Topic : Multi-Threaded Programming
Author : LUPG
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thus getting the first variable set to '1', and the second set to '0'.

What Is A Mutex?

A basic mechanism supplied by the pthreads library to solve this problem, is called a mutex. A mutex is a lock that guarantees three things:

1. Atomicity - Locking a mutex is an atomic operation, meaning that the operating system (or threads library) assures you that if you locked a mutex, no other thread succeeded in locking this mutex at the same time.
2. Singularity - If a thread managed to lock a mutex, it is assured that no other thread will be able to lock the thread until the original thread releases the lock.
3. Non-Busy Wait - If a thread attempts to lock a thread that was locked by a second thread, the first thread will be suspended (and will not consume any CPU resources) until the lock is freed by the second thread. At this time, the first thread will wake up and continue execution, having the mutex locked by it.

From these three points we can see how a mutex can be used to assure exclusive access to variables (or in general critical code sections). Here is some pseudo-code that updates the two variables we were talking about in the previous section, and can be used by the first thread:

lock mutex 'X1'.
set first variable to '0'.
set second variable to '0'.
unlock mutex 'X1'.

Meanwhile, the second thread will do something like this:

lock mutex 'X1'.
set first variable to '1'.
set second variable to '1'.
unlock mutex 'X1'.

Assuming both threads use the same mutex, we are assured that after they both ran through this code, either both variables are set to '0', or both are set to '1'. You'd note this requires some work from the programmer - If a third thread was to access these variables via some code that does not use this mutex, it still might mess up the variable's contents. Thus, it is important to enclose all the code that accesses these variables in a small set of functions, and always use only these functions to access these variables.

Creating And Initializing A Mutex

In order to create a mutex, we first need to declare a variable of type pthread_mutex_t, and then initialize it. The simplest way it by assigning it the PTHREAD_MUTEX_INITIALIZER constant. So we'll use a code that looks something like this:

pthread_mutex_t a_mutex = PTHREAD_MUTEX_INITIALIZER;

One note should be made here: This type of initialization creates a mutex called 'fast mutex'. This means that if a thread locks the mutex and then tries to lock it again, it'll get stuck - it will be in a deadlock.

There is another type of mutex, called 'recursive mutex', which allows the thread that locked it, to lock it several more times, without getting blocked (but other threads that try to lock the mutex now will get blocked). If the thread then unlocks the mutex, it'll still be locked, until it is unlocked the same amount of times as it was locked. This is similar to the way modern door locks work - if you turned it twice clockwise to lock it, you need to turn it twice counter-clockwise to unlock it. This kind of mutex can be created by assigning the constant PTHREAD_RECURSIVE_MUTEX_INITIALIZER_NP to a mutex variable.

Locking And Unlocking A Mutex

In order to lock a mutex, we may use the function pthread_mutex_lock(). This function attempts to lock the mutex, or block the thread if the mutex is already locked by another thread. In this case, when the mutex is unlocked by the first process, the function will return with the mutex locked by our process. Here is how to lock a mutex (assuming it was initialized earlier):

int rc = pthread_mutex_lock(&a_mutex);
if (rc) { /* an error has occurred */
/* mutex is now locked - do your stuff. */

After the thread did what it had to (change variables or data structures, handle file, or whatever it intended to do), it should free the mutex, using the pthread_mutex_unlock() function, like this:

rc = pthread_mutex_unlock(&a_mutex);
if (rc) {

Destroying A Mutex

After we finished using a mutex, we should destroy it. Finished using means no thread needs it at all. If only one thread finished with the mutex, it should leave it alive, for the other threads that might still need to use it. Once all finished using it, the last one can destroy it using the pthread_mutex_destroy() function:

rc = pthread_mutex_destroy(&a_mutex);

After this call, this variable (a_mutex) may not be used as a mutex any more, unless it is initialized again. Thus, if one destroys a mutex too early, and another thread tries to lock or unlock it, that thread will get a EINVAL error code from the lock or unlock function.

Using A Mutex - A Complete Example

After we have seen the full life cycle of a mutex, lets see an example program that uses a mutex. The program introduces two employees competing for the "employee of the day" title, and the glory that comes with it. To simulate that in a rapid pace, the program employs 3 threads: one that promotes Danny to "employee of the day", one that promotes Moshe to that situation, and a third thread that makes sure that the employee of the day's contents is consistent (i.e. contains exactly the data of one employee).
Two copies of the program are supplied. One that uses a mutex, and one that does not. Try them both, to see the differences, and be convinced that mutexes are essential in a multi-threaded environment.

The programs themselves are in the files accompanying this tutorial. The one that uses a mutex is employee-with-mutex.c. The one that does not use a mutex is employee-without-mutex.c. Read the comments inside the source files to get a better understanding of how they work.

Starvation And Deadlock Situations

Again we should remember that pthread_mutex_lock() might block for a non-determined duration, in case of the mutex being already locked. If it remains locked forever, it is said that our poor thread is "starved" - it was trying to acquire a resource, but never got it. It is up to the programmer to ensure that such starvation won't occur. The pthread library does not help us with that.

The pthread library might, however, figure out a "deadlock". A deadlock is a situation in which a set of threads are all waiting for resources taken by other threads, all in the same set. Naturally, if all threads are blocked waiting for a mutex, none of them will ever come back to life again. The pthread library keeps track of such situations, and thus would fail the last thread trying to call pthread_mutex_lock(), with an error of type EDEADLK. The programmer should check for such a value, and take steps to solve the deadlock somehow.

Refined Synchronization - Condition Variables

As we've seen before with mutexes, they allow for simple coordination - exclusive access to a resource. However, we often need to be able to make real synchronization between threads:

-  In a server, one thread reads requests from clients, and dispatches them to several threads for handling. These threads need to be notified when there is data to process, otherwise they should wait without consuming CPU time.
-  In a GUI (Graphical User Interface) Application, one thread reads user input, another handles graphical output, and a third thread sends requests to a server and handles its replies. The server-handling thread needs to be able to notify the graphics-drawing thread when a reply from the server arrived, so it will immediately show it to the user. The user-input thread needs to be always responsive to the user, for example, to allow her to cancel long operations currently executed by the server-handling thread.
All these examples require the ability to send notifications between threads. This is where condition variables are brought into the picture.

What Is A Condition Variable?

A condition variable is a mechanism that allows threads to wait (without wasting CPU cycles) for some even to occur. Several threads may wait on a condition variable, until some other thread signals this condition variable (thus sending a notification). At this time, one of the threads waiting on this condition variable wakes up, and can act on the event. It is possible to also wake up all threads waiting on this condition variable by using a broadcast method on this variable.

Note that a condition variable does not provide locking. Thus, a mutex is used along with the condition variable, to provide the necessary locking when accessing this condition variable.

Creating And Initializing A Condition Variable

Creation of a condition variable requires defining a variable of type pthread_cond_t, and initializing it properly. Initialization may be done with either a simple use of a macro named PTHREAD_COND_INITIALIZER or the usage of the pthread_cond_init() function. We will show the

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