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

This is the documentation for a snapshot of the develop branch, built from commit 10855bc5cc.
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Programming interfaces

Configuration and building
Memory order
Atomic flags
Atomic objects
Atomic references
Waiting and notifying operations
Atomic types for inter-process communication
Fences
Feature testing macros

The library contains header-only and compiled parts. The library is header-only for lock-free cases but requires a separate binary to implement the lock-based emulation and waiting and notifying operations on some platforms. Users are able to detect whether linking to the compiled part is required by checking the feature macros.

The following macros affect library behavior:

Macro

Description

BOOST_ATOMIC_LOCK_POOL_SIZE_LOG2

Binary logarithm of the number of locks in the internal lock pool used by Boost.Atomic to implement lock-based atomic operations and waiting and notifying operations on some platforms. Must be an integer in range from 0 to 16, the default value is 8. Only has effect when building Boost.Atomic.

BOOST_ATOMIC_NO_CMPXCHG8B

Affects 32-bit x86 Oracle Studio builds. When defined, the library assumes the target CPU does not support cmpxchg8b instruction used to support 64-bit atomic operations. This is the case with very old CPUs (pre-Pentium). The library does not perform runtime detection of this instruction, so running the code that uses 64-bit atomics on such CPUs will result in crashes, unless this macro is defined. Note that the macro does not affect MSVC, GCC and compatible compilers because the library infers this information from the compiler-defined macros.

BOOST_ATOMIC_NO_CMPXCHG16B

Affects 64-bit x86 MSVC and Oracle Studio builds. When defined, the library assumes the target CPU does not support cmpxchg16b instruction used to support 128-bit atomic operations. This is the case with some early 64-bit AMD CPUs, all Intel CPUs and current AMD CPUs support this instruction. The library does not perform runtime detection of this instruction, so running the code that uses 128-bit atomics on such CPUs will result in crashes, unless this macro is defined. Note that the macro does not affect GCC and compatible compilers because the library infers this information from the compiler-defined macros.

BOOST_ATOMIC_NO_FLOATING_POINT

When defined, support for floating point operations is disabled. Floating point types shall be treated similar to trivially copyable structs and no capability macros will be defined.

BOOST_ATOMIC_FORCE_FALLBACK

When defined, all operations are implemented with locks. This is mostly used for testing and should not be used in real world projects.

BOOST_ATOMIC_DYN_LINK and BOOST_ALL_DYN_LINK

Control library linking. If defined, the library assumes dynamic linking, otherwise static. The latter macro affects all Boost libraries, not just Boost.Atomic.

BOOST_ATOMIC_NO_LIB and BOOST_ALL_NO_LIB

Control library auto-linking on Windows. When defined, disables auto-linking. The latter macro affects all Boost libraries, not just Boost.Atomic.

Besides macros, it is important to specify the correct compiler options for the target CPU. With GCC and compatible compilers this affects whether particular atomic operations are lock-free or not.

Boost building process is described in the Getting Started guide. For example, you can build Boost.Atomic with the following command line:

bjam --with-atomic variant=release instruction-set=core2 stage
#include <boost/memory_order.hpp>

The enumeration boost::memory_order defines the following values to represent memory ordering constraints:

Constant

Description

memory_order_relaxed

No ordering constraint. Informally speaking, following operations may be reordered before, preceding operations may be reordered after the atomic operation. This constraint is suitable only when either a) further operations do not depend on the outcome of the atomic operation or b) ordering is enforced through stand-alone atomic_thread_fence operations. The operation on the atomic value itself is still atomic though.

memory_order_release

Perform release operation. Informally speaking, prevents all preceding memory operations to be reordered past this point.

memory_order_acquire

Perform acquire operation. Informally speaking, prevents succeeding memory operations to be reordered before this point.

memory_order_consume

Perform consume operation. More relaxed (and on some architectures potentially more efficient) than memory_order_acquire as it only affects succeeding operations that are computationally-dependent on the value retrieved from an atomic variable. Currently equivalent to memory_order_acquire on all supported architectures (see Limitations section for an explanation).

memory_order_acq_rel

Perform both release and acquire operation

memory_order_seq_cst

Enforce sequential consistency. Implies memory_order_acq_rel, but additionally enforces total order for all operations such qualified.

For compilers that support C++11 scoped enums, the library also defines scoped synonyms that are preferred in modern programs:

Pre-C++11 constant

C++11 equivalent

memory_order_relaxed

memory_order::relaxed

memory_order_release

memory_order::release

memory_order_acquire

memory_order::acquire

memory_order_consume

memory_order::consume

memory_order_acq_rel

memory_order::acq_rel

memory_order_seq_cst

memory_order::seq_cst

See section happens-before for explanation of the various ordering constraints.

