YouTube placeholder

Deadlock and exec

Locking Multiple Resources

  • Locks protect access to shared resources.

  • Threads may need multiple shared resources to perform some operation.

Consider two threads A and B that both need simultaneous access to resources 1 and 2:

  1. Thread A runs, grabs the lock for Resource 1.


  3. Thread B runs, grabs the lock for Resource 2.


  5. Thread A runs, tries to acquire the lock for Resource 2.


  7. Thread B runs, tries to acquire the lock for Resource 1.


Now what?


Deadlock occurs when a thread or set of threads are waiting for each other to finish and thus nobody ever does.

Self Deadlock

A single thread can deadlock. How?
  • Thread A acquires Resource 1. Thread A tries to reacquire Resource 1.

This seems inane. Why would this happen?
  • foo() needs Resource 1. bar() needs Resource 1. While locking Resource 1 foo() calls bar().

Can we solve this problem?
  • Yes! Recursive locks. Allow a thread to reacquire a lock that it already holds, as long as calls to acquire are matched by calls to release.

  • This kind of problem is not uncommon. You may want to implement recursive locks for OS/161.

  • (But don’t make the locks we gave you suddenly recursive…​)

Conditions for Deadlock

A deadlock cannot occur unless all of the following conditions are met:
  • Protected access to shared resources, which implies waiting.

  • No resource preemption, meaning that the system cannot forcibly take a resource from a thread holding it.

  • Multiple independent requests, meaning a thread can hold some resources while requesting others.

  • Circular dependency graph, meaning that Thread A is waiting for Thread B which is waiting for Thread C which is waiting for Thread D which is waiting for Thread A.

Dining Philosophers

  • "Classic" synchronization problem which I feel obligated to discuss.

  • Illustrated below.


philosophers 1

philosophers 2

philosophers 3

philosophers 4

philosophers 5

philosophers 6

Feeding Philosophers

Breaking deadlock conditions usually requires eliminating one of the requirements for deadlock.
  • Don’t wait: don’t sleep if you can’t grab the second chopstick and put down the first.

  • Break cycles: usually by acquiring resources in a well-defined order. Number chopsticks 0–4, always grab the higher-numbered chopstick first.

  • Break out: detect the deadlock cycle and forcibly take away a resource from a thread to break it. (Requires a new mechanism.)

  • Don’t make multiple independent requests: grab both chopsticks at once. (Requires a new mechanism.)

Deadlock v. Starvation

Starvation is an equally-problematic condition in which one or more threads do not make progress.
  • Starvation differs from deadlock in that some threads make progress and it is, in fact, those threads that are preventing the "starving" threads from proceeding.

Deadlock v. Race Conditions

What is better: a deadlock (perhaps from overly careful synchronization) or a race condition (perhaps from a lack of correct synchronization)?

I’ll take the deadlock. It’s much easier to detect!

Using the Right Tool

  • Most problems can be solved with a variety of synchronization primitives.

  • However, there is usually one primitive that is more appropriate than the others.

  • You will have a chance to practice picking synchronization primitives for ASST1, and throughout the class.

Approaching Synchronization Problems

  1. Identify the constraints.

  2. Identify shared state.

  3. Choose a primitive.

  4. Pair waking and sleeping.

  5. Look out for multiple resource allocations: can lead to deadlock.

  6. Walk through simple examples and corner cases before beginning to code.

$ wait %1 # Process lifecycle

  • Change: exec()

  • Death: exit()

  • The Afterlife: wait()

Groundhog Day

Is fork() enough?

initfork 1
initfork 2
initfork 3
initfork 4

Change: exec()

  • The exec() family of system calls replaces the calling process with a new process loaded from a file.

  • The executable file must contain a complete blueprint indicating how the address space should look when exec() completes.

    • What should the contents of memory be?

    • Where should the first thread start executing?

  • Linux and other UNIX-like systems use ELF (Executable and Linkable Format) as the standard describing the information in the executable file is structured.

$ readelf # display ELF information


$ /lib/


exec() Argument Passing

  • The process calling exec() passes arguments to the process that will replace it through the kernel.

    • The kernel retrieves the arguments from the process after the call to exec() is made.

    • It then pushes them in to the memory of the process where the replacement process can find them when it starts executing.

    • This is where main gets argc and argv!

  • exec() also has an interesting return, almost the dual of fork(): exec() never returns!

$ exec()

exec 1
exec 2
exec 3
exec 4
exec 5
exec 6
exec 7

exec() File Handle Semantics

  • By convention exec does not modify the file table of the calling process! Why not?

  • Remember pipes?

    • Don’t undo all the hard work that fork() put in to duplicating the file table!

pipes example 3

Created 2/17/2017
Updated 9/18/2020
Commit 4eceaab // History // View
Built 2/16/2017 @ 19:00 EDT