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Introduction to Synchronization

Fast Forward: Synchronization

What you need to know
  • The OS creates the illusion of concurrency by quickly switching the processor(s) between multiple threads

    • We will back up and discuss how this happens after discussion synchronization

  • Threads are used to abstract and multiplex the CPU

Pandora’s Concurrency Box

The illusion of concurrency is both powerful and useful:
  • It helps us think about how to structure our applications.

  • It hides latencies caused by slow hardware devices.

Unfortunately, concurrency also creates problems:
  • Coordination: how do we enable efficient communication between the multiple threads involved in performing a single task?

  • Correctness: how do we ensure that shared state remains consistent when being accessed by multiple threads concurrently? How do we enforce time-based semantics?

  • We will focus on correctness today but return to coordination later.

Patient 0

The operating system itself is one of the most difficult concurrent programs to write. Why?
  • It is multiplexing access to hardware resources and therefore sharing a great deal of state between multiple processes!

  • It frequently uses many threads to hide hardware delays while servicing devices and application requests.

  • Lots of shared state plus lots of threads equals a difficult synchronization problem.

  • Also, if the operating system gets synchronization wrong bad things happen.

Concurrency v. Parallelism

The Go developers have a great description of this distinction. According to them:

…​when people hear the word concurrency they often think of parallelism, a related but quite distinct concept. In programming, concurrency is the composition of independently executing processes, while parallelism is the simultaneous execution of (possibly related) computations. Concurrency is about dealing with lots of things at once. Parallelism is about doing lots of things at once.

Watch the video to find out more.

Unless Shown Otherwise…​

Concurrency forces us to relax any assumptions that we may want to make about how any particular thread executes.

Unless explicitly synchronized, threads may:
  1. Be run in any order,

  2. Be stopped and restarted at any time,

  3. Remain stopped for arbitrary lengths of time.

  • Generally these are good things—the operating system is making choices about how to allocate resources.

  • When accessing shared data these are challenges that force us to program more carefully.

Race Conditions

A race condition is "when the output of a process is unexpectedly dependent on timing or other events."

Note that the definition of a race depends on what we expected to happen:
  • We expected me to have $4,000 after both deposits. (Otherwise we are not observing the Law of the Conversation of Money, probably important to banks except during bailouts.)

Concurrency v. Atomicity

Concurrency: the illusion that multiple things are happening at once.
  • Requires stopping or starting any thread at any time.

Atomicity: the illusion that a set of separate actions occurred all at once.
  • Requires not stopping certain threads at certain times or not starting certain threads at certain times, i.e. providing some limited control to threads over their scheduling.

Critical Sections

A critical section contains a series of instructions that only one thread can be executing at any given time.
  • This set (or sets) of instructions will look atomic with respect to other threads executing code within the critical section.

void giveGWATheMoolah(account_t account, int largeAmount) {
  int gwaHas = get_balance(account);
  gwaHas = gwaHas + largeAmount;
  put_balance(account, gwaHas);
In order to implement the previous example correctly:
  1. What is local state private to each thread? gwaHas

  2. What is the shared state that is being accessed by giveGWATheMoolah? account

  3. What lines are in the critical section? 2-4

Critical Section Requirements

  • Mutual Exclusion: this is the most basic property. Only one thread should be executing in the critical section at one time.

  • Progress: all threads should eventually be able to proceed through the critical section.

  • Performance: we want to keep critical sections as small as possible without sacrificing correctness.

Created 2/17/2017
Updated 9/18/2020
Commit 4eceaab // History // View
Built 2/12/2017 @ 19:00 EDT