#include <boost/atomic/atomic_flag.hpp>

The boost::atomic_flag type provides the most basic set of atomic operations suitable for implementing mutually exclusive access to thread-shared data. The flag can have one of the two possible states: set and clear. The class implements the following operations:

Syntax

Description

atomic_flag()

Initialize to the clear state. See the discussion below.

bool is_lock_free()

Checks if the atomic flag is lock-free; the returned value is consistent with the is_always_lock_free static constant, see below.

bool has_native_wait_notify()

Indicates if the target platform natively supports waiting and notifying operations for this object. Returns true if always_has_native_wait_notify is true.

bool test(memory_order order)

Returns true if the flag is in the set state and false otherwise.

bool test_and_set(memory_order order)

Sets the atomic flag to the set state; returns true if the flag had been set prior to the operation.

void clear(memory_order order)

Sets the atomic flag to the clear state.

bool wait(bool old_val, memory_order order)

Potentially blocks the calling thread until unblocked by a notifying operation and test(order) returns value other than old_val. Returns the result of test(order).

void notify_one()

Unblocks at least one thread blocked in a waiting operation on this atomic object.

void notify_all()

Unblocks all threads blocked in waiting operations on this atomic object.

static constexpr bool is_always_lock_free

This static boolean constant indicates if any atomic flag is lock-free

static constexpr bool always_has_native_wait_notify

Indicates if the target platform always natively supports waiting and notifying operations.

order always has memory_order_seq_cst as default parameter.

Waiting and notifying operations are described in detail in this section.

Note that the default constructor atomic_flag() is unlike std::atomic_flag, which leaves the default-constructed object uninitialized. This potentially requires dynamic initialization during the program startup to perform the object initialization, which makes it unsafe to create global boost::atomic_flag objects that can be used before entring main(). Some compilers though (especially those supporting C++11 constexpr) may be smart enough to perform flag initialization statically (which is, in C++11 terms, a constant initialization).

This difference is deliberate and is done to support C++03 compilers. C++11 defines the ATOMIC_FLAG_INIT macro which can be used to statically initialize std::atomic_flag to a clear state like this:

std::atomic_flag flag = ATOMIC_FLAG_INIT; // constant initialization

This macro cannot be implemented in C++03 because for that atomic_flag would have to be an aggregate type, which it cannot be because it has to prohibit copying and consequently define the default constructor. Thus the closest equivalent C++03 code using Boost.Atomic would be:

boost::atomic_flag flag; // possibly, dynamic initialization in C++03;
                         // constant initialization in C++11

The same code is also valid in C++11, so this code can be used universally. However, for interface parity with std::atomic_flag, if possible, the library also defines the BOOST_ATOMIC_FLAG_INIT macro, which is equivalent to ATOMIC_FLAG_INIT:

boost::atomic_flag flag = BOOST_ATOMIC_FLAG_INIT; // constant initialization

This macro will only be implemented on a C++11 compiler. When this macro is not available, the library defines BOOST_ATOMIC_NO_ATOMIC_FLAG_INIT.

#include <boost/atomic/atomic.hpp>

boost::atomic<T> provides methods for atomically accessing variables of a suitable type T. The type is suitable if it is trivially copyable (3.9/9 [basic.types]). Following are examples of the types compatible with this requirement:

  • a scalar type (e.g. integer, boolean, enum or pointer type)
  • a class or struct that has no non-trivial copy or move constructors or assignment operators, has a trivial destructor, and that is comparable via memcmp.

Note that classes with virtual functions or virtual base classes do not satisfy the requirements. Also be warned that structures with padding bits may compare non-equal via memcmp even though all members are equal. This may also be the case with some floating point types, which include padding bits themselves.

[Note] Note

Although types with padding bits are generally not supported by the library, Boost.Atomic attempts to support operations on floating point types on some platforms, where the location of the padding bits is known. In particular, 80-bit long double type on x86 targets is supported.

All atomic objects support the following operations and properties:

Syntax

Description

atomic()

Initialize to an unspecified value

atomic(T initial_value)

Initialize to initial_value

bool is_lock_free()

Checks if the atomic object is lock-free; the returned value is consistent with the is_always_lock_free static constant, see below.

bool has_native_wait_notify()

Indicates if the target platform natively supports waiting and notifying operations for this object. Returns true if always_has_native_wait_notify is true.

T& value()

Returns a reference to the value stored in the atomic object.

