Boost C++ Libraries

...one of the most highly regarded and expertly designed C++ library projects in the world. Herb Sutter and Andrei Alexandrescu, C++ Coding Standards

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Rationale

Data Structures
Memory Management
ABA Prevention
Interprocess Support

The implementations are implementations of well-known data structures. The queue is based on Simple, Fast, and Practical Non-Blocking and Blocking Concurrent Queue Algorithms by Michael Scott and Maged Michael, the stack is based on Systems programming: coping with parallelism by R. K. Treiber and the spsc_queue is considered as 'folklore' and is implemented in several open-source projects including the linux kernel. All data structures are discussed in detail in "The Art of Multiprocessor Programming" by Herlihy & Shavit.

The lock-free boost::lockfree::queue and boost::lockfree::stack classes are node-based data structures, based on a linked list. Memory management of lock-free data structures is a non-trivial problem, because we need to avoid that one thread frees an internal node, while another thread still uses it. boost.lockfree uses a simple approach not returning any memory to the operating system. Instead they maintain a free-list in order to reuse them later. This is done for two reasons: first, depending on the implementation of the memory allocator freeing the memory may block (so the implementation would not be lock-free anymore), and second, most memory reclamation algorithms are patented.

The ABA problem is a common problem when implementing lock-free data structures. The problem occurs when updating an atomic variable using a compare_exchange operation: if the value A was read, thread 1 changes it to say C and tries to update the variable, it uses compare_exchange to write C, only if the current value is A. This might be a problem if in the meanwhile thread 2 changes the value from A to B and back to A, because thread 1 does not observe the change of the state. The common way to avoid the ABA problem is to associate a version counter with the value and change both atomically.

boost.lockfree uses a tagged_ptr helper class which associates a pointer with an integer tag. This usually requires a double-width compare_exchange, which is not available on all platforms. IA32 did not provide the cmpxchg8b opcode before the pentium processor and it is also lacking on many RISC architectures like PPC. Early X86-64 processors also did not provide a cmpxchg16b instruction. On 64bit platforms one can work around this issue, because often not the full 64bit address space is used. On X86_64 for example, only 48bit are used for the address, so we can use the remaining 16bit for the ABA prevention tag. For details please consult the implementation of the boost::lockfree::detail::tagged_ptr class.

For lock-free operations on 32bit platforms without double-width compare_exchange, we support a third approach: by using a fixed-sized array to store the internal nodes we can avoid the use of 32bit pointers, but instead 16bit indices into the array are sufficient. However this is only possible for fixed-sized data structures, that have an upper bound of internal nodes.

The boost.lockfree data structures have basic support for Boost.Interprocess. The only problem is the blocking emulation of lock-free atomics, which in the current implementation is not guaranteed to be interprocess-safe.


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