Chapter: Multicore Application Programming For Windows, Linux, and Oracle Solaris - Hand-Coded Synchronization and Sharing

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Producer-Consumer with a Circular Buffer

Consider the case where there is a producer-consumer pair of threads that communicate through a circular buffer.

Producer-Consumer with a Circular Buffer

 

Consider the case where there is a producer-consumer pair of threads that communicate through a circular buffer. It is possible to write code that does not require locks or atomic operations to handle this situation. The code shown in Listing 8.20 defines two functions: one to add an item to a circular buffer and one to remove an item.

 

Listing 8.20   Adding and Removing Elements from a Circular List

#include <stdio.h> #include <pthread.h> #include <stdlib.h>

 

volatile int volatile buffer[16]; volatile int addhere;

volatile int removehere;

 

void clearbuffer()

 

{

 

addhere = 0; removehere = 0;

for( int i=0; i<16; i++ ) { buffer[i] = 0; }

 

}

 

int next( int current )

 

{

 

return ( current+1 ) & 15;

 

}

 

void addtobuffer( int value )

 

{

 

while( next(addhere) == removehere ) {} // Spin waiting for room if ( buffer[addhere] != 0 )

 

{ printf( "Circular buffer error\n" ); exit(1); }

     buffer[addhere] = value;   //   Add item to buffer

     addhere = next(addhere);   //   Move to next entry

     }         

 

int removefrombuffer()

 

{

 

int value;

 

while( ( value = buffer[removehere] ) == 0 ){} // Spin until

 

     // something in buffer

buffer[removehere] = 0;    //   Zero out element

removehere = next(removehere);  //   Move to next    entry

return value;                  

 

}

 

 

The code works without memory barriers because one thread is responsible for adding elements to the array and the other thread is responsible for removing elements for the array.

 

There are actually two implicit constraints that ensure that the code works. One con-straint is that stores and loads are themselves atomic. The other constraint is that stores do not become reordered.

 

Hardware ensures that a correctly aligned load cannot get half of its data from the old value at the address and half from the new value stored at that address. If this were to happen, there would be a problem when returning the value stored in the array. Imagine that either the store or the load was nonatomic. If an element was transitioning from holding the value zero to holding a nonzero value, then a nonatomic load might get the old upper half of the value (which would be zero) and the new lower half of the value (which would be nonzero). The resulting value would be incorrect.

 

The requirement for ordering stores comes from the code that removes elements from the array. The location containing the element to be removed is zeroed out, then the pointer to the end element to be removed is advanced to the next location in the array. If these actions became visible to the producer thread in the wrong order, the pro-ducer thread would see that the end pointer had been advanced. This would allow it to enter the code that adds a new element. However, the first test this code performs is to check that the new location is really empty. If the store of zero to the released array position was delayed, this location would still contain the old value, and the code would exit with an error. The check is “logically” unnecessary but validates that the code is behaving correctly.

 

Several characteristics of the algorithm enable it to work correctly. There are two point-ers that point to locations in the array. Only one thread is responsible for updating each of these variables. The other thread only reads the variable. As long as the reading thread sees the updates to memory in the correct order and each variable is updated atomically, the thread will continue to wait until the data is ready and only then read that data.

 

A subtle characteristic of the code is that the updates of the pointers into the array are carried out by a function call. The function call acts as a compiler memory barrier and forces the compiler to store variables back to memory. Otherwise, there would be the risk that the compiler might reorder the store operations.

 

The handling of the array that forms the basis for communication between the two threads is also of concern. There is only one thread responsible for reading from the array and one thread responsible for writing to it. In fact, the code could be simplified so that the act of reading and writing the array was the synchronization mechanism. Listing 8.21 shows this modification. In the modified code, the application adds an entry into the buffer only if there is a space. The two pointers are entirely independent.

 

Listing 8.21   Using Reads and Writes to Coordinate Thread Activity

#include <stdio.h> #include <pthread.h> #include <stdlib.h>

 

volatile int volatile buffer[16]; volatile int addhere;

volatile int removehere;

 

void clearbuffer()

 

{

 

addhere = 0; removehere = 0;

for ( int i=0; i<16;i++ ) { buffer[i] = 0; }

 

}

 

int next( int current )

 

{

 

return ( current + 1 ) & 15;

 

}

 

void addtobuffer( int value )

 

{

 

while( buffer[ next(addhere) ] != 0 ) {}

 

buffer[addhere] = value; addhere = next(addhere);

}

 

int removefrombuffer()

 

{

 

int value;

 

while( ( value = buffer[removehere] ) == 0 ) {}

 

buffer[removehere] = 0;

 

removehere = next(removehere);

 

return value;

 

}

 

The code in Listing 8.22 provides the remainder of the test program. It creates two threads and sets one up as the producer and the other as the consumer. Both threads run until 10 million elements have been passed from the producer to the consumer.

 

Listing 8.22   Code to Set Up Producer and Consumer Thread

void * producer( void *param )

 

{

 

for( int i=1; i<10000000; i++ )

 

{

 

addtobuffer( i );

 

}

 

}

 

void * consumer ( void *param )

 

{

 

while ( removefrombuffer() != 9999999 ) {}

 

}

 

int main()

 

{

 

clearbuffer(); pthread_t threads[2];

 

pthread_create( &threads[0], 0, producer, 0 ); pthread_create( &threads[1], 0, consumer, 0 ); pthread_join( threads[1], 0 );

pthread_join( threads[0], 0 );

 

}


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