T load(memory_order order)

Return current value

void store(T value, memory_order order)

Write new value to atomic variable

T exchange(T new_value, memory_order order)

Exchange current value with new_value, returning current value

bool compare_exchange_weak(T & expected, T desired, memory_order order)

Compare current value with expected, change it to desired if matches. Returns true if an exchange has been performed, and always writes the previous value back in expected. May fail spuriously, so must generally be retried in a loop.

bool compare_exchange_weak(T & expected, T desired, memory_order success_order, memory_order failure_order)

Compare current value with expected, change it to desired if matches. Returns true if an exchange has been performed, and always writes the previous value back in expected. May fail spuriously, so must generally be retried in a loop.

bool compare_exchange_strong(T & expected, T desired, memory_order order)

Compare current value with expected, change it to desired if matches. Returns true if an exchange has been performed, and always writes the previous value back in expected.

bool compare_exchange_strong(T & expected, T desired, memory_order success_order, memory_order failure_order))

Compare current value with expected, change it to desired if matches. Returns true if an exchange has been performed, and always writes the previous value back in expected.

T wait(T old_val, memory_order order)

Potentially blocks the calling thread until unblocked by a notifying operation and load(order) returns value other than old_val. Returns the result of load(order).

void notify_one()

Unblocks at least one thread blocked in a waiting operation on this atomic object.

void notify_all()

Unblocks all threads blocked in waiting operations on this atomic object.

static constexpr bool is_always_lock_free

This static boolean constant indicates if any atomic object of this type is lock-free

static constexpr bool always_has_native_wait_notify

Indicates if the target platform always natively supports waiting and notifying operations.

order always has memory_order_seq_cst as default parameter.

Waiting and notifying operations are described in detail in this section.

The value operation is a Boost.Atomic extension. The returned reference can be used to invoke external operations on the atomic value, which are not part of Boost.Atomic but are compatible with it on the target architecture. The primary example of such is futex and similar operations available on some systems. The returned reference must not be used for reading or modifying the value of the atomic object in non-atomic manner, or to construct atomic references. Doing so does not guarantee atomicity or memory ordering.

[Note] Note

Even if boost::atomic for a given type is lock-free, an atomic reference for that type may not be. Therefore, boost::atomic and boost::atomic_ref operating on the same object may use different thread synchronization primitives incompatible with each other.

The compare_exchange_weak/compare_exchange_strong variants taking four parameters differ from the three parameter variants in that they allow a different memory ordering constraint to be specified in case the operation fails.

In addition to these explicit operations, each atomic<T> object also supports implicit store and load through the use of "assignment" and "conversion to T" operators. Avoid using these operators, as they do not allow to specify a memory ordering constraint which always defaults to memory_order_seq_cst.

In addition to the operations listed in the previous section, boost::atomic<I> for integral types I, except bool, supports the following operations, which correspond to std::atomic<I>:

Syntax

Description

I fetch_add(I v, memory_order order)

Add v to variable, returning previous value

I fetch_sub(I v, memory_order order)

Subtract v from variable, returning previous value

I fetch_and(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "and" with v to variable, returning previous value

I fetch_or(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "or" with v to variable, returning previous value

I fetch_xor(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "xor" with v to variable, returning previous value

Additionally, as a Boost.Atomic extension, the following operations are also provided:

Syntax

Description

I fetch_negate(memory_order order)

Change the sign of the value stored in the variable, returning previous value

I fetch_complement(memory_order order)

Set the variable to the one's complement of the current value, returning previous value

I negate(memory_order order)

Change the sign of the value stored in the variable, returning the result

I add(I v, memory_order order)

Add v to variable, returning the result

I sub(I v, memory_order order)

Subtract v from variable, returning the result

I bitwise_and(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "and" with v to variable, returning the result

I bitwise_or(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "or" with v to variable, returning the result

I bitwise_xor(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "xor" with v to variable, returning the result

I bitwise_complement(memory_order order)

Set the variable to the one's complement of the current value, returning the result

void opaque_negate(memory_order order)

Change the sign of the value stored in the variable, returning nothing

void opaque_add(I v, memory_order order)

Add v to variable, returning nothing

void opaque_sub(I v, memory_order order)

Subtract v from variable, returning nothing

void opaque_and(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "and" with v to variable, returning nothing

void opaque_or(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "or" with v to variable, returning nothing

void opaque_xor(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "xor" with v to variable, returning nothing

void opaque_complement(memory_order order)

Set the variable to the one's complement of the current value, returning nothing

bool negate_and_test(memory_order order)

