is created may not necessarily be seen by the new
thread, even if the write occurs before the thread starts.

Seems an odd specification. Essentially, it means that threads cannot share variables
when they are running.

It makes sense. Here's an illustration of what it's saying:

int x = 0; // global

***** Thread 1:

x = 2;
// x = 3;

***** Thread 2:

if (x == 2)
   puts("x == 2");

Rule (1) guarantees that when started, thread 2 observes x == 2, since
thread 1 set it to 2 before creating the second thread. However, if you
were to uncomment the line that sets x to 3, thread 2 might not see that
value, even if it were executed before thread 2 got around to testing it.
That is, thread 2 might still observe the value 2, even though from thread
1's perspective, x contains 3, at the moment thread 2 tested it.

The importance of (1) should be apparent when you imagine x is a "this"
pointer, a CString pointer, etc that you are passing to the thread through
the CreateThread LPVOID parameter. You certainly expect the new thread to
observe the same data (what's pointed to) the existing thread observed when
it called CreateThread.

2. Whatever memory values a thread can see when it unlocks a mutex (leaves
a synchronized method or block in Java), either directly or by waiting on a
condition variable (calling wait in Java), can also be seen by any thread
that later locks the same mutex. Again, data written after the mutex is
unlocked may not necessarily be seen by the thread that locks the mutex,
even if the write occurs before the lock.

I find this truly unbelievable. How can a mutex know what values were accessed during the
thread, so that it can ensure the values are going to be consistent if that same mutex is
locked? This strikes me as requiring immensley complicated bookkeeping on the part of the
mutex implementation. It seems so much easier to follow the semantics of most hardware
and just make sure that locking guarantees all pipes and caches are coherent across all

It makes sense. It's a high-level, abstract description of something you're
thinking about at the hardware level and taking very literally. How else
would you describe this in terms of mutexes? You wouldn't expect things to
work right if you used two mutexes pell-mell to protect the same piece of
data. No, you have to lock the same mutex, and (2) reflects that.

(The stuff about Java doesn't appear in the book. I guess the guy who wrote
the message I copied the excerpt from added it.)

While I first find it hard to imagine how it is possible to create a
situation of this nature on any closely-coupled MIMD architecture, I can imagine how it
can exist in a distributed MIMD architecture, but in that case, the mutice have to keep
track of every variable that is accessed within their scope, and ensure that an attempt to
lock a mutex can ensure that all remotely-cached data is sent back and all locally-cached
data is distributed out. An awesome task.

Of course that's not what it's saying. The requirement (2) can be fulfilled
in much simpler though coarser ways than you're thinking. Also keep in mind
that Butenhof was an architect of pthreads, a high-level, portable,
standardized multithreading library designed to run efficiently on existing
hardware, and he's not going to write about impossible requirements.

3. Whatever memory values a thread can see when it terminates, either by
cancellation, returning from its run method, or exiting, can also be seen
by the thread that joins with the terminated thread by calling join on that
thread. And, of course, data written after the thread terminates may not
necessarily be seen by the thread that joins, even if the write occurs
before the join.

This implies that the notion of "join" exists as a fundamental concept. Most operating
systems that have threads do not seem to have this concept any longer; it seems to have
been more of a high-level concept when threads were implemented above the operating

I wonder what bizarre era of programming this specification represents.

I don't know what you mean. Windows has WaitForSingleObject(hThread) which
is "join" by another name, and "join" exists by that name in .NET. I would
consider any multithreading model that doesn't provide a "join" facility as
fundamentally broken. To understand what (3) is saying, you can sort of
reverse my example for (1). I've talked many times about another important
use for "join", which is to "collect" all secondary threads, which is often
necessary to perform an orderly program shutdown.

No surprises there. The MSDN link indicates this applies to other sync
objects plus CRITICAL_SECTION. It's nice for it to be stated, but for all
the reasons we've talked about, it couldn't be any other way. For Windows,
I expect you could add:

5. Whatever memory values a thread can see when it calls PostMessage or
SendMessage can also be seen by the thread that retrieves or processes the

Essentially, in Windows, any value in an memory location that can be seen by one thread
can be seen by any other thread at any time for any reason.

But absent synchronization of some form, whether or not two threads observe
the same value depends on the hardware. I'm postulating this is done in
rule (5); if it weren't, object hand-off protocols wouldn't work on
hardware such as IA64.

So the only issue is whether
or not the COMPILER has done something that keeps some local cache somewhere.

That's a separate issue.

The conservative optimizer of Microsoft C ensures this by essentially implementing "volatile"
semantics against any variable that is potentially modifiable by an arbitrary function
call. A C compiler is not required to do this, and it can still be a conforming C

Don't mix this up with "volatile". To revisit my example from a couple of
messages ago, if a C compiler could look into the mutex lock/unlock
operations and see that they don't modify a global variable that is
intended to be protected by the critical section, allowing it to perform
optimizations that are at odds with the attempt at multithreaded
programming, yes, it would be a "conforming C compiler". So what? The C
Standard doesn't address multithreading, and such a compiler would be
useless for multithreaded programming. It would be the reincarnation of
ancient compilers unsuitable for multithreaded programming you described a
couple of messages ago.

Doug Harrison
Visual C++ MVP

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