Change the sign of the value stored in the variable, returning true if the result is non-zero and false otherwise

bool add_and_test(I v, memory_order order)

Add v to variable, returning true if the result is non-zero and false otherwise

bool sub_and_test(I v, memory_order order)

Subtract v from variable, returning true if the result is non-zero and false otherwise

bool and_and_test(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "and" with v to variable, returning true if the result is non-zero and false otherwise

bool or_and_test(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "or" with v to variable, returning true if the result is non-zero and false otherwise

bool xor_and_test(I v, memory_order order)

Apply bit-wise "xor" with v to variable, returning true if the result is non-zero and false otherwise

bool complement_and_test(memory_order order)

Set the variable to the one's complement of the current value, returning true if the result is non-zero and false otherwise

bool bit_test_and_set(unsigned int n, memory_order order)

Set bit number n in the variable to 1, returning true if the bit was previously set to 1 and false otherwise

bool bit_test_and_reset(unsigned int n, memory_order order)

Set bit number n in the variable to 0, returning true if the bit was previously set to 1 and false otherwise

bool bit_test_and_complement(unsigned int n, memory_order order)

Change bit number n in the variable to the opposite value, returning true if the bit was previously set to 1 and false otherwise

[Note] Note

In Boost.Atomic 1.66 the op_and_test operations returned the opposite value (i.e. true if the result is zero). This was changed to the current behavior in 1.67 for consistency with other operations in Boost.Atomic, as well as with conventions taken in the C++ standard library. Boost.Atomic 1.66 was the only release shipped with the old behavior.

order always has memory_order_seq_cst as default parameter.

The opaque_op and op_and_test variants of the operations may result in a more efficient code on some architectures because the original value of the atomic variable is not preserved. In the bit_test_and_op operations, the bit number n starts from 0, which means the least significand bit, and must not exceed std::numeric_limits<I>::digits - 1.

In addition to these explicit operations, each boost::atomic<I> object also supports implicit pre-/post- increment/decrement, as well as the operators +=, -=, &=, |= and ^=. Avoid using these operators, as they do not allow to specify a memory ordering constraint which always defaults to memory_order_seq_cst.

[Note] Note

The support for floating point types is optional and can be disabled by defining BOOST_ATOMIC_NO_FLOATING_POINT.

In addition to the operations applicable to all atomic objects, boost::atomic<F> for floating point types F supports the following operations, which correspond to std::atomic<F>:

Syntax

Description

F fetch_add(F v, memory_order order)

Add v to variable, returning previous value

F fetch_sub(F v, memory_order order)

Subtract v from variable, returning previous value

Additionally, as a Boost.Atomic extension, the following operations are also provided:

Syntax

Description

F fetch_negate(memory_order order)

Change the sign of the value stored in the variable, returning previous value

F negate(memory_order order)

Change the sign of the value stored in the variable, returning the result

F add(F v, memory_order order)

Add v to variable, returning the result

F sub(F v, memory_order order)

Subtract v from variable, returning the result

void opaque_negate(memory_order order)

Change the sign of the value stored in the variable, returning nothing

void opaque_add(F v, memory_order order)

Add v to variable, returning nothing

void opaque_sub(F v, memory_order order)

Subtract v from variable, returning nothing

order always has memory_order_seq_cst as default parameter.

The opaque_op variants of the operations may result in a more efficient code on some architectures because the original value of the atomic variable is not preserved.

In addition to these explicit operations, each boost::atomic<F> object also supports operators += and -=. Avoid using these operators, as they do not allow to specify a memory ordering constraint which always defaults to memory_order_seq_cst.

When using atomic operations with floating point types, bear in mind that Boost.Atomic always performs bitwise comparison of the stored values. This means that operations like compare_exchange* may fail if the stored value and comparand have different binary representation, even if they would normally compare equal. This is typically the case when either of the numbers is denormalized. This also means that the behavior with regard to special floating point values like NaN and signed zero is also different from normal C++.

Another source of the problem is padding bits that are added to some floating point types for alignment. One widespread example of that is Intel x87 extended double format, which is typically stored as 80 bits of value padded with 16 or 48 unused bits. These padding bits are often uninitialized and contain garbage, which makes two equal numbers have different binary representation. The library attempts to account for the known such cases, but in general it is possible that some platforms are not covered. Note that the C++ standard makes no guarantees about reliability of compare_exchange* operations in the face of padding or trap bits.

In addition to the operations applicable to all atomic objects, boost::atomic<P> for pointer types P (other than pointers to void, function or member pointers) support the following operations, which correspond to std::atomic<P>:

Syntax

Description

T fetch_add(ptrdiff_t v, memory_order order)

Add v to variable, returning previous value

T fetch_sub(ptrdiff_t v, memory_order order)

Subtract v from variable, returning previous value

Similarly to integers, the following Boost.Atomic extensions are also provided:

Syntax

Description

void add(ptrdiff_t v, memory_order order)

Add v to variable, returning the result

void sub(ptrdiff_t v, memory_order order)

Subtract v from variable, returning the result

void opaque_add(ptrdiff_t v, memory_order order)

Add v to variable, returning nothing

void opaque_sub(ptrdiff_t v, memory_order order)

Subtract v from variable, returning nothing

bool add_and_test(ptrdiff_t v, memory_order order)

Add v to variable, returning true if the result is non-null and false otherwise

bool sub_and_test(ptrdiff_t v, memory_order order)

Subtract v from variable, returning true if the result is non-null and false otherwise

order always has memory_order_seq_cst as default parameter.

In addition to these explicit operations, each boost::atomic<P> object also supports implicit pre-/post- increment/decrement, as well as the operators +=, -=. Avoid using these operators, as they do not allow explicit specification of a memory ordering constraint which always defaults to memory_order_seq_cst.

For convenience, the following shorthand typedefs of boost::atomic<T> are provided:

typedef atomic< char > atomic_char;
typedef atomic< unsigned char > atomic_uchar;
typedef atomic< signed char > atomic_schar;
typedef atomic< unsigned short > atomic_ushort;
typedef atomic< short > atomic_short;
typedef atomic< unsigned int > atomic_uint;
typedef atomic< int > atomic_int;
typedef atomic< unsigned long > atomic_ulong;
typedef atomic< long > atomic_long;
typedef atomic< unsigned long long > atomic_ullong;
typedef atomic< long long > atomic_llong;

typedef atomic< void* > atomic_address;
typedef atomic< bool > atomic_bool;
typedef atomic< wchar_t > atomic_wchar_t;
typedef atomic< char8_t > atomic_char8_t;
typedef atomic< char16_t > atomic_char16_t;
typedef atomic< char32_t > atomic_char32_t;

typedef atomic< uint8_t > atomic_uint8_t;
typedef atomic< int8_t > atomic_int8_t;
typedef atomic< uint16_t > atomic_uint16_t;
typedef atomic< int16_t > atomic_int16_t;
typedef atomic< uint32_t > atomic_uint32_t;
typedef atomic< int32_t > atomic_int32_t;
typedef atomic< uint64_t > atomic_uint64_t;
typedef atomic< int64_t > atomic_int64_t;

typedef atomic< int_least8_t > atomic_int_least8_t;
typedef atomic< uint_least8_t > atomic_uint_least8_t;
typedef atomic< int_least16_t > atomic_int_least16_t;
typedef atomic< uint_least16_t > atomic_uint_least16_t;
typedef atomic< int_least32_t > atomic_int_least32_t;
typedef atomic< uint_least32_t > atomic_uint_least32_t;
typedef atomic< int_least64_t > atomic_int_least64_t;
typedef atomic< uint_least64_t > atomic_uint_least64_t;
typedef atomic< int_fast8_t > atomic_int_fast8_t;
typedef atomic< uint_fast8_t > atomic_uint_fast8_t;
typedef atomic< int_fast16_t > atomic_int_fast16_t;
typedef atomic< uint_fast16_t > atomic_uint_fast16_t;
typedef atomic< int_fast32_t > atomic_int_fast32_t;
typedef atomic< uint_fast32_t > atomic_uint_fast32_t;
typedef atomic< int_fast64_t > atomic_int_fast64_t;
typedef atomic< uint_fast64_t > atomic_uint_fast64_t;
typedef atomic< intmax_t > atomic_intmax_t;
typedef atomic< uintmax_t > atomic_uintmax_t;

typedef atomic< std::size_t > atomic_size_t;
typedef atomic< std::ptrdiff_t > atomic_ptrdiff_t;

typedef atomic< intptr_t > atomic_intptr_t;
typedef atomic< uintptr_t > atomic_uintptr_t;

typedef atomic< unsigned integral > atomic_unsigned_lock_free;
typedef atomic< signed integral > atomic_signed_lock_free;

The typedefs are provided only if the corresponding value type is available.

The atomic_unsigned_lock_free and atomic_signed_lock_free types, if defined, indicate the atomic object type for an unsigned or signed integer, respectively, that is lock-free and that preferably has native support for waiting and notifying operations.

#include <boost/atomic/atomic_ref.hpp>

boost::atomic_ref<T> also provides methods for atomically accessing external variables of type T. The requirements on the type T are the same as those imposed by boost::atomic. Unlike boost::atomic, boost::atomic_ref does not store the value internally and only refers to an external object of type T.

There are certain requirements on the objects compatible with boost::atomic_ref:

  • The referenced object lifetime must not end before the last boost::atomic_ref referencing the object is destroyed.
  • The referenced object must have alignment not less than indicated by the boost::atomic_ref<T>::required_alignment constant. That constant may be larger than the natural alignment of type T. In Boost.Atomic, required_alignment indicates the alignment at which operations on the object are lock-free; otherwise, if lock-free operations are not possible, required_alignment shall not be less than the natural alignment of T.
  • The referenced object must not be a potentially overlapping object. It must be the most derived object (that is it must not be a base class subobject of an object of a derived class) and it must not be marked with the [[no_unique_address]] attribute.
    struct Base
    {
        short a;
        char b;
    };
    
    struct Derived : public Base
    {
        char c;
    };
    
    Derived x;
    boost::atomic_ref<Base> ref(x); // bad
    
    In the above example, ref may silently corrupt the value of x.c because it resides in the trailing padding of the Base base class subobject of x.
  • The referenced object must not reside in read-only memory. Even for non-modifying operations, like load(), boost::atomic_ref may issue read-modify-write CPU instructions that require write access.
  • While at least one boost::atomic_ref referencing an object exists, that object must not be accessed by any other means, other than through boost::atomic_ref.

Multiple boost::atomic_ref referencing the same object are allowed, and operations through any such reference are atomic and ordered with regard to each other, according to the memory order arguments. boost::atomic_ref<T> supports the same set of properties and operations as boost::atomic<T>, depending on the type T, with the following exceptions:

Syntax

Description

atomic_ref() = delete

atomic_ref is not default-constructible.

atomic_ref(T& object)

Creates an atomic reference, referring to object. May modify the object representation (see caveats below).

atomic_ref(atomic_ref const& that) noexcept

Creates an atomic reference, referencing the object referred to by that.

static constexpr std::size_t required_alignment

A constant, indicating required alignment of objects of type T so that they are compatible with atomic_ref. Shall not be less than alignof(T). In Boost.Atomic, indicates the alignment required by lock-free operations on the referenced object, if lock-free operations are possible.

Note that boost::atomic_ref cannot be changed to refer to a different object after construction. Assigning to boost::atomic_ref will invoke an atomic operation of storing the new value to the referenced object.

There are a several disadvantages of using boost::atomic_ref compared to boost::atomic.

First, the user is required to maintain proper alignment of the referenced objects. This means that the user has to plan beforehand which variables will require atomic access in the program. In C++11 and later, the user can ensure the required alignment by applying alignas specifier:

alignas(boost::atomic_ref<int>::required_alignment)
int atomic_int;

On compilers that don't support alignas users have to use compiler-specific attributes or manual padding to achieve the required alignment. BOOST_ALIGNMENT macro from Boost.Config may be useful.

[Note] Note

Do not rely on compilers to enforce the natural alignment for fundamental types, and that the default alignment will satisfy the atomic_ref<T>::required_alignment constraint. There are real world cases when the default alignment is below the required alignment for atomic references. For example, on 32-bit x86 targets it is common that 64-bit integers and floating point numbers have alignment of 4, which is not high enough for atomic_ref. Users must always explicitly ensure the referenced objects are aligned to atomic_ref<T>::required_alignment.

Next, some types may have padding bits, which are the bits of object representation that do not contribute to the object value. Typically, padding bits are used for alignment purposes. Boost.Atomic does not support types with padding bits, with an exception of floating point types on platforms where the location of the padding bits is known at compile time. One notable example is long double on x86, where the value is represented by an 80-bit extended precision floating point number complemented by 2 to 6 bytes of padding, depending on the target ABI.

Padding bits pose a problem for Boost.Atomic because they can break binary comparison of object (as if by memcmp), which is used in compare_exchange_weak/compare_exchange_strong operations. boost::atomic manages the internal object representation and in some cases, like the mentioned long double example, it is able to initialize the padding bits so that binary comparison yields the expected result. This is not possible with boost::atomic_ref because the referenced object is initialized by external means and any particular content in the padding bits cannot be guaranteed. This requires boost::atomic_ref to initialize padding bits on construction. Since there may be other atomic references referring to the same object, this initialization must be atomic. As a result, boost::atomic_ref construction can be relatively expensive and may potentially disrupt atomic operations that are being performed on the same object through other atomic references. It is recommended to avoid constructing boost::atomic_ref in tight loops or hot paths.

Finally, target platform may not have the necessary means to implement atomic operations on objects of some sizes. For example, on many hardware architectures atomic operations on the following structure are not possible:

struct rgb
{
    unsigned char r, g, b; // 3 bytes
};

boost::atomic<rgb> is able to implement lock-free operations if the target CPU supports 32-bit atomic instructions by padding rgb structure internally to the size of 4 bytes. This is not possible for boost::atomic_ref<rgb>, as it has to operate on external objects. Thus, boost::atomic_ref<rgb> will not provide lock-free operations and will resort to locking.

In general, it is advised to use boost::atomic wherever possible, as it is easier to use and is more efficient. Use boost::atomic_ref only when you absolutely have to.

boost::atomic_flag, boost::atomic<T> and boost::atomic_ref<T> support waiting and notifying operations that were introduced in C++20. Waiting operations have the following forms:

  • T wait(T old_val, memory_order order) (where T is bool for boost::atomic_flag)

Here, order must not be memory_order_release or memory_order_acq_rel. Note that unlike C++20, the wait operation returns T instead of void. This is a Boost.Atomic extension.

The waiting operation performs the following steps repeatedly:

  • Loads the current value new_val of the atomic object using the memory ordering constraint order.
  • If the new_val representation is different from old_val (i.e. when compared as if by memcmp), returns new_val.
  • Blocks the calling thread until unblocked by a notifying operation or spuriously.

Note that a waiting operation is allowed to return spuriously, i.e. without a corresponding notifying operation. It is also allowed to not return if the atomic object value is different from old_val only momentarily (this is known as ABA problem).

Notifying operations have the following forms:

  • void notify_one()
  • void notify_all()

The notify_one operation unblocks at least one thread blocked in the waiting operation on the same atomic object, and notify_all unblocks all such threads. Notifying operations do not enforce memory ordering and should normally be preceeded with a store operation or a fence with the appropriate memory ordering constraint.

Waiting and notifying operations require special support from the operating system, which may not be universally available. Whether the operating system natively supports these operations is indicated by the always_has_native_wait_notify static constant and has_native_wait_notify() member function of a given atomic type.

Even for atomic objects that support lock-free operations (as indicated by the is_always_lock_free property or the corresponding macro), the waiting and notifying operations may involve locking and require linking with Boost.Atomic compiled library.

Waiting and notifying operations are not address-free, meaning that the implementation may use process-local state and process-local addresses of the atomic objects to implement the operations. In particular, this means these operations cannot be used for communication between processes (when the atomic object is located in shared memory) or when the atomic object is mapped at different memory addresses in the same process.

#include <boost/atomic/ipc_atomic.hpp>
#include <boost/atomic/ipc_atomic_ref.hpp>
#include <boost/atomic/ipc_atomic_flag.hpp>

Boost.Atomic provides a dedicated set of types for inter-process communication: boost::ipc_atomic_flag, boost::ipc_atomic<T> and boost::ipc_atomic_ref<T>. Collectively, these types are called inter-process communication atomic types or IPC atomic types, and their counterparts without the ipc_ prefix - non-IPC atomic types.

Each of the IPC atomic types have the same requirements on their value types and provide the same set of operations and properties as its non-IPC counterpart. All operations have the same signature, requirements and effects, with the following amendments:

  • All operations, except constructors, destructors, is_lock_free() and has_native_wait_notify() have an additional precondition that is_lock_free() returns true for this atomic object. (Implementation note: The current implementation detects availability of atomic instructions at compile time, and the code that does not fulfull this requirement will fail to compile.)
  • The has_native_wait_notify() method and always_has_native_wait_notify static constant indicate whether the operating system has native support for inter-process waiting and notifying operations. This may be different from non-IPC atomic types as the OS may have different capabilities for inter-thread and inter-process communication.
  • All operations on objects of IPC atomic types are address-free, which allows to place such objects (in case of boost::ipc_atomic_ref<T> - objects referenced by ipc_atomic_ref) in memory regions shared between processes or mapped at different addresses in the same process.
[Note] Note

Operations on lock-free non-IPC atomic objects, except waiting and notifying operations, are also address-free, so boost::atomic_flag, boost::atomic<T> and boost::atomic_ref<T> could also be used for inter-process communication. However, the user must ensure that the given atomic object indeed supports lock-free operations. Failing to do this could result in a misbehaving program. IPC atomic types enforce this requirement and add support for address-free waiting and notifying operations.

It should be noted that some operations on IPC atomic types may be more expensive than the non-IPC ones. This primarily concerns waiting and notifying operations, as the operating system may have to perform conversion of the process-mapped addresses of atomic objects to physical addresses. Also, when native support for inter-process waiting and notifying operations is not present (as indicated by has_native_wait_notify()), waiting operations are emulated with a busy loop, which can affect performance and power consumption of the system. Native support for waiting and notifying operations can also be detected using capability macros.

Users must not create and use IPC and non-IPC atomic references on the same referenced object at the same time. IPC and non-IPC atomic references are not required to communicate with each other. For example, a waiting operation on a non-IPC atomic reference may not be interrupted by a notifying operation on an IPC atomic reference referencing the same object.

#include <boost/atomic/fences.hpp>

Fences are implemented with the following operations:

Syntax

Description

void atomic_thread_fence(memory_order order)

Issue fence for coordination with other threads.

void atomic_signal_fence(memory_order order)

Issue fence for coordination with a signal handler (only in the same thread).

Note that atomic_signal_fence does not implement thread synchronization and only acts as a barrier to prevent code reordering by the compiler (but not by CPU). The order argument here specifies the direction, in which the fence prevents the compiler to reorder code.

#include <boost/atomic/capabilities.hpp>

Boost.Atomic defines a number of macros to allow compile-time detection whether an atomic data type is implemented using "true" atomic operations, or whether an internal "lock" is used to provide atomicity. The following macros will be defined to 0 if operations on the data type always require a lock, to 1 if operations on the data type may sometimes require a lock, and to 2 if they are always lock-free:

Macro

Description

BOOST_ATOMIC_FLAG_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic_flag is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_BOOL_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<bool> is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_CHAR_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<char> (including signed/unsigned variants) is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_CHAR8_T_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<char8_t> (including signed/unsigned variants) is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_CHAR16_T_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<char16_t> (including signed/unsigned variants) is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_CHAR32_T_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<char32_t> (including signed/unsigned variants) is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_WCHAR_T_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<wchar_t> (including signed/unsigned variants) is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_SHORT_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<short> (including signed/unsigned variants) is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_INT_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<int> (including signed/unsigned variants) is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_LONG_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<long> (including signed/unsigned variants) is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_LLONG_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<long long> (including signed/unsigned variants) is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_ADDRESS_LOCK_FREE or BOOST_ATOMIC_POINTER_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<T *> is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_THREAD_FENCE

Indicate whether atomic_thread_fence function is lock-free

BOOST_ATOMIC_SIGNAL_FENCE

Indicate whether atomic_signal_fence function is lock-free

In addition to these standard macros, Boost.Atomic also defines a number of extension macros, which can also be useful. Like the standard ones, these macros are defined to values 0, 1 and 2 to indicate whether the corresponding operations are lock-free or not.

Macro

Description

BOOST_ATOMIC_INT8_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<int8_type> is lock-free.

BOOST_ATOMIC_INT16_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<int16_type> is lock-free.

BOOST_ATOMIC_INT32_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<int32_type> is lock-free.

BOOST_ATOMIC_INT64_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<int64_type> is lock-free.

BOOST_ATOMIC_INT128_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<int128_type> is lock-free.

BOOST_ATOMIC_NO_ATOMIC_FLAG_INIT

Defined after including atomic_flag.hpp, if the implementation does not support the BOOST_ATOMIC_FLAG_INIT macro for static initialization of atomic_flag. This macro is typically defined for pre-C++11 compilers.

In the table above, intN_type is a type that fits storage of contiguous N bits, suitably aligned for atomic operations.

For floating-point types the following macros are similarly defined:

Macro

Description

BOOST_ATOMIC_FLOAT_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<float> is lock-free.

BOOST_ATOMIC_DOUBLE_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<double> is lock-free.

BOOST_ATOMIC_LONG_DOUBLE_LOCK_FREE

Indicate whether atomic<long double> is lock-free.

These macros are not defined when support for floating point types is disabled by user.

For any of the BOOST_ATOMIC_X_LOCK_FREE macro described above, two additional macros named BOOST_ATOMIC_HAS_NATIVE_X_WAIT_NOTIFY and BOOST_ATOMIC_HAS_NATIVE_X_IPC_WAIT_NOTIFY are defined. The former indicates whether waiting and notifying operations are supported natively for non-IPC atomic types of a given type, and the latter does the same for IPC atomic types. The macros take values of 0, 1 or 2, where 0 indicates that native operations are not available, 1 means the operations may be available (which is determined at run time) and 2 means always available. Note that the lock-free and native waiting/notifying operations macros for a given type may have different values